It’s good to talk then steal with pride
Events like this can be thought of by some people as a luxury. I think they are really important, because we’ve gone through Covid and had three years of talking to people on Teams. Today you’ll have presentations and panel discussions, but what is really important is the break-out sessions where you talk to people. There is a wealth of knowledge in this room and we really want you to tap into that.
Gone are the times where we can invent things from scratch – we haven’t got time. In local government we try to say that we’re different, but a lot of the services we provide are very similar. I’m not worried about re-using what other people have done. If there’s anything you can steal with pride, then use it.
My policy theme breaks down into four areas and today we have examples of each. The first is supporting innovation, where we have opportunities as a community to share. Local government is often very shy and doesn’t always want to talk about what it does, in case it’s not quite right or isn’t quite what people want, but I think we’ve got to put that aside. We’ve got some good examples of great practice and we should put those out there. There are growing communities on topics including customer relationship management and how it works, but how we improve internal processes is just as important.
We need to empower cultural change, bring staff on this journey and empower those staff by giving them the tools they need. A lot of the tools now available don’t need to go through an ICT back office service – our staff can do it for themselves. How do we build that change awareness and strategy for change in our people? On enhancing performance, as I am in local government I feel I can say that we don’t do performance particularly well. We have performance indicators that we measure, but are we measuring the right things? There are great opportunities in the plethora of data to which we have access to turn it into intelligence and insights so we can improve our services.
And on championing exclusivity, we are only as good as our people. We can best deliver services to our customers if we know about their backgrounds, their needs and their wants. We shouldn’t be delivering services in isolation.
This is an edited version of Carol’s welcome to Socitm’s Share National event held in Manchester on 16 November. View the slides from the event
How Wigan lets staff innovate on delivering services
Wigan Council encourages staff to solve problems creatively as part of helping them to feel satisfied in their work, its director of digital, leisure and wellbeing James Winterbottom told Socitm’s Modernising Service Delivery event in Manchester on 16 November.
He said that around three-quarters of public sector workers are motivated by helping people, so it makes sense for the council to give its staff latitude over how to do their jobs. “You’ve got the permission to innovate, think differently,” he said. “You won’t be slaughtered if you make a mistake. Not everything will work, but we need to find different and creative solutions to the challenges that are in front of us.”
Winterbottom gave the example of a keen Wigan runner with early stage dementia who had forgotten where he lived while out running, leading to police officers taking him home. On their advice he had stopped running but this had hit him hard, leading his wife to contact the council for help.
The social worker who visited the couple realised he would benefit from running again. Rather than setting up the standard option of a day of respite care each week, she spoke to the manager of the local community centre who knew another local runner who volunteered to go running with the husband on a regular basis. This led to a recovery in his mental and physical health, as well as costing the council nothing. It relied on the social worker’s contacts, but the council supports such initiatives through Community Book, its directory of third-sector organisations.
Wigan is taking a similar approach to working from home post-pandemic, in general letting staff work in locations that suit them and the work they are doing. Winterbottom said that internal communications on this had caused a few problems, as discussion of ‘returning to the office’ annoyed some of those who never left it, as well as territorial behaviour, with human resources staff discovering that ‘their’ floor had become a collaborative working space, albeit one they could use.
Allowing staff some control over how they work is part of the Deal, which aims to establish a more collaborative relationship between the council and local people and asks staff to be courageous, accountable, positive and kind. “A lot of people join Wigan because they’ve heard about this different way of working,” said Winterbottom, although challenges remain in some areas of recruitment. “It is genuinely felt. You walk into the reception at the town hall and people comment on how it feels a bit different, the vibe of the place.”
“You’ve got the permission to innovate, think differently. You won’t be slaughtered if you make a mistake”James Winterbottom, Wigan Council
The work is underpinned by the ‘compassionate leadership’ style of chief executive Alison Mckenzie-Folan which aims to empower staff, as opposed to ‘heroic leadership’ where managers aim to come up with all the answers themselves. She meets all new starters and has regular meetings in small groups with existing staff, with both maintained during the pandemic by using Microsoft Teams. The council set up digital identities for staff who didn’t previously require them for their jobs to allow them to take part.
Delegates then discussed how their organisations could support this style of working. Those reporting back said this could include changing leadership styles to focus more on staff and their development and less on specific tasks. Technology could support this through more informal online meetings such as drop-in sessions to maintain links with remote workers, avoiding the use of “relentless” back-to-back online meetings and considering new ways to work together such as through the use of augmented reality.
Panel: data should help staff, not micromanage them
Data used to monitor work should help staff do their jobs better, but is often perceived by the workforce as a tool for micromanagement, a panel session on managing performance improvement heard.
Lynsey Bissell, head of service for business insights for Walsall Council, said that in her previous role at Staffordshire County Council she surveyed social workers, their managers and senior leaders on how they felt about performance management. “Micromanaged, time-consuming, it’s meaningless, I don’t trust it,” she summarised the feedback at all levels including the organisation’s leaders. “What we had done was accidentally created that culture without ever meaning to do it, because we had never made data meaningful for the people that use it.”
To challenge the sense that performance data was collected only for managers, her team redesigned it based on what social workers said they would find useful, such as joined-up data from several organisations on individual children which otherwise required logging in separately to a number of systems.
“We had never made data meaningful for the people that use it”Lynsey Bissell, Walsall Council
Helen Watkinson, interim head of information and insight for Shropshire Council, said that Covid-19 accelerated a shift away from waiting for people to ask for support. Temporary changes in data-sharing legislation allowed the council to try to contact everyone aged 85 and older who received assistance with their bin collections, and it has since done similar work with cost-of-living support: “The customer service team are becoming more of an outbound service, trying to identify citizens where we can help,” she said.
Shropshire is also combining data to do more to detect fraudulent applications for single person’s discount on council tax and to decide where to place hub offices for remote workers, based on where they live.
Sam Ali, digital projects manager at Newport City Council, said the organisation is working to improve digital skills for both staff and residents, the latter through a free six-week course and free public wi-fi in locations around Newport. It is also considering loaning tablet devices through its libraries. “It’s about putting the user at the heart of what we do,” she said.
In the preceding session, Socitm Advisory’s innovation and insight lead consultant Michael Litterick said that measuring performance improvements helps organisations learn, understand returns on investments and makes leaders accountable. However, he added that relatively few local authorities undertake such work.
He said that although it benefits the organisation and helps future projects to succeed, it can threaten those involved in current work. “The question comes down to, how does your organisation respond to failure and mistakes?” he said, with intolerance of errors damaging innovation as people play safe.
Recruit on values then train skills says panellist
Local public services can tackle shortages of specialist technology staff by recruiting people to train them, Socitm vice-president Matt Lewis told a panel session on staffing. However, he warned some are likely to leave for better-paid jobs in the NHS, civil service and private sector.
Matt, who is chief operating officer of shared service SRS Wales, said his organisation has to recruit people who are happy working for a range of public services given it serves Gwent Police and four local authorities. “I can train skills, I can’t train values, behaviours and willingness to be part of a collaboration in the public sector,” he said.
Given higher salaries in the private sector and other parts of the public sector, SRS Wales has seen 11% of its staff leave in the last 12 months. While this causes problems given teams need experienced people to operate properly, it also means there are lots of opportunities for relatively new people to make rapid progress in their careers.
“I can train skills, I can’t train values, behaviours and willingness to be part of a collaboration”Matt Lewis, SRS Wales
Matt said the organisation has overstaffed some areas with people working at a lower level, so they are available to step up as others leave. “It is a lot about playing with budgets, trying to be as flexible as you can with money and changing roles,” he said. “You’ve got to have a very flexible HR function.”
Janice Freeman-Phillips, a programme manager at Walsall Council’s digital and technical services function, said that work on diversity and equality can help in retaining staff. The council has invited staff to share experiences in this area and has had a broad range of responses: “One of my colleagues shared a story about a hidden disability, which is autism,” she said. The person, a manager with 20 years of experience, had not previously felt willing to discuss this, but doing so means the council can offer better support in future: “That way we’ll retain them as staff, they will feel they are being listened to and they can work in a way that supports their disability or need.”
Top Talent brings ‘Tell us once’ to life
Local authorities could securely store documents showing entitlement to services including blue badges to make it easier for citizens to carry out subsequent applications, a Top Talent group told the event. Participants from Kirklees, Lancashire and Wigan councils said that a ‘residents’ vault’ would make life easier for people who struggle with digital processes. “We can be told once when a person has died,” Graeme Murrell of Kirklees Council said, referring to the ‘Tell us once’ service run by the Department for Work and Pensions that notifies a range of organisations about deaths. “We want to be told once when you’re alive.”
Another Top Talent group, with participants from Kirklees and Trafford councils and West Yorkshire Combined Authority, proposed a mobile app that could be used across local government to report highway issues such as potholes. The service would use location data to decide automatically which local authority was responsible, so users would not need to work this out.
Nations and regions news
Glasgow City Council and two housing associations are piloting temperature and humidity sensors in social housing that will pass on data twice an hour, to help minimise issues such as damp and mould.
Cardiff Council added an augmented reality Halloween Trail game, featuring pumpkins, witches, skeletons and dinosaurs, to other trails it provides for its parks and green spaces through the Love Exploring app.
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has launched a technology roadmap for the area’s planned £98 million advanced manufacturing innovation centre, which also involves Queen’s University and the Belfast Region City Deal.
Republic of Ireland
Wexford County Council has opened a new online payment portal that allows users to view account information and pay charges including housing rents, commercial rates, mortgages, fire charges, marina fees and planning development levies.
Durham County Council has installed enforcement cameras at County Bridge in Barnard Castle so it can issue penalty charge notices to those breaking its weight limit, making it the second local authority outside London to carry out such enforcement.
Yorkshire and the Humber
Hull City Council is moving its revenue and benefits service back in-house from Civica which has managed the process since 2015, as the company winds down its outsourcing work to focus on software.
Manchester City Council has included an ‘innovation factory’ and a design authority in plans for its new structure for ICT and digital governance, in a strategy recently approved by the council’s executive committee.
Leicester City Council and six bus operators, which work together as the Leicester Bus Partnership, have chosen mobility-as-a-service software to provide an online journey planner aimed at simplifying bus use in the city.
Shropshire Council has heard concerns from Age UK over its ending of cash payments next April, with the charity saying the council’s plans to become more digitally focused will have a negative impact on older people.
East of England
Southend-on-Sea City Council and its partner CityFibre have started 30 weeks of work to install fibre optic cable along its London Road, as part of its programme to provide fast internet access across the city.
Buckinghamshire Council is running a competition for short TikTok or Instagram Reel videos that raise awareness on violence against women and girls, with winning entries posted on the council’s social media channels.
Bristol City Council plans to expand its use of assistive technology in adult social care, including bed sensors, fall detectors, medication dispensers and apps.
Transport for London has digitised its Walk London network of seven long-distance leisure walking routes and will make it available through a third-party app, Go Jauntly.