One Man, Two Guv’nors has proved to be a big hit on the stage with its portrayal of a man trying to service two employers with very different demands.
The metaphor could apply to the public sector outsourcing industry where councils are partnering with private and third sector organisations to reduce costs while generating better outcomes. In the process local authorities are looking at new ways of working, including cross-border partnerships with several local authorities procuring a common service (e.g. highways or waste collections) from a single private partner to achieve greater economies of scale.
While this approach can deliver more for less, the challenge is ensuring it also brings efficient management and delivery of the services. There is a risk that private sector partners could find themselves in a position where they’re trying to answer different needs from a number of local authorities, while delivering one shared service line (for example a regional highways maintenance programme crossing three council boundaries). Moreover, for local authorities to work with one service provider, they may have to compromise on some service specifications and reach political consensus, which is clearly not always easy. In this instance, it is the role of the service provider to work with the councils to help develop an overarching strategy that can accommodate all requirements and deliver real benefits.
Overcoming potentially conflicting needs from each authority needs a clear strategy which gives a single vision and deliverables for the private sector partner to meet, while also having the flexibility to enable services to be tailored to each town, village and individual within the local authorities’ remits.
In May Gurney’s experience the solution is to deliver place-based services across county boundaries. In practical terms this means having a clear and intelligent vision to deliver a range of services in a specific council area or region, and to achieve a particular outcome e.g. to boost recycling rates to 50% or to ensure 90% of potholes are repaired within 48 hours of being reported.
To manage the various client expectations an effective reporting system is vital. Technology platforms enable real-time reporting on service delivery and tracking of performance. This type of real-time reporting and control can be vital to encouraging local authorities to work together across boundaries as it keeps them connected to the service delivery in their area.
One example of how local authorities can successfully work across boundaries is the Somerset Waste Partnership (SWP), which is working with May Gurney to provide long-term recycling and waste services across Sedgemoor, South Somerset, Mendip and West Somerset, Taunton Deane, and Somerset County Council.
On behalf of SWP, May Gurney delivers waste and recycling services for 239,000 homes. SWP is now achieving the best recycling rate in the South West, and the second best in the country, recycling 58.66% of its waste, according to recent figures from WasteDataFlow.
Integral to this has been the strategic vision of the SWP under MaGOS™, (May Gurney Optimised Solution). This is a kerbside sort solution that concentrates on resource recovery as opposed to waste collection and provides significant carbon savings over other collection methods. It is through this type of joint strategic approach that local authorities and their private sector partners can deliver better services for less money and meet performance targets.
While partnership working requires a strong strategic vision from the councils involved and a combination of clear goals and a flexible delivery framework, it also needs a bold vision from the councillors and council executives.
Sharing services is not an easy step for local authorities, which are judged by local voters in their own districts, but it doesn’t need to mean compromising service quality.
Key to success is to give flexibility to allow the service delivery to be tailored at a local level, work in full partnership with the private sector and other councils involved, get the strategy and vision for the service delivery right from the start, set minimum standards and evaluate the service based on top-line objectives.
If this is achieved, councils can square the circle and deliver more for less.
Steve Jennings, operations director, public sector servcie, May Gurney