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Why we need data!

Why we need data!

At this current time, it’s never been more crucial to collect data to understand fully the impact and consequences of COVID-19 and how this has impacted on resources and performance across council services writes APSE’s Debbie Johns, Head of Performance Networks.

Many of you may consider that with the service pressures created by responding to the health pandemic the last thing you want to think about is data! Preserve of the Geeks and the Bean-counters – how could data possibly help you now? Well think again!

Let’s start with the evidence. Data is the evidence. At this point in time councils are being offered a promissory note by the UK Government – except in this case the fixed sum doesn’t exist. The financial support that councils will receive will be determined in the future. The Treasury has not offered a blank cheque to local councils but an offer to deal reasonably with the extra expenditure incurred in dealing with the pandemic. Whilst in some areas we have seen very specific funding pots in very many areas the financial hit of the pandemic will be in the pockets of the frontline budgets.

So now is the time to ensure that you keep good records with the opportunity later to support your expenditure claims; and with that evidence as to how you have mitigated extra costs. When APSE Performance Networks reports next year’s data we will be analysing some key data lines to show what the impact of COVID-19 has been on frontline services; not just in cost terms but in productivity and service performance. So here are some things to think about now when it comes to the frontline: -

  • What impact have changes to operational methods had on your operating costs?

For example, social distancing measures, such as separating or reducing loaders from drivers in  refuse cabs or providing follow on vehicles for collection points? How has this measure increased fuel or travel costs? What about funeral procedures? Have you purchased disposable webbing to avoid contamination issues at the graveside?

  • What about the impact on service delivery and performance measures and staffing costs?  

Have you prioritised certain waste streams in order to preserve collection of residual waste? What has been the impact on recycling? You will have had to effectively suspend normal school catering services as schools closed so what has been the impact on the numbers of meals served compared to your staffing resources? Where staff have been working differently, possibly seconded to a different department, what will be the impact on your budget?

  • What about consumables and new purchases?

Many of you will have had to purchase additional safety equipment or supplies such as gloves, face-masks or even hire in additional fleet or fuel. Some will have incurred additional costs in closing facilities and will incur these again when facilities are re-opened with deep cleans or for example in Leisure legionella testing in wet facilities.

With all of the above it is essential that we understand the impact of COVID-19 on performance; it will not take away the funding issues, which will need to be resolved, but this information will be essential to inform the remobilisation of services. Post COVID-19, in the recovery period that will follow and in assessing the longer term effects this has had, analysing the impact on frontline services will be critical.  And good quality data may well be key in getting fully reimbursed from Government for local efforts in the current emergency. 

So in the short term, councils are receiving some reimbursements from Government for supporting vulnerable members of the community and keeping key services going with reduced staff levels and delivering a range of services remotely.  Performance data will demonstrate the impact during the emergency. However in the longer term, councils will need evidence to predict what resources are needed and evaluate the impact on budgets moving into this and next financial year.  Chief Financial Officers will be looking at getting costs under control, such as reducing spending in ‘non-essential’ areas or by increasing income.  To be able to ensure their resilience, councils will need additional support from the Government in the long term, which will rely on good evidence of performance across council services.

As W. Edwards Deming stated “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”

Information and data provides intelligence on the impact of service changes, to establish a starting point and to identify future targets.  Performance measurement is also a mechanism to learn how other local authorities are meeting the challenges and the impact that their service changes is making in terms of cost, quality, productivity and customer satisfaction levels.

We want to reassure you that APSE performance networks are still here to assist our members in any way that we can. We are working on Year 22 data templates, simplifying and reducing data collection down in a number of areas. We are highlighting again on the data templates any non-essential data and will be publishing a document, to sit alongside the data templates, which shows what data you need to complete to qualify for a core set of performance indicators and the awards performance indicators. We are also giving those authorities who operate an integrated street scene service the option of submitting combined cost and resources data, to further assist the members of APSE Performance Networks. This means that councils operating fully integrated street scene services can qualify for measures for the individual service areas (such as cleanliness of streets and hectares of parks maintained) at the same time as aggregating their cost and resource data for comparison with others operating a similar service.

We know that the spring of 2020 will be a time that none of us forget, but hopefully we will also remember this as a time that local government frontline services came into their own.


Contact Debbie Johns on djohns@apse.org.uk

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.






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