Helping public services to help themselves

Since the beginning, this has been the mission of the Commissioning Academy – helping public services to help themselves to meet the multiple challenges they face. I’m very proud that the baton is now being handed on to the Public Service Transformation Academy, the new body we have formed to deliver the commissioning academy and other sector capacity building.
This is a not-for-profit social enterprise, with RedQuadrant as the lead partner and delivery partners expected to include the Whitehall & Industry Group (lead delivery partner), OPM, ncvo, Browne Jacobson, the E3M Bold Commissioners Club, TSIP, the Alliance for Useful Evidence, local gov digital, collaborate, Numbers for Good, and members of the Public Service Transformation Network.

See more at

I won’t rehearse the old saws about the challenges the public services face – or the need to do more for less. We all understand these by now. Yes, commissioning is about building the capacity to face challenges – but it is about doing something more than that, and something different. Commissioning is not yet tightly defined – something I’m very happy about. It’s an emerging field, still open to possibilities. At heart, it is about better understanding of what public services can really offer, a better range of options to deliver, and better learning from experience. That learning is central, and the Public Service Transformation Academy seeks to build this learning and better delivery across the sector. We aim to fill the ‘sweet spot’ between cutting edge, radical ideas, and potentially stale ‘best practice’.

I’ve been in public service transformation for nearly 18 years now, and there has never been a bigger need for this work, and less resource to do it. Fitting, then, that the Cabinet Office, having developed the Commissioning Academy and trained over 1,100 people over three years in partnership with various suppliers, is now commissioning out delivery. As Chief Executive of the Public Service Transformation Academy, it will be my job to commission academies and learning interventions that will maximise impact and benefits (measured, ultimately, by the positive impact on citizens). I wanted to be called Chief Commissioning Officer, or Chief Commissaire, but our partners weren’t that keen for some reason.

RedQuadrant believes in helping the sector to help itself. Whitehall & Industry Group, our key delivery partners, have cross-sector learning embedded at the heart of their charitable purpose. And all of our partners, as well as their own charitable or business goals, seek to help public services be better, be more positive, have more impact, think more widely and more effectively.

So we look forward to continuing and developing the core Commissioning Academy, and many regional, local, and sector specific variants. These will support devolution, integration, codesign, citizen engagement and all the others ways we’re trying to help people to live their lives more happily, easily, productively, and positively as a sector. And we’ll be offering other leadership and organisational development support, from system leadership and collaborative leadership to service transformation, building the skills in public services to help themselves, and teaching them to help citizens and communities to help themselves.

That’s why it is so exciting to be taking on the proven and effective Cabinet Office Commissioning Academy, and to be developing it over the next three or four years. And I’m particularly pleased that the Public Service Transformation Network, a shining example of government trying to really get to grips with the realities of public service reform on the ground, has passed us the baton and their website, We will be maintaining and developing this as a knowledge resource in the original spirit, and supporting all positive efforts to help the sector take responsibility for reform and change for the better.

It’s hard to write about public service reform without jargon, and without sweeping generalisations. I haven’t managed it yet. But from today, the Public Service Transformation Academy will help public servants find new and more effective ways to think about what they do, do it better, and learn from the experience. They’ll work together, share knowledge, develop ideas, and hear from the best of the best who have tried to make change and have the scars and stories to prove it. And the Commissioning Academy will be the jewel in the crown, a truly important way to change the way we deliver public services for the better.

Benjamin Taylor
Chief Executive
Public Service Transformation Academy
Managing Partner, RedQuadrant


Everyone is talking about devo-max, though some of us ‘experienced’ (or cynical) enough to remember the ‘freedoms and flexibilities’ club of the first 14 ‘excellent’ authorities (in which both Kent and Hammersmith & Fulham boldly proposed ‘public service boards’ managing *all* government spend locally) might be dubious about the extent of what will actually happen.

In this opinion piece, RedQuadrant consultant Peter Johnson, a former chief executive, takes a hard look at the implications for the nation state, and for this nation state in particular… He calls it ‘devo-mix’.


A couple of alternative perspectives on devolution to cities and local areas in England:

“Greater Manchester’s £6bn NHS budget devolution begins in April. Greater Manchester will begin taking control of its health budget from April after a devolution agreement was signed by the Chancellor George Osborne.”

“Cornwall devolution deal confirmed.”

“The Devolution Bill will pave the way for cities and counties around the country to gain new wide-ranging powers.”

“Devolution deals pitch for £60bn in Whitehall cash”

Everyone’s familiar with the headlines and the story so far. The Manchester and Cornwall examples are exactly that – just two examples of a whole series of deals and proposals for the devolution of powers and some revenue raising capability to cities (or city regions) and other non-metropolitan areas in England.

Manchester is remarkable because it was both the first and the most ambitious deal, and we know that other big cities followed with their own proposals; Cornwall is quoted to show how the idea has quickly spread to other, more rural areas – there are many more “county-based” bids hoping for Treasury approval in the forthcoming spending review.

These are exciting developments, very significant for local government and having enormous potential impact on local economies, transport infrastructure, skills and employment prospects, housing and health. Whether that potential is realised and whether the impact is beneficial or otherwise will depend on the true willingness and ability of government to devolve, and the capacity of local government and public service partners to live up to their bids at the more strategic, systemic level (even the bids as submitted to the Treasury are in some cases in conflict, as different power centres lay claim to the same territory).

But this piece sidesteps those big, complex questions to pose two others:

  • Is this actually about avoiding a debate on an English parliament?
  • At the international level, are national governments not only losing power to supra-national, global organisations and power-blocs on the one hand, but also to their own big cities on the other?

The English question

No Prime Minister would have wanted to discuss with the Queen the constitutional  implications of Scottish independence had the referendum gone that way. Calls for an English parliament would have been loud, immediate and perhaps more justified, and the nature of the Union would have been in question.

Part of the offer for Scots to remain in the Union was “devo-max”, new, more extensive devolution of power to the Scottish Parliament, and that itself has had obvious repercussions for Wales, Northern Ireland and, now, city-regions or sub-regions of England, hence (after the Manchester deal) “devo-manc”. The potential extent of devolution on the Manchester scale (which won’t be bid for and certainly not granted in every case) led a Welsh MP to say, in the debate on the Queen’s Speech:

“it is reported that the cities and local government devolution Bill will fully devolve powers over transport, planning, housing and – critically – policing. That means that some cities in England will have more powers than the sovereign national Parliament of Wales. What is more, those powers are being handed out across the UK without any requirement for referendums”.

Referenda, of course, don’t have a great track record of eliciting public support for regional government (2004) or directly elected mayors (2012).  

And in any case there is serious work to do to begin to realise the potential:

“Devo Manc holds out the promise of meaningful and deep integration within the health service, and between health and social care. This integration has great potential to offer real benefits to patients. In particular, it could help to deliver genuinely patient-centred and genuinely coordinated care.

That would be quite a prize for patients in Greater Manchester. But the evidence tells us that delivering this will be tough. Very tough. Complex integration takes time and patience to deliver results. And given the efficiency demands being placed on the health system currently, we might say time is short.”

Tameside GP Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the British Medical Association

So there is an argument that this proposed devolution is as much about avoiding (or at least distracting from) the question of an English parliament as it is about “the northern powerhouse”, reviving local economies or building new infrastructure.

If that were so, would it make devolution more or less likely to be successful?

Save the Union, weaken the nation state?

In the rest of the world, where Scottish independence and “English votes for English laws” are spoken of a little less often, there is also an argument that in the globalised, interconnected economy, nation states have become less important, and their big cities more so.

Nation states have ceded power to supranational institutions such as the EU, the Euro and its ECB, and the IMF.  Less formally, strategic decisions which affect national policies are taken at G8 meetings. In the interests of free trade, nations sign international trade treaties aiming to establish a playing field for multinational corporations free of annoying obstacles like national standards on employment protection, health and safety, environmental protection or sustainable energy.

Big cities simply connect to the global economy and to each other by virtue of their intellectual, commercial and industrial capacity, and with little dependence on or recognition of national borders. Paradoxically, when information can travel the world in a microsecond, talent and innovation tends to cluster in urban areas, often megacities like Bangalore and Mumbai.

Australia and Canada have also witnessed the conspicuous rise of local councils such as the City of Sydney or Vancouver City Council, both now far more advanced in developing integrated environmental strategies than their respective federal governments.

Other non-capital cities such as Lagos or Mumbai have substantial international presence despite the relative dysfunction of their home nations. Over the past decade, most Indian and Chinese provinces have also set up their own trade and investment promotion offices worldwide, often as non-diplomatic and purely commercial ventures to attract tourism and investment.

Big cities frequently outperform their national economies:


And they can do more than nations to combat climate change:

“Climate-smart cities could save the world $22tn, say economists

Green buildings and better infrastructure would not only spur economic growth but also cut carbon emissions equal to India’s annual output” 

(Global Commission on Climate and Economy)

Through global networks such as C40, they:

“facilitate dialogue amongst city officials. This builds trusted relationships, which in turn ensures that ideas, solutions, lessons, questions, and even friendly competition can flow freely and responsively to cities’ needs. Rather than end at a case study or report, C40 Networks create conversations, which enable cities to tailor their own actions to their unique situations, and band together to use their collective power to access partnership resources, including technical and financial support. The result is that cities’ climate actions to reduce GHGs and climate risks are bolder, more impactful, implemented faster, at a lower cost and with less resources than if they were to go it alone. No other organisation facilitates such deep connections amongst city staff across 50+ countries, 20 time zones and 26 languages to accelerate local action with major global impact.”

C40 website

Despite their influence on national leaders, can G8 or G20 claim as much?

One socio-economic commentator has observed that:

“global inequality is now again predominantly within societies (particularly key cities and the hinterlands) rather than across them (between rich and poor nations). Again: those living in the world’s principal cities anywhere often have more in common with each other than with their own compatriots.”

This is not to suggest that any currently suggested form of devolution consciously plays into these global trends, but the point is that they might, now or in the near future, be beyond the power of national government to resist or control by the partial transfer of statutory competences.

“You’re working where?”

By our consultant, Richard Sved

They say there’s a first time for everything. And everyone I told about this piece of work I did with RedQuadrant reacted with the above words.

Upminster WindmillYou see, I’ve worked in and with a range of charities, museums, libraries and archives for over 20 years, but I had never done a piece of work for a windmill before. Yes, a windmill. Until now. And as it’s a first for RedQuadrant too, they asked me to write a bit about what we did.

Upminster Windmill is a beautiful iconic windmill built in 1803. It had fallen into disrepair in recent years, but thanks to the sterling efforts of local volunteers spearheaded by the Upminster Windmill Preservation Trust, things are now looking up. Detailed plans for its restoration are set to become a reality thanks to major pledged support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

We were asked to carry out a review of their governance structures and processes to help ensure that the windmill remains successful in the longer term, in the years beyond its planned restoration. So, here are some of the key learnings from this interesting and exciting piece of work:

Maintaining strong leadership into the future

It soon became clear that the board had a particularly strong and capable leader in its chair. And this isn’t surprising, as considerable leadership skills must doubtless have been needed to get to this point.

A key part of our work was to look at how dependent the charity was on a single person’s efforts. Was there a succession plan? How were new board members to be recruited and inducted? Happily, a lot of the thinking had already been done in this important area, and the chair was strongly supported by a number of key board members, so we were able to build on that in our recommendations.

Understanding that the wheels keep turning

Apologies – I’ve used a windmill-related metaphor, but this is a key point about governance. The Upminster Windmill Preservation Trust has been tremendously successful in saving the windmill and getting it to the point of restoration.

But the wheels keep turning. Soon after the ribbon is cut on the newly restored windmill, it will need to be run effectively as a somewhat different entity. What skills are needed on the board to ensure that it operates smoothly thereafter? We looked for example at how to build the charity’s ability to promote and fundraise for the windmill’s upkeep, and at what professional support might be needed in the mid to long term, as well as how that knowledge might be transferred to the board.

Harnessing the passion

Working with the board and volunteers, we quickly learned that they were fiercely passionate about the windmill. It was important to them in such a variety of ways – as a piece of heritage, because of its attendant social history, as a means of educating people about engineering, and particularly as a surviving working mill. To extend the milling metaphor, it is these passions that will help to turn the sails of the organisation in future years. We hope that the governance review will help the charity to harness them well.

And finally, we learned about how important and motivating for its volunteers the windmill was as an iconic local landmark, almost literally a beacon for the community. As one survey participant responded, “it is Upminster.”

And with its imminent restoration and strong governance to the fore, it looks set to play that role for generations to come.

How is the Service Transformation Programme helping to improve travel in London?

Our consultant Matthew Barnaby is currently working as Head of Continuous Improvement for MTR Crossrail. He has this to say about the role of the Service Transformation Programme in supporting change there:

Earlier this year, I started working with MTR Crossrail. It’s an exciting and fascinating place to work being both the largest rail project since Victorian times whilst (even though part of the MTR Corporation) is a new start-up business.

Initially I was asked to assist in the implementation of the HRIS system with an aim of developing key end to end processes that considers not only the IT system but also the human interactions. As my role quickly developed I moved in to an area where I was focusing on continuous improvement across the business. I am responsible for the ‘bottom up’ approach to delivering change, seeing through suggestions ‘with’ on the ground staff to have a positive impact on the business and its customers.

Having learned a great deal from the Service Transformation Programme I’ve been able to successfully use tools and methods at MTR Crossrail. For example, in order to develop end to end processes I used ‘Whole Systems’ to understand in detail what was happening. I worked with staff to map the end to end processes including the recruitment process. Third party partners were invited to our workshops to provide us with information about their own processes so we could learn from their experience (for example DBS checks). I was keen to incorporate the customer perspective into this work so I made sure managers participated in this process from the start. After doing this work, we identified many opportunities to improve the way in which the organisation operated using this software and continue to iterate.

With regard to my continuous improvement work I lean towards an Agile approach because it means we can start working on the improvements quickly, learn from the improvements sooner rather than later and develop and refine as we went along. But, most importantly, with Agile, I can ensure staff are genuinely engaged in the whole change process. I can engage the staff member who has identified the improvements, empower that person to take action in making these improvements happen with a small support team and support the person to become a change champion through this process.

To embed these methods and approaches across the business I have developed training and initiatives to share tools, build understanding and increase buy-in. For example I assist in all inductions to initiate engagement and deliver ‘training for change’ to the Executive team and all senior managers.

Having attending the Service Transformation Programme and utilised the knowledge and skills in MTR Crossrail, I have already noticed some early impact on this improvement work. First, there has been the cultural impact. Bringing people together to have conversations about improvement has been fundamentally powerful in shaping the culture of this growing organisation. This kind of impact should not be underestimated if organisations want to drive improvement work continuously. Second, the improvements we have implemented have made a positive impact on the HR team as systems and people work together in a much more integrated way. Third, empowering staff themselves to co-design and co-deliver the improvements they suggested through the Agile approach has meant the organisation is taking large steps in realising its own vision and values.

Right now, the plan is to continue acting as the lead in my area, being a critical friend to peers and help the organisation improve its performance as the business grows and grows.

A simple guide to demand analysis in the delivery of victim support services


Managing victim support services can be full of challenges. Matching capacity with demand is a key approach to removing some of the visible and hidden backlogs along a victim support service pathway. In this article we show how to conduct demand and capacity analysis to improve victim support services.

What is gap analysis and how can it help me?

The number of victims seeking support following a crime varies with a variety of factors including seasonality, school holidays, geography and others. This results in the build up of waiting because demand for work often exceeds the capacity available to do that work

In addition, the amount of support required by victims of crime varies significantly depending upon factors such as; the nature of the crime, the support needed and the ability of the individual to help themselves and others.

Understandably then, the demand for victim support services fluctuates up and down significantly with different services experiencing their own peaks and troughs throughout the year.

At the same time, the capacity available to provide support services is fixed at a level that is usually established not by any link to demand but by the level of funding available to provide such services.

Consequently, service providers experience a continual mismatch between the demand for services and the capacity available to deal with it. Managing this can be challenging and difficult.

Accurate analysis of victim support processes and a clear understanding of demand and capacity are essential to achieve effective and sustainable service transformation.

How do we do it? 

Process mapping underpins all service redesign, demand, capacity, activity and queue management, for victim support flow modelling and service planning.

Process mapping, along with measurement of demand, capacity, activity and backlog provides the evidence you need for service improvement. If you don’t understand the processes, you risk changing parts of a process which will not improve the service from the client’s perspective and may actually incur more waits and delays.


Once the process map is complete, the next stage is analysing it by considering the following:

  • Where are the delays, queues and waiting built into the process?
  • Where are the bottlenecks?
  • What are the longest delays?

When measuring victim services, you need to understand and reduce variation in order to improve patient flow. Variation can be seasonal, monthly, weekly, daily or hourly. Much of the variation in victim systems is controlled upon understanding of the patient flow.

Analysing and understanding current system variation is essential in order to reduce overall victim journey times. The variation between demand and capacity is one of the main reasons why queues occur, because every time demand exceeds capacity, a queue is formed showing itself as a waiting list or backlog.

Key measures

There are three key measures that impact service:

  • Capacity
  • Demand
  • Backlog

They need to be understood if you are to manage queues, deliver effective service and make informed decisions. You should aim to measure these factors in the same units for the same period of time so that you can compare them on a single graph.

It is sensible to measure the capacity for all critical resources as these are most likely to constrain the available capacity. For example, in Domestic Violence Cases, the Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) may offer advocacy services as part of a support program. As IDVAs are a critical resource, their availability is often constrains the entire process.

How to measure demand

Multiply the number of victims referred from all sources by the time it takes to support a victim. For example, an advocacy session may last one hour so 12 victims having advocacy support each day would take 60 x 12 = 720 minutes per day.

How to measure capacity

Multiply the number of critical resources available by the time in minutes available. For example, two IDVAs available for 240 minutes each day would create a capacity of 480 minutes per day.

How to measure backlog

This is normally shown in the number of minutes it will take the victims to be processed. Multiply the number of Victims waiting by the time in minutes it takes to process a victim. For example, 20 patients waiting for advocacy support x 60 minute advocacy each session = 1,200 minutes backlog. On a daily basis, there may be additional demand arriving for a service which adds to the backlog.

Assessing results

The data used in the above example is plotted in Figure 1 showing the way that fluctuations in demand against a fixed capacity are causing backlog to increase over time.

For Simon's blog

This quick introduction demonstrates the need to measure your demand, capacity, activity and backlog on a daily basis.

Handling variation

Collecting demand data over a longer period of time allows you to carry out statistical analysis of the demand. Although the analysis becomes more complicated, it allows you to build a richer picture of the process and enables you to make the best use of resources to cope with the challenges of the service. The statistics can then be used to identify the minimum level of capacity you need to ensure that the backlog doesn’t spiral out of control.

The statistics can also be used in simulation models that will enable you to understand how likely problematic events are to occur. For example, if you know that once in every 100 working days you are likely to experience a demand level that is twice the available capacity, then you can make contingency plans to handle that situation as it occurs. This could involve for example, transferring staff from less critical areas of work or recruiting agency support to temporarily increase capacity. Using simulation will allow you to test out which of the solutions seems to offer the best and most cost effective result.


Matching capacity with demand is a vital tool in ensuring that victim support services are managed with optimum efficiency. Measuring the capacity, demand and backlog on a daily basis will show when problems are occurring and allow timely interventions. Using statistics to predict the likelihood that problems will occur is a good way to understand the issues BEFORE they happen and allow management plans to be developed ahead of time.

If you would like to find out more about our new demand and capacity planning service, then please click HERE to access the full case study and to download our service overview.

With further cuts on the horizon, as recently announced, there is no better time to ensure that you have an accurate picture of where your resources need to be allocated – call or email us now for an initial conversation!

Please do not hesitate to call or email or 07515 875381 to find out more about our services.

Simon Pegg is Director of Holleth Analytical Solutions Limited, a business consultancy providing problem solving and decision support to the public sector. For more information, contact him at

So, twenty years later, do we need CRM?

There’s a diagram you’re probably all familiar with. I call it the ‘1999 CRM diagram’, but it pre-dates that by some way, I think. It has different contact channels coming in, usually from the top, usually illustrated with clip art – phone, letter, email (you can check how outdated it is by whether it includes fax, pager or quill, or excludes smartphones – and how optimistic it is by whether it includes interactive TV!)

These contact channels hit a big rectangle – the ‘customer contact layer’, which sits above an even bigger ‘customer management / CRM’ rectangle. Below that are dotted lines showing ‘integration’ with a load of big cylinders or ‘legacy ICT systems’ – and if you’re lucky, somewhere on there are some squiggles for service areas delivering actual services!

At RedQuadrant, we have some very fruitful disagreements within our teams about the value or otherwise of CRM systems. My view though is that every organisation does need a ‘customer relationship management’ *strategy*. But most customer contact thinking is about just that – customer contact. This focuses on reducing unit costs, optimising the use of resource. As the ‘seven ways to save and improve’ shows us, this is good where it supports customer and organisational purpose, understanding of demand, economies of flow and good processes. And is very very naughty where it undermines those things! I thought the days of the four-year ‘transformation’ programme based around a mega-CRM implementation and mega-call centre set-up (cost: £79m, payback, £27.732m per year after year two) were long gone, but perhaps not.

What is interesting is that having moved from completely disparate, unmanaged, and often very very poor customer contact management (though sometimes brilliant) – where each individual and business unit had a telephone number which might or might not get answered – into a centralised model of contact centres, the best organisations are now finding ways to distribute the contact BACK to the people who have to deal with the actual underlying customer issue. This can only be a good thing (ask me if you want to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ thoughts on lean!) but it *doesn’t* mean we’ve abandoned the underlying principles of good customer contact management. Rather than the pendulum just swinging back, things have actually moved on and improved.

Nor does it mean that centralised CRM and contact management are always, automatically, a bad thing. I have seen very good call centres, with some limited use of phone menus etc, actually deliver brilliant customer services – 90% is in the implementation, as with everything in life – you just set yourself a bigger challenge if you start from the wrong place (but then, that’s often where you have to start).

Once, everyone had to come in to the office in person. I’ve worked on customer contact with the government of Armenia and believe me, it was chaos – people wandering the halls and hoping to bump into the Minister! Then we organised and rationalised – a competent receptionist, different queues. Then technology switched much of it onto the phone and as the technology improved and we all wanted a phone on our desk, and exchanges gave us all outbound lines, we moved back to the chaos in a way. So we put in a (massive) phone receptionist. Now, as things move on, we are moving back to distributed customer contact – but having learnt the lessons, both good and bad, from the centralising experience, it is very different from how it was before. (and of course, face-to-face contact and phone still need to be managed as people increasingly use newer technology to do things online).

So, what lessons have we learned? A few are:

- it’s a good idea to have a single view of the customer. But it’s hard, and the payback is uncertain, and good research shows that CRM is consistently the fifth, sixth or seventh most reliable source of customer data in a local authority! If you have competent and responsive IT people and can get a good enough enterprise architect, and sustain investment in a true customer database, you should do that – if not, don’t

- economies of flow trump economies of scale/optimisation of resources

- optimising part of the customer contact process at the expense of the whole is a stupid idea – so one system that everyone uses, with simple steps, optimal hand-off to real life people/service delivery, and a shared knowledge base, just makes sense. This could be CRM or simple web forms plus a dashboard of data – and when I say ‘everyone uses’, this should be everyone from service to chief exec to customer service operator to customer on the phone, customer on the web, customer on a paper form, customer using an iphone

- this needs to be fully and sensibly integrated into any other systems used – ‘back office’ or service delivery processes

- some outsourcing/partnerships worked and some didn’t – the reasons are not too hard to learn

Why community budgets must fail – and why they might succeed

Deep breath now… Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs), Local public service agreements (LPSAs), LPSA2, Single Regeneration Budgets (SRB), the Community Care Act, joint finance/pool finance, Health Action Zones (HAZ), Neighbourhood Renewal Budgets (NRB), Better Government for Older People (BGOP), Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs), Children’s Centres, New Deal for Communities (NDC), Health Improvement Partnerships (HIPs), Health Improvement and Modernisation Plans (HIMPs), Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs), the National Service Framework for Older People (NSF), the Rough Sleepers Unit, Section 31 pooled budgets, Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA), Local Area Assessment (LAA), the Primary Care Support Service (PCSS), Children’s Trusts, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Social Exclusion Taskforce (SETF) report, Neighbourhood Renewal Strategies, Community Strategies, the Data Protection Act, Health People, Healthy Lives, the Innovations Forum, the Social Investment Bond feasibility study, the review of the local performance management framework, Local Economic Partnerships, Partnerships for Older People (POPPs), ThinkFamily, Project SEARCH, Commissioning, More Commissioning , and indeed the Commissioning Support Programme (and Excellence in Commissioning) – and now, community budgets (and neighbourhood community budgets)…

So, apart from Being Very Important (and having obligatory TLAs) – what do all these have in common? (Well, apart from the one I made up and the one I definitely got wrong)…. They are all things that have ‘happened’ to local government and partners over the last fifteen years or so. They are almost all central government-directed, they are all designed to encourage ‘partnership working’. And very few of them really changed the world in the way they aspired to do!

Don’t get me wrong. A number of them moved forward the agenda significantly (if you’ll excuse the form of words). I got the pleasure of quoting Yes, Minister to the ODPM officials when I was part of ‘evaluating the burden of the local authority performance reporting landscape’…

Sir Humphrey: If local authorities don’t send us the statistics that we ask for, then government figures will be a nonsense.
Jim: Why?
Sir Humphrey: They’ll be incomplete.
Jim: But government figures are a nonsense anyway.
Bernard: I think Sir Humphrey wants to ensure they’re a complete nonsense.
Cartwright       I’m saying, nevertheless, South Derbyshire is the most efficient local authority in  the UK.
Minister           Most efficient?  I’m supposed to be ticking them off for being the least efficient.
Cartwright       Look at the figures.  
Minister           I thought they didn’t send us any?
Cartwright       No, but they keep their own records perfectly well.  I’m going on those.  (He opens a file and shows the Minister.)  They’ve got the lowest truancy record in the Midlands, the lowest administrative cost per council house, lowest ratio in Britain of council workers to rate income, clean bill of public health, with the lowest number of environmental health officers

But there was something somewhat irritating in the way these ‘brand new ideas’ were repeatedly launched by the government with the patronising promise of ‘enabling’ and inspiring the ‘best of the sector’ with promises of freedoms and flexibilities. All too often, the new performance indicators were applied, the ‘partnership working’ was agonisingly worked through, and some results were achieved – but the freedoms and flexibilities seldom lived up to their promises.

So, what about community budgets? (And their little sibling, the neighbourhood community budget). On the face of it, it doesn’t look promising. First of all, get out of your mind anything about the community being involved with budgets or budget setting (participatory budgeting barely made a blip, and that was only because Ben Page made it part of his after-dinner circuit for a few months).

The department for communities and local government (never notably influential in corralling or negotiating amongst the big girls like Treasury and the DWP in the past), has very kindly and generously offered local government additional freedoms and flexibilities. Oh, and a whole bunch of civil servants from across government departments on secondment. I can hear you struggling to contain your enthusiasm. In their eagerness to win this great accolade, local authorities have produced a kind of smörgåsbord menu – a whole agglomeration of all the big things local government has always wanted to achieve, plus the latest dishes du jour. Results based payments? Check. Infrastructure for economic development? Check (and not just York stone paving this time – see my forthcoming article on The York Stone Paving and Junction Treament Revolution of the late 1990s). Integration of public health, social care, and primary health? Check. Community investment bonds? Check. Reducing gang violence? Yes, it’s all there.

So – it’s doomed to fail (or, in the usual way of political initiatives, Doomed To Succeed, whatever happens in reality). Or… perhaps not. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something seems subtly different this time. Perhaps the way that the central government secondees – as well as being intelligent and well-educated, as we’d expect – are actually pragmatic and delivery-focused. Perhaps the way that everyone seems very open and aware about the limitations of their own organisations – and prepared to work their way around them. Perhaps the way – although the community budget manifestos contain the usual jumble of problem statements, assertions, and unproven hypothesis about pre-determined solutions – the people actually on the ground are drawing from a real evidence base! Perhaps because everyone’s had a dose of financial and political reality and is working out what it takes to sell new ideas and new ways of working to politicians, stakeholders and the like. Perhaps because there promises to be real networking and sharing of ideas between the councils involved.

And perhaps, in an odd sort of way, because of the one thing that central government omitted from the usual recipe this time around – the cash. That’s right – all these expectations, all these challenges, and  not even the tiniest ‘success percentage’. Sure, the Treasury might (though no one knows how it will be evaluated) make money available if there’s an invest-to-save or results-based payment or similar business model (but even the Treasury won’t look a gift horse in the mouth). So apart from some mild fanfare, a bunch of eager secondees, and some communications linkages, we’re all in this together. We have a bunch of bright people, some ideas worth testing, and a desire to change results for the better. So… just maybe… this time will be different.

Unique Customer Transformation Club

10 October 2013, 2-5pm followed by networking

British Interplanetary Society, SW8 1SZ

Are you doing customer transformation?

Are you interested in exploring it and finding out more?

In partnership with the London Borough of Merton, RedQuadrant is excited to be sponsoring this event. Unlike existing groups for those interested in contact centre management, transformation techniques or customer insight, the Customer Transformation Club will be different – is it for those undertaking or interested in real programmes of transformation based around the customer.

Bringing councils together to learn and share from each other, RedQuadrant’s track record in this area will enable us to act as convenor and share our own perspective. The first event is on ‘channel shift – how to do it wrong’.

Looking at how channel shift and customer transformation really relate, and covering common misconceptions, what to avoid and how to take a more sophisticated approach, this will be an exciting opportunity to share knowledge and experiences with others on the same journey.

If this is something that you find as exciting as we do, drop us an email or give us a call for more information.

Customer focus 20 year on……..

I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with the customer. One way or another I have managed to spend   all of my working life (which is quite a long time) thinking about customer service. I started off as a classics teacher in a rather elite girls boarding school in Berkshire, trying to ensure my pupils lived up to their demanding parents’ high expectations – then I moved on to the John Lewis Partnership, and ended up serving some of the same parents in a rather different capacity.  John Lewis taught me a lot I suppose, after all it is surely the absolute pinnacle of customer excellence, isn’t it?! Yet it amazes me to this day that I and my fellow ‘Partners’ never once received any formal customer service training; what we did seemed to come genuinely from the heart and we did mostly really enjoy what we did (although running the Christmas stationery department two years in a row at the height of the festive season did rather test my customer tolerance levels…..).

Renouncing the retail world for something marginally more altruistic, I joined HM Land Registry and started working with conveyancing solicitors registering the transfer of property. This time I really was surprised – even though buying and selling our homes is such a significant and emotional experience, the word ‘customer’ was itself alien and the concept of speedy delivery clearly anathema. My claim to fame was becoming the first ever Land Registry head office customer service manager in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and trying to get people to talk about something called ‘e-conveyancing’ – some people got it, but not as many as you might think.

A short spell at Lambeth Benefits Service brought me back to earth with a bump – the reality of frontline customer service was a big wake-up call, and what I learnt there has stayed with me ever since.  Multiple issues around the ‘front/back office divide’, extreme customer poverty and vulnerability, and entrenched organisational stasis influenced my emerging perception of customer insight and its use. Luckily the new Service Transformation team at Cabinet Office together with Sir David Varney (remember him??) were interested in my experiences, and that became the new heyday of customer insight, the delivery council, channel shift, customer journey mapping, customer segmentation etc. etc.. (We produced a lot of manuals!)

Five years later I have long since left the Whitehall world of strategy behind and I find myself, as part of RedQuadrant, practicing just what I used to preach – and there isn’t a single day that goes by when I don’t talk about the customer.  The days may have long gone when we talked about offering our service users absolutely everything they wanted, and the stark reality of year-on-year funding cuts means that we have to approach service delivery in innovative and efficient new ways; but  customer need still lies right at the heart of what the public sector does and the challenge of meeting it remains so important. I’ve had the pleasure of working with several councils over past months (Reigate and Banstead, Islington, Plymouth and Merton, to name some) whose relentless focus on the customer even in the most pressing of times reminds me that my own obsession isn’t quite so unusual, and that whatever we call it (customer transformation, customer focus, service transformation, customer insight…..) it’s still a worthy cause and there’s always something new to learn!

Sarah Fogden

Trending topic: Integrated care

In 1948, The NHS was founded to provide healthcare to all who needed it, free at the point of delivery. In the same year, The National Assistance Act established social care as a separately funded, means tested service. Care and health have remained largely separate ever since.

But we are now 65 years on – the world has changed. People live much longer – a good thing! –but as a consequence  many people live with long term health conditions. This creates pressure on both the health and social care systems. People over 65 occupy a significant percentage of hospital beds and require more care and support at home. The boundaries between health and social care have thus become increasingly blurred, with more people having a mixture of needs that are hard to compartmentalize. In the meantime immense pressures on local authority funding lead to increased rationing of publicly funded care, whilst the NHS remains a universal service to all.

It is time we started to think differently; we need to create a new model of integrated health and social care that is more sustainable, better coordinated around the needs of people,  and focused on services in people’s homes rather than long term care in residential settings.

There have been endless reviews over the years, the latest of which have led to the Care Bill currently before parliament which will modernise the legal framework for social care and address the funding issue of capped costs. The stated ambition of government is that health and care will be joined up by 2018 but some fundamental questions remain: who should be entitled to health and social care and what should that entitlement be? where should the balance of responsibility between the individual and the state sit? how do we make a service universal yet means tested?

Of course this then leads to wider questions around well being, and how government can best support local services that actually improve people’s well being and prevent them from entering the health and social care system. As new local arrangements are set up  through Health and Well Being Boards, with health commissioning transferred over to Clinical Commissioning Groups and Public Health becoming the responsibility of to Local Authorities, does this present us with new opportunities to get this right?

Some call it transformation, others integration … but whatever you call it locally, here at RedQuadrant we are helping organisations to work across health and social care to tackle these problems and find sustainable solutions that both manage the new demand and improve outcomes for people. We have a range of specialists with expertise in health and social care who can help you deliver your vision for integrated care, supporting you and helping you prepare for the forthcoming changes in the Care and Support White Paper.

If you are looking for help to develop your plans, or accelerate existing ones into reality, please contact Frank Curran for an initial conversation – or 07515 875381.