Ongoing reductions in government funding, rising demand and a changing society mean we need to ask fundamental questions about our purpose and our relationship with citizens and communities. But this is not just about finding short term savings; it presents an opportunity to develop a way of working that can meet the needs of Devon’s communities for the next decade and beyond.
Why more change?
The need for change predates the 2010 funding squeeze. Demand for services has been rapidly growing and continues to do so. The county’s population has been projected to rise by 7% between 2011 and 2021, with numbers of those aged over 75 projected to rise by 34%1. If nothing changes, it may prove impossible to meet the increasing need for social care and other critical services. We cannot provide services on the scale we have in the past; neither is it reasonable to ration services so that they meet the needs of an ever-diminishing number of people.
Alongside this, society has changed enormously over recent decades. People are now extremely well informed and have very high expectations, demanding services of the best quality that are delivered fairly and effectively. They want services tailored to their own circumstances rather than “one size fits all”. But crucially they see the potential to take more responsibility and change behaviour where the need to do so is clear.
Information and communications technology has transformed every aspect of life, enabling people to take charge of their own affairs and exert greater influence over the decisions that affect them. This means we need to raise our game in order to engage with a changing society, to meet rising expectations and exploit opportunities for innovation and efficiency.
Finally, although we can be proud of our response to the public expenditure squeeze, this pressure is not going to let up. The UK budget deficit and growing national debt will be a critical issue for any future Government, and public spending challenges are certain to impact on local government for the foreseeable future.
What is the alternative?
The alternative is to depart from the conventional model altogether by turning it on its head. This means treating citizens and communities as the main players in their own wellbeing and that of others. It means recognising and releasing the resources that individuals, families and communities have, as well as understanding their problems and needs.
Whilst citizens and communities can be helped to do more, there will remain a reduced but absolutely essential hands-on role for Devon County Council. This will involve commissioning services, supporting communities and working in numerous partnerships to influence and improve outcomes. For all these roles we will need to employ innovative delivery models, find radical efficiencies and shape what we do through much closer engagement.
How are we taking this forward?
A great deal has been achieved over the last few years. We have saved over £90m, reduced management costs by 25%, introduced a leaner flatter structure, rationalised our estate and responsibly outsourced several services.
Better Together is our vision document which presents a set of desired outcomes for Devon and proposes a new partnership with citizens and communities. Everything we do will help to deliver those outcomes, alongside individuals, families and communities. The document will be accompanied by a new outcomes framework, informed by and managed with communities.
The Operating Model (444KB - pdf help) proposes the new ways of working required to work in this way. These will require continuing change to every aspect of the organisation. Implementing the model will require not only new policies and processes, but an environment that encourages innovation and change. This will be the subject of extensive engagement with staff and stakeholders, leading to a more detailed blueprint for the organisation.