Public Sector Focus

03.07.17

Stronger together

Source: PSE Jun/Jul 17

Kevin Dicks, the chief executive of Redditch Borough Council and Bromsgrove District Council, and Clare Hudson, programme manager at the LGA, talk to PSE about how shared management can act as a springboard for transformation and improve service delivery for local authorities.

“Shared management represents a viable and interesting option in the context of growing pressure on councils’ budgets,” according to the LGA’s recent ‘Stronger Together’ report. However, it is “not an easy process but the rewards in terms of cost savings, transformation and resilience are clear, along with many other benefits”. 

At present, around 45 councils across England share a CEO and senior management team in about 20 different partnerships, but the number of authorities opting for this has stayed fairly static for the last couple of years. 

Clare Hudson, programme manager at the LGA, reflected that one of the last big pushes to get more shared CEOs was through the Transformation Challenge Award (TCA). 

“But the financial incentives through the TCA weren't really attractive enough to make it something that those who hadn’t yet considered it were willing to do,” she said. 

But Hudson stated that those councils who have pursued a shared agenda – whether it be CEO, senior management or services – have been able to save around £60m. “They have made their organisations leaner, more efficient, more dynamic and much more resilient for future shocks,” she noted. 

Political leadership is key 

Kevin Dicks, who has been the chief executive of Redditch Borough Council and Bromsgrove District Council for the last nine years, told us that political leadership is vital for these initiatives to succeed. 

“Unless it is led by those political leaders it won’t really work,” he said. “That clarity of leadership is vital, but it is also important that you respect the integrity and individuality of each council and the communities as well.” 

Dicks added that he was surprised more local authorities haven’t gone down the shared management route, especially as it allows them to look at things “more strategically over a wider geographical area”. 

“When we started the journey, it was with councils of the same political persuasion,” he reflected. “But now Redditch is Labour-controlled and Bromsgrove is Conservative-controlled. 

“However, it has been about building the trust and confidence and enabling those leaders to get on, so they can have that frank discussion where there might be a bit of conflict. At a local level, it is about wanting to do good for their communities, recognising the differences of each, but also recognising where you can consider things more strategically over a wider geographic area.” 

He added that, from his personal viewpoint, it can help to have a good cross-section of shared services, “because it feels that you end up leading, from a management perspective, one single team, but serving two different communities”. 

Dicks added, though, that sometimes having a shared CEO by definition “will lead to more shared services because you have that more strategic view”. 

Supporting transformation 

Asked why some partnerships break down, Hudson told us that “if you look at those partnerships where they have decided not to continue with a shared management, it has largely been where there has been a breakdown of trust between the political and managerial leadership, or there has been a key person that has left”. 

It generally hasn’t been because the programme of shared services hasn’t delivered what it said it was going to do, she said; it has often been because the parameters around that have changed.

Discussing the character qualities of shared CEOs, Hudson added that they have to be able to deal with complexity: “You don’t necessarily have to be a control freak, but you have to be comfortable dealing with things that might be more chaotic.” 

Following the publication of the Stronger Together report, Hudson and Dicks said that the Shared Chief Executives Network will continue to support local authorities who have undertaken shared initiatives to support transformation and meet their future challenges.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The ‘Stronger Together’ report can be accessed at:

W: www.local.gov.uk/stronger-together-shared-management-local-government

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