By Phil Cragg, Senior Consultant for Public Sector Operations at Deloitte
The stunning grounds of Dumfries House in East Ayrshire held host to this year’s Solace Scotland annual conference, an event designed to gather key people within the public sector, giving them a platform to discuss some of the most thought-provoking and demanding issues facing the sector in Scotland.
The overarching theme throughout the event was that Scotland must play to its strengths to deliver the best services for its local citizens. We would have been there for much longer than the two days allocated if we were to unearth everything Scotland is making strong progress in, so we focused on the three C’s: communities, collaboration and connections.
The community feeling
Focusing firstly on communities, the programme began with a heritage-led regeneration tour of the surrounding area, showcasing the internationally-acclaimed work that has been taking place at the chosen conference venue, and in the surrounding local towns and villages of East Ayrshire.
A lot of them have benefitted from the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS), the Community Empowerment Act, and a blend of local council, public and private funding streams, notably influenced by Prince Charles’ interest in the area. And it’s no wonder. East Ayrshire boats outstanding natural beauty, stunning scenery and a rich social, cultural and industrial history.
Collaboration, and being bold and brave
The next part of the session focused on many key themes that have been prevalent across local government in recent years, as told by Fiona Lees, chief executive of East Ayrshire Council. She talked about the culture of dependency created by not working in true partnership, the increase in finances post-2008 not delivering tangible benefits for all across society, and in particular, the conditions of the most vulnerable being exacerbated through a lack of citizen engagement.
Jo Miller, chair of Solace UK and chief executive of Doncaster Council shared experiences from her own work, challenging chief executives in the room to be bold, brave and push themselves outside their comfort zone in decision-making. Many citizens require a multi-service approach from the public sector, and she encouraged closer collaboration between the different service providers to enable citizens to receive exactly what they need.
The pace of change
Sir Tom Hunter, who grew up a stone’s throw away from Dumfries House, brought his experience of business around the world to the table, providing the audience with a poignant quote: “The pace of change today is as fast as it has ever been and as slow as it will ever be.”
He brought with him several insights from his conversations with technology firms, sharing with the audience a startling figure: 65% of the jobs school children will undertake in the future haven’t even been created yet. It’s a step into the unknown for many, and we must change our attitude towards failure - embracing it rather than running from it - if these jobs are to succeed.
Culminating from these discussions, the Deloitte masterclass on transformation looked at experiences drawn from across the UK – touching on the rise of digital and insight-driven organisations, as well as engaging with communities to deliver the services they expect in their local areas.
Annemarie O’Donnell, chief executive of Glasgow City Council, gave an introduction and Tony Reeves, Deloitte, lead partner for Local Government Advisory, spoke both from his time as chief executive of Bradford City Council and his current position as a partner at Deloitte. The session kicked off by outlining the challenges of demand across public services, particularly when faced with the continued resourcing issues to facilitate the most appropriate outcomes for citizens. It was made clear that the age of austerity is not transient but rather the new normality. Given the challenges of financial sustainability going forward, however, it was not the biggest challenge for local government, which must be to deliver much better outcomes for citizens. The significant differences in life expectancy based on socio-economic factors is one challenge for citizens that can only be addressed by transforming our approach to service delivery, working with partners.
The power of connecting
Donna Hall, chief executive of Wigan Council, provided her experiences of leading the council through an unprecedented period of change. With funding nearly halved, she knew it would be impossible to deliver the traditional services expected with the revised budgets, so set about delivering a comprehensive change for citizens.
To truly engage with them, Wigan created the ‘Deal', which is an informal agreement between the council and its citizens to help ensure that the money is spent in the right areas, with the right people, enabling the continued development of the region. Sending out the pledge to all citizens acted as a contract between the people of Wigan and the service providers, and it made them think, not only about how much was spent on services, but crucially, about who delivered the services too.
David Harker, Deloitte lead partner for Local Government, then drew on his insights from the heart of transforming Hampshire County Council for the digital vision. Although it hasn’t been an easy journey, HCC has been able to increase headcount while taking 25% out of back office costs over the past 6 years. By putting people at the heart of their digital programme, users have been taught to be self-sufficient and access to key services has been made easier.
Another advantage for Hampshire is that the increased access to online services has resulted in a greater source of data available for the council to unlock, which has led to more intelligent decisions for the stopping of provision of particular services. Finally, the platform designed in Hampshire is intelligent and personalised, meaning that citizens’ information is contained within and the council is looking to develop a predictive element, which will be based on customer insight.
Bringing it all together
Angela Mitchell, Deloitte lead partner for Scottish public sector , then chaired the panel discussion with challenging questions on a number of key themes discussed, including: the direct involvement of leaders and partners when delivering transformation programmes, how to build community engagement through digital channels, how to engage political partners and trade unions in transformation activities, the measurement of outcomes and practical tips for designing a transformation programme with the citizens and staff at the heart of it.
There was plenty of food for thought across two interesting days at Dumfries House. By bringing together key influencers within the public sector, and encouraging open and honest discussions, they left well equipped with the information and steps they need to ensure first-class public services are delivered to citizens across Scotland.