Applications for the Transformation Awards 2019 are OPEN!
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Public Sector Transformation Awards, we are taking a trip down memory lane to look at the past Council of the Year Winners.
2014: Norwich City Council
Laura McGillivray, Chief Executive at Norwich City Council, said winning iESE's Council of the Year award in 2014 was a milestone.
When she was appointed in 2006, the council was in a poor state – a situation which became more challenging during the recession and with austerity measures. Having put its house in order, the 2014 award gave the council renewed belief in its capabilities and it has continued to flourish.
Recalling the time she joined Norwich City Council, McGillivray said it was "a bit of a mess". The biggest issue was that the authority's financial systems were inadequate, and auditors issued two section 11 notices where the council had to debate how it was going to get back on track at a full and public council meeting.
"The whole financial system had to be completely reworked. It took quite a few years just to get things back on an even keel so that we could run the council properly,” McGillivray said.
And it was yet to experience further setbacks. Its housing arm, which it believed was performing well, was given no stars in a best value review and its tenants passed a vote of no confidence. “We got our housing standards back up and we got our finance systems working properly. Having sorted all that out, and after introducing a stronger performance management framework, the recession then happened," McGillivray explained.
“In one year we lost £6m in revenue from interest and other sources. The council had adequate reserves, but it was still a big wake-up call. We started to work on efficiencies and drove through every single thing we could find that would save money without cutting services. We looked at joint ventures, priority-based budgeting, we combed through all our budgets and took out lots of surplus budget codes and saved about £30m from this exercise over a number of years.”
At this point, a visit from iESE prompted the council to apply for Council of the Year. The same year, Norwich also won an iESE Silver Award for Transformation in Waste and Environment, along with a couple of other national awards. It now has two cabinets in which to display its iESE awards and subsequent accolades.
"It was just brilliant because we were doing all of this work and nobody had noticed so, for us, that recognition was fantastic," McGillivray added. "It really gave us confidence and the ability to leave our past behind, believe we were in good shape and move forward."
Following the iESE award ceremony in London, iESE chief executive, Dr Andrew Larner, presented the award again at a full council meeting. To help spread news of the achievement, employees proudly included details of the iESE award in their email footers. And to mark the council’s success, all staff were invited to a red carpet celebration event where they were each personally greeted by the management team and heard speeches from partners about how good the council was to do business with.
Moving to the present, the council has recently opened its modern and fully-refurbished customer centre, started building houses for sale and private rent and is in the process of developing a ‘2040 Norwich City Vision’ – an exercise for residents and partners to tell the council how they want the city to be in the future.
"We have gone on to be bolder. It has given us the confidence to step forward and work as an active partner with businesses, communities and other public sector organisations. We feel we can lead the city with moral and practical authority.”
And applying for awards is something McGillivray would encourage. "There is nothing like putting down on paper what you have done to make you appreciate it – even if you don't win. It is a great exercise in reminding you where you have travelled and what you have achieved," she concludes.