What’s in Store for 2015

2015 and the years to follow will be the most challenging for the public sector. Austerity has resulted in local government being at the forefront of the government’s budget reduction programme and, for those of us who admire and support the benefits local authorities bring to all communities across the country, it is a depressing prospect. And even where there will be growth in available resources – adult social care – the future upward trend in and the qualitative change in demand and the planned savings in health are likely to far outway the new budgets even with the Better Care Fund.
The solutions need to be radical and LCS is strategically placed to support and explore new models of local government and to deliver the changes that are going to result.

What’s in Store for 2012?

The New Year starts with the Prime Minister warning of “worse to come” with respect to the UK economy. For those who work with and for public sector organisations we know ‘how bad it is’ and we know we are nowhere near the bottom of the public sector consultancy economic cycle! Times have been hard and they are going to be even harder over the next 2/3 years but, as with most small consultancy practices, we can be flexible and we can respond to the market a lot quicker than the ’bigger players’ – and we think we have managed to do this over the past 2 years.

We have moved in two directions. Firstly by developing new partnerships and building on existing partnership arrangements. So, for example, we have joined with Insight Management Solutions and won the contract for the three strands of a National Skills Academy programme to provide management training to 24 graduate trainees who are moving into Adult Social Care. We are also very positive about linking with an internationally renowned UK business – one of the largest of its kind in the world – to provide specialist support in Regulatory Services reform. We hope to have this relationship confirmed early in 2012 and we are very positive about future prospects.

Our second direction has been to look outside the UK – and we are currently working with a Swedish organisation that specialises in public sector consultancy – on a project that supports the decentralisation of powers from central to local government in Albania. This began in September 2011 and continues into the New Year when this first phase will be complete. Tirana is not quite like London or Cardiff and Albanian local government is not quite like our own – but it has the same group of dedicated public sector workers seeking solutions to improve public sector services even if they are very underdeveloped when compared to Western Europe.

And looking ahead, we believe it is only through being open to working in partnerships that new opportunities will open in a very difficult climate. The implications of the Health and Social Care Bill – that should be enacted in early Spring – should provide specialist organisations like our own – with considerable experience in the sector and on the interface with Health – with quite a lot of work, yet if it continues the way the changes have happened over the past 6 months then it is likely to be the large consultancies on framework agreements that will be called upon to provide the support that is much needed. Despite all the rhetoric, the SME’s in this world really don’t operate on a ‘level playing field’ with the larger practices with all their links into the central and local government people that matter on procurement decisions.

Nonetheless, as we look toward the New Year – and the years that follow – we do so with trepidation as colleagues in the public sector consultancy business and our colleagues employed in the state sector start to experience serious anxieties about work and income for the first time. The health cost of anxieties of such proportions are untold – and unmeasured – but as the Christmas and New Year festivities come to an end – and the return to reality starts to hit – we will recall all those conversations over the past 2 weeks about “where the next contract is going to be found” or “how severe the next round of cuts is going” to be for those in employment. It is a sad place to be right now and whilst the noises come from those in power about recognising this issue, I wonder if they have any real understanding what it is currently like for the majority of the working population right now?

Health as We Know it? Or will it be?

It’s back to the Committee stages with the scrutiny of 160 government-inspired amendments to the original Health and Social Care Bill. But will it make any difference? I think it will, even if it is not possible to be certain exactly what some of the amendments mean or what might emerge out of this scrutiny phase before it returns to its Report Stage and its Third Reading in September.
There is a lot on which to speculate – and more on this to follow – but let’s take just one example for which clarification is going to be required. The Future Forum recommended that commissioning groups will have the same boundaries as the local authorities but does this mean (as seems to be the interpretation by the local government community) that each upper tier will have a single “clinical commissioning group” (CCG) or does it mean, as Health bodies seem to think, that where the current pathfinder consortia exist (and in many areas thare are more than one per local authority area) the status quo will remain?
So, is coterminosity a common border (hence one commissioning group) or is it simply not crossing local authority borders thus allowing for many CCGs per authority? Watch this space as this is challenged and explored between now and the 14 July (when the Committee stage ends). Mick Lowe

Budget June 2010

Ouch!  Well, here it is and, in many respects, no surprises.  And despite the fact we knew it was coming it still comes as quite a shock – and so it should.  Without being apocalyptic, it really could see the end of the state as we know it.  The private sector takes us to the brink of collapse and the solution is – more of the private sector!  The public sector bails us out and what do we get – less of the public sector with fewer resources to monitor, control and regulate an economic system that is prone to distortion!  And far less of a public sector that protects the most vulnerable.

I referenced, in an earlier blog, that the life of a councillor would be even tougher from 2010 because who wants to get elected to just spend all their time deciding what is the least-worse place to cut expenditure.  Well, that ‘least-worse’ place has just got more difficult to find, with a real cut of 25% over the next four years.

This isn’t deliverable by yet more salami slicing; yet more shared services; yet more efficiency gains; yet more privatisation; yet more ‘creative thinking’.  All these may help, at the margins, but it really is the cessation of services as we know them.  And all the baloney about cuts being reduced if “….we can find any additional savings to social security and welfare beyond those which I will shortly outline, then that will greatly relieve the pressure on these departments and that 25% figure.”, as the Chancellor stated yesterday, is simply hot air since where will more than half a million people made redundant or retiring early from front line public services receive any income?  With a large proportion of public sector budgets buying private sector services where will all those made redundant as a consequence of cuts on this scale receive any income?  From social security and welfare!  Like others, my biggest fear is that the recession that this will create will increase the transfer payments and feed into that further spiral of decline.

The implications for all of us who are stakeholders in public services are serious – very serious.  Organisations will require support and consultancy (even if seems morally challenging to engage external organisations to help minimise the impact on services users) and smaller consultancies (such as ours) must be in a position to offer value for money in what will be an equally difficult period ahead.  Fees will come down – they already have – and there will be many more consultants looking for work.  But in this period of austerity, fast moving, low cost, high value consultancies have to be the first choice if support is required and we will continue to offer such services throughout this period.

Mick

Is Happy New Year an oxymoron for those in public service?

If 2010 is going to be one of the most challenging periods for those involved with the public sector then 2011 is going to be a potential disaster.  With the election now looking like May – with the Prime Minister’s hint at an April Budget – the 2010-11 financial year may provide more protection than expected but this only means greater pain from April 2011 onward – and a pain that is likely to be unprecedented in terms of its severity and its impact.  It’s easier to grow a business – and we have done this incrementally in the state sector for more than a decade – but it is not easy when contraction has to be rapid.  Our communities don’t see the complexities; older people no longer able to use day centres or families and children who will find their libraries and sports centres closed don’t immediately see the link to the crisis in our financial markets but hold the local council responsible – which at one level is absolutely correct.  Who would want to be a democratically elected councillor over the next 5 years!

I still find it ironic that the public sector is cast as the ‘wicked witch’ with its large deficit and salaries (allegedly) increasing faster than those of the private sector.  But it wasn’t the public sector that was in the casino gambling on unquantifiable derivatives and creating false value!  It wasn’t the public sector that was lending money to people who could never meet the repayments and who then sold these loans on three or four times on the pretence that they were worth billions!  But it was the state that bailed out the banks and it was the state that put hundreds of millions back into the economy through quantitative easing to enable capital to be lent to businesses and to stimulate the economy.

But none of this means much when you are faced with significant budget reduction and you already have spent many years ‘salami-slicing’ to prevent service cuts that impact people who really do need services.  And it will be those councils who are brave and will make decisions that are ‘out of the box’ that are likely to best serve local people – but it will not be easy and it will not be without a lot of soul searching and facing up to public criticism.  And I raise a glass to every councillor in the land for they will need all the support possible over the forthcoming years as they will be making decisions that most did not enter public service to make!

Is social enterprise the answer to exclusion?

We have been working with a local authority recently to identify the gaps in their services and one gaping hole is in opportunities for those who fall out of the current eligibility criteria for support and work opportunities.

In many of our colleges of further education are people with learning disabilities who began college courses from special education as part of their transition from children to adult services.  But because of a lack of any opportunities at the end of their courses, many remained at the college.  They enrolled every year, gaining a variety of certificates, re-doing courses and after twenty years, in their mid forties, they are still there.

It is not that the colleges haven’t tried to ease people’s transition to work.  They have developed work experience placements, support for completing job applications, practiced interview techniques with students and done their very best.  It is the world of work and the imposed restrictions of the agencies which exist to help people back into work that are failing this group of people.

‘We can help you get back to work!’ say the adverts for government agencies with responsibility for the unemployed, but:

  • Local authority adult services mostly support only those who met their high eligibility criteria
  • There is no requirement for local authorities to provide a ‘transition’ service for vulnerable adults who do not meet their criteria, but who nevertheless are at risk of social exclusion
  • Connexions cannot support anyone over 25
  • JobCentre Plus staff struggle to find work for those who fail to meet Access to Work Scheme eligibility
  • Supported Employment Schemes have their own criteria which exclude many who have never worked
  • Employers, in times of recession, are less prepared to take on workers with additional needs

So what is to be done? There are existing schemes of support which work successfully across the country but provision is patchy and localised.  The government’s vision for reform in health and social care services includes developing a provider market that is increasingly plural and diverse.  This gives an opportunity for new kinds of organisations to emerge, including social enterprises that could provide opportunities and support for those who have never worked.

There is now a Social Enterprise Investment Fund which was developed in April 2007 and gives advice to social entrepreneurs who want to develop new models to deliver health and social care services.  It will help them to address the problems of start up, as well as current barriers to entry around access to finance, risks and skills and to develop viable business models.  Our research shows there are successful social enterprises which are employing those who have never worked before.

We have therefore recommended local authorities take a leadership role in supporting people into jobs and promoting social entrepreneurship as a solution for those who are not currently job ready – and provided them with the evidence to substantiate it.

Contact us if you want to know more.

Performance Management – part of the day job

We all know performance management has to be embedded throughout a business.  It has to be adopted by all levels of an organisation, and be part of the daily routine.  A number of people in your organisation will tell you that of course they include performance management in their daily work– but do they?  Do they do it because they have to, or because it is a normal process?

The advantages are huge; not least that everyone will be working towards the same goal, providing a powerful energy across the business.  Putting performance first is not new.  Plato suggested “the beginning is the most important part of the work”, and remember the old adage; a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step –  if the key priorities in business can be determined at the start, it can assured that these are addressed before moving on.  Ensuring the whole business is then dedicated to performing towards these key priorities will inevitably lead to positive change and by embedding performance in the management systems, it becomes the cornerstone for management analysis, support, and decision-making.  It is also incumbent upon a business to focus and educate all employees on the rationale behind performance management.  Only then can everyone be committed to it and only then can a business improve its organisational effectiveness.

To determine whether the business is performing well within its own sector, it is essential to compare with other similar businesses.  Dare I use the word ‘Benchmark’? Is it still as acceptable a word as it used to be?

In our Public Sector we have had a plethora of comparative indicators to use as comparative data, from the downright quirky to the impossible to capture; ranging from over 600 to the new NI dataset of 198 – or is it 197, or 168? – Am I the only one who gets lost these days??

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Benchmarking’ is an important management tool enabling the comparison of actual data on a similar basis.  But capturing the comparative data is only the beginning.  There are three things to remember; can the data be captured by everyone in the same way with the same inputs to make it meaningful?  Can it be captured easily as part of the daily routine?  And, most importantly, make sure it is used to improve performance once it has been captured – the capturing just gets you to the starting line!  The main benefit of comparison is to identify the best practices, which will lead to enhanced performance.  The identification of these enables informed decisions to be made about the way the business needs to improve.

To help with the monitoring of this performance, there are many IT driven performance management systems available on the market.  Having evaluated a number of these, we have chosen to use a powerful and an easy-to-customise system, marketed by Rocket Software – CorVu.  In my opinion – and in the opinion of 45 other local authorities’ – it is the best on the market.  CorVu provides Performance Management and Business Intelligence solutions and is a pioneer in the automation of the Balanced Scorecard.  The software provides an easy way to view current performance, strategy and key business drivers of an organisation – providing the organisation with the evidence to proactively improve operating results.

Using an IT based solution to drive performance ensures that the data is captured only once, but can be used many times for different purposes.  The government has an acronym for this – COUNT – Capture Once Use Many Times.  CorVu uses this principle to its fullest, which is a major benefit to any organisation and why we are in a partnership with them.

Effective Evaluation

We have recently been approached by an adult social care department about some work to evaluate the impact of their training on safeguarding investigations.

Sadly this is an unusual request.  Rarely is the impact of training and development evaluated, despite the large amount of time and money that is invested, year after year by every council in the land.  Donald Kirkpatrick’s model, developed in the late 1950’s is probably best known and has been adapted and modified by a number of different writers but how often have any of these tools been used in social care? In preparing a methodology, I am also reminded of how little we ever seem to gather and use feedback from people at the centre of safeguarding processes.

There is potential for using this feedback to set standards and create indicators that could improve our performance in a primary area of public service and our ‘customer-focus’.  This might also go some way in repairing the poor relationship many frontline staff have with performance management.  Or maybe that’s too optimistic, just now!

The recently published review of ‘No Secrets’ – and the consultation conducted as part of this work highlighted the appetite for a more outcome focussed approach at both a strategic and individual level and it was encouraging to read that there was also a recognition that more needed to be done to understand the effectiveness of the training provided to the workforce.  So maybe this request for external support to evaluate the impact of training will become more widespread?

As a small company committed to performance improvement in public services, we would love to hear from anyone interested in pursuing a dialogue about what works and about different models and approaches.

Adding Value to Public Services

If anyone really did believe that working in the public sector provided safe and secure employment then think again! Two of our local authority clients recently ‘lost’ their chief executives and neither were due to retire or had been appointed to another post!

It is a precarious business running multi-million pound organisations with political leadership yet being accountable to your local communities all of whom have, quite rightly, huge expectations.  And doing this through the complexity that the partnership arrangements, LAA targets and CAA expectations bring just adds to that challenge.

We know from our work with local authorities that skills for downsizing are going to be much in demand over these next five years or more and managers will experience huge challenges in delivering excellence as the cuts in public expenditure start to dig deep – and deep they will be.  LCS is in a good position to support organisations through these difficult times and our partnership with CorVu, one of the leading performance management software houses, provides the opportunity to stay focused on delivering performance improvement at a time of even more change.

For smaller consultancies such as LCS, committed as we are to public service, it is challenging to add value whilst not being seen to be taking away the jobs of public sector workers. It is a balance we think we achieve, but one which is never assured!

For those who have been our clients for some years, welcome to our new web site! For those on this site for the first time we hope you find it interesting and do get in touch if you think our public sector experience and skills could support you in change and improvement.

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