10 December 2013

Comment piece from Cllr Jim Harker, Leader of Northamptonshire County Council

With the ongoing financial pressures the county council faces it’s been necessary to re-think the way we do things at County Hall.

If predictions are right, in five years time we, like other authorities in the country, expect that we won’t receive any money from central government at all.

And with council tax only making up a proportion of our income we’ve had to think of some innovative ways of running services if we are going to continue to provide them.

Over the past three years we’ve found efficiency savings within existing services and while this is a continuing focus for the county council in meeting the ongoing financial challenges, there’s only so much that can be squeezed.

Ambitious partnerships

Partnership working has long been the way that services have been delivered in the public sector but now we’re looking at taking this way of working and expanding it.

We call this ‘ambitious partnerships’ which, in a nutshell, is about forming affiliations and strategic alliances with organisations from across a variety of sectors, including the private sector and forging brand new ways of working within these partnerships to help stretch the public pound.

Still within the public sector, we’re continuing the good work we’ve started with LGSS, our shared services partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council, which has brought significant back-office savings.

Now we’re looking at how our work with LGSS might be able to inform and shape how we can find efficiencies in front line services, without impacting our customers, the people of Northamptonshire. We will look whether that model can work for services such as Customer Services, and Trading Standards for example.

Carrying on from this, a lot has already been talked about strengthening the work between the police and the county council’s fire and rescue service and while a lot of work still needs to be done to formalise this arrangement the sort of areas where savings can be made – without impacting on the service – is through sharing fleet vehicles, property and back-office staff.

Healthier Northamptonshire

But perhaps our biggest financial challenge lies in the way that health and social care is provided in Northamptonshire.

The Healthier Northamptonshire programme is designed to deliver better health, better care and better value through a whole-sale review of health and social care in Northamptonshire.

Year on year demand for care is increasing as a result of our growing and ageing populations yet NHS funding is only increasing marginally and council funding is reducing year-on-year. It is estimated that these combined pressures mean that if no action is taken there would be a £275m shortfall in funding for care and health services in the county.

The Healthier Northamptonshire programme – which will explore the full integration of our social care services with the NHS – is therefore designed to face up to these challenges.

Private sector collaboration

Finally, it is with the private sector collaboration that we’re exploring how innovation can help us provide our services in a more cost-effective way and continue to deliver very real benefits for customers despite having less money.

Utility companies face many of the same challenges as the public sector and we’re exploring ways that we can work together to mutual benefit by sharing expertise, ideas and resources.

Already we’re working with BT to rollout superfast broadband infrastructure to parts of the county where it would normally be near on impossible to do so on a commercial basis.

We’ve already signed a memorandum of understanding with British Gas to see how we could work together and we’ve just signed a similar agreement with utilities firm Schneider Electric.

We want to see whether private sector ingenuity can be applied to public sector problems. So far we’ve made enormous strides and we’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few years to achieve even more.

Cllr Jim Harker, Leader
Northamptonshire County Council