The View From: Ian Knowles FCCA,
Assistant Director, Children, School and Families, Hertfordshire County Council
Q. What are your main challenges?
Ensuring that central services understand the needs of the frontline and that frontline services understand the corporate context. To reduce costs, back office functions must change. We must ensure that increased responsibilities for frontline managers do not result in a ‘stealth’ reduction in frontline capacity.
Q. How should local authorities adapt to the financial crisis?
By finding more efficient and effective ways of using resources. Several authorities have moved from distributed support services to a centralised model: now we must deliver those services differently. This requires clarity on key priorities, stripping away what is not essential; partnership arrangements that reduce overheads; working with partners to improve service outcomes and efficiency; and radical approaches to the way authorities are structured and services corralled.
Q. What changes do you expect to be involved in?
Sharing resources with other partners; pooling of budgets; joint commissioning of services; developing a ‘Total Place’ approach; re-engineering services to deliver statutory requirements at the lowest possible cost whilst improving outcomes; and a ‘Channel Shift’ – developing online access to services in place of face-to-face or telephony access (whilst avoiding digital exclusion).
Q. How will your role alter?
Financial management will become more important. Accountants must avoid the temptation to increase bureaucracy in seeking to better control resources. My role will develop approaches that generate innovation and creativity, ‘excite’ employees about the future, whilst ensuring everyone is financially aware and delivering the very best value for money. With responsibility for performance management, partnerships and commissioning, my portfolio will make a significant contribution to the process of change management and supporting managers to deliver quality services.
Q. Will local government change fundamentally as a result of the financial crisis?
The Organisational Efficiency Programme (published prior to the 2009 budget) identified initiatives to save £15bn from across government including: ‘Total Place’; Local Strategic Partnerships managing all property in an area; better and joined-up procurement; and shared services. The issue is whether there is sufficient political and citizen ‘will’ to make it happen.
£1.2bn Hertfordshire County Council’s revenue budget
£850m the CSF budget
£150m the CSF capital programme