Date Published

03/05/2022

Reading time

5 Min Read

Author

Andy Foster

How to build service resilience into local public services

Today local authorities face huge challenges in delivering reliable services that meet statutory standards. There aren’t enough people on the ground, and councils can’t meet growing service demands due to a shortage of in-house skills and experience. 

The result is:

  • increasing backlogs in service requests across the organisation
  • citizens waiting longer for the support they need
  • additional strain being put on existing teams to carry the load

 

Now is the time for local authorities to build greater resilience into public services. This means building services that deliver at pace and scale, while having a flexible structure that can respond to unexpected events, and fluctuating demand.

Six practical ways to build service resilience

Think ‘long-term’ but plan for the short term

When councils agree high-level target outcomes such as, ‘building 50,000 new homes in the next five years’ they also, of course, have to consider the precise impact this could have on service demand. 

Strategic goals are important but need to be considered alongside the level of investment required to generate the right level of service delivery. Breaking down strategic projects into manageable milestones can help control delivery risks, keep the programme on track, and help the programme director articulate the consequences in the event the project investment was ever taken away.

Plan around forecasts not structures

Very few projects or services have a flat cost profile throughout the year. For example, many place-based projects are delivered during the good weather of spring and summer. This creates increased demand downstream for planning and building control services, which experience surges in demand during these months. 

Naturally, more resource is needed during those two quarters, or performance is compromised. Authorities should ask themselves how they are able to meet these predictable increases in service demand. If the answer if they can’t, it’s time to look at alternative resource models.

Develop or borrow the skillset?

We know that many local authorities are facing chronic shortages of skilled staff in key areas. In this landscape, it’s important to consider whether leading-edge expertise is best delivered from permanent staff, or whether it is something that should be hired from an external partner. 

When Boston Borough Council, South Holland District Council and Lincolnshire County Council needed technical advice on a project, they brought in temporary resource from Capita’s resilience programme. We were able to provide skilled professionals who could advise on issues such as flood risk and housing need, while boosting their existing joint planning policy team to deliver the Local Plan.  

Specialist staff such as ecology officers, digital consultants and structural engineers are expensive resources that few authorities need access to every day and all year round. A more efficient approach would be to have a pool of resources that organisations can dip into as and when they need them either through a shared arrangement with regional authorities or through a framework of suppliers.

Let the bots take the strain

Automation of some processes is now commonplace amongst many sectors, but some areas have been able to adopt new technology more quickly than others. Automation is certainly becoming more and more relevant to helping public sector resources stretch further. For example, in an environment where the workforce is stretched there’s no need to to have valuable human capital executing highly transactional and repeatable tasks that could be easily dealt with by robotic process automation.

Focus on value creation and recover the costs

The concept of value creation is not new in the public sector, but  it’s one which requires some creative thinking in order to executive well. If a council can deliver something more quickly or out of hours or in some other way that creates additional benefits for the user, then that benefit will have value. Where there is value, there will be someone willing to pay for it.  

In the same way that a lemonade stand selling cold drinks in a sunny park can command a premium compared to a supermarket, local government can charge a premium for certain services based on factors such as location and convenience. Our partnership with London Borough of Barnet has created multiple pockets of value for citizens who use them, from fast-track planning applications to food hygiene re-inspections. Add up all of these individual commercialisation streams and councils can make serious reductions in the operating costs of front-line services. Savings that can be re-invested into the service to sustain them.

Give your future self a helping hand

Apprenticeships and graduate schemes are not a quick fix for filling vacancies, but they are an investment in the next generation of talent coming through. Many organisations are fearful that developing professionals through this route is too expensive and time-consuming. After all, the apprenticeship pathway for a social worker or environmental health practitioner will take at least four years, and that’s if the apprentice doesn’t leave in that time.

But this viewpoint overlooks the fact that apprenticeships are an investment in a sector, which will, itself, benefit from investment in graduates and trainees, creating a larger talent pool in the years ahead. 
 
Now is the perfect time for local government to view the skills shortage as a chance to think differently about how it delivers services. A mixed economy of permanent, ‘borrowed’ and self-funded skills can act as an enabler for resilient services which provide resources at the exact time they are needed, then recycling them to others when they are not. This approach will keep talent fresh in the sector, reduce costs, accelerate important projects and perhaps more importantly will keep communities satisfied and thriving.

To find out more about how Capita can support you to make your services more resilient please contact localpublicservices@capita.co.uk or download our brochure here

See our infographic on building resilient public services

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Written by

Andy Foster

Andy Foster

Market Development Director at Capita Public Service

Andy Foster is Market Development Director for Capita Public Service. A Chartered Trading Standards Practitioner by background, Andy has spent the last three decades working across Local Government, Central Government and third sector organisations specialising in solution design and professional services.

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