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Districts plan to transfer staff into companies

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Two south west districts are planning to transfer 90% of staff into council owned companies in a bid to win business from neighbouring authorities, LGC has been told.

South Hams DC and West Devon BC, which have shared a chief executive since 2007, completed a major restructure earlier this year which saw almost all frontline staff forced to reapply for their jobs.

Over the past 18 months staff have been reappointed to a single structure, based on their “behaviours” rather than their experience. 

The aim is that within the next couple of years this single workforce will be transferred to council owned companies in order to allow greater freedom to trade and generate a profit. Only a core of staff, working in services such as member support, communications and strategy and performance, will remain directly employed by the council.

Steve Jorden, executive director (strategy and commissioning) and head of paid service for the two councils, told LGC the model was unique in local government.

He said: “We believe the model is a really good model and there might be an opportunity to sell that to other councils but also to deliver services to other councils.

“A lot of councils have set up trading companies, the difference with us is the way in which we’ve structured the organisation and the way in which we’ve appointed people against a set of behaviours.”

The new structure has seen different departments abolished in favour of a model where case workers take responsibility for a case load of the more complex queries that cannot be dealt with by the councils’ contact centre. These case workers can access support from specialists, such as planning officers or environmental health professionals, where required. 

Mr Jorden, who was head of the Worcestershire Regulatory Services local authority shared service until January this year, said this meant the “customer” had a “single point of contact and didn’t get “passed round to different departments for different issues”. It also frees up highly paid professionals from doing mundane tasks to do “high-end, value added work,” he said.

Following an investment of £7.4m over two years, to cover redundancies and investment in IT, the councils estimate they will start to see combined savings of £5m a year from 2016-17. The councils have a combined turnover of about £15m in 2015-16.

Mr Jorden said the appointment of staff in line with behaviours - including their ability to take ownership of issues, communicate well and be adaptable and flexible - had created a workforce with the “right attitude towards customers”.

“Clearly as you go through transition it does affect performance initially but what we are seeing is a far more customer focused workforce,” he said.

 “It’s not about saying ‘that’s not my role’, it’s about ownership and achieving an outcome. It’s about staff making a difference’.”

The councils’ workforce has shrunk by about a quarter since the restructuring process began last year, with about 120 staff taking, mostly voluntary redundancy.

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