Ten top tips for hard up councils

The cost pressure on local authorities in the UK has been in the news over the last few days, with predictions of huge job losses to come.  Meanwhile, the Minister responsible for local government (John Denham) has said that councils should be able to make efficiency savings and avoid much of the pain.  A report has been published which outlines some of the things councils can do to make efficiencies, including these top ten tips;

  1. Council services must be focused on the customer. They come first
  2. Take a Total Place approach to frontline services
  3. Make services more efficient - cutting out waste and unnecessary duplication. Especially in two tier areas
  4. Check performance against others and learn from who is doing it better
  5. Buy goods and services in groups and use that buying power to create local benefits and involve the third sector
  6. Reduce the number of council buildings by locating more services together
  7. Motivate staff to help to perform to the best of their ability
  8. Make managers leaders of innovation to improve services
  9. Streamline management. Consider splitting senior posts with other councils or PCTs
  10. Share professional expertise and ensure council staff are able to be flexibly deployed

They are all fine although some are somewhat stating the blindingly obvious -' focusing on the customer',  'make services more efficienct', and 'motivate staff', well yes, that's an idea I'd never thought of! And this is a quote from the full report;

Two district councils that share a chief executive to improve service delivery are reporting savings of £790,000 per year.

That is either the best paid public servant in the UK; or it says something about the robustness of the savings reporting methodology!  Tip number five (buying power) is interesting to procurement folk; something that is already happening to a large extent through local authority use of Buying Organisations, collaboration driven by RIEPS etc.  But of course there is more potential.

However, even the tips that seem to hold real long term potential, such as Total Place (which from what I've seen could deliver quite radical change and significant benefits), will take years rather than months to implement.  Meanwhile money has to be saved NOW.  So, other than increasing income, which is a whole other topic,  it strikes me that authorities are back to the two key spend areas for any organisation, staff and third party spend, and how they can be addressed to save money quickly.  So my list of how to make immediate savings would be as follows.

Staff - the only options are reduce numbers or pay less for a given job (I know it's not nice but that is all that can practically be done), or get people to work harder (as in the 'top tip'  idea of splitting senior posts with other councils).  Not easy or quick.

Non-staff - procurement and related initiatives should include;

  • Re-negotiate  more value (lower prices) from current suppliers
  • Look to move aggressively to cheaper suppliers
  • Challenge specifications to reduce costs
  • Reduce (manage) demand for goods and services

These seem to be the areas that procurement people will have to focus on to make savings as quickly as possible; all challenging, but at least with some chance of delivering rapid savings.  Perhaps we'll look at a Procurement Excellence top ten tips....

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