New forms of commissioning can focus on the real needs of the community

NSL’s Glen Manley, Associate Director of Local Government, discusses how greater insight is fuelling a new approach for commissioning that’s focused on the real needs and priorities of local communities and how local frontline resources can help manage demand and deliver local outcomes.

Everyone would accept that assumptions invite potential risks. Many would also accept that risks are greater when there are more plates to keep spinning. And most senior executives in local government now recognise that perpetuating convention and legacy poses the biggest risk of all. Times have changed in the way society operates and the role of local government has – and continues to – change with it.

Such changes are aligned with austerity measures but they are not exclusively the consequence of budget cuts. We are now in a digital age, where the expectations of the public are quite different to what’s gone before. Everything is faster, sleeker and more accessible than ever before. Mobile technologies and social media have moved the digital revolution onto the next platform and further digital innovations lie just around the corner. While this poses quite a conundrum for cash-strapped local authorities, it’s also creating new opportunities to engage more effectively with citizens and to move towards a more agile, responsive and sustainable way of delivering local services.

To avoid making decisions based on assumptions demands insight and with this, decisive action to create a more realistic and consistent operational model. The only way to break away from what has gone before is to embrace innovation and pursue true service transformation. Perhaps, it’s not surprising, therefore, that more and more local authorities are not only looking at service redesign and demand management, but also early intervention and preventative measures. It’s this pursuit of new forms of service delivery working with like-minded partners that’s driving one of the most significant changes in today’s Town Halls – new forms of commissioning that are a far cry from traditional procurement practices.

Significant progress

This is a significant development in the provision of local services. Not only is it enabling a local authority to match service transformation with the aspirations and behaviours of citizens. It’s also underpinning a concerted move away from legacy towards new working practices and new processes to help maximise self-service and to improve operational efficiencies. Such progress is helping a growing number of local authorities to adopt more efficient contracted delivery models and to divert demand to more accessible and effective engagement channels – changing the behaviours of customers themselves

This shift in focus and more refined approach to the commissioning of services is becoming particularly evident in the area of civil enforcement. This service area extends from face-to-face contact with citizens in their own locality, right through all of the legalities and processes of enforcement to finally securing payments and debt recovery. As a consequence there are many potential stumbling points when it comes to maintaining service consistency across the different channels and – despite the negativity typically associated with the collection of financial penalties – creating a positive experience for citizens.

Visible and virtual presence

Getting ‘it’ right in the field of civil enforcement will, however, contribute significantly to goodwill within the local community and support any broader initiative for devolution, community involvement and economic regeneration. After all, the uniformed Civil Enforcement Officer is a visible representative of the Council in any local area. Having the flexibility and scope to deliver a service that balances compliance with enforcement and which can flex to accommodate peaks of activity and the evolving needs and priorities of local citizens is not a pipedream. The new forms of commissioning are helping to establish much more realistic, holistic and appropriate outsourced solutions – where an effective physical street presence is matched with the immediacy and popularity of on-line information and payment processing.

In all areas of civil enforcement, the Council’s name and logo will feature prominently – from the uniforms of CEOs to all advisory notes, Penalty Charge Notices and Fixed Penalty Notices, and on all correspondence and at every stage in the on-line journey (viewing evidence, payments and appeal). Working with a trusted and experienced partner across these disparate areas of activity will provide the breadth of skills and capabilities that are needed to ensure consistency and to deliver the most important outcomes – accessibility, efficiency, accountability and excellent customer service.

The key, though, is to ensure all aspects of the service reflect the genuine needs and priorities of local areas and local people – and that means harnessing insight and knowledge of the community every step of the way. Conventional forms of procurement invariably create silos and a more piecemeal approach where it is that much more difficult to create such a truly coherent and integrated service model.

Quite rightly, the citizen is absolutely at the heart of this commissioning revolution. Decisions and service developments are driven by genuine citizen insight and statistical evidence rather than guesswork or the influence of disparate third parties. This is helping to reduce risks and to increase service consistency across all forms of interaction. More importantly, it’s helping local authorities to focus on what matters most – the locality and local people rather than the functionality of services. And that’s now enabling local authorities to work across different systems and hitherto immoveable boundaries – which can only promote much greater service integration within any given locality.