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Pushing the Boundaries of Change

Local government in the UK has undergone revolutionary change in the last three years to meet the ever increasing constraints of public sector spending cuts allied to the necessity of the need for new ways of working. The scale and complexity of this change is having a significant impact on the sector, continually testing organisational capability to deliver beneficial change. This creates both challenges and opportunities for senior management teams as they strive to ensure success through benefits realisation.

The reality is that reduced funding in local government will continue at least over the short to medium term. As a result, delivery of high-impact change is now a necessity for the majority of local authorities across the UK. The critical challenge for senior management teams is balancing legal responsibility for service provision against continually reducing funding whilst delivering complex change.

This is against the strategic backdrop of:

  • increased demand for services resulting from an ever aging population;
  • reorganisation to fit the changing role of local government with an ever increasing focus on commissioning, performance management, contract management and localism;
  • a reducing directly employed workforce;
  • welfare reform and new public health responsibilities impacting local authority spending;
  • pressures to combine/partner/consolidate including a greater reliance on common shared services; and
  • new service delivery models including greater use of outsourcing and private sector/third sector partnership.

Recognising the enormity of change impacting the sector, much has been learned in recent years through achieving critical cost reduction and these lessons learned have continually enhanced the management of change, particularly around benefits realisation. The recent Tough Times report from the Audit Commission commended the ability of English local authorities to cope with exceptional expenditure cuts. Similar outcomes have been reported across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The critical necessity of cost reduction and accompanying change has forged new collaborative relationships across local government organisations along with new ways of managing change. Examples include change and finance teams working more closely together to maximise financial benefits. Clearly “convergence” or greater collaborative working in benefits realisation across local government organisations is happening, however there is much more to be done to capitalise on this success. The challenge for senior managers leading change is to recognise this opportunity, build upon it and ensure alignment to the forward change agenda for local government. The APM’s 2020 vision is a world in which every project succeeds. Whilst deliberately aspirational, APM’s vision statement poses an important challenge to local government where such critical change has become an everyday business necessity.

This report highlights six action points that collectively challenge managers across local government to continually push the boundaries of change enabling successful benefits realisation. These action points are:

  1. incentivise organisation wide convergence in benefits realisation;
  2. move beyond an over reliance on isolated process, low-value templates and certification driven technical knowledge;
  3. establish appropriate benefits leadership at the portfolio level;
  4. greater external partnership working to deliver change and benefits;
  5. greater integration of the cost reduction agenda and benefits realisation; and
  6. invest in professionalism; innovation and collaboration.
Download the full report