New Support and Customer Service Organisation – market day

On Friday morning a ‘market day’ was held for organisations interested in the New Support and Customer Service Organisation project. Barnet is looking for a strategic partner to deliver back office and customer services and the market day was organised so interested parties could find out more about these services, ask questions and network with other suppliers. The event was well attended and the feedback I’ve received so far has been very positive.

I delivered the keynote address, which is included below:

Good morning.

Nick Walkley will talk you through the process of how we arrived at our plans for this programme and also why just doing more of the same – or indeed less of the same, as a critic may say some other local authorities doing – is not an option for this council.

So rather than just pre-empt him, I thought I could most usefully give you a couple of examples of how we’ve altered a couple of our services elsewhere in the council –  giving you an  idea of the kind of approach the ruling group  here at Barnet will be expecting from you.

In both of these examples  – how we manage housing allocations, and our proposals for changes to the library service – we have gone back to first principles and looked at what our residents expect and need a 21st century service to deliver.

Changes to housing allocations were led by Councillor Richard Cornelius, the new Leader. They followed on from a series of workshops with staff where we explored the failings of our then current offer and the needs of the service users. We also looked at the social impact of our policy, both the specific communities in which we were placing people and in the wider context of Barnet as a whole.

We moved from a large, expensive to manage list of 17,000 people who wanted to live in social housing in the borough to list of around 2000 people who are in genuine housing need.

Operating the former list took a great deal of resource and involved managing repeated bids for accommodation from people who quite frankly were never going to get social housing from the council, wasting our money and their time. And our money is of course really residents’ money.

The benefit of reducing demand is that we have been able to provide a much better and more personalised service to those who most need it. And this has meant we can make much better use of our assets – one person’s “hard to let” flat is another’s “just round the corner from my Mum”.

We also score applicants higher if they are working, involved in a voluntary activity or a former member of the armed forces. This has proved to be very popular with existing social housing occupiers who want people who are committed to the community to become their neighbours.

In the space of nine months this policy has gone from being ‘typical radical Barnet’ to being adopted by Ed Miliband.

The second service I’d like to quickly mention is the proposed remodelling of our library service. Again, we have not been content to offer less of the same as some other boroughs have done.

We have looked again at the purposes of the service. Why should we be running a reference collection when half the borough can access Google on their phones?

Our conclusion was that we need to run a literacy and reading service. That the very presence of Google on people’s phones indicates that literacy is more important than ever.

This has lead to a new model that does reduce the total number of buildings we have but actually allows us to buy more books, give every primary school child a library ticket, run outreach adult literacy programmes and keep an improved building stock open for longer. Indeed one of the things our feed-back taught us is where we were tempted to keep buildings open later; the most useful change to hours would be to open buildings earlier so parents could take younger siblings straight after the early morning school run. So that’s just what we have done.

So hopefully that gives you a feel for where Barnet’s politicians are coming from. The numbers drive us to more cost effective services, but being politicians we want to make these better services that are more popular and meet needs of an ever wider range of residents.

Good Luck – and enjoy your morning. We’re looking forward to hearing back from you.


4 Responses to New Support and Customer Service Organisation – market day

  1. Richard Logue says:

    What kind of idiot removes reference books from libraries? The reference section of any library is absolutely at the core of what a library provides. I would say it was unbeliveable but this is Barmy Barnet after all!

  2. robertrams says:

    No one is suggesting that reference collections will be removed from Barnet’s libraries – in fact we plan to spend an extra £10k to buy more books.

    The library service is facing budget cuts of £1.4m but instead of slashing services like some other London councils, Barnet’s Library Strategy is positive and will modernise the service by:

    – increasing opening hours by opening at 9.30am
    – making all primary school pupils library members
    – targeting the mobile and housebound library services at those with the greatest needs
    – offering more WIFI services
    – improving online services (including e-books)
    – increasing self-service and self-issue
    – providing better library-based access to council services
    – providing IT training and support to volunteers to run sessions at libraries
    – exploring a paid-for book delivery scheme.

    You can read more about the Library Strategy on the council website:

  3. Steve M says:

    Can you explain why a council would be outsourcing any service to a private contract which will involve all of

    1. A tender process
    2. Contracts being drawn
    3. Performance being monitored
    4. Private sector profiit

    All of which means tax payers money is being spend on things other than service provision, so we either get a poorer service or pay more.

    Unless, the provider pays the workers less or outsources. Neither of which are good for Barnet or the Country

    There seems no economic argument for outsourcing, it appears to be a means of diverting money to the provider’s investors and executive.

    Just looks at AssetCo, MetPro, Tubelines etc

    I don’t want to hear how the private sector is more efficient – as it is not true, many companies go bankrupt (AssetCo, MetPro, Tubelines), I want reasons for doing this.

    And given you are doing this, then I expect good reasons with facts and figures.

  4. robertrams says:

    Barnet is facing budget cuts of £53m over three years and quite simply, we cannot afford to continue running the council in the way it has always been run.
    The council needs to use its limited funds to support frontline services, such as children’s services and adult social care. These services are the council’s core business and are the activities that the council is best placed to provide.
    But is the council the best organisation to administer banks of servers or manage call centres? Are these really our key areas of expertise?
    There are private sector organisations that specialise in running back office and customer service activity and they do so better than the council ever could.
    These organisations can also take advantage of economies of scale to provide these services at a lower cost and, to be honest, if a supplier can’t demonstrate that they can provide equivalent or better services for a lower cost then we won’t partner with them.
    Every time we speak to residents they say they want us to lower back office costs and that is exactly what we are doing.
    I know that outsourcing isn’t popular but how popular would the alternatives be?

    Instead of outsourcing, we could either introduce a programme of widespread redundancies and service cuts or make a huge hike in council tax. To me, these aren’t realistic options.

    The business case is available on the council’s website

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