Nicola Taylor, Enterprise Team Manager at South Staffordshire Council, discusses her team’s journey of efficiencies, commercialism and doing things differently.
South Staffordshire is a district council serving a population of approximately 111,200 people living in a predominantly rural area surrounded by the West Midlands conurbation, Shropshire, Worcestershire and neighbouring Staffordshire authorities. The impact of central government funding cuts means that the Council is committed to finding new sources of revenue and generating income in a bid to having long term financial stability in a climate of decreasing financial support.
For us, doing nothing was not an option. South Staffordshire is an ambitious council with a culture of efficiency, income generation and transformation at its core. Like other councils, we don’t want to cut services or raise Council Tax and so we’ve responded by embracing innovation and entrepreneurship.
It’s been a journey for the Council. We’ve had to undergo a shift in our thinking and develop commercial skills to evolve into an organisation that can seize opportunities - whether it’s working collaboratively to cut costs, making partnerships or alliances with the private sector, or investing in property or various enterprises. We’ve had to become more commercially-minded to raise more revenue and fill the funding gap.
Our journey started back in May 2011 with the launch of a Transformation Business Plan. This plan looked at payroll, contracts and procurement, increasing income, shared services and an improving service challenge. By November 2012, it had achieved 108% against its target, saving £2,381,195. But we knew we had to carry on and another key document for us was our Efficiency and Income Plan (2015-17) followed by a refreshed version (2017-20).
The Efficiency and Income Plan was introduced in April 2015 and it looked at how we could do things differently and reduce a £2.2 million funding gap. Its development involved extensive research involving over 70 local businesses as well as partnerships with key players such as the LGA and a venture capitalist. The new approach meant that the Council started to diversify into related and new business areas such as creating a new South Staffordshire Business Hub and exploring new ways of raising income that is not at the expense of tax payers.
Over 200 businesses have already benefitted from services on offer through the Business Hub. Although the district is home to the i54 South Staffordshire Enterprise Zone, which has been successful in attracting major businesses including Jaguar Land Rover, the majority of local businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises and over 10% of the population is self-employed. Through the Business Hub, we’ve developed a programme that helps the local SME market, supports the District’s economic growth and generates income for the Council.
Culturally, South Staffordshire Council needed to evolve to achieve a new commercial mind-set and this has involved a big shift in thinking for staff - retaining a public sector ethos whilst generating and increasing profit. To help with this challenge, a partnership was forged with Birmingham University to create a programme based on their 21st Century Public Servant Research. In addition, the Council worked closely with their training provider, Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce to deliver a number of commercial training sessions.
Both of which meant that staff would have the skills, tools and techniques to become more commercially minded. At the Council, we have a low staff turnover and many of our employees have worked in local government for their entire career.