Review the past, or plan for the future?

After the National Audit Office published its report into the sustainability of local authority finances, a report which the LGA said highlighted the “cliff-edge” facing council funding, andhe IFS is talking about the funding gap for social care, councils need to fundamentally re-think the way they modernise their operations.  Not enough authorities are taking advantage of technology that allows them to not only build modernised local public services, but also to modernise the transformation process itself.

iESE was founded to keep the skills and knowledge on transformation within the sector and to share best practice.  Having achieved over £1billion in savings for councils over the last ten years, we have delivered a number of innovations with the sector.  Yet it feels like we are facing a major stepping-up of what we think of as transformation.

This should involve a shift towards digital modelling of services set against an increased understanding of customer demand. Technology platforms are now available that can support the analysis of a council’s existing data and model various future scenarios based on their local priorities.

In the ten years during which councils have lost 50% of their funding, we’ve seen some leading-edge transformations from local government.  Those transformations have become larger in scale and far more innovative as the demand for savings has continued to increase – from partnerships between councils to completely integrated and reinvented local public services, totally focussed on the needs that drive demand for service.

The NAO report agrees these types of innovation won’t be enough to sustain local government into the future.  But they do show that councils, despite having delivered the lion’s share of savings in public spending, are still rolling up their sleeves and delivering everything they can to serve their communities.

However, whilst leading edge transformation is hitting new levels of innovation.  The process of transformation and transferring those lessons learned to others, is still largely built on an outdated review and report methodology.  A methodology which takes years for the sector as a whole to change.

But a central command and control approach is equally flawed.  It struggles with tailoring to local circumstances and, as with the current approach, is based on looking backwards at previous spending, trends in demand and models of operation. And you can’t see where you’re going if you’re looking behind you.

We’re seeing our member councils beginning to use digital service modelling – not just modelling future funding and customer and service demand but new operating models joined up across the public sector, utilising community capacity and tailored to local circumstances. 

These tools also allow you to manage the transformation process and build the new services.  Not only are they more flexible but the licensing and pricing is designed with joined up public services in mind rather than a means of demanding more royalties.

Whilst a relatively small number of organisations using the approach at this stage – the method holds the promise of far more rapid and cost-effective transformation for the sector.

Dr Andrew Larner is Chief Executive of the Improvement & Efficiency Social Enterprise.