Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super council!

We’ve had easy councils and now we’re faced with super councils. Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea are considering joining forces in order to weather the huge cuts they’re facing in the next few years and I think it could work. Obviously each council is very different and has different needs but with some careful planning and collaborative working this could be ironed out.

I’m employed by one London council but work across three so in a microcosm, I understand how this could work. The councils each have a very different ethos with very different systems and structures and I’ve had to find a way of working with schools that dovetails with each authority’s needs. To begin with, it was bloody hard work but as we settled down together, it’s become a better and certainly more economical way of working. We share expertise and good practice across all three and that can only be good for our clients.

So here are my top tips for becoming a super council:

· As Harry Hill used to say ‘You gotta have a system.’ You have to be super organised and have systems and ways of working that can be understood by everyone.

· You have to take your stakeholders and clients with you. This is an additional step that is well worth the hassle and arguments. You might think you’ve got it all sussed and you probably have, but you need to bring everyone with you on your journey- they will be your biggest allies.

· You need to have crystal clear channels of communication. Again, a hassle but well worth the extra time and effort. If you’re used to being autonomous, the sudden interest from others can be annoying but again, in the long run, it’s worth it as everyone will be on your side and will be well informed (see above).

· You can’t be precious about your stuff- your stuff is now everybody else’s stuff. This is a criticism often levelled at public services- we are far too precious about our own jobs and our own staff. Play nicely and share with the other kids, ok, and then they are more likely to share back.

· Be flexible. You may need to change your precious and well thought out arrangements in order to fit in with others and their weird IT systems.

· Delegate. Your way is not the only way and sometimes someone will need to lead on something that you’ve previously led on. They might do it differently but this is not necessarily worse than yours. It’s just different.

· Take your time- change happens slowly and you might be in a rush to get started but it’s better to wait and get everything sorted out before rushing in headlong.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out and if you need a consultant to help out, you know who to call…

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5 Responses to Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super council!

  1. paulclarke says:

    Maybe I’m missing something with these ‘supercouncil’ proposals. And perhaps they will only ever be proposals – I’m becoming a bit hardened to Big Radical statements at this stage of the Coalition Government. We’ve talked of consortia to deliver services for a long time now, and they’ve never really taken off.

    As I see it, local government involves drawing a boundary around a certain part of the country (more or less arbitrarily) then allowing local democratic wishes (through the election of councillors) to drive local decisions on revenue raising and service provision. And these services are provided within the same boundary precisely so that their performance can be assessed, next May or whenever, back at the ballot box. Keeping the link between service delivery and democratic representation is sacrosanct.

    Otherwise one might create a national revenues and benefits, or waste collection, contract, and (as in one of Philip Green’s fevered dreams) huge economies of scale will be realised. I know there’s lots wrong with this as a strategy both in terms of the market’s ability to supply such services and the distortion of the market that would result – but it also violates the explicit connection between service delivery in a particular area, and the power of the elected representatives in that area to do anything about it.

    One we have merged three councils, can we even pretend they have their own identities anymore? Note that I am not arguing against the principle of greater scale of delivery (though please, not to a national scale) merely that it makes no sense to have a mismatch between the boundaries of representation and the boundaries of delivery. Unless you’re prepared to supplement the service feedback with another way in which residents’ views on a service can be used to improve/amend/cancel it. “Vote on your contractor’s performance” etc, rather than on your elected representative’s.

    Which takes us down a whole new road…

  2. localgov says:

    Great post, and anyone who takes lessons from Harry Hill will not go far wrong in life.

    On the off chance you’re interested, we looked at just this issue today on our blog: http://welovelocalgovernment.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/royal-decisions/

    We sadly lacked any advice however. Perhaps we should go down the Swiss Toni route: “Merging three council’s services is very much like making love to a beautiful woman. First you have to choose the easiest bits to tackle before you bite your teeth into it hard, before doing the barest minimum to keep them all happy whilst acknowledging that others will only ever see the glory and not the sheer amount of unrewarding work it entails.”

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super council! « I was a public sector worker -- Topsy.com

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