Performance or intervention - The UK Experience by Malcolm Morley *

The UK Experience by Malcolm Morley *

The pressure is on for English Local Government as Central Government seeks to achieve a step change in performance for poorly performing Councils. Comprehensive Performance Assessment is being introduced in phases to publicly illustrate individual Council performance in a range of poor to excellent. Incentives and penalties are also being introduced to provide a pressure for change.

Central Government has just appointed external managers to the first Councils in the country, to achieve an improvement in their performance. In making these appointments, Central Government has criticised both the political and officer management of the Councils. While these appointments represent the extreme of poor performance in English Local Government there are still many Councils with significant scope to improve their performance. To help these Councils, Local Government in England has created its own self help system of peer reviews.

Councils are able to invite a team of experienced senior managers and politicians from other Councils to undertake reviews of their corporate governance, strategic development and operational performance.

There is an increasing recognition that both politicians and staff need opportunities to develop their skills and knowledge. Councillor development programs are popular and are becoming increasingly available for those who hold, or aspire to hold, leading positions. The willingness and ability of the majority of Councillors to take part in development programs, however, remains problematic.

Post qualification staff development now relies more and more upon flexible provision by academic institutions and the private sector. The demands of the workload mean that the opportunity to devote large periods of time every week to attendance at college is disappearing fast.

Increasingly managers are seeking distance learning opportunities using technology via the Internet, short seminars and action learning sets where they are able to deal with real issues and draw upon the experience and knowledge of fellow practitioners from different Councils. Similarly, Councils are using multi disciplinary project work to provide opportunities for managers to develop. Less frequently, secondments to organisations in different sectors are being used to provide development opportunities.

The Internet provides the opportunity for Australian and UK Council managers to form action learning sets to enable them to share problems and to learn and develop together. An external perspective, providing a constructive challenge to existing ways of thinking and working, and sharing practical experience, is often the best way of learning.

Councils in England are being encouraged to see themselves as part of a value adding system working in partnership with other organisations to provide solutions for the communities they serve rather than just as individual service providers. To enable them to do this requires politicians and staff with the willingness and ability to learn, develop and perform.

Central Government’s agenda is clear for Local Government in England: performance or intervention. Ongoing training and development are key to delivering value for the customer, for transforming Council performance and for ensuring that Councils survive.

* Malcolm Morley is a Strategic Director of South Oxfordshire District Council. This is the first of a series of articles he will write covering trends in the United Kingdom. He may be contacted by email at Malcolm.Morley

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of his employer.