We spoke to Mike Dawson, Chief Executive of Tewkesbury Borough Council, about the steps they are taking to ensure the future needs of the borough can be met.
Tewkesbury Borough Council is a district authority with a reputation for punching above its weight. A bold statement reflective of our innovative and progressive approach to the challenges faced when delivering services to our communities.
Our council plan sets out a more agile, flexible approach that prepares us to meet the unprecedented financial adversity encountered by councils today. In order to reach our goals we need to demonstrate a more commercial attitude and embrace change whilst being stalwart in our support of our communities and the shaping of our place. It is our aim to create and make the most of opportunities along the way.
We began with an internal focus and a belief that greater value could be attained through smarter use of our council office space and our public service centre (PSC). As a result of pursuing this agenda the following has been realised:
Customers are increasingly digitally enabled and provision for this is made within our digital strategy. A key project has been the creation and launch of our new website. Having reviewed our existing site and found it not fit for purpose, we turned to a less conventional path and moved away from traditional outsourced approaches. We adopted an ‘off the shelf’ option that could deliver the same functionality but at much reduced cost. Expected expenditure using traditional methods predicted set up in excess of £20,000 with around £13,000 a year running costs; our chosen website costs just £140 per year and was designed and developed in-house using readily available online tools. The site has been well received, increasing usage of online services and proving as easy to navigate as it is good to look at.
Based on our principle of ‘digital by design, accessible for all’ we are redeveloping our online forms. The team is set to implement a standard design approach reducing maintenance and support requirements and increasing the speed of development for new online services. A new property services help-desk system, launch of cloud-based solutions (including migrating to Office 365), new tree inspection software and a new approach to handling complaints are also being implemented this year.
This drive for savings has seen us invest £3.5 million in a new waste and recycling fleet, future proofing the service and ensuring we maintain and aim to improve current recycling rates of 54%. By separating waste collection we were able to lessen the cost of the spec’d vehicles, increasing the volume taken per vehicle and lessening the number of trips to the tip. Routes were optimised and despite growth in the borough we were saved from adding additional rounds. Our garden waste system and commercial waste service are also under review focusing on ease of use, providing value for money and yet maximising income.
Creating an environment where new and existing business is supported, is welcomed and will thrive is paramount for us; so we are pleased to have secured £377,000 of funding from the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to host a business growth hub within our PSC. The hub will be a place where business can meet, network, gain access to resources and secure grant funding; it will also have three business incubator units to support start-ups. It is hoped the hub will drive economic success right in the heart of the borough.
The creation and launch of a borough prospectus and video, aims to highlight the appeal of the area for both corporate ventures and as a positive lifestyle choice. This major marketing push has been tailored to support our Joint Core Strategy and in particular the collaborative work we are doing with partners on the development and growth around J9 of the M5. As a result of external funding from the large sites infrastructure fund, a consultant has been appointed to develop a vision for the site which will also support the borough’s wider aspirations.
Our commitment to doing things differently is clearly evident in our new commercial investment strategy. The purchase of further commercial property to the tune of £14million, promises an additional gross yield of £1 million per annum; an additional £15 million is earmarked to increase our portfolio by the end of 2017.
In 2016, we made the bold decision to dispose of our ageing leisure facility. The centre was a loss maker, costing us over £80,000 a year. The project was originally costed at £10 million, but was delivered along with the following:
The success of our approach is based on our always asking if it is ‘better for customers, better for business?’ Making cuts isn’t something we do, as we have always found a way to reduce costs and deliver better services though innovation and original thinking. It is something of a cliché but our team ensure that we are able to achieve this, innovation can come from any level and it is our role to support and encourage a culture that embraces that ethos. We appreciate that our journey is ongoing, but with the right people in place and a clear vision of the future, we believe we are heading in the right direction.
To find out more about their work visit the Tewkesbury Council website.