Positive start to local government transformation programme

Sarah Gadsden portraitImprovement Service Chief Executive Sarah Gadsden writes about the progress that has already been made on an ambitious local government transformation programme.

The local government transformation programme was launched by Solace Scotland and the Improvement Service at the end of 2022, and since that time we have been working together with partners and volunteers across local government and the wider public sector to put our ideas into action.

This is far from the first time that there has been a serious conversation about transforming the way local government delivers public services in Scotland, but we have worked hard to make sure that we are building on previous models and approaches, while also developing and delivering practical proposals for real change within councils. We want to make sure this transformation work will be about actions, not just words.

The process started with the publication by the Improvement Service of a paper on delivering a future for local authorities, which outlined the context within which councils are operating, the challenges and opportunities they face and how they might transition to a model of service delivery that builds on current success but more deliberately supports effective partnerships to improve outcomes for communities.

The paper identified six anchors as key building blocks for transformation, and these have been at the heart of our transformation programme ever since:

  • Unlock community action
  • Enable a functioning, trusted local and central government relationship
  • Design for people’s needs
  • Create digital, design and technology-enabled transformation
  • Tackle inequality and meet the needs of all citizens
  • Lead council and cross-sector partnerships with a focus on outcomes

These anchors are central to the three planks of the transformation programme: short-term local government transformation projects, a new leadership practitioner forum and an officer-led conversation on public sector reform.

Short-term local government transformation projects

While the transformation of local government is obviously a complex issue, it was also clear that there were some opportunities for “quick wins” out there; projects that could be actioned within a manageable short-term timeframe to deliver improvements to specific public services delivered by councils that would make a real difference to the lives of people in Scotland.

The first part of the transformation programme to get underway was the development of six short-term local government transformation projects, each with a council chief executive sponsor and support from key figures in local government and at the Improvement Service. We have been delighted with the response from the wider local government family to our call for volunteers to get involved with this work and have already seen some great progress on these six projects in just a matter of months:

This short-term transformation project is looking at areas where councils can collaborate on procurement, saving time and resources in the process. The project group is focusing on three areas - digital, waste and fleet – with subject experts, procurement specialists and Scotland Excel all involved in the discussions. While the project group are still at the early stages of defining what they will focus on in each of the three areas, their aim is to change the way services are currently being delivered with the support of procurement as an enabler to collaboration.

The project group is currently mapping all local government statutory duties, while also considering where the ‘pain points’ and opportunities for change are, which will then inform their priority areas for action. Part of this process involves gathering ideas from council officers for reducing bureaucracy as well as identifying opportunities to enhance efficiencies. The focus is on areas where legislation is out of date, expensive, or where it is no longer delivering the intended outcomes - this will be used to inform potential new models of service delivery.

The Crerar Review in 2007 made a number of recommendations regarding the regulation, audit, inspection and complaints handling of public services, and this project group is taking a closer look at how these were implemented and where changes still need to be made. By gathering data on the time needed to facilitate inspections, both in terms of preparation and on the ground, this project group is planning to ‘cost’ some of the larger pieces of scrutiny to demonstrate the significant cost to local government. This will lead to the undertaking of a cost benefit analysis – focusing on what derives the largest improvement and where the added value can be found.

The aim of this project group is to develop repositories of examples of how active communities are supporting the delivery of public services in their area and examples of how local authorities are developing the skills and capacities of staff to work alongside such communities. This work is already well underway, and the project group is also looking at how this work can support councils with their own role in developing active communities, including building capacity, skills and knowledge across the sector.

  • Development of a Digital To-Be State for Scottish Local Government

Building on work by the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government, this project group is developing a visual and supporting narrative for a digital-to-be-state. An interactive workshop was held in May 2024 to further develop draft‘to-be’ visual and narrative and  and the outputs of this workshop will be shared at the Digital Partnership Forum meeting in June,  following which the visual and narrative will be revised accordingly to reflect the feedback received.

This project group aims to maximise the capability of digital and data to improve access to customer-centric services while identifying and delivering new use cases for existing national shared service applications and technology platforms. The Improvement Service has developed a prototype national online blue badge application process with eight councils (East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian, Highland, North Lanarkshire, Perth and Kinross, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, West Lothian) and the project group is developing an extended ‘problem’ list that will then be translated to a roadmap for ‘quick wins’ for digital shared services.

If you would like more information on any of the projects or want to get involved, please email  Clare Sherry at the Improvement Service for more information.

Leadership Practitioner Forum

The second part of the transformation programme is the Leadership Practitioner Forum, a network for aspiring Chief Executives, Directors and Head of Service, delivered in partnership by Solace Scotland and the IS, and sponsored by the Solace Portfolio Lead for Leadership and Member Development, Pippa Milne, Argyll and Bute Council, Chief Executive.

Members of the Leadership Practitioner Forum have attended four events over the last year that have focused on the six anchors which make up the transformation programme and the wider local government sector. These sessions have taken an in-depth look at the current state of local government finances, the Verity House Agreement and the short-term local government transformation projects listed above.

Getting involved with the Leadership Practitioner Forum is a great way to have an input into our radical transformation programme and that it aligns with the priorities of your council or Community Planning Partnership (CPP). If you would like to join the Leadership Practitioner Forum and take advantage of these high-level discussions, please email Amanda Spark at the Improvement Service for more information.

Officer-led whole system dialogue on public service reform

This conversation aims to bring together leaders from across local government and Community Planning Partners to develop a collective roadmap towards public service reform, while identifying new and different ways to identify and tackle inequalities.

In addition to the senior leaders working together, there is a group of volunteers from across the sector who met for the first time in April 2024, and their focus is going to be on two key areas of research and evidence going forward: public service reform and collaboration, including relationships and culture.

The work on public servicer reform is going to look at how community planning partners, not just local government, can move away from communicating and co-ordinating with each other to fully integrated systems as envisaged by the Christie Commission but not yet delivered. Best practice within Scotland, UK and internationally will also be identified, to build an evidence base of what works, especially models which take a different approach to preventing and poverty and inequalities.

With regards to collaboration, this work will examine how we can improve and develop relationships to maximise effective working across local government and the wider public sector, while creating the conditions, the relationships and the culture to ensure there is capacity for organisations to deliver on the outcomes of these constructive discussions. There will also be an effort to identify examples of collaboration powers or legislation that exists to support integrated services.

We have seen a really positive start to all three workstreams of the transformation programme and look forward to seeing how they will all develop in the coming weeks and months. It has been great to see how many local government staff have volunteered to get involved, which really shows the appetite that exists for change and improvement to public services – and bodes well when it comes to future local government leadership.

You can keep up-to-date with all of this work via the Improvement Service website and by signing up to our monthly newsletter.