Cllr Foulkes moved the meeting on to the Policy Unit report. Jim Wilkie said he had been critical of the formation of a policy unit, but it would have to be at the heart of the decision making process. It would initially agree policies to be implemented. He was aware of the changes in circumstances, the corporate pan, the work on child poverty and the discussion at the Employment and Appointments Committee which had referred it back to this committee. It would be established by seconding existing staff and somebody would be needed to head it up. He wanted feedback of views on its precise role which he would take into account. If people were seconded it would have an impact on the departments they were seconded from.
Cllr Green said he was not altogether clear on the policy unit as theoretically councillors should decide policy. He said there used to be a policy unit. He said people develop policy all over the place and if there was a central unit which everything went to it would just get bigger and bigger. This would then only look at what everybody ese was doing. He said was not clear and wanted to see how it would fit into overall governance. He asked “Why invent the wheel without clarity?” and how they had “let Carolyn go”.
Cllr Phil Davies said the benefit of a unit would be horizon scanning, which would give them the ability and capability to see what was coming down the track whether this be legislation or key issues. He said at the moment this was a struggle as people were busy operating services, but there were “big challenges on the way”.
Cllr Harney said he agreed with all that, but he’d appreciate a flowchart with the key dates. He said the approach with reviews and milestones would be helpful as each stage was reached, this way he would know they were “all singing from the same hymn sheet”.
Jim Wilkie agreed and said that in the report perhaps he had not expressed himself clearly enough. Cllr Phil Davies said he agreed a dedicated budget, councillor involvement and prioritisation but he asked what the priorities are? He said it has “to be given time and space”. Cllr Foulkes mentioned the drafting in of external resource. Cllr Green said it would be subject to appropriate procurement. Jim Wilkie said it would have to do, they would revisit the prioritisation but as an organisation they needed to think where they wanted to be in six months or so.
Cllr Foulkes said that councillors needed to have discipline, be calm and that they couldn’t have Notices of Motion to Council instructing the Chief Executive to take on new work as this would be consuming lots of people’s time. The democracy issue and the budget reminded me of a quote from the Goon Show “quickly surround Africa”.
Jim Wilkie said the comments useful and that the fund would be open to the group under the new committee structure. Cllr Foulkes said he was anxious not to confuse the two. He talked about the perception of councillors and the Democracy Working Group. He was anxious to keep two strands and not to do that at this point of time. He needed to look at the consensus of the new system of governance and asked councillors if they were happy with what was decided?
Cllr Foulkes said they had additional recommendations so that all councillors and all political parties were involved. He said they needed more work as part of a wider program specifically around councillor involvement at every stage. The Budget was serious and they would be putting resources in. The Cabinet committee agreed in principle to a specific budget, with further reports on how and where the money would be identified. He asked if they agree to delegate to the Chief Executive over the staffing?
Jim Wilkie said it would be helpful.
Cllr Foulkes said there would be a basic structure initially. Jim Wilkie said there would be the three statutory officers plus David [Smith] and Rob Beresford. He said one other officer was on holiday so he couldn’t mention the name, but they would allocate considerable resources to support the work which would include procurement and Internal Audit.
Cllr Foulkes asked if they could add at 2.6 to delegate to Jim and the initial team?
Cllr Green said with the program and portfolio there was a need for discipline and project management. He wanted to know how much it would cost and where they were getting to which would require targets and analysis. He said it would be useful to have clarity as a way for councillors and officers to identify costs.
Jim Wilkie said the work would be directed through the committee, but they needed to recognise it was currently not working.
Cllr Foulkes said they needed the team to sit down and create a project, so he was happy to delay. Cllr Phil Davies agreed.
Cllr Davies continued by asking why the PACSPE (project 24) was only realising £200,000/year of savings?
Mr. Green said that was very unfair. Cllr Davies said the EVR had happened with the privatisation. Ian Coleman said there had been a reduction in the saving being of the EVR. Also certain areas had been taken out of the project’s scope reducing the saving.
Cllr Davies asked if the numbers relate to the outsourcing only? Mr. Green said they were making the savings now. Cllr Davies said what about the services not affected by outsourcing?
Cllr Gilchrist said that they welcome the progress report. He said the confidence in the office in delivering the projects is to be noted. He thanked the Cabinet Member for his attendance. Cllr Green said in a humourous way “God bless you, guv’nor” followed by saying he had a choice of attending either this or his daughter’s birthday.
The Council Excellence committee then went on to consider a report on performance management by the Interim Head of Corporate Planning, Engagement and Communications. Cllr Gilchrist said (in reference to Eric Pickles) that he was shocked when the saw the detail of which targets had been removed on the Department for Communities and Local Government website.
Cllr Green continued with saying that any ideas that staff on higher education courses had got through their studies or wanted them to evaluate was part of the change programme. He said they were keen to reward people, but there had to be a balance between control and creativity. The creativity had to be to a purpose which was to drive forward and reduce costs. Whether officers challenge other officers was a question for them to answer.
The Strategic Change Board had looked into capacity and challenged projects that had no firm benefits. The gate system was in place with projects signed off by the Director of Finance, Chief Officers and programme officers who had done a first-rate job. Cllr Green said they had brought rigour to the system and support in areas that lack capacity. He then asked Mr. Green “Do we challenge you enough?”
Mr. Green said the analysts analyse all ideas and there were some emerging ideas. Some projects had been stretched to take on board staff. Young people and graduates had suggested nine potential projects. The most favourable one being a change in the approach to non-fixed assets such as bikes, tables, chairs etc. This had been though of by those studying and would come to the meeting on Friday. He said they mustn’t have a scattergun approach, much must give each idea careful consideration.
Cllr Brighouse said that he welcomed the report. He said it was “driven by the actions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer”. He said it was also about “how we innovative and find new savings” in removing “the dead hand of bureaucracy”. He wanted to look to simplify systems. He asked how Wirral Council would reward the movers and shakers? He said it was important that the Strategic Change Program Board didn’t fall behind. In relation to the Strategic Change Program Board he asked if they see their role as challenging ideas and pushing people to go a bit further?
Cllr Green said there in relation to the remuneration package that there was public concern about “fat cats”. There were sure methods of identifying talent at a senior level for example people like Dave. He said Dave could answer the key point about bureaucracy and creativity. The approach had been primarily to get everything on the table. Then they would look at capacity and take things forward if they had the right benefits.
He wanted to make sure as some projects originally had no benefits. Things were still moving forward and there was an area for creativity. Space was still available. There were a number of staff on higher education courses.
Cllr Green continued that that DASS was learning a lesson in how they needed to speak to people earlier enough. Communication was important. Mike was the project manager and could provide added reassurance. He was confident the program had not improperly added undue haste to the timescale. They had to make sure the changes were sustainable.
Previously projects had been thrown over the fence and it was up to someone else to get on with it. It was right to proceed with the process. The benefits were financial and cultural. He was confident, the key thing was proper project review. Lessons would be learnt and these should be put in a common area so other people can learn. It was a continuous improvement cycle. There would be “bumps in the road”.
Cllr Green said “to be honest, as I always am, I think the process is really, really good”. He said he hoped the change and project management would have the opportunity to broaden their knowledge.
Mr. Green said he would give councillors some comfort. The improved project management skills had been signed off on 9th December 2010. The projects were developing no reports or problems. They were being signed off and constantly reviewed.
Cllr green continued by saying that next Friday there would be pressure over some of the projects with £0 gains. If additional capacity was put towards these there would be added benefits. He said he was being honest and clear. He said he was to trying to be clear and careful regarding achieving the benefits.
Cllr Phil Davies said he had one more question about governance. In paragraph 5 he recognised the main risk was projects not being delivered. It was being carefully monitored by the Scrutiny Programme Change Board and office. Quality assurance was being provided by the Director of Fiance. He wanted some assurance that if things went “off the rails” that Scrutiny councillors would be told of problems during the year if the projects were not delivering.
Cllr Green said they were better at project management and there was a proper risk register. This was available for people to see. The risk management strategy led to a greater deal of transparency. Where there is a risk, the key thing was mitigation. He was confident at the moment. He would identify projects if they were missing key stages and tell individual scrutiny councillors.
Mr. Green said that there was a plan. The projects that made up the program featured in the performance monitoring reports which was reported on a quarterly basis to scrutiny committees. Performance was also monitored regarding the corporate plan, which would be coming to overview and scrutiny committees too.
Mr Green answered that he was very confident. Regarding the status across all project, the project manager had signed off as had the Chief Officer. In addition so had the Director of Finance and the SCP office. He said analysts had gone through, so had accountants and it had been signed off by all parties. The only caveat was being realistic and honest. He said there will be ups and downs. For example the £200,000 PACSPE saving might be £210,000 or £240,000. There was a reason behind the cautious approach. If brought forward some projects would bring added savings which might add up to more than £10.75 million.
Cllr Phil Davies referred to appendix C (the DASS transformation programme highlighting the two largest savings which totalled £7 million. He asked for the confidence that these two Social Services savings will be met.
Mr. Green replied that it was the same as before. Projects had been signed off and they had made sure there was no double counting as a result of the EVR. One reason why the market management project could fail would be if suppliers didn’t accept the new price.
Cllr Green said from he had years of experience in being told they would do things and then were not able to. The previous track record had been quite considerable amounts of savings. The work required discipline and analysts. The Director of Finance had spoken with DASS regarding how realistic the figures are. For example there were no amounts for assistive technology. Asking questions realised benefits over and above the savings that were originally claimed. Where things change they were keeping a record as to why and what so it could be tracked back.
Cllr Green joked that the chair “doesn’t want to do that”, Cllr Gilchrist pointed out that this item had been before us several times and there were revisions to the report in the supplementary agenda.
He said that councillors were anxious to see the meat on a lot of projects and were well disposed towards Green and Green. He referred to the monthly board meetings with the next one being on Friday. Cllr Davies asked (directed to Cllr Green and Mr. Green) if the committee could refer to you as the Greens?
Mr. Green said he was happy to go home. He apologised regarding the original report. He had been on holiday when it was written. It was not possible to include details of actual programs. He talked about the approach to governance, risk management, project management tools and administrative processes. The same report was going to Cabinet on Thursday to note the progress and agree the content. There would be a budget resolution seminar. He referred to the efficiencies outlined in section 4.4 of the report which can be read here.
In total there were £10.725 million of savings made from £1.4 million of SCP projects, £2.6 million of business as usual efficiency projects and £6.8 million outlined in appendix C regarding reform of adult social services.