Surviving the cliff edge: what does a resilient local authority look like?

July 03, 2018


The near future looks increasingly challenging. While the majority of all respondents to our 2018 Local State We’re In survey of local government leadership remain confident about the year ahead, over a quarter (28%) lack confidence that they will be able to make the necessary savings while delivering quality services and outcomes over the next year.

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While this is slightly lower than last year (32%), it is still a concern that such a significant proportion have fears about their ability to continue to deliver services in the next year without impacting on quality of services or outcomes.

The proportion of all respondents who believe that some councils will get into serious financial difficulty in the next year has leapt from just over half last year to almost three quarters (74%) this year.

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Meanwhile over half (53%) think that some councils will fail to deliver the essential services residents require over the next year.

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In order to prevent such a fate, or recover from one, developing ever higher levels of organisational resilience is key. So, what does rising to this challenge look like in practice?

It’s about fostering a set of attitudes and behaviours across the council and its partners that’s outward looking and customer-focused. It’s a rejection of ‘hunkering down’ into introspective siege mentality and an embrace of increasing collaboration, agility and ownership.

We are seeing a rising cadre of local public service organisations demonstrating this resilience, creating a network of connections across their places, professions and interests. In practice, this manifests in the following ways. These organisations:

Collaborate across disciplines Councils are bringing together stakeholders – who are often unfamiliar to each other – to tackle the most complex issues facing their places by actively participating in thinking, planning and delivery collectively. By fostering common objectives and experience, these are diverse and effective teams with strong resolve. This, then, underpins continuing innovation, which will increasingly needed to address the challenges and deliver outcomes.

Share work in progress Aligned to collaboration, sharing thoughts is key; no idea is better when only one person has explored it. But, even more importantly, the sharing of work in progress will develop the expectation of that behaviour which, when common, will foster further improvement, innovation and delivery of change.

Self-organise and be autonomous Those councils who are actively and consistently devolving responsibility are empowering their people, strengthening psychological bonds and therefore improving productivity and quality. This isn’t merely a question of giving staff agency and ‘letting them get on with it’, the best organisations are reconnecting their people with the purpose they have for coming to work and reshaping roles and services to better support people delivering this purpose.

Create influence, cede control High performing councils have recognised that new skills are needed to enable the levels of behaviour change among their communities that will achieve positive outcomes. By developing new skills around creating strategy, legitimacy and commitment to this course of action communities are able to exercise their own agency while the council can stand back, in comparison to its previous role.

Even in the face of the current challenges - or perhaps precisely because of them - we can find councils embracing a new set of behaviours to make them stronger. And while this is great news for those who are succeeding, what’s key is that all councils are able to find their own sources of resilience, in line with their situation and objectives. This is the key learning - resilience is made where it is needed, and not necessarily imported from elsewhere.

Andy Theedom | Director
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