The link between autonomy in the workplace and its effects on overall productivity is well-known, although not necessarily among council staff. This is about to change at Worcestershire CC though, according to new chief executive Paul Robinson.
“Councils have tended to give staff responsibility but not the authority to act. What we need to do is give them both so they’re fully empowered to act,” Mr Robinson says.
“You’re acting at the lowest point in the organisation to get the biggest bang for the spend that you’ve got.”
Mr Robinson arrived at Worcestershire earlier this month, having previously served as chief executive at Derby City Council for more than two years. He tells LGC the county council is “fundamentally” good with “nothing that is absolutely broken”, before setting out his intention to improve staff “pace” and “aspiration”.
All of this, Mr Robinson says, is to drive a “culture of continuous improvement” in the council to ensure project delivery is made “on time and on budget” through strong management. ”It has to be fair and transparent, but really focused on the task that we’ve got to deliver,” he says.
Some of these tasks are larger than others. A Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy financial resilience review from last year, which LGC reported on this month, described the county council’s financial planning as “overly optimistic”, “counter-intuitive” and in need of “radical overhaul”.
Mr Robinson says the council is looking to change this culture and will “absolutely be making sure” officers are transparent on options available for councillors.
“They’re being much more upfront now and freer in what they’re prepared to consider and do. That does give us more options in terms of how we can balance the books in the medium term,” he says.
Financial resilience is now top priority, Mr Robinson says, adding that a due diligence review of historic decisions named in the Cipfa review is ongoing. Other priorities include children’s services (“I can’t talk too much about it”) and economic growth for the county.
The council cabinet resolved to create a company to runs its children’s social care services on 29 March. The county’s children services department was given an inadequate rating by Ofsted in January 2017, with a recommendation to hand responsibility over to an “outside operator”. Peter McDonald, leader of the opposition Labour group, told council the inadequate rating was due to government austerity and a “lack of money invested into social care”.
Mr Robinson says he has reviewed this area and allocated “sufficient funding in the next two years to cover the pressures that are there”, adding that a 10% further growth in demand could also be accomodated.
“We’ve planned for it in the short term, but if it continues to rise at 10% each year then clearly that is going to have a big financial impact and we will have to review it each year when we look at what pressures we have,” he says. “If everything else in the system stays the same and the demand was to continue to rise - yes, it would cause us a problem.”
To this end, Mr Robinson places equal importance on financial resilience and delivering children’s services, which will be funded through a shift towards long-term borrowing and the “reallocation of resources”.
“We’ve moved money from our environment and infrastructure services into social care and flipped previous investments from revenue to capital,” he says. “It makes financial sense and frees up the revenue to put into the children services without any loss of service on the ground.”
Looking into the long-term future, Mr Robinson hopes to build on Worcestershire’s recent £4.8m grant to roll out 5G connectivity in the county.
“It gives us a real opportunity to realise the aspiration the county has,” he says.
With the government increasingly investing more money in infrastructure and transport in and around the West Midlands, Mr Robinson says that also has to serve “spatially spread and quite different communities”.
“It’s important to recognise that from one end of the county to another life experiences and challenges that people face can actually be very different,” he says.
Ultimately, the county’s future will be driven by its “unique selling point” - the area’s extraordinary natural beauty.
“There’s a real attractiveness in why people come to live and start businesses here, so what we need to think about over the next 20 to 30 years is how do we keep that uniqueness but also provide opportunities for growth without ruining that attractiveness,” he says.