Changing places: Delivering place based transformation

For much of the past 30 years, the public service improvement agenda in local government has looked inwards, initially through the pursuit of incremental performance improvement and cost cutting opportunities, and more recently through the transformation of organisational operating models.

While this has been necessary, is this approach sufficient and sustainable? As councils look to 2020 and beyond, new ways to adapt and innovate will be needed in the face of established trends, the impact of external disruptions such as ‘ransomeware’ attacks, or tragedies which change the context in which councils work, like Grenfell Tower.

As our seventh annual Local State We’re In survey highlights, financial uncertainty will also continue to form the backdrop for local public service leaders: half (54%) of our local authority survey respondents believing some councils will get into serious financial difficulty in the next year, while 88% expect that to happen inside the next five years.

More radical action is clearly required to rise to these future challenges, combining place based growth with public service reform. In particular, public service providers need to look for opportunities beyond their organisational boundaries, collaborating with others across sectors and with a renewed sense of shared ambition and intent. As our work on Good Growth for Cities sets out, there is a need to build the capacity for distributed leadership in a place, with players across local government, central government and the private sector acting together and working collaboratively.

We believe the most successful organisations therefore need to build a place based approach to transformation which focuses on their distinctive assets: the nature of the people and places they serve. Public service leaders have a great opportunity now to mould their future approaches to transformation by:

  • Making new strategic choices based on the distinctive characteristics of the places, people and communities they serve. Successful place strategies are expressions of the conscious decisions leaders make about the type of place – the brand – they are trying to create and building alignment around a compelling vision for their place.
  • Identifying new opportunities for collaboration and new ways of joint working between organisations that share a common footprint, from joining up back office services or establishing a common estates strategy to more ambitiously front line service redesign and integration. This includes empowering the public sector workforce in a place through the implementation of new digital solutions, sharing data between organisations and the establishment of shared business intelligence functions as well as the implementation of integrated digital platforms to enhance community engagement.

How public service providers respond to these challenges will be key to ensuring their future success. Without a robust and imaginative response, there is a very real risk we will see services and organisations begin to fail.

Local authorities also need to work across places and secure the right public service reforms to underpin the delivery of key outcomes. Against an uncertain financial context, councils also need to build organisational resilience although our survey reveals gaps in areas such as supply chain management and talent management. Investing in these capabilities will be important in building council resilience and developing the commercial acumen that will be essential for success in future.

In addition, councils can make more out of data, investing in an analytics capability which can improve decision-making, drive smarter, earlier interventions and, as a result, reduce risk and cost. But only a third of respondents appear confident that their council is using data analytics effectively to inform decision-making and strategy.

In the light of the NHS ‘ransomeware’ attack, it is also of concern that the majority of respondents are not confident that their staff are well equipped to deal with cyber threats. With new regulatory requirements, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), councils will need to ensure they have the capabilities to respond to new demands when it comes to information governance.

Allied to data analytics, emergent digital technologies need to be harnessed to change traditional ways of working and create new value, experience and insight. Most notable in this year’s Survey has been the pivot in what councils think digital can deliver. Whereas in 2016 we found that 80% of respondents thought digital would enable them to significantly reduce costs, this has now fallen to 58%. However, at the same time the proportion who believe that digital will allow them to engage in new ways with communities and residents has grown from 54% in 2016 to 83% in 2017.

However, if councils are to engage in new ways with the public, they need to find ways to do so on the public’s terms. Alongside the survey of local council leaders and Chief Executives, our polling of the public shows the extent of this challenge. Just over a quarter of members of the public questioned felt they were well informed about the needs for closures or services reductions, and less than one in five agreed that local services had either become more effective or efficient.

Councils have proved before their ability to deal with significant challenges before. But as they look to the future, they will need to find new ways to adapt and be innovative in the face of uncertainty.

Jonathan House | Partner
Profile Email | +44 ( 0)117 928 1047



Ben Pykett | Senior Manager, Consulting
Profile Email | +44 (0)7841 786900

@BenPykett1 | Linkedin Profile


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