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Strong partnerships benefit service delivery and staff development

Despite continuing gloom on the economic front, local government leaders are forging ahead with the radical re-shaping of their organisations and the services their residents require.

There has rarely been such an opportunity for councils to provide community leadership in public services. Every day brings news about progress in moving towards the commissioning council, the co-operative council, whether councils should act like Amazon in providing a marketplace for service provision or adopt a more commercial service delivery model.

Delivery starts with the capacity to deliver and, if you have not got it, gearing up to get it. Over the past decade many councils have developed strong in-house management and talent pools. If you strip out that capacity at a time of economic downturn, it’s difficult to rebuild it. And, under the commissioning approach, if you separate the client and contractor service delivery role too much, you risk creating a duality in the relationship which could ultimately be self-defeating.

In spite of this talent pool, however, the capacity of many councils to face up to so many complex challenges is limited. That is why it makes sense to join forces with other councils, private and third sector organisations to combine best practices. Such relationships enable councils to selectively in-source additional management, resources, investment and skills and can provide council staff with ‘rising star’ career development opportunities within a broader canvas of organisations.

As with any relationship, basic ground rules apply.

Build a long-term relationship with a small number of trusted partners that think like you, are flexible in meeting your needs, and supplement your own skills.

Minimise complex contractual interfaces through a long supply chain which is impossible to manage and avoid an expensive and drawn-out procurement process, which is very resource intensive.

Don’t undervalue the skills, experience and capability of your in-house service teams.

Rigorously assess the cost benefit and impact of the different options for service delivery, give priority to key services, integrate services wherever possible, remove bureaucracy, ensure accountability, and provide a comprehensive corporate strategy.

Finally, and most importantly, engage with staff, service users and community organisations throughout for more effective service delivery and productivity gains.

Chris Wilson, vice-president, LeighFisher