Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service featured in a book about Vanguard

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service BadgeStaffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has been selected to feature in a book published today, entitled Public Services That Work Volume 2, the book focuses on applying the evidence-based ‘Vanguard Method’ approach to changing and improving the ways in which organisations operate.

Staffordshire is the only fire and rescue service to feature in the book, which includes eight case studies from various public sector organisations who have worked with Vanguard. Continue reading

Housing repairs £4.5m over budget but still award winning

While the Sentinel were reporting today that Stoke-on-Trent City Councils housing repair bill was £4.5 million over budget, Kier Stoke were publicising that had won a Tenant Participation Advisory Service (TPAS) award for its work alongside Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The company was announced the winner of the ‘Excellence in Working Together’ category for its project ‘Reigniting the Customer Experience’, at the TPAS central region finals. Kier Stoke ensured its responsive repairs service was both time efficient and cost effective, while meeting the needs of the local community. Continue reading

When’s A Workman Not A Workman?

Pits n pots have been contacted by a concerned resident who wanted to highlight an issue they had seen with a Kier employee. Kier Stoke are the company formed as a joint venture between Stoke-on-Trent City Council and construction and support services specialist Kier Building Maintenance to take on the repairs to Stoke-on-Trent City Council housing stock in 2008.

I was going shopping on Friday in the north of the city, I went to the pay and display meter to get a ticket, while I was getting some change a Kier workman came out of a pub near the meter on his telephone. He was in his work clothes with the Kier badge on them and saying to the person on the phone that he was still on a job and wouldn’t be able to take the job they were trying to give him. Once the call had finished he went back in to the pub.

Kier Stoke seem to be going through some turbulent times at the moment. Chief Executive John van de Laarshot brought Vanguard, a ‘systems thinking’ consultancy, in to look at ways that the City Council could work smarter and save money. The first place he sent them was in to the housing directorate to look at the contract with Kier and how to provide quicker, better and more cost effective services to council tenants.

A suggestion, if I may be so bold, might be to know where your employees really are when they tell you they are still on the last job you gave them.

Another Kick In The Teeth For Stoke-on-Trent City Council Tenants

On the day that Stoke-on-Trent City Council release their updated budget book, with details of which services are going to be cut as part of the cost cutting measures, it appears that they have come up with a new revenue generation scheme. A scheme that will hit some of the cities poorest residents.

From 10 February Stoke-on-Trent City Council & Kier, their housing maintenance partner are going to start using a dedicated new number for tenants to report housing repairs.

The new 0844 number will be available 24 hours a day according to a leaflet handed to Pits n Pots by a council tenant this afternoon.

I have just had this leaflet pushed through my door, telling me that from next week I need to call a 0844 number if I want to report any repairs.

I get local calls for free on my home phone, but now I will have to pay for the call. Last time I rang I was hanging on the phone for over 20 minutes while I tried to report a problem with my bathroom. If I had to pay for the call how much would that call cost me?

This latest ‘tax’ on council tenants comes under the watchful eye of Vanguard the company brought in by John van de Laarschot to oversee the restructuring & improvements to the way the council work.

0844 numbers are classed as ‘non geographic’ meaning that the cost of calling the number is the same from anywhere in the UK. Pits n Pots can’t think of many reasons why anyone outside of the 01782 area code would need to call the repairs line apart from the odd instance when a family member may be calling on behalf of a council tenant.

According to a number of companies who provide 0844 numbers, people who use an 0844 number for business can enjoy revenues of up to 4p a minute depending on the number of calls.

Using the new 0844 number council tenants who use BT as their phone provider will be forced to pay a flat rate of 5p per minute on. So a call of 10 minutes will cost 50p

Virgin Media customers, on the other hand will be forced to pay a 12.24p connection fee and then 7.13p for each minute they are on the call, making a 10 minute call 84p

Council Tenants who rely on a mobile phone on Pay As You Go contracts can expect to pay upwards of 20p on O2 and 40p on Orange a minute.

Based on figures seen by Pits n Pots Stoke-on-Trent City Council contact centre get an estimated 60,000 calls each year for repairs. With an average call taking around 10 minutes which could generate an income of over £24,000pa for the council, an income funded by some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the city.

I checked with the Director about the number when I saw it printed on the leaflets and was assured that it is not a premium rate number but a local call number.

I was not told about any possible rake off of call charges coming back to the council as revenue, I’ll going to the Civic Centre later this afternoon and will be asking some questions about the number and the charges.

Brain also said, residents are able to use phones in any of our buildings and make calls to the contact centre including the new repairs line for free

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Publish Spending Data Over £500

Just scraping through inside the 31 January deadline imposed by Eric Pickles, Stoke-on-Trent City Council have published spending data over £500 on-line.

The data for December is available in .csv format and .pdf.

We have not had time to delve too deeply in to the data yet, but have noted that Kier Stoke have been paid £2,962,255.49 mainly billed as Private Contractors and Vanguard Consulting £68,696 billed as miscellaneous expenses & services

Before you get too excited about the data and what you can find out, be aware that you will have to enter a FOI request for each invoice you wish to find out more information about.

Vanguard ““ Simply Misunderstood?

I’ve blogged before about the problems of stepping into someone else’s shoes as a new councillor ““ and it’s not just on local issues that you notice this. The subject of Vanguard, the consultancy firm brought into Stoke-on-Trent City Council by our Chief Exec John van der Laarschott, seems to me at times to be just another of those things where the new councillors missed the “Ëœbig discussion’ and are now frantically trying to work out what it is we’ve missed.

Or have we?

Vanguard have been working with Kier, the Council’s housing maintenance contractors, initially, and as a member of the Improving Communities Scrutiny Committee, I have seen several reports on what is happening, and have also taken up the opportunity to visit the Kier office in Cromer Road and talk to staff. Having done this and spoken to other councillors and officers, it seems to me that really the problem is that a lot of people, not just new councillors, don’t “Ëœget’ what Vanguard are all about.

The simple illustration that Vanguard are a consultants and will bring savings, doesn’t really do justice to what is actually happening. Let me make it clear that this blog isn’t intended to be a banner-waving exercise for Vanguard, but simply my view of what they are doing in our Council. It’s also my take on what I see happening now, because don’t forget, I’ve only been a councillor since May!

The housing stock in the City is split into 3 sections, similar to the parliamentary constituencies ““ North, South and Central, with teams of workers for each area, all based in Cromer Road, Northwood (which is in Central). The Vanguard approach is to look at the processes in place and refocus them on the customer, which means cutting out many of the steps that really doesn’t benefit or interest them.

Speaking to the staff at Kier, both those in a managerial position and also spending time with a Kier tradesman, really showed me this in practice, and that the change in working style for responsive repairs (which is currently only in place in the Central area) really brought this home to me. We visited tenants in the South of the City who told me umpteen visits before an issue was sorted was the norm, whereas tenants in Central got it done first time, at a time that suited them. Having seen the statistics on housing repairs, I know what I saw wasn’t put on ““ responsive repairs in Central really are better.

So how does that stack up with saving money? I guess you could say it is the unintended consequence of improving the service to customers. In the “Ëœold’ system, a supervisor went out first to gauge a repair, followed by a trademan, when he was free. If the job needed parts, he would go off to get them. If they weren’t easily available, he could be gone all day, and rebook to come back another time, when the part was available. In the “Ëœnew’ system, a tradesman goes out at a time convenient to the tenant, with a van fully stocked with items. If he needs a part, it is delivered to him so the job gets done faster. Under the “Ëœold’ system, a week to 3 months for a job to be finished (start to finish) was the norm. Under the “Ëœnew’ system, it is often done in a couple of days maximum. Cutting out the unneeded steps will hopefully lead to a position where responsive repairs are literally that ““ responsive. Some of the tenants I met in South told me they just don’t bother reporting minor things as it isn’t worth the hassle of waiting for weeks for a repair, so these minor repairs eventually turn into bigger jobs, and are no longer really responsive.

I have chatted through the Vanguard approach with friends and colleagues outside the Council, and really it is the good application of private business practices, something that has been long missing in local government, however delivered in what I perceive to be a “Ëœstate of mind’ approach rather than a prescriptive way. One colleague asked me, “If it’s so obvious, why haven’t we done it before?”, and I did wonder about this. The explanation however seems to be that what Vanguard do is so different and back-to-basics that it is actually ripping up what we did before and starting from scratch, thinking the unthinkable, which even in cutting edge private industry is knife-edge stuff.

So am I any clearer about Vanguard? Yes, and also the potential Vanguard can bring to the rest of the Council. There is massive potential to change the way the Council works for the better, and I do have confidence that the Vanguard approach can help change this, but really elected members need to understand why we need these changes and what is behind them.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cut £33million from Budget ““ 700 Jobs Could Go As A Result

Following the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the size of the task facing Stoke-on-Trent City Council to produce a balanced budget has been revealed.

Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and Chief Executive Officer John van de Laarschot have today unveiled proposal which could result in £33 million in budget cuts and up to 700 Stoke-on-Trent City Council job losses. The announcement also means the loss of many key services and the closure or transferral of many public amenities.

The Governments change to the BSF funding also means that Stoke-on-Trent may lose 40% of the money needed to carry out their academy building programme. The Council Executive stress that the Vanguard & DECATS programme will identify areas where rationalisation can be achieved and the duplication of services and tasks can be minimised.

Each directorate will lose employees,

  • Children & Young People Services, there will be savings of £12.6million and 240 job losses.
  • Adult Services there will be savings of £4.5million and 160 jobs losses.
  • Housing, Environment & Neighbourhood Services there will be savings of £2.5million and 100 job losses.
  • The Chief Executives Directorate will make savings of £2.3million and there will be 30 job losses, some of which will be in the Press & Communications Department.
  • Central Services, there will be £7million savings and 110 job losses.
  • Regeneration will be expected to make £4.2million of savings and 70 jobs will be lost.

There is sure to be a public backlash against the closure of popular facilities and the loss in some services. There are some very contentious proposed closures including, Shelton & Tunstall pools, Stoke Recreation Centre and the Willfield Community Centre. The City Farm, Park Hall Golf Course will be closed or transferred and Etruria Industrial Museum has been earmarked for closure.

The will be a realistic rise for services provided by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and entrance fees to leisure services will be raised to market rates. The public will have to bear the brunt of the loss of some valued council provided services including the loss of the Mobile Library Service, the closure of Fenton & Burslem Libraries, the loss of 7 of the 16 Children’s Centres, the cessation of short breaks for disabled children, and the closure of ‘Stoke Speaks Out’.

All bus subsidies will be stopped along with the subsidy for Ceramica, there will be a reduction to the ground maintenance programme and there will be a reduction in the number of Audit Inspections.

To continue the ‘Bah Humbug’ theme for the upcoming festive period, there will be no more Christmas illuminations after this year. This applies to the whole of the 6 Towns.

Council Leader Mohammed Pervez has laid the blame for these cuts and job losses firmly at the door of the Coalition Government. He urged the public to understand the full impact that government cuts will have upon the City Of Stoke-on-Trent. He reassured the public that he and his cabinet had lobbied Government against the cuts and had urged them to make a special case for our City. Pervez announced that he had joined forces with other authorities such as Blackpool, Blackburn, Hull and Torbay in asking for equality in the allocation of the Formula Grant. The Council Leader also issued a warning that to take no action was not an option. Government cuts of 28.4% over 4 years could realise a £100million gap in funding in Stoke-on-Trent if left unchallenged.

Map Of Services Earmarked For Closure Or Cuts

View Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cuts in a larger map


Stoke-on-Trent City Council Promote Inclusive Budget Planning And warn Of Difficult Times Ahead

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Mohammed Pervez today opened his door and gave a briefing to media and Councillors on the difficulty facing the Authority in the run up to adopting the Budget in February 2010.

The Leader gave a snapshot of the council’s current financial situation and revealed that it had cut its projected overspend by some £2.5million for 2009 – 2010.

It had been originally feared that the authority would be overspent in the current year by some £6million. Cllr Pervez said that this reduction proved that the council “Ëœwere heading in the right direction’.

He was also confident that the hard work that had been put in across all the council’s directorates would see that projected overspend wiped out completely by the end of the year.

Cllr Pervez gave a stark warning however that imminent cut in local government funding will have an impact on all authorities, Stoke-on-Trent not being an exception.

“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement, and the speed of implementation of any measures that have a cost to the public finances will depend on decisions to be made in the Comprehensive Spending Review.”

They announced immediate cuts of £6.2billion across the country which equated to £6million locally.

The coalition’s emergency budget on the 22nd June brought the announcement that there would be 25% cut in departmental funding over the next 4 years along with a freeze on public sector pay, apart from those who earn less than £21k per annum. They have also opted to freeze Council Tax for 2011/12.

On 20th October, the coalition government are expected to announce a cut of around 25% as a part of their Comprehensive Spending Review. This could mean a cut of up to 40% for some authorities.

The October review will leave a very short amount of time to formulate and agree a legal budget by the end of February 2011.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council may not know the exact percentage cut until some time in December.

Cllr Pervez said that given the short time frame that will be left to agree a legal budget will force the council officers to make certain assumptions. He stressed the need to plan.

He confirmed that feedback from the public consultation would be factored in wherever possible. He also confirmed that all council directorates had been asked to go beyond the percentage cuts to ensure all possible savings are made.

He re-affirmed his stance that all cuts would not impact on frontline services wherever possible but reiterated that there were difficult decisions ahead.

When asked if the council had an idea of how many job losses there would be from within the council Cllr Pervez said that the Vanguard/DECATS (Delivering Efficient Corporate and Transactional Services) intervention had not been completed.

The DECATS analysis would highlight how many back office functions that did not impact on customer service and satisfaction could be rationalised which would give an indication of possible savings and job cuts. This analysis may be available early next week.

He also warned those who are advocating total opposition to the proposed government cuts that the City Council are legally obliged to formulate a complete budget and failure to do so could lead to direct government intervention.

A 6.25% cut in funding per year (25% over 4 years) is being factored in but could be more. The slides below show the council’s predicament. An estimated cut of £13million across the funding spectrum is expected for 2011/12.

The are some £11million of unavoidable cost pressures which is made up of staffing costs and contractual commitments, other inflationary pressure and impact of capital programme.

In total, the gap in resources, if left without radical saving action, could reach £100 by 2015.

Cllr Pervez as leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council is calling on all elected representative and officers to unite to develop a clear strategic policy and a holistic approach of managing a difficult time ahead in the wake of the coalition government cuts.

The fiscal policy will need clear direction and agreement on what will be cut and what will be delivered. That will be the challenge for the Council Leader, his cabinet and the wider council chamber.

This will also be a test of the City’s relatively new Chief Executive John van de Laarschot and his soon to be streamlined team.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Reduce The Number of Directorates

Top officers in Stoke-on-Trent City Council will be the first casualties in the Authorities bid to save £30million.

14 of its 37 directors and heads of department are to be axed as a part of a major rationalisation programme enabling a saving of some £1million.

The number of Directorates will be cut form 6 down to 4 and they will encompass regeneration, children and young people’s services, business services and adult and neighbourhood services.

Cabinet members and councillors were briefed by Chief Executive John van de Laarschot. Council staff were informed by email.

Mr van de Laarschot had publicly stated in a number of meetings, in particular Overview & Scrutiny, that he thought that the authority was top heavy and that he believed the Vanguard ‘Lean System Thinking’ method would help the business to become more customer focused and would help to remove the layers of bureaucracy within the authority.

This latest reorganisation demonstrates the council’s commitment to protecting front line services by removing top wage earners from the business.

In recent months we have witnessed several high earners leave the employment of Stoke-on-Trent City Council including NSRP Managing Director Tom Macartney and its Development Director Darren Jones. Jeanette McGarry the Director of Housing, Environment and Neighbourhood Services was removed from her £130,000 a year post.

The authority has also been without an Assistant Chief Executive since late last year.

Where Has The Trust Gone in Stoke-on-Trent?

OK, let’s get to it, I’m about to make myself mightily unpopular once again!

You see the thing is, I trust the the Chief Executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, John van de Laarschot to deliver for us.

I trust him to do the right thing by the people of our City. I trust him to reduce the size of the workforce of the City Council, considerably.

Yes, I am aware that he has chosen to bring Vanguard in to encourage and to train the existing council staff in the methodology of ‘Lean Thinking’ and to help rid this authority of the huge amount of bureaucracy that prevents Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s customers from getting the best possible service.

We all know that bureaucracy exists, anyone who has had the mis-fortune to be put through to the Stoke On Call call centre and been asked endless amounts of meaningless and unhelpful questions, knows that. On one occasion whilst trying to get through to C&YPS I thought the operator was going to ask for my inside leg measurement, she wanted to know that much!.

John van de Laarschot is aware of many departmental failings. On Stoke on Call he said:

“The call centre is a disaster, but it is actually only one element of the disaster that needs to be sorted out. It is like TV’s The Office. If it wasn’t so terrible it would be laughable.”

He knows that the Council’s marriage to Kier was heading for divorce:

“The joint venture with Kier was not the smartest thing we have ever done. It doesn’t work for us and it doesn’t work for Kier. We had the opportunity of pulling away from the partnership, but we chose to tackle the issues and sort it out once and for all. But, if we can get it to work like a Swiss clock it will really benefit our communities.”

He knows that the Council is top heavy. He seems committed to ridding the City of those not up for the challenge to deliver change:

“I think this organisation is top-heavy with management and I can’t defend that. I will weed out those who are not up for challenge and who don’t have an appetite to serve our customers.”

He had the balls to pull out of the Strategic Partnership even though the Council had spent some £1.5million on it because in a very short time of being here, he knew it was doomed to failure.

So, are our councillors right to be wary of placing their trust in him? Yes – of course they are! Given the amount of senior officers and previous top dogs that have shown hostility to all those who seek to scrutinise, you can hardly blame them.

Previous incumbents of the top office in our city have treated those councillors outside [and some inside] the executive with complete disdain. They have been kept in the dark over many issues, they have been misled and in some cases intimidated.

Even at the call-in on the Vanguard issue on Monday 7th June, the call in councillors priority seemed to be the political direction of the Cabinet and the views of the relevant portfolio holders. They probed them to see if they really knew what the political implications were of the spending of this £400k of public money, or whether they were simply nodding through officers recommendations for the salary that comes with being a Cabinet member.

John van de Laarschot did not duck a single question, even when some rather rude member of the public barracked him as he tried to explain his reasons for wanting to press ahead at speed with his Transformational Change Programme.

When he was appointed a number of our councillors rang me and made comments like: ‘he was the man’, ‘you couldn’t pull the wool over his eyes’, ‘he’s a smart cookie with a sound business background’, ‘he’s capable of thinking out of the box’ and my very favourite ‘he’s a breath of fresh air’.

Well it’s time to back him [there’s that trust thing again] or sack him!

If he is a breath of fresh air then let’s give him the chance of rationalising the council workforce and making the services delivered the best and most efficient that they can be. Let him rid the Civic of the polluting stench of incompetence

The Transformational Change programme needs to be completed as soon as possible. When it is finished the elected members, working in collaboration with committed service driven officers, will be best placed to make the relevant and most sensitive cuts.

Every message that comes out of the national ConDem coalition government screams cut, cut, cut!

Stoke-on-Trent City Council need to be a lean, mean, first class service machine. They need fit for purpose for surely what will be one of the most difficult times that local government is facing for many, many years.

To get there, if they have to spend some £400k on companies like Vanguard who John van de Laarschot has used in the past and obviously trusts and the consultants from the Local Government Partnerships to save up to £60million in the future, then I say let him lead.

He trusts those who have delivered for him in the past and I think we should all put our trust in him to do the right thing for the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

Let’s be honest, if he fails, then we can trust our esteemed elected members of all political persuasions… To kick his ass out of the door! – Can’t we?