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.

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Back office and customer service project given the green light

Last night (29 June), the business case for the New Support and Customer Service Organisation project was approved by Cabinet Resources Committee. This decision gives the council permission to proceed with the procurement process to find a strategic partner to deliver back office and customer services.

The private sector is well placed to provide support services at a lower cost than the council ever could. Specialist suppliers provide these services as their core business; they have access to industry expertise, they can take advantage of economies of scale, and they can access the latest and best technology to help them deliver better services.

Barnet’s customer services need significant investment to improve resident access to council services but the council simply doesn’t have the money. The private sector can provide the financial support we need to improve and modernise customer services.

I don’t believe residents are concerned about who provides back office services to the council. Indeed every time we, or other councils, ask residents how they want us to deal with a reduced budget, we are asked to reduce back office costs. Residents seem far more interested in Barnet doing what councils are supposed to do – delivering the best quality front line services. Over the life of the contract, we will make significant savings, which will free up resources for our highly rated core services.

You can read the business case on the Barnet Council website.