East Renfrewshire is an open and welcoming council that has moved early to modernise. In its first four years, it has positioned itself intelligently and created an ambitious profile.
Politicians work constructively together across parties to demonstrate democratic leadership as council decision-making processes are opening up to scrutiny.
Those working for the council are energetic, constructive and committed. In a short time some strong service reputations have been created. High attainment levels in local schools, combined with its close proximity to the City of Glasgow, make it an attractive place to live.
The council is firmly committed to working through partnerships to address the challenges of the less affluent parts of the area and is actively strengthening its broad strategic alliances with the police, health agencies and the voluntary sector.
High levels of energy and determination in its early life have ensured that East Renfrewshire now has a clear identity and is firmly on the map of local government. For a small council to achieve so much is impressive. Indeed, its profile is so positive that there is a risk others are becoming resentful about its achievements.
The considerable effort expended in the council's early life is beginning to take its toll in some areas. The council's achievements have been made against a climate of shrinking resources, so many services are already accustomed to having to do more with less.
Over the last few years the council has missed few opportunities to launch new initiatives or address innovation early. All this additional work has been managed by staff, and combined with their main service delivery responsibilities, so is now stretching their loyalty and commitment.
Employees are now feeling the strain and would appreciate the opportunity to draw breath and take stock. Many are keen to work with councillors to help shape choices about tighter priorities in future.
There is now an opportunity to step back and consolidate the council's considerable achievements before embarking on the next phase of change, perhaps at a more considered pace.
All employees need to hear how both managers and councillors appreciate them and to feel the positive impact of improved internal communication and good support systems. Sound management practice has already been developed in some services but now needs to be evaluated and spread consistently across the whole council.
As the council moves from its initial corporate plan into broader community planning, new priorities need to be sharpened, council service implications spelt out and commitments embedded into planning so they become achievable targets. More emphasis could also be placed on corporate and cross-departmental working.
The best value process could now produce some radical solutions to budget challenges. As the whole budget process is reviewed, there is a need to ensure it is a more inclusive process as well as making it longer term and firmly linked into service planning.
There is also a need to clarify and communicate how it will work so everyone involved understands the links between strategy, priorities, budget and planning.
Local communities also need to understand fully what is driving their council and be encouraged to develop their roles through influencing local service priorities. More emphasis on early consultation, systematic feedback on results and ongoing community involvement would help engagement.
There is also scope to clarify how the council hopes its area structures will develop and how they will be supported to ensure local people see joined up local delivery. In reviewing its new political structures, and strengthening the emphasis on community leadership there is a need to make the three main elements: executive, robust scrutiny and community representation, clearer and more fluid to ensure all councillors are fully engaged through their new roles.
As it draws breath, East Renfrewshire needs to celebrate its achievements to date and make sure that all involved know how much their efforts and contributions are valued.
The full IDeA report can be viewed here