Efficiency through partnerships

9 April 2014

Sue Holloway, Director, Services Strategy, Northgate Public services

Councils must be fed up to the back teeth with being told to reduce budgets (the latest figure is by 25%) and yet improve, improve and improve again services at the local level. 

The public increasingly and, to be fair, rightfully on occasions is shouting louder for the same levels of service from its local authority that it receives and expects from the private sector: online, quick and efficient. Central government, too, is pushing hard to promote the digital agenda and encourage councils to look at transacting in this way.

It’s perhaps therefore little surprise that secretly (and often not so secretly) councils complain they just want a period of stability, with some councils questioning whether they even need to invest in these ‘brave new world’ options to deliver better services. 

Yet, against this pressured backdrop, maybe – just maybe – it’s time to think a bit differently?

The issue, after all, is not just budget constraints. With capacity shrinking, economies of scale invariably become more attractive to any local authority. Fundamentally, all councils have a passion to deliver good services to their customers. It’s just unfortunate the delivery model of the past is an expensive one and pressures to reduce costs just keep growing.

Partnering becomes an attractive option because, in effect, it can be an extension of existing best practice as well as sharing cost and risk. It stands to reason, too, that by removing resource intensive processes and allowing services to be delivered through alternative models rather than directly by them, councils free staff to focus on more core priorities and workload. 

But as Christopher Akers-Belcher from Hartlepool BC outlines opposite, and Kent CC and South Bucks DC highlight overleaf, that’s just part of the picture. Innovation and partnering is not just about cost control and efficiency, although that will always remain an important element of it.

Ultimately, yes, partnering is about creating more efficient councils – but it’s much, much more about creating more effective councils, too. The most effective partnerships allow councils to meet and even exceed the demands and expectations of their communities, even as the circle gets ever harder to square.  

As we move through the cycles of austerity and look towards the challenges of 2015-16, the partnerships of the future will be about sharing, generating and maximising opportunities as much as they will be about sharing costs and risks. And that’s precisely how it should be.