A couple of years ago Warwickshire CC recognized it needed to strengthen the organisation to balance rising demand and financial sustainability.
The council’s transformation programme began about two years ago. Since then, according to strategic director for resources Rob Powell, a huge amount of work has taken place on working differently, and on reshaping the council, ‘with a lot of support from the leader Izzi Seccombe and elected members across the council and the top team’.
The council went forward with a programme that had three main elements, he told The MJ: ‘One was a people strategy, so we’ve done a top to bottom restructure with a big emphasis on leadership, values, behaviours, and how we work.
‘There’s an ambitious digital and technology strategy, and that’s been an absolutely fundamental part of our ability to respond well to the current situation. There’s been a lot of work on demand management, so that’s about reshaping how we deliver frontline services in a way that best targets our straightened resources and rising demand - so we are working very differently.’
Assistant director for enabling services Craig Cusack said the transformation programme – ‘whether by accident or design’, meant that the council was ‘pretty much ready for the pandemic when it arrived’.
Part of the design of the transformation was to create a more flexible workforce, he continued – ‘as long term we had to be in that space, pandemic or not’.
When the crisis began to hit, what were the immediate priorities? ‘Actually the first priority was to enable almost overnight, remote working and a more flexible workforce. It was logistical. How do you get 4,500 people into the field, working from home, how do you get the buildings estate protected, how do you get a construction programme?’
He said the first week or so was a logistical challenge translating established work patterns and programmes into a different model. ‘Then it was about how we keep connected with the workforce. We had to switch into a different mode.
‘That transition was ‘really seamless… we didn’t see any lack of system continuity. We had a really tough week, but at the end of it, it was pretty much business as usual for Warkwickshire residents.’
He said that the council has always kept a design in its services that is not 100% digital. ‘We made it that where we thought there needed to be a multi-channel approach, we kept that, whether it’s face to face or on the telephone. Were we thought we could digitise services more fully such as for school admissions we did.’
Powell added that the council has been fortunate in one way ‘in that the crisis hit us at a good time because we had moved most of our IT into the cloud’. The council has also invested heavily in its people. ‘We’ve got a fantastic workforce. Technology on its own isn’t enough and what we’ve seen is a combination of a flexible dynamic committed workforce who want to do the right thing for the people of Warkwickshire, with having a modern fit for purpose technology infrastructure.’
He has joked with members ‘that we have done six months transformation in a week. We’ve been forced to adopt this new way of working just at the point when we were ready to go with it. It’s partly a little bit of luck, but it’s also fundamentally about having the right vision. ‘
According to Cusack, probably the hardest element of the transition concerned the change in physical location for some teams. ‘For example, teams that were reliant on things like desk phones. That was the hardest thing from a transitions point of view. We had to very quickly redesign our telecommunications. And we did it in about 48 hours.’
Powell added that another challenge concerned the parts of the council’s system architecture that are still not in the cloud, including finance. ‘We’ve had to do quite a lot of intervention to use that remotely. Things like how we take payments with a workforce working from home. We’ve been able to do some good innovative things to keep the cash flowing.’
He said the council was about to move on 1 April from a transformation programme ‘to what we were calling a change programme. It was ‘still a pretty ambitious programme’, he concluded – ‘and for the past few days I’ve been looking at that and trying to review it in the light of what we’ve learned and it still looks pretty current.’
He added: ‘There’s something about innovation for us, really having a strategic approach to innovation and being quicker to identify how it is we’ve managed to do so much so quickly and do it well during this period and how can we keep that sort of pace going in the long term.’
In conclusion, he said the fundamental focus of the transformation programme was ‘trying to be more of a single council and really pull things together, be one organisation, and be able to move to support particular priorities quickly and as one.
‘We’ve seen in the last few weeks that that has helped us massively. The togetherness at the top of the organisation in taking us through this situation has been very visible.’