Meeting documents

Corporate Overview Scrutiny Committee
Monday, 18th July, 2016 2.00 pm

Date: Monday 18th July 2016 Time: 2.00 p.m. Place: Council Chamber, Civic Centre, Ebbw Vale

Please note: all Minutes are subject to approval at the next Meeting

PresentAndWithReport toReport of
Item/Resolution Status Action

Apologies for absence were received from:

Councillors L. Winnett and D. Wilkshire


No declarations of interest or dispensations were reported.

Report (364K/bytes)

Consideration was given to report of the Temporary Lead Corporate Director/Head of Paid Service and Chief Finance Officer which provided information as requested by the Corporate Overview Scrutiny Committee in February 2016, in relation to the background and operating arrangements for the Transforming Blaenau Gwent Programme, with specific focus on Procurement and Business Support.

The Temporary Lead Corporate Director presented the report. He said the introduction of the business support model and progress of the procurement service was a new dynamic and cross cutting approach.

He explained the background and context of the Transforming Blaenau Gwent Programme, which included improvements in our performance management and monitoring arrangements and the regular presentation of information to ensure the programme was on track with ongoing adjustments as necessary. Financial Efficiency Projects (FEP's) were developed to try and deliver the savings required to ensure the Council was financially sustainable in the long term, and progress of these was regularly reported to CMT, the Programme Steering Group, the Programme Board, the Corporate Overview Scrutiny Committee and the Executive Committee.

In terms of the Business Support project the Officer explained that the Council had worked alongside PWC in the identification of a savings proposal to reduce the cost of back office functions by establishing a Council wide 'Business Support' service that would improve resilience, create a career structure and achieve significant savings.

The potential savings initially suggested by PWC were significant at 1.45m within the first year, with a projected reduction in staff of approximately 59 FTE's, from 236 staff identified as 'in scope', based on a 'desk top' analysis of job roles and job titles.

The project intended to amalgamate the back office functions delivered separately in each Directorate, in order to create a Council wide business support service.

In developing proposals for the 2015/16 budget, CMT took the view that the full potential savings were unlikely to be achieved as there was already a relatively efficient back office function, and the models from elsewhere were 'off the shelf' and typically featured in much larger Local Authorities. Therefore a revised savings target of 725k was included in the budget proposals considered by Council in December 2014 for inclusion in the 2015/16 budget.

The Temp Lead Corporate Director pointed out that without these savings being identified there would have been a need for deeper cuts elsewhere across the organisation, e.g. a reduction in school crossing patrols, changes to winter maintenance arrangements, further reductions in the Leisure Trust spend, additional increases to Council Tax, and a reduction in the general, local and voluntary sector grants.

The Business Support project was implemented on the 1st November, 2015 following a significant amount of work undertaken to confirm the scope of the project. The number of staff 'in scope' had reduced significantly from 236 to 149, as many of the posts originally included were either not undertaking business support activities, or savings were being captured in the scope of other transformation projects.

In terms of the impact of the project, the Officer referred to section 2.19 of the report as follows:-

- 92 retained their grade
- 12 had a reduction of 1 grade
- 2 had a reduction of 2 grades
- 6 were promoted
- 75% business continuity rate

He said there had been changes to staff roles and duties which had proved challenging.

Following conclusion of the appointment process etc. the full year saving had been recalculated in January 2016, and was now estimated to be approximately 450k in a full year.

In conclusion, the Officer said the project had delivered significant savings and was a transformational change that a number of other Councils were now considering.

He said the project had been successful in terms of generating savings, but would take some time to fully bed in. There had been a number of operational challenges as the service had been implemented, and staff were required to work in a more flexible way, and take on new roles and responsibilities. However, if the arrangements had been developed on a Directorate by Directorate basis the cuts would still have been required, but the 'One Council' benefits would not have been possible.

In response to a question raised by a Member, the Officer said as part of the budget setting process opportunities for further collaborative working would be explored.

The Member also referred to a list of staff changes that was circulated to Members previously, and asked that this be reinstated. The Officer undertook to investigate this matter.

A Member questioned that the Business Support Service would provide opportunities for career progression. He said there had always been opportunities for staff prior to 'business support' being in place. He also referred to section 2.8 of the report where it stated that 'full potential savings were unlikely to be achieved as there was already a relatively efficient back office function'.

He felt, in his opinion, the impact on staff had been significant, with staff morale at an all-time low, with most feeling that a single business support service was unnecessary.

The Member also expressed concern regarding section 2.9 of the report giving examples of services which may have suffered cuts had business support not been implemented. He pointed out that any decisions regarding cuts to services would be political decisions. The officer responded that they were political decisions but the report illustrates what the potential impacts could be on other service delivery.

In terms of potential savings, he had continually challenged the figures during the budget setting process, and was still not convinced that future savings for business support would be achieved.

The Temp Lead Corporate Director responded that over a number of years there had been cuts within the back office function in order to protect front line services. However, there were areas that had not faced any changes for a number of years, and the business support model offered more opportunity to drive through changes on a Council wide basis and achieve further efficiencies.

He said staff morale was a very important issue, and he did all he could to offer advice and guidance. Throughout the process staff had demonstrated resilience and responded to difficult transformational changes. He said staff in the public sector had experienced a level of austerity measures not seen in other areas, and this had a major impact on staff morale. However, he said the changes were needed, and whilst it had been a negative experience for some staff, the rationale behind the process had been made clear throughout.

In terms of the potential savings initially identified by PWC, he said at that point in time due to the significant challenges facing the Authority it was reassuring to work alongside them, however, it became evident that those opportunities and savings initially projected would not be achievable.

He said business support was not a failed project, it had been a transformational change and was delivering savings.

The Member said he accepted that there needed to be rationalisation within the back office function, but this also needed to be undertaken across CMT pay grades, and he understood that a review of the Senior Management Structure would be undertaken in due course. He referred to the 6 promotions that had taken place within business support, and said that in the interest of transparency during such austerity, it was important for Members to know where promotions had been made and on which grades during the last 12 months, and the reasons for it.

He also asked the Officer whether he was satisfied that the structures and teams in place were adequate, and not over-staffed and fit for purpose in all areas.

The Temp Lead Corporate Director agreed that staff reductions and efficiencies should be across the board at all levels. He said the impact of austerity had caused significant challenges, but he was confident that the changes that had been made were the best with the resources available.

He said the Authority's education service had recently come out of special measures, and a Centralised Performance Team had been established for education, social services and the corporate centre. As part of this process opportunities were identified to streamline and refine processes, whilst maintaining a seamless high level service of performance support.

A Member said the business support project had cost money to implement, and could only be deemed a success if the staff and Members were satisfied with it.

In response the Officer said in his opinion it had been a success because it had delivered back office efficiencies. He said in the current financial climate we need to deliver services in the best way with the resources available, and business support was enabling us to do that. However, it had been very challenging and a 26% FTE reduction would have an impact, but we have to adapt and do things in a different way.

Another Member said business support was a very important element of any organisation. He referred to the initial potential savings of 1.4m quoted by PWC and asked the Officer how this figure came about.

The Officer agreed that business support was critical to any organisation. The Authority worked alongside PWC, and during this time it was decided that a business support model was the way forward for the Council in order to achieve back office efficiencies. The potential savings early on was anticipated to be 725k within business support. However, as we went into the detail and identified that some staff should not be 'in-scope', etc., that figure was reduced, and a 450k was currently anticipated moving forward.

The Chief Finance Officer confirmed that a report outlining the full impact of all savings as part of the Transforming Blaenau Gwent Programme would be reported in September/October.

A Member referred to the fact that collaborative working seemed to be around front line services, and sought an update on whether there were any future plans for collaborative working in respect of back office functions.

In response the Temp Lead Corporate Director said collaborative working was critical. However, in terms of business support, we needed a better understanding of the challenges coming through. He said if we embrace those challenges it would enable staff to have the skills and experience to stand them in good stead for any future collaborative working arrangements, and ensure that Blaenau Gwent kept its public sector jobs.

The Chief Finance Officer then spoke to the procurement section of the report (3.1 onwards) and highlighted points contained therein. He reported that since the preparation of the report savings against the target for Procurement savings had increased by a further 100k.

RESOLVED to recommend that the report be accepted and the information contained therein be acknowledged.