Head of service at Bolton Council, Elaine Bridge, talks about how APSE’s new training course – Cleaning in local authority environments – has helped her team adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
As Local Authorities’ Traded Services wrestle with difficult decisions on service delivery such as meeting savings options and remaining sustainable and competitive, prioritising work on business growth can seem like one challenge too many.
Sound commercialism does not ignore opportunities of new income streams; diversifying the service offer and adapting to changing demand. However, focusing on core work and consolidating during times of austerity is often top of the To Do list. When Bolton Council considered the trading performance of its Building Cleaning Service, the lower risk strategy to focus on core specialisms was a priority. This was because of challenges such as the introduction of the Living Wage and increasing materials inflation. Having just merged the Cleaning Service with its Catering Services, the consolidation approach of joining two large services - and the change process itself - was demanding enough.
But as councils sell off their assets, and multi occupancy is a feature of many community and social care buildings, services such as cleaning can increasingly be called upon to provide more diverse services for a wider range of clients all occupying a single building. Corporate landlord responsibilities may change and more complex internal sub-letting can be an outcome of shared premises.
When Bolton Cleaning managers were first approached to consider a care cleaning service for multiple care environments in Bolton, the instinct was to reject the work and recommend clinical and care cleaning specialists. However, upon reflection and persuasion by adult social care colleagues, managers considered adapting current methods; providing specific training and ensuring improved mutual contracting arrangements to reflect the change. The possibility of a “care cleaning” service was tabled.
There appeared to be a clear divide between clinical cleaning, such as hospital holistic cleaning systems, with those standard tasks associated with offices, schools, council and community buildings. Traditionally, toilets and kitchens require specific and deeper cleaning tasks on a standard cleaning
specification. Nevertheless, consideration of blood, sharps, bodily fluids and soiled waste disposal suggested a new focus on infection control was needed.
Research indicated that though there are many spill kits and specialist equipment on the market, it became apparent that in a micro way the service was using many off-the-shelf solutions in an ad hoc manner. This ensured it was demand–led on an individual customer basis. Current methods didn’t recognise the need to collectively identify best practice as specialised care cleaners. For example, dementia-friendly training was in place to understand better the needs of vulnerable adults. However, the new and combined knowledge wasn’t being used to harness a way to market to new customers as a business growth opportunity.