A number of challenges facing Local Authorities were outlined at this years IRRV Annual Scottish Conference, but so to were some excellent examples of what Councils were doing to try and meet these issues head on.
We heard from Sarah Gadsden, Head of Change from the Improvement Service who provided some interesting feedback on issues faced by Scottish Local Authorities based on 23 out of 32 Scottish Council responses. By far the biggest challenge was the economy as expected and dealing with austerity but this was closely followed by the customers and their increasing expectations of public services. There was mention of the need to invest more in customer journey mapping and reviewing the growing number of customer touch points thanks to the rise of social and digital channels.
Harnessing the power of technology was a key consideration and there was reference made to the possibility of households paying council tax in future using apps, getting more citizens online to reduce transaction costs and the citizen being more involved in the design of the services they receive.
This all sounds good in principle but is not without its challenges, Sarah noted that it required people with the requisite skills to drive forward the transformation and at present skills gaps do exist that need to be addressed.
Deputy Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Steve Allen also believes it’s about appointing the right people and commented that Public Service was changing and that a different type of leadership is needed to react to how the world is changing around us. He firmly believes that the emphasis should be on changing the course of lives rather than intervening at the point of crisis.
Steve talked about not just chasing targets, which can strip people of the ability to use discretion to make the decisions they need, but focussing on imagination and creativity. Steve believes it’s about appointing leaders with a broad and deep sense of what public service is as well as an understanding of the processes involved to deliver these services.
Luton Borough Council Case Study
Sue Nelson, Head of Revenues, Benefits and Customer Services at Luton Borough Council went on to provide some great insights into the challenges faced in delivering services to citizens and how Luton aim to overcome them through innovation, commercialisation and transformation.
Sue noted that 32% of children in Luton live in poverty and around 130 languages are spoken, they have a diverse, transient community with a large migration of people. Those that are successful and do well, move on, up and out. Against this backdrop, Luton continue to have to make cuts, but do get an income from the airport which helps to a certain extent.
So what are Luton doing to meet budget cut requirements? They focussed on clearing their backlog of aged debt, provided staff with negotiation and sales training and learnt a lot about how to collect debt, to the point they now offer this as a service to other authorities. They have got more people now transacting online with 90% of people doing benefits applications online, they have also streamlined services with Customer Services now being able to provide and support 26 different services. Customer Services effectively acts as a gateway, providing a single assessment of what the need is and then referring the appropriate case work.
Our final blog in the IRRV Scottish Conference Series is coming soon and provides an update on business rate valuation appeals and legislative changes.