The View From: Ian Knowles FCCA,
Assistant Director, Children, School and Families, Hertfordshire County Council
Q. What are your main challenges?
Ensuring that central support services understand the needs of frontline services and frontline services understand the corporate context. Frontline services have priority over back office functions, but to reduce costs back office functions must change how they are delivered. Increased responsibilities for frontline managers must 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 inessential; partnership arrangements that reduce overheads; working with partners to improve outcomes and efficiency of service delivery; 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 service delivery to meet statutory requirements at the lowest possible cost whilst improving outcomes; and a ‘Channel Shift’ – moving where possible (and avoiding digital exclusion) from face-to-face or telephony services to online access to services.
Q. How will your role alter?
The management of finance will be more important. We must avoid the temptation to increase bureaucracy and move to a command and control culture. My role will be to find ways to generate innovation and creativity, keep employees ‘excited about the future’ whilst ensuring everyone is financially aware and generating the very best value for money. With responsibility for performance, partnerships and commissioning, my portfolio will make a significant contribution to the process of change management and supporting services to deliver quality services.
Q. Will local government change fundamentally as a result of the financial crisis?
An ACCA Public Sector Network Panel identified £15bn savings across government, including from ‘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.