Saturday 31 January 2009
APSE's annual Facilities Management seminar takes place in Chester and I manage to attend the dinner and second day of presentations.
Missed the first day as I attended a Show Racism the Red Card event at Old Trafford in Manchester but clear links exist between the two events. The issues of healthy eating and tackling racism are partially aimed at the same audience - schoolkids. Joint working would probably reap joint benefit, with football personalities a big hit with schoolkids and their potential involvement / endorsement of school meals services likely to help with uptake levels.
Managed to get a Manchester United top and baseball cap signed by former club and England captain Bryan Robson and Champions League winner Andy Cole. We raffle these off at the FM seminar and raise £500 for the Parkinson's Disease charity.
Day two of the conference sees a lively debate and I can't help but question an old friend Derek Stewart from AMEY on his presentation. Derek is promoting end to end solutions as the way forward, which is basically as a contractor integrating the service delivery end of operations with the corporate objectives of the council.
I point out to him that 10 or 15 years ago authorities were told to move away from a holistic approach to service delivery and create DSOs, go arms length or outsource, as being integrated was bureaucratic and inefficient. Council's followed this model and it lead to fragmentation, loss of a corporate approach and lack of corporate values. Now that we are being asked to rebuild fully integrated service delivery models would we not have just been better focusing on the improvement agenda from within, rather than spending huge amounts of time, cost and resource, on procurement exercises, or would the culture change that's taken place not have happened without the competitive edge the process brought.
Both of us agree this is a difficult question to answer.
Tuesday 27 January 2009
London's the venue for the Construction Youth Trusts Diversity Strategic Group. The 5.30am start leaves me on that fine line between wanting to make the most effective use of my time and being grumpy.
Early exchanges in the meeting focus on the problem - the construction industry has a White, male, ageing workforce and the demographics suggest that the normal recruitment base is diminishing dramatically, with half a million less 16 to 18 year olds come 2017. So the problem of lack of opportunity for females and black and minority ethnic workers in the industry is not just a moral issue any more but also a crucial one in the future battle for employees.
The current economic climate adds to the problem in the industry with reports of 1,000 apprentices being made redundant this year. A useful dialogue takes place around the table with those present sharing their own experiences of prejudice, ignorance and intolerance.
My grouchiness makes me interject and suggest some terms of reference to start seeking solutions:
How do we promote the industry as a career to the new target audience?
How do we change the image of the industry amongst this audience?
How do we change workplace practices?
How do industry clients use their purchasing power to encourage better practice from contractors?
How do we measure progress?
Not exactly easy to achieve knowing the construction industry as well as I do, however small acorns and all that.....
Tuesday 27 January 2009
Mark Bramah and myself run a 90 minute slot on Commissioning for a group of 20 or so future local government political leaders on Saturday afternoon in Manchester. They appear to enjoy it and their interaction makes things more energising for Mark and myself rather than just lecturing them with APSE's position.
We push our view that Commissioning is about analysing where you are now, assessing future needs, examining current provision, identifying gaps and only then considering whether you need a procurement process or not. Local politicians need to take control of this agenda or a real danger exists that they will be railroaded into courses of action that place the local authority in a straight jacket which will be irreversibly locked for the long term.
The prevailing mood of the audience suggests that local authorities and local politicians are going to play a major role in helping communities through the recession. More and more it becomes obvious that the recovery will only occur by investment in public works finding its way into local supply chains and by people spending money in their local economies. If they don’t then the future will be grim for some communities. The trend of the last few years for public bodies to procure on a grand scale and not really worry too much about where the revenue is spent, where the supply chain is located and where the employment exists is looking a bit naive now. An over emphasis on cost has left a lot of people looking short sighted. It reminds me of the famous Oscar Wilde quote about “some knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”
Friday 23 January 2009
A busy few days for me on planet APSE with a seminar at City of Manchester Stadium on how local authorities can best respond to the challenges that the recession is throwing at them. We call it "Economy, efficiency and effectiveness", obvious I know but it's still the overarching best value duty placed on local authorities by the Local Government Act 1999.
The seminar goes well with some excellent contributions in the plenary sessions from Mike Chambers of the Government Office of the North West and Lee Heley, Head of Regeneration at the Audit Commission. They really set the scene for the day by outlining the key role local authorities have to play in helping local communities cope with and survive the current recession.
Ian Stephenson, from Derbyshire County Council, talked about some of the inhouse partnerships they have been running with other authorities and about how he has campaigned for people to 'stop doing stupid things'. Clare Hutley from Milton Keynes spoke about improvements the council has made by taking a value driven approach to service delivery, this has resulted in them taking the decision to insource their building cleaning service. Steve White gave an overview of improvements delivered as a result of an organisational development programme at Edinburgh City Council. Craig Willows, gave a presentation on how Stockton became one of the best authorities in the country for delivering on the care for your area agenda.
In the afternoon Neil McInroy from CLES and myself run a workshop on how local authorities can use community benefit clauses in procurement in order to maximize the benefit from their investments.
All in all a massive amount of food for thought on the steps local authorities can take to improve their performance and approach the 3 E's. The best practice demonstrated sent delegates away with a host of ideas.
Saturday 10 January 2009
Go across to Stockport today to meet APSE's main contact Nick Cox. Nick as Managing Director, set up SK Solutions, Stockport Council's arms length trading company.
Nick brings me up to speed with what they are hoping to achieve as a wholly owned council company and sets out their ambitous business growth targets.
He also tells me about why the Council went down this route in the first place and we have a discussion about the suitability of this type of vehicle for service delivery.
I have always been a much stronger advocate of the use of charging powers rather than the establishment of a trading company for local authority service provision, but Nick makes quite a compelling case as to why the latter was the correct solution for Stockport.
We finish of by agreeing a number of activities for the future that will allow Nick to tell the wider APSE membership about what has been established in Stockport.