When I joined the then Wiltshire CC in 2006 as corporate director of community services I knew I would be jumping in at the deep end.
I couldn’t help but be aware that Wiltshire’s social care was in crisis, as news about the difficulties it had been having was all over the media.
These problems had arisen from an attempt to link up the council and the local health services. The synergy wasn’t working, and everyone was suffering -customers and council officials alike.
Our overall objective was for local people to be deeply involved in deciding what services they needed
It hadn’t helped that there’d been an overspend of £11m the previous year, so making savings was as crucial an objective for me as was playing my part in getting community services on the right track again.
Following a plan developed by Wiltshire CC leader Jane Scott, we set to work re-organising the council into a silo-free corporate structure in which everyone at the council could really collaborate and co-operate as they pushed our initiatives forward.
The new budget, for example, was to be managed and spent, not by individual silos but by the new, restructured organisation. The management and expenditure - again, this was Jane Scott’s idea - would be based around real, constructive dialogues between the local authority and its customers.
Our overall objective was for local people to be deeply involved in deciding what services they needed.
To put this aim into practice we split Wiltshire CC into 20 community areas and at once applied ourselves to working with customers at these local levels to find out what they most needed from us.
I found that creating the dialogues at a local level was definitely helping to advance what I regarded as my three main professional challenges, namely:
- creating a way for the council to talk to people at a local level;
- ensuring that people’s voices were heard; and
- transforming the way adult social services were delivered to customers.
By the summer of 2007, I believed we had made considerable progress with the first two objectives, but I felt there was still much that we needed to do with the third one.
Our agenda rather than customers
What was needed, in my view, was a pretty comprehensive restructuring of the adult social care department.
The aim was nothing less than a complete transformation of how Wiltshire CC delivered social care services to adults
We appointed the business and IT consultancy Charteris, whose main conclusion was fairly astonishing - that 80% of our processes were bound up with our agenda rather than that of our customers, and so were not adding value to what we were offering.
Charteris believes that the correct ratio should be that no more than 30% of effort should be devoted to internal matters, with the obvious corollary that 70%
of effort needs to be focused on customers.
We accepted the findings of the consultancy’s report, and a process then began for putting their recommendations into practice. The overall aim was nothing less than a complete transformation of how Wiltshire CC delivered social care services to adults.
What the roll-out has involved is a complete restructuring of our teams, of the management of these teams and of how Wiltshire staff work together.
Moving through the processes
A special priority has been placed on the role of the customer co-ordinator - often known internally as the ‘navigator’ - who helps customers move through our processes in order to get the best result for them.
The benefits to our customers have been clear
The first phone call the customer makes to us is regarded as particularly important and we believe we have now become adept at listening to customers - especially during that first phone call - and taking responsibility for addressing customers’ problems.
We also pay particular attention to avoid a situation where the individual is just passed from one department to another.
The roll-out of our new structure for adult social care at Wiltshire was completed at the end of last November.
The benefits to our customers have been clear. This new structure has not been imposed as a ‘top-down’ structure but has been created from the first to minister to what customers really want and has been substantially specified by the very frontline staff who talk to customers every day on the phone.
What about the future? Our aim at Wiltshire is clear - we want to migrate the way we do things in adult social care throughout the entire council organisation.