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In order to respond to the changing social and economic environment, as well as bring about improvements in service quality and efficiency, innovation needs to be at the forefront of the councils mind. However, the two go ‘hand in hand’ and are not independent of each other

To create savings through innovation it is important to create an environment for it to happen. Take Flintshire County Council as an example. They have instigated a programme to drive cross-organisational change through strong and visionary professional leadership and taking a collegiate approach. It is all about team collaboration and is highly structured on organisational change to support investment in political choice and protecting services. Creating this kind of culture brings the organisation together as a unit and ultimately gains trust and buy-in from colleagues feeling they are empowered to make a real difference in the future of the council and the services they provide.

Creating this culture of openness will drive innovation and facilitate the generation of new ideas, and harnessing these effectively achieves better outcomes for people and places. However, innovation depends on more than just good ideas. There needs to be clear drivers and diagnostics, strong implementation, and a culture of continuous improvement.

Different approaches work in different places.  One size does not fit all. For instance, in South Tyneside Council we went for a broad ranging business transformation programme in partnership with BT. There were many reasons behind this.  Members wanted to regenerate much needed development sites in the Borough and both retain and create new jobs.  A long term relationship worked best here where BT could invest in the longer term with a guaranteed core volume of work over time.

This type of arrangement is not suitable or would work in all local authorities. It is therefore important to be creative and focus on what each individual council needs and what the drivers for change are. Once the service area is chosen it is vital to make sure that all of the processes and costs are positively challenged, whether it be Social Care costs, highways maintenance or internal business functions (i.e. procurement).

Driving innovation isn’t always about a brand new idea in delivering services it is sometimes just standing back and challenging the way we have always done it. Through taking this approach there is scope to significantly improve the way services are delivered and create more streamlined processes while at the same time providing quality services. It is important to identify and resolve issues in areas that have perhaps been previously overlooked or proved too challenging.

This is where it is helpful to have a fresh pair of eyes sitting alongside those people who know most about the business – very often it is those people closest to the front line of service delivery who know where efficiencies and improvements can be made – it is about creating the right environment for this to happen.

There are many areas where innovation can be introduced to deliver real bottom line value. For instance service integration, re-engineering existing operations, new commissioning and service contracting strategies establishing transparent performance management, and developing partnership based delivery models – these are few of many ideas to be considered when looking to innovate to drive out cost.

Tightening budgets and increased spending scrutiny means councils need to focus internally on developing innovative ideas to improve services. However ‘making innovation happen’ is often the challenge as council internal resources are reducing. That’s why specialists can play a crucial role in driving improvements in efficiency. Councils can then work with partners on fixed term programmes which focus on finding innovative solutions to intransigent problems.

Specialists are detached from the everyday workings of the council and can provide an independent viewpoint. The LGA for example are funding exploratory work with these new models to facilitate the use of specialists in a time of budgets constraints. The ‘risk-reward’ model for instance, is one example whereby private sector organisations are guaranteeing set target improvements on a 100% contingent fee basis, so there is no financial risk for the local authority. This ensures the focus is on the realisation of sustainable results.

There are many models out there which are designed to support innovation and help local authorities take forward their efficiency and transformation agendas. The key is creating that culture and making it happen, and the two (innovation and cost savings) will go ‘hand in hand’ together.  The more of us looking at the problem, the more likely we are to find a solution.

Written by Irene Lucas CBE
Thursday, 09 February 2012 11:11

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