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Sevenoaks DC was announced LGC’s Council of the Year 2017 earlier in March.
Sevenoaks is not the only district to have won the accolade – back in 1997, for instance, South Somerset DC claimed the prize – but it is one of relatively few.
Yesterday, we published an in-depth article on the key elements behind Sevenoaks’ success, as part of LGC’s best practice archive, Idea Exchange.
In his article, the Kent district’s chief executive Pav Ramewal explained that the council realised in 2010 that government funding was only going to shrink, and that its only option was to come up with a way to continue delivering services independently.
Much has already been made elsewhere of Sevenoaks’ investments to secure income, and Mr Ramewal details these in his article: Sevenoaks owns a pub, a petrol station, commercial offices and high street space, and will soon build a hotel.
Investment in assets to provide an income to replace government funding is all very well, but to get to a place where that is possible requires a culture change within the council – and it is this that was the most important part of Sevenoaks’ journey, Mr Ramewal wrote.
“I first joined Sevenoaks DC in 2005. As the director for corporate resources at that time, I was faced with reports from external auditors about their concerns for the council’s future solvency. Our customer satisfaction ratings were low and our performance and productivity levels were falling,” he said.
To change this, Sevenoaks brought into focus “the customer and [its] workforce”.
Staff are “encouraged to take risks” and they are not blamed when mistakes are made to foster innovation.
In addition, staff from any department within the council are able to take part in a selection of 30 management development modules, delivered in-house. Sevenoaks is also planning to launch a staff development programme comprising 70 modules on different topics, which will allow employees to learn about services outside of their own day-to-day remit.
This empowerment of staff has pushed decision-making about services down the organisation, towards “those closest to the customer”. This, Mr Ramewal said, means services are delivered more effectively and resident satisfaction is markedly improved. It is also notable that Sevenoaks plans to go beyond its remit to work with Kent CC and the local health service to help deliver preventative care and speed up hospital discharges, particularly through its housing duties.
LGC’s panel of judges described Sevenoaks as “a future focused council with a very impressive approach to workforce management and organisational development”, which they felt “was really doing things differently and had much learning to share with other councils”.
To further that sector-led learning, we have made the details of Sevenoaks’ entry, as well as those of all of LGC’s winners, available online here and we provide information on all shortlisted entries here.