Back in 2012, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said Wigan MBC was the third most affected council by austerity in the UK.
- Project: The Deal
- Objectives: To reduce demand, save public money and build strong families and communities
- Timescale: 2012 – present
- Cost to authority: £7.5m via community investment fund
- Number of staff working on project: One, supported by specialist officers across the council departments
- Outcomes: £115m council savings so far; 50% increase in resident satisfaction with the council; lowest council tax increase in Greater Manchester over five years; rated ‘good’ with areas of ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted for child safeguarding; the only ‘outstanding’ rated reablement service in the UK; improved healthy life expectancy, school readiness and educational attainment; one of lowest delayed transfers of care and hospital admissions in the UK
- Officer contact details: Donna Hall
We realised that closing a few libraries, changing bin collections and reducing school crossing patrols was not going to close a £160m budget gap. We needed something big and radical. We needed to fundamentally change the relationship between citizen and state and create a dynamic, two-way psychological contract with all of our 322,000 residents if we were going to weather the storm together.
We created The Deal five years ago, initially in adult social care, but we quickly realised the benefits of the approach and its application to all areas of public service. The principles behind our approach are simple but profound. They have fundamentally transformed our relationships with residents.
Previously we were a big, well-run but paternalistic organisation with quite staid, traditional relationships with our residents. Resident satisfaction with the council was low. People didn’t think we provided value for money and they didn’t trust us. That has all changed for the better through The Deal.
In a nutshell The Deal is a strengths-based model of service co-design with residents and community groups. We explain simply, clearly and repeatedly that we have £160m less and we need to work differently with them to drive out increasing demand for public services.
This is how we have made it work.
We stopped doing things to people. It doesn’t work and costs a fortune. We started doings with people.
We spend most of our resources on 3% of the population defined as ‘chaotic’, so it’s important to focus on the 22% of our people who are ‘just coping’, avoiding further deterioration into complex dependency.
We stripped out and shut down the assessment and referral structures that cultivated dependency on the state in both the council and the NHS and invested in grassroots community organisations, who can usually do this stuff much better than us.
We trained all our front-line staff to be ethnographic anthropologists. We enabled them to have different conversations with residents that focus on what matters to them rather than what is the matter with them. All our staff have been through the BeWigan experience. It’s an immersive half-day event; a bit like The Harry Potter Experience but without the butter beer and the gift shop. The Experience won a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development award for its genius. During it, all staff are taken through the past, present and future of Wigan Council and their role in delivering The Deal with residents. 85% of them are our residents too. The feedback we get from staff, from bin loaders to directors, is fantastic and we have now put in place a BeWigan Manager Experience to build the skills of our amazing managers and front-line supervisors.
This won’t work unless it is applied across all services corporately, relentlessly and universally. Some children’s or adults’ teams from other councils have been to visit, wanting to implement it, but their chief executive didn’t like it. Our advice in these cases is don’t bother. This needs to be personally driven by the leader and chief executive.
We gave staff the permission to work differently to connect residents to their local communities. That is usually why they became public servants in the first place; they want to help people rather than turn people away because they are not quite bad enough to meet thresholds of dependency.
We noted loneliness and social isolation was the biggest killer; connecting lonely people into social networks on their doorstep that are usually free or very cheap is better for them and better for our budgets. We have seen packages of social care reduce from over £1,000 per week to £17 per week with a happier, more connected service users.
We know and invest in our communities to build a strong trusted infrastructure that is there 24/7 when we have all gone home.
We use neighbourhoods as the essential building blocks of public services. GP surgeries and schools are where real transformation takes place. Our Greater Manchester health and social care devolution deal drills down into asset-based working in places with families and professionals working differently together; thinking of what people can do rather than what they can’t.
We have been bold enough to close the things that don’t work as well as a supportive family or a connected community.
We have kept the things open that build and connect people into their local community and make it stronger, eg libraries. We haven’t closed a single one, but have massively reduced their operating costs by thinking differently.
We give our residents and staff a really good listening to, not just as a one-off but as a rolling programme of regular events. The leader, Peter Smith (Lab) and I have a weekly ‘listening into action’ session with staff and a monthly ‘have your say’ session in each of our local communities. They can be challenging but always rewarding. They avoid us getting into a bubble of self-delusion. People in Wigan can be counted on to consistently say it as it is! It’s important for us to admit when we get it wrong internally and externally and put it right quickly.
We developed a behaviour-based approach to selection and retention of staff. We are positive, accountable and courageous and those that are not all exited a long time ago.
We’ve invested in all things digital to connect staff and residents with the future as well as saving loads of money.
We engaged our partners, community, public and private sector in this new approach. It simply won’t work if it’s just the council and not the NHS etc.
We’ve built a leadership team of officers and members with bags of energy and enthusiasm that are public service reformers and really believe in this different way of working.
Because there has been a significant amount of interest in our approach, we are holding a national conference on The Deal on 27 September here in Wigan.
Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor, our resident anthropologist Dr Robin Pharoe will be speaking as well our local community groups. We’ll also hear from the chief executive of Leeds City Council, Tom Riordan and deputy chief executive of Manchester City Council, Sara Todd, who have developed similar approaches to redefining the relationship between citizen and state. It will be a brilliant opportunity for us all to share best practice and learn from each other. Drop me an email if you are interested and we look forward to welcoming you to Wigan.
Donna Hall, chief executive, Wigan MBC and Greater Manchester lead on public service reform
Project: The Deal
Objective: To reduce demand, save public money and build strong families and communities
Timescale: 2012 – present
Cost to authority: £7.5m via community investment fund
Outcomes: £115m council savings so far; 50% increase in resident satisfaction with the council; lowest council tax increase in Greater Manchester over five years; rated ‘good’ with areas of ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted for child safeguarding; the only ‘outstanding’ rated reablement service in the UK; improved healthy life expectancy, school readiness and educational attainment; one of lowest delayed transfers of care and hospital admissions in the UK
Officer contact email: email@example.com