Julian Wain, Chief Executive, Gloucester City Council discusses how radical shake-ups to the country’s welfare system are encouraging some local authorities to innovate for the better
According to the news, the recent and on-going welfare changes have been turning many local authorities on their heads. Whilst not everyone in the industry will agree with these claims, I can see that there’s a lot to juggle.
The combination of these new found responsibilities and on-going pressure to do more with less, without letting service levels drop can, for some, be a worry.
Not only are authorities having to prepare to take over control of some of the social fund functions but they’re also passing over claimant information to central government so it can manage Personal Independent Payments and the move to Universal Credit.
At the same time, these constraints also appear to be encouraging some councils to think outside of the box to implement some rather innovative ways of working.
It is important to do what works, get out there and learn from your peers. As with any private or public sector organisation, it may be less daunting to continue working in “the old ways” but often this won’t provide the best outcome. It’s only by locating weaker spots, and considering how to strengthen them that better services and delivery models can be developed.
A central part of this is adopting new behaviours and ideas from peers and expert third parties, to embed innovation into daily operations and future strategy.
Some of the best results are achieved when public and private teams work together.
We have already seen the benefits of doing so since our decision to outsource the delivery of revenues benefits and welfare rights services to Civica, a technical company which specialises in supporting public sector organisations to streamline their processes, raise service levels and cut costs.
We are now saving more than £200,000 a year and sharing services with our sister authority, Forest of Dean District Council to reach more people. We are well-prepared for the future.
These changes do not have to be revolutionary; something as obvious as migrating all your paper-based claims to an electronic system could significantly cut the time spent processing them.
I read online that Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council won an industry award for this last year. According to the official announcement, it is now able to process 41% of its claims in a single day – which is saving them over £134,000 a year.
I have also seen that some authorities are choosing to work with both private and third-sector organisations to ensure the social funds reach their region’s most vulnerable citizens.
Local charities offer the insight into the people, whilst private companies provide the complementary resources, technology and logistics to ensure a strong local response is delivered.
While it may present difficulties, local authorities should also see the radical changes coming down from central government as an opportunity; not only to hone their own internal processes and knowledge, but most importantly to provide citizens with the best quality services possible.