Most local councils are enduring a financial firestorm ignited by the current government’s policy of reducing public spending with all of the adverse effects on local services.
Local councils have perhaps been thought of in the past as organisations which are slow to or resistant to change and lacking in ideas about how they can do things differently. In other words to adapt to change, to innovate and emerge stronger and more fit for purpose as a result of turning these threats into opportunities.
The City of Lincoln Council has an excellent record over a number of years of change and innovation.
We have used Lean Systems thinking to improve how we deliver our repair and maintenance to our housing tenants, bringing savings and improvements to our services. We have done the same in relation to our planning services to shape the service around the customer, reduce turnaround times for planning applications and make savings to the cost of the service.
Local councils have also been called upon to join together with other councils to make savings by providing services jointly. This is just what we have done with other council’s across Lincolnshire for purposes of buying goods and services increasing our spending power and achieving significant economies of scale.
The City of Lincoln and North Kesteven Councils have a joint Revenues and Benefits service. This is a large, labour intensive service for the collection of all of the monies due to the respective councils and for the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax benefit.
Both councils have again benefited from the economies of scale, sharing of expertise and a service more resilient to the peaks of demand for a very heavily used service.
We also have a very innovative Joint Strategic Planning function with North Kesteven and West Lindsey District Councils and the County Council to plan for growth across the Central Lincolnshire area.
There are very few such arrangements around the country, and our own partnership has already yielded results with the recent publication of our core strategy, along with an infrastructure development plan to show what roads, flood defences, schools, health services and parks & leisure facilities are need to properly support the growth we are planning for.
We have innovated in the way the council relates to its many communities in the city, with neighbourhood teams close to the ground and developing the resilience of those communities to endure the knocks that are coming their way with the recession and the long term structural problems that have beset the city over the last 30 years or more.
These have helped make the council less remote and we are getting much better nowadays at how we relate to and consult our council tax payers and service users, making increasing use of online contact and social media for communication and feedback purposes.
Whilst we are not among the furthest ahead among councils on this, we have launched a number of initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint, using electric vehicles, improved energy management measures, increasing use of energy from sustainable sources and are now exploring combined heat and power solutions to the city’s future energy requirements.
One of our major successes at the City Council has been the innovative way we have developed our apprenticeship service, and extended our work in this beyond our own organisation through the use of the Apprenticeship Training Agency. We are also looking at how to extend this further by working in partnership on the Young Unemployed People project, which will develop a hub to support the needs of employers, young people and support services.
We welcome external challenge from all of our stakeholders about our chosen priorities as a council, whether these are meeting the needs of the communities we serve, whether we can do things differently or better.
We know all too well that if we are to succeed as an organisation, we cannot remain as we are, we know we need to change and to innovate, and most of all to engage in a serious conversation with you the community about what we should look like as an organisation in the future.
Help us shape that future.