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Council of the Year: The Wigan Deal is our social movement

council of the year wigan council
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How we became LGC’s Council of the Year.

  • Project: The Wigan Deal
  • Objectives: Whole system reform to reduce demand through a new relationship with residents
  • Timescale: 2011 onwards
  • Cost to authority: Reduced budget target of £160m
  • Staff working on project: 4,500
  • Outcomes: - £140m budget reduction so far
    - Sixth year of frozen council tax
    - £10m investment in community groups
    - Protected libraries and children’s centres
    - 89% of care providers good or outstanding
    - 8% increase in recycling
  • Officer contact details: Alison McKenzie-Folan

It was an emotional night for us at Wigan MBC when we were named as LGC’s Council of the Year.

The joy shown by the councillors and officers at the awards ceremony was an indication of the amount of hard work which has contributed to that success. Hard work, dedication and inspiration from our brilliant staff carried us not just over the past year but for almost a decade, getting us where we are today.

The story of Wigan’s success is the story of the Wigan Deal.

We view it as our own social movement that’s helped Wigan make the necessary savings year-on-year – £140m so far – and captured the imagination of our residents to lead that change from within their communities.

It has boosted volunteering and recycling while helping Wigan have the lowest council tax in Greater Manchester. It has even transformed how all our staff work and given them permission to innovate and be brave in doing the best they can for the communities they serve.

The story of the deal began in 2011 when austerity measures were starting to hit. We had to strip £160m from the council’s budget, making us the third worst affected by austerity according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. This to a borough of 320,000 residents, a third among the 20% most deprived in the country, was potentially catastrophic. Doing nothing wasn’t an option.

Led by the council’s visionary former chief executive Donna Hall, who retired in February, with unwavering political support from then leader Lord Peter Smith (Lab), we designed the deal to establish a completely different relationship between residents and the council.

Inspired by the likes of social entrepreneur Hilary Cottam and anthropologist Robin Pharoah, the deal was complex in what it was trying to achieve but simple in its delivery. It set out simple steps residents could take to help make them happier and the borough a better place, to meet the challenge of austerity and to reduce demand on services.

These included getting people involved in their community, recycling more, using online services and taking better care of their health, among other things. For the council’s part we pledged to freeze council tax, invest in communities and build services around people and their families.

Pennington Flash Local Nature Reserve

The most tangible part of the deal for residents was freezing council tax. Satisfaction with the council increased 59% despite the fact we had lost over half our resources. We weren’t just changing how we were working, we were improving it.

The approach had profound implications for our staff and shifted how they worked with residents into an ‘asset-based’ relationship. This was especially effective in adult social care where social workers were having different conversations, finding what makes people happy and connecting them to their community.

To support this we invested £10m in the community sector to empower more than 450 sustainable community groups. These have supported people out of traditional care settings to places in their local community where they are connected and happier and at the same reduced demand on expensive state-funded settings.

“This past year alone we have had 38 councils, including from Denmark and Norway, visit Wigan to learn more about the deal.”

The proportion of people receiving support in their own home has increased to 71% in 2018 with a reduction of 3,000 people needing traditional social care services since 2013-14.

The positive effects of embedding the deal across the council have been remarkable. Children’s services are rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted with “strong and effective leadership”, and the adoption service is rated as ‘outstanding’.

The service’s new ‘huddle’ approach, based on the deal principles, brings together multi-agency services and wraps them around GPs, schools and early years settings. Early intervention and prevention work using this approach has resulted in a 13% reduction in the numbers of looked after children.

The council’s economic strategy has helped 3,000 more people into employment in 2018-19 compared to 2016-17. Businesses in the borough have supported the deal, with more than 100 signing up to The Deal for Business, putting more back into the community through volunteering, employing apprentices and supporting community groups.

The council’s environment service saw record levels of recycling in 2018 of 54% thanks to residents embracing the deal. Non-recyclable waste is now collected every three weeks, with recycling collected in the other weeks, boosting recycling rates overall. This also saved £2m a year.

Adult social care in Wigan

We have pushed the digital agenda hard in the past year, becoming the first council in the country to roll out the Duke of York’s Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award, with hundreds of people signing up and improving their digital skills.

Financially we have implemented an accelerated savings programme identifying efficiencies early and taking them out of the budget, leading to a bigger impact later. We ended the financial year with stable finances, the lowest council tax in Greater Manchester, no further cuts to frontline services and a balanced budget in adult social care, while also continuing to invest in growth.

We are also making Wigan fitter and healthier, with a 22% decrease in people smoking in 2018 compared to 2012. More adults than ever are now physically active for at least 150 minutes a week. Our Deal for Health and Wellness was praised by Chris Ham, former chief executive of the King’s Fund, as “the future for the NHS”.

This past year alone we have had 38 councils, including from Denmark and Norway, visit Wigan to learn more about the deal and we have organised two conferences to share learning and inspire others. We are now looking to the future with our Deal 2030 strategy and have gained 6,000 ideas from our residents on how to make the borough even better.

We felt the time was right to submit for LGC’s Council of the Year award due to the many positive and real outcomes the deal was having across the organisation and the borough. We are glad we did, as the knock-on effect for staff has been huge, with the award boosting pride. We would recommend other councils to go for it in future.

But we know we do not always get it right. We continue to be as keen to learn from others and improve further as we have always been. So please be brave, take a whole-system approach, trust your staff and listen to your communities, and like us you can create your own success story.

Alison McKenzie-Folan, chief executive, Wigan MBC

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