We spoke to Stephanie Warne, Strategic Projects Business Officer at South Tyneside Council, about their pioneering building cleaning service.
Like all local authorities across the UK, South Tyneside Council has been subject to significant reductions in government funding and the associated challenges that this brings. However, instead of deciding to cut services (as many have), we have taken the ambitious decision to expand, market and sell a variety of our services, with the aim of generating income to help fund the budget gap.
One particular team that has driven significant improvements and diversified over recent years is our Building Cleaning Team. The team have extensive experience in cleaning an array of building types including offices, schools, leisure facilities and a range of social housing. Through engagement with our staff we sought additional opportunities which, in summer 2016, led to the creation of “Family & Friends”, a domestic cleaning service for council officers, members and their family and friends to take advantage of.
The creation of the Family & Friends initiative would simply not have been possible without introducing major change throughout the team. Indeed, around three years ago, we undertook a thorough and detailed review of the service, covering everything from staff, equipment, budgets and much more. These areas formed the basis of our modernisation and improvement plan and key actions were put in place to tackle each of them.
In relation to staffing, we were experiencing major productivity issues, specifically regarding long term sickness and staff wishing to take voluntary redundancy. Introducing a new mobile working model, we allowed staff to leave, which had a significant positive impact on our sickness levels. We also carried out a restructure of our management team to ensure the correct levels of supervision throughout the service. Secondly, we updated our cleaning equipment to reduce breakdowns and invested in new cleaning materials. This not only made cleaning easier, but also reduced our impact on the environment. Finally we ensured much better budgetary control, specifically in relation to staffing, materials and implementing a consistent pricing strategy across all of our buildings.
Following the implementation of these improvements and as a result our increased capacity to take on additional work, we were extremely confident in our ability to deliver improved services and take on new challenges, such as the Family & Friends initiative.
We made full use of the Council’s reputation as a local, trusted and reliable organisation and built the Family & Friends brand to complement this. Indeed, we worked closely with our Design Team to develop this brand and ensured we had a professional look and feel to all of our communications.
We then advertised through a number of channels including, posters, leaflets and all-staff emails. We utilised digital screens located in civic buildings, held drop-in sessions to tell people more about the service and developed an intranet page which included a full pricing schedule, an enquiry form and a list of frequently asked questions.
The range of services we deliver include the cleaning of ovens, fridges, carpets, upholstery, windows and many more, as well as general domestic cleaning. We ensure our prices are competitive and in-line with that of the private sector, ensuring we take into account things like the Living Wage, which can be offset by our purchasing power in relation to products and equipment.
Take-up of the service has been absolutely fantastic. As well as many one-off jobs, we have numerous regular clients who have signed up to weekly or fortnightly cleans. To date, we have completed over 500 domestic Family & Friends jobs and we have received a host of excellent feedback from our customers, some of which are shown below:
“they are a credit to your team and please pass on my very grateful thanks’”
“they’ve worked amazingly hard to achieve a fabulous result’”
“the service was fantastic, she got more done than I’d expected’”
We are thrilled with the success of the Family & Friends initiative as it has allowed us to secure jobs, give something back to Council staff, whilst also generating additional income to address our budget challenges.
So, what is next for the Building Cleaning Team? On the back of this success, we are aiming to further expand and offer domestic cleaning to potentially every household within the Borough.
Additionally, through the work that we have done across the wider Asset Management service, in which the building cleaning team sits, we have developed a fantastic database of external contacts. We are currently liaising with these organisations to identify areas where we can provide our services across the region. However, this doesn’t stop at just cleaning; we will also look to promote, market and sell the wide range of other Asset Management Services that we provide, all of which can be found at www.southtyneside.gov.uk/ assetmanagement.
We feel the opportunities are endless when it comes to how far we can take the service and we will continue looking for ways to expand, diversify and commercialise not only cleaning, but the whole of Asset Management Services.