By John Knight

With the start of the new year, Local Authorities across the country will be reviewing the agreed budgets set out in the previous year and will be identifying how they will be able to deliver the services needed. In the current economic climate, many Local Authorities are faced with a financial cliff edge, which they are rapidly approaching. However, instead of kicking the can of a financial budget gap into the next year (again), there is a genuine opportunity for you to do something about it. With a different approach, 2024 can become a year of change – but for the right reasons.

I would very much echo the recent words of Lord Morse speaking about Local Authorities in crisis and say the stark fact is that bankruptcy is rarely down to financial mismanagement alone, but more to do with ongoing, long-term poor governance, poor decision making and deep-rooted cultural issues. A financial crisis does not happen overnight, it really is years in the making. Moreover, the reality is, once you have made all the cuts that you feel are easy, you will have no capacity left and can be left feeling like you are running on empty.

There is an expectation that you have to keep on delivering the same services, in the same way, as you have always delivered them, but doing this with less money. This is not sustainable or achievable. Once you realise that this is impossible and if you continue to do what you have always done in the past, nothing will change, then you are in the right place to start making a positive change.

What is your WHY?

The first thing you need to do, is look at your vision, and take a fundamental look at your purpose – what you are actually meant to be doing – and why.

It is said that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and reduced budgets and increased pressures on spending provides you with an opportunity to do something different, freeing up the capacity for making changes. Also don’t get caught up in the false argument of ‘statutory’ vs ‘discretionary’. Just because some services have to be delivered it doesn’t mean they are sacred and cannot be touched and they need to be looked at forensically to understand whether they are efficient and effective.

Start with the customers in mind

During this period of review, it is vital not to forget your customers. The temptation is to look inwards, but it is actually far more important to look at what you are delivering from a customer perspective. How can you do things differently, while still delivering what they want, or more importantly, need?

By changing the internal processes, rather than residents’ services, and by focussing on the outcomes you want to deliver, you can work back from there to find a new way of delivering them. Follow how customers find it easiest to interact with you and create processes that reflect that, developing ‘desire paths’ (as our planning colleagues would call them).

It’s a bold Local Authority that sets out to do things differently, but focusing on results creates opportunities to innovate and drive efficiencies. It requires a collaborative approach, with different departments working together, rather than in silos, to deliver on what matters most to customers. Make it simple for them, as, harsh as it sounds, no one really wants to talk to their local council.

Do things differently

For every challenge you face within your Local Authority, there is likely to be more than one way of addressing it, whether this is in response to a social care, housing or another service area need.  For example, historically the response to providing SEN transport has been for councils to lay on taxis or set-up specific bus services, often at huge costs. Some councils are instead offering personal travel budgets to parents to enable them to use it to arrange transport for their child to school, by whatever means they want. Not only does this answer the challenge and reduce costs, but gives the caregivers the opportunity to arrange something that is more convenient and appropriate for the family.

There are many examples of where an outcome-based approach will provide a new way of thinking. C.Co can help you develop a process for moving towards an outcome-based approach to meet your priority needs and work with you to achieve a genuine transformation via results-driven and evidence-based solutions.

We are public sector change experts. Speak to us to find out how we can help you.