It’s time to enhance the services that frontline workers offer

NSL’s Commercial Director, Graham Williams, says new forms of commissioning and greater citizen insight are helping to create a more agile, responsive and sustainable way of delivering local services, but what about the frontline?

Given the persistent pressure on budgets, it’s not surprising that more and more local authorities are looking at service redesign and demand management as well as opportunities for early intervention and preventative measures. This has fuelled the move away from traditional forms of procurement towards more refined and adaptable commissioning models founded on greater community insight and broader citizen engagement.  This new approach is paving the way for new working practices and innovative service solutions that are transforming operational efficiencies and service standards. It’s also creating new opportunities for local authorities to benefit from economies of scale on the one hand and new service functionality on the other.

In the area of civil enforcement, for example, the principal savings from a more progressive approach to service provision will be derived from the back office. Here, by increasing the scope for self-serve capabilities, improving service integration and harnessing new digital resources, it’s possible to improve both operational efficiencies as well as the service experience of customers.  But that’s not the end of the story.

Despite the pressure on the public purse, there’s not so much scope – or indeed desire – to rein back frontline service delivery, as such a move risks compromising service quality and effectiveness. That said, frontline resources are also subject to prioritisation. The reassuring presence of a patrolling police officer walking the streets of a neighbourhood is one very obvious casualty of the austerity budget squeeze, as reduced police resources are understandably focused on more serious areas of crime prevention.  As a result there is now a very obvious void in many local communities.

As uniformed representatives of a local authority who are working out in the heart of local communities, patrolling Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) have the opportunity to fill this void as they carry out their principal duties of traffic management and enforcement. Not only are they able to provide visible reassurance and support where it matters most, but they are also in an excellent position to act as Council ambassadors at the very time when most customer service operations are shifting to a ‘remote’ on-line platform. Nothing is more effective than face-to-face interaction for creating goodwill, demonstrating empathy and conveying understanding, and a well-trained and well-equipped CEO can do just that.

Today’s CEO has become a font of local knowledge as well as the voice, eyes and ears of the Council out in the heart of local communities. Offering advice on parking, public transport and routes as well as encouraging the compliance of motorists, they are gaining invaluable community insight. They are also ideally placed to identify and address antisocial behaviour, report faults with Council equipment, recognise anything that’s out of character in local places and also provide support for citizens as well as assist with major events or local incidents. Put simply, they are an increasingly important community asset and frontline resource for the Council.

New forms of commissioning and greater citizen insight are helping to create a more agile, responsive and sustainable way of delivering local services. The real challenge for local authorities is now to harness front-line resources in a way that will enhance the experience of citizens, reflect the priorities of local areas and local communities and add genuine value at the point of service delivery.

First published in the LGC Chronicle: