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'It’s a myth that commercialism and statutory services don’t mix'

Andrew Grant
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At Aylesbury Vale DC everything is viewed through a commercial lens.

It’s integral to our vision and strategy and presents us with many opportunities both for staff and the organisation.

We are embarking on a raft of new ventures including Vale Lottery, Aylesbury Vale Broadband and Limecart, our homes and gardens subscription service. However one of the questions I’ve heard repeatedly is ‘how can statutory services be commercial?’

There seems to be a misguided perception that commerciality and statutory services just don’t mix. Wrong!

Our development management team, which deals with large areas of planning, has transformed its service over the last five years. The team always had top-rate professionals but, like similar departments across the country, costs vastly outweighed income.

They rebooted and restructured, came up with a set of commercial principles and changed the culture of their team together. Areas of waste were identified, customer-self help mechanisms were implemented, processes were automated and streamlined, staff were empowered to make decisions and customer insight became a focus which enabled us to identify opportunities.

The result? The service has gone from costing the council £1.5m in 2011-12 to now operating within its own generated income.

Many changes have been made, including introducing pre-application charges, using a project management system to improve workflows, going paperless and introducing a planning performance agreement, which effectively guarantees dedicated resources and that planning applications will be considered within a given time.

We’re seeing other positive impacts, through applying similar principles, across other statutory areas such as Environmental Health, where the net cost has been reduced by £170,000 since 2013-14 (£1.3m to £860,000).

Streamlining services and removing waste has reduced end-to-end process time and costs. For example the time spent on nuisance complaints has been cut by more than 80%, partly through getting customers to self-serve in the first instance.

In housing too we’ve identified opportunities with housing associations and developers which are enabling us to generate income.

Acting commercially doesn’t always rely on making profit and statutory services equally don’t have a special compensation to remain inefficient. That’s a mistake made by those who always seem to choose the ‘no change’ option. Businesses can only be capable of being profitable by satisfying their customers and keeping their costs under control. Statutory services can still operate commercially by working in the most cost-effective and customer-focused way, which is exactly what we’re all about at Aylesbury Vale.

If you want to find out more, why not come along to our Surviving to Thriving Conference on November 22? For more information please contact cwheller@aylesburyvaledc.gov.uk

Andrew Grant, chief executive, Aylesbury Vale DC

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