Memorandum by Blackburn with Darwen Borough
Council (PSR 14)
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council became
a unitary Council in April 1998. In the run up to becoming a unitary
Council the former district Council was determined to understand
as much as possible about the services it was to inherit, and
not merely to "bolt on" to an existing management structure,
but to but to look across the range of Council services, to see
how they could be better co-ordinated and to examine the relationship
of inter-agency and partnership working. There was also a wish
to build on the strong partnership and regeneration activity,
which had been a feature of the Borough in the preceding decade.
The management structure that emerged had a
strong central strategic focus with a Chief Executive and three
Executive Directors all of whom have no departmental responsibility.
This strong senior strategic and co-ordinational
centre together with clear strong political leadership came into
its own when the then new elected government launched a raft of
initiatives which were "cross-cutting", not only across
the Council but beyond into other agencies or partnerships. This
has been further strengthened more recently with the Council's
streamlined political decision-making processes with a Leader,
largely without portfolio, and seven other Executive members with
portfolio responsibilities. These arrangements, together with
robust scrutiny arrangements have been operating in pilot form
for eighteen months. They will be fully operational under a new
Constitution from January 2002, when the two Opposition party
Leaders will join the Board without portfolio.
The first imperative of a move to unitary status
was a smooth change-over, but once achieved it was important to
make a difference, otherwise what was the point of the change?
Whilst structural change is not necessarily
a good thing in its own right, it does bring a momentum and energy
to the organisation which has been sustained, and the earlier
examination and consultation on the new services to be provided,
created an atmosphere where change was not resisted, and was not
feared, but seen more easily, than in organisations not used to
change, as an opportunity to do things better and "think
outside the box". (As an aside it is interesting to see how
a number of County Councils are now injecting this approach through
"Directors of Change.")
Since unitary status the Council has made significant
improvements, being a beacon Council for Education after less
than two years as a Local Education Authority (LEA), and having
an excellent Ofsted and good Social Services Inspection(SSI) report.
The Council was the first Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA)
pilot peer group review, as well as one of the first six Public
Service Agreement (PSA) pilots. We have had two and three star
(three star being the highest rating) Best Value inspections.
A bottom up Community Plan was agreed with our partners over a
year ago and this forms the bedrock of our strategic planning.
We have also embarked on an ambitious town centre regeneration
scheme and developed industrial parks along the M65 motorway.
We are prepared to be pragmaticwe transferred
our housing stock of about 8000 houses to a social landlord, and
we entered a ground-breaking partnership with CAPITA to provide
some of our support services, and to create a north-west business
centre and 500 additional white collar jobs.
I will return to this in a little more detail
later, as an example of partnership working with the private sector,
with the support of staff and unions, to provide more efficient
service delivery and a major regeneration initiative.
I don't think that such a wide-ranging and imaginative
partnership could have been established if the Council was less
well focussed, pragmatic and forward-thinking.
What are the impediments to better service delivery?
So we have done well, but we can also improve
in some areas.
Some things we can do ourselves; in other cases
there are in our view unnecessary impediments hindering our progress.
In some cases there will be no alternative to
significant injections of resources, such as low value unfit and
sometimes derelict private sector housing in our area.
But there are others, which are issues of organisation
and co-ordination at central government level rather than resource
issues, such as:
The number of Inspection regimes.
The number of plans required by Government.
The bureaucracy of Best Value, which
has damaged a basically good concept.
Competition between Inspection regimes/civil
service departments, etc.
The same levels of inspection irrespective
of the overall corporate health of the organisation.
The delivery of Government funds
through individual departmental or area based initiatives.
It is known that the Government is looking at
some, if not all, of these issues in relation to the forthcoming
White Paper. Indeed we have been involved in various Cabinet Office/DLTR/LGA
sessions to advise on improvements. It is important though to
remember also that these issues cannot be resolved individually
as they inter-relate and impact on one another. Indeed one of
the major problems for local authorities in recent years has been
the combined effect on the overall resources of a local authority
of plans, inspections, and individual initiatives.
I will now return to Public Sector ethos and
the role of the private sector and in particular the Councils
partnership with CAPITA. I am aware that the Committee has received
both verbal and written evidence from CAPITA and that the Blackburn
with Darwen Partnership has both been referred to generally, and
demonstrated as a case study in the written evidence.
It may be helpful to the Committee to understand
the "drivers" from a local authority perspective for
such a partnership.
As mentioned in the earlier background, Blackburn
with Darwen Council has been through considerable change, has
strong political and officer leadership, and has a clear objectives
shared with its partners.
Whilst the wide-ranging partnership entered
into embodies all the principles of Best Value, it was not delivered
through the Best Value template.
The initial basic proposition was to provide
support services to the Council more efficiently by transferring
a minimum of 150 staff into a business centre and use these staff
as a base for a north west office to provide similar services
to the public and private sectors in the region, and in some cases
Transferring significant numbers of staff into
the private sector is not the most immediately attractive proposition
to most local authorities. But there was more on offer in the
overall package most particularly the creation of good quality
white-collar jobs in a predominately manufacturing area.
It is important to stress that this is not a
straight out-sourcing, but a strategic partnership governed by
a partnership board with 50/50 membership Council/CAPITA with
the Council Leader in the chair. The partnership is nevertheless
under-scored by a fifteen year contractual agreement which provides
for improved outputs beyond the Council's Best Value targets,
targets for use of local labour and suppliers, and diversity.
The Council therefore sets the standards and ethos for the services
provided and remains very much "in charge". The Strategic
Board reports to the Council's Executive Board and is subject
to the Council's normal scrutiny arrangements. Council officers
and CAPITA managers form a lower level Operational Board through
which the Council monitors the detailed performance targets within
The services covered include personnel, revenues
and payroll, housing benefits, civil engineering, architecture
and property management. The contract started in June 2001. Just
short of 500 staff have been transferred under TUPE, without a
Gaining the confidence of the staff and unions
was a vital element in the process of securing the partnership.
Staff and union representatives were taken to visit other CAPITA
sites throughout the country to speak directly to staff who had
previously been transferred. After understandable initial uncertainty
the staff and unions have been very supportive, and it was somewhat
ironic that this transfer took place in the summer against a background
of national debate with staff and unions exercised about the involvement
of the private sector in the provision of public services.
The partnership contract allows the Council
to claw back any excess profits made from the business centre,
and the Council takes a share of income from work obtained from
the north west region. There are arrangements at five year periods
for a fundamental Best Value review of the Partnership.
CAPITA also has to provide at least 500 additional
jobs over a five year period and a prestigious environmentally
office block in the centre of Blackburn to house 1,000 staff.
This is a major contribution to the town centre redevelopment,
injecting an additional £10 million of spending power into
the town centre economy.
Already over 100 new jobs have been created
and the 500 target is looking rather modest.
It is worth commenting on the processes from
an initial concept of such a partnership to turning it into reality.
The Council is strongly committed to getting
value for money and maintaining the highest levels of probity.
Nevertheless the procurement processes, which
I know the Government is looking at, makes for long timescales
and considerable "at risk" investment, for, usually,
several private sector potential partners, only one of whom (and
sometimes none) will benefit from an eventual partnership contract.
Whilst this is a commercial risk in any procurement or tendering
situation which rightly has to be borne by the private sector,
the overall effect must be an increased cost to the public sector
at the end of the process. Therefore any streamlining of the process
whilst maintaining appropriate safeguards must be of mutual benefit.
However, the Council feels that a partnership
like ours with CAPITA, which reduces support costs and meets many
other Council objectives such as improved performance, regeneration
and other local social targets, is very beneficial to local residents
and worth the effort to surmount the present bureaucratic safeguards.
Councillor Bill Taylor,
Leader of the Council
Phil Watson, Chief Executive