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City unveils big management shake-up

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Brighton & Hove City Council has given the go-ahead to radical plans to rip up the authority’s management structure to create a “commissioning council”.

The shake-up is designed to avoid “gradually reducing budgets, staffing and services” as financial settlements tighten in the coming years, chief executive John Barradell, right, said.

The move follows a string of high-profile Conservative councils, notably Barnet LBC and Essex CC, unveiling radical overhauls of their structures.

Under the new model, the council’s six existing departments will be abolished and their decision-making function handed to a strategic leadership board and a group of 40-50 commissioners. “Delivery units” would be left to focus solely on service delivery.

Proposals approved by the Tory-led council’s cabinet last week said: “Services would be commissioned using open commissioning approaches … drawing on the best of the public, private and third sectors to shape the market and encourage innovation.”

The blueprint, Creating a council the city deserves, echoed Total Place-style aspirations to be more outcome-driven and break down departmental silos.

“[The model] connects top-level outcomes in a more systematic way, for example the contribution which housing makes to education attainment, or planning policy to tackling antisocial or criminal behaviour,” it said.

Mr Barradell dismissed the notion that the new model would lead to more services being privatised.

But the paper indicated the number of managers would be cut, with a new, “flatter”, management structure implemented.

“We want to re-engineer the council to be a commissioning council,” he said. “This means splitting the decision-making from service delivery.”

“The council will still need environmental health officers, we will still need social workers. The senior managers will see the biggest difference with this.”

Mr Barradell said it was not yet possible to comment on whether or not the council could be reduced to a commissioning hub with all its services outsourced, because the model was not finalised. Plans would be finalised in the coming months, he said.

Opposition members raised concerns. Paul Elgood (Lib Dem) said: “We are deeply concerned that this will lead to the privatisation of more services.”

However, one consultant familiar with the model suggested it did not necessarily require the wholesale outsourcing of services.

“The danger is that both the people delivering the services and the commissioners monitor progress and this creates duplication,” he said.

“The hope is that you get more innovation from separating out the commissioning and delivery functions.”

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