Hello PPMA members and friends
This week, Karen Points, West Suffolk Head of Human Resources, Legal and Democratic Services (Forest Heath DC and St Edmundsbury BC), outlines how West Suffolk has evolved its successful interpretation of joint working.
“Almost every council in Suffolk is sharing services in some way or other. In West Suffolk, for example, over the past couple of years we’ve achieved a single payline, joint HR policies, strategic and financial priorities, cabinet and scrutiny meetings and much more. It’s so taken for granted these days that the word ‘joint’ is rarely quoted, we simply badge it as ‘West Suffolk’ even though democratically and legally we’re still two councils.
Sharing services saves us around £4 million a year on staffing costs alone but the financial sinkhole still deepens, so what’s next? Recognition that we’re all facing the same challenge led to a Suffolk-wide HR/OD working group putting together a project proposal for collaboration not just among first and second tier councils but also health and police partners. We identified various themes and pulled out ‘resourcing/skills/workforce’ as one where we could have the most impact in the shortest time. Apart from diminishing finances, the universal challenge that’s also relevant to all of us is our people on the ground – how we keep them, develop them, create a recognition of and loyalty to a wider Suffolk system, not just one organisation.
What does that mean in practice? We have a proposal to work collaboratively on creating a joint people strategy. Specifically we’ll be looking at sharing skills across organisations, creating communities of skills where there are greater opportunities for collaboration, and developing cross-organisation career paths – all of which plays into the ‘Suffolk system employee’ behaviours we want to encourage.
Alongside this we need to ensure we have a pipeline running for critical skills into the system, and watch out that we don’t lose key leadership and management skills through any cracks. And – because of those same challenges facing us all – it’s pretty obvious that we need to join up staff and organisational development to support this Suffolk system in a real or virtual way. Working alongside people from different organisations on training and development sessions helps to turn ‘the unknown’ into ‘my colleagues’. Networks of trust, shared skills and the confidence to ask for, and give, support outside our own geographic and organisational boundaries not only makes the best use of staff, but can transform service delivery to customers as well.
So far so easy (I exaggerate – anyone who’s tried anything similar knows it can be tough to create a good working relationship within a working group before even thinking of rippling outwards, but we’re well on our way here in Suffolk). What are the challenges? There’s always funding issues, but we’ve got a Transformation Challenge Award to support our work.
Probably one of the biggest challenges is getting all the players, at every level, to relax their organisational boundaries and perceived barriers, in the widest sense, and to let go. Co-creation of services (otherwise known as design by committee) is always tough but by keeping focused on putting customers at the heart of our design, we’ll get there.”
Karen Points is West Suffolk Head of Human Resources, Legal and Democratic Services (Forest Heath DC and St Edmundsbury BC)