Deloitte tells council to be ‘honest with citizens’ about future service delivery
A clearer understanding is needed between Birmingham council and citizens about what the council can and cannot provide in future, and politicians must give strong support to officers as they seek to remodel public services.
These are two key points running through research by financial consultants Deloitte which helped frame the city council’s 2016-17 spending plans and looked at how the authority can deliver the Kerslake Review recommendations while facing further cuts in Government grant and a rapidly diminishing workforce.
The report also questions the feasibility of an important part of the council’s financial strategy, saving £60 million by integrating services with the NHS. It warns the “rationale and detail” of this is yet to be tested.
The report, which is based on meetings by Deloitte with council staff during the summer of 2015, talks about demand management and redesigning services around prevention and early intervention – a concept that will be particularly important if an ever-increasing bill for adult and children’s social care is to be trimmed.
There will have to be “clearer service offers” and the council must concentrate on being honest with the public about the scale of services it can reasonably expect to deliver in future, the report suggests.
The Deloitte report, which examines every department, was ordered by former council leader Sir Albert Bore and was not meant to be published. But following a request from Chamberlain Files, based on new council leader John Clancy’s promised climate of openness, Deloitte’s findings have been made available in full.
At the beginning of the document the authors set the scene for the changing state of local government with the results of interviews with 35 chief executives of public sector organisations.
Five themes emerged:
- Overall, the mindset has shifted towards optimism as most public sector organisations are leaner and they reflect on recent changes with a sense of confidence. The last five years were about cuts but they say the next five will be about redesign.
- Most CEOs spoke about increasing exposure to risk – particularly in relation to organisational failure or service failures – as a result of austerity measures.
- Concerns have increased over talent. Some organisations feel they have lost high performers in headcount reductions, and private sector recovery makes recruitment harder. Most want to exploit technology but can’t afford the people to make that happen.
- Collaboration across services and digital solutions are seen as the keys to better productivity. They need political cover to make some bold moves. Public sector productivity debates so far have been too abstract which provides an opportunity to offer some grounded thinking.
- Many identified the urgent need for politicians to engage people about personal responsibility and ways in which this could help public sector organisations manage demand and expectation.
The themes match perfectly concerns expressed by Birmingham city council and are outlined in the Kerslake Review, notably the loss of senior council officers with expertise in redundancy exercises and the lack of funds to improve ICT.
There is also an important message about politicians giving support to officers enabling them to make bold moves and about engaging citizens in a grown up conversation about personal responsibility and service demand.
The report urges the council to be realistic about timescales for the delivery of the savings it has to make, which amount to £250 million over the next four years, and warns against the salami-slicing of services in order to set a budget for 2016-17.
Deloitte calls for a “fundamental reframing of the relationship between citizens and council” with particular emphasis on services for vulnerable children, which cost £200 million a year and are delivered by 3,359 members of staff.
The report warns:
Citizens will benefit from a relationship with the council that shifts in emphasis from intervention to prevention, independence and resilience, but will need to understand what this means in terms of the respective roles and responsibilities of service users, families, communities and the council.
The council will need to work hard to change its culture, improve its use of data, redesign services and ensure appropriate professional responses. This will create the necessary foundations for delivering the opportunities and changes that will benefit citizens in terms of improved outcomes.
There are four recommendations for vulnerable children’s services:
- Learning what works well and replicating it. There is already good practice in some service areas but often it’s not shared.
- Focusing on empowering families and vulnerable children to reduce preventable demand and increase independence.
- Working more effectively with partners and service users to develop alternatives to care and promote professionals, families and partners to use an early help approach.
- Streamlining the care system.
The report suggests that risk aversion, the fear of making a mistake, is leading to a significant number of unnecessary child protection investigations, of which less than half result in intervention. This causes a “natural need to take children into care”, it is suggested.
As far as services for vulnerable adults are concerned, the report suggests there are “significant opportunities to move away from a dependency based model by focusing on enablement and maximising independence”.
The report notes:
There was little evidence of deliberate and focused work to successfully transform services for this cohort group. Opportunities to work with the third sector to support early intervention approaches need to be strengthened.
There is a clear willingness among staff to accept challenge, albeit that they start from a position where they believe that the potential for change will require strong political support. There is a need also for officers to develop effective strategies to drive change in a political environment.
Realising savings has to be underpinned by effective communication of what BCC does and doesn’t do, and what it offers citizens including changing language to move from dependency (care) to enabling (support).
According to Deloitte, the relationship between social services and citizens is “overly paternalistic” and focused on “rights” and dependency based. The aim is to “develop supportive relationships, working in partnership with individuals and promoting independence”.
The report warns:
The programme emerging would require strong citizen engagement to redefine the relationship between the council and individuals. This would impact on the ways in which individuals interact with the council, access to and expectations of services and service users.
It is likely that a number of existing services would change as a result of this programme, placing greater responsibility on individuals.
The report points to a “significant risk” of not delivering the savings required in older adults services. Budget plans are said to be overly focused on financial assistance from the Government’s Better Care Fund and, crucially, there is an over-reliance on achieving financial savings through integration with the NHS “without having fully tested the rationale and detail”.
The behaviour of councillors raising expectations by demanding help for individual constituents is questioned: “There is a view that elected members can sometimes generate demand as they respond to constituent requests. This can create difficult situations for officers where there is the potential to set precedents and undermine agreed approaches and policies.
The impact on members is that they would be expected to reinforce a needs based approach, and demonstrate an awareness of the changes taking place in these services and to consider this in terms of the types of requests made and the way in which these requests are managed.
The report is critical of the council for offering advice and support to businesses when it has no statutory obligation to do so. It warns:
There is a fundamental lack of efficiency in the way that the Council deals with businesses. For example, the same businesses apply to different parts of the Council for different things, giving an impression of complexity and a lack of joining up.
There is certainly potential to use IT to tackle this issue to create a one stop shop for businesses online. More radically, there could be the potential to use handheld devices and joined up databases to maximise sharing information across services and make the council more efficient, changing roles to create more seamless teams.
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