Council praised for approach

Ariel view of houses stoke on trent

Wales could learn a thing or two from Stoke-on-Trent when it comes to delivering public services – according to the man who heads the country’s audit office.

Huw Vaughan Thomas, Wales’s Auditor General, believes public services in the country should be looking to replicate what is happening right here in the Potteries.

In a major report published on the state of Wales’ public services, Mr Thomas, who audits the accounts of some £19bn of annual public expenditure, singled out Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s innovative Co-operative Working programme for praise.

In putting forward Stoke-on-Trent as a potential role model for Wales in the delivery of public services, he highlighted how the city had benefited from reduced anti-social behaviour and rent arrears as a result of the work taking place.

Mr Thomas, whose position is subject to final approval by the Queen, said: “We found no complete examples of what the Welsh Government’s vision for public services looks like in practice.

"However, we consider the transformation of services that has been carried out in Stoke-on-Trent appears to tick many of the boxes.

"The [council has] developed a ‘locality’ based approach that brings together service providers, focuses on ‘the real issues in people’s lives’ and seeks to intervene before people reach crisis point.”

Describing how the Stoke-on-Trent model works in practice, Mr Thomas said: “Cooperative working is based on a successful pilot in 2013 with vulnerable households or individuals experiencing a high level of intervention from the council and partner agencies.

“Stoke-on-Trent City Council worked with partner agencies to carry out a system review. The review tracked real cases and showed that many people had multiple interactions with different public services without getting to the bottom of their problems.

“This process was expensive for public services and frustrating for the people involved who saw their circumstances deteriorate to the point that crisis intervention was required.

“Following the system review the city council and partners piloted a locality-based model in a few parts of the city. The approach aimed to deliver services based on the real issues in people’s lives and getting to the root cause of issues.

“Co-operative working cuts down on the number of professionals and organisations each customer has to engage with by allocating a generic key worker who assesses each individual’s needs and coordinates support from a range of council departments and external partners including the police, fire service, and NHS.

“The initiative presented an opportunity to save money by delivering services more efficiently at the same time as improving the experience for vulnerable people using those services.

“It focused on reducing demand for public services by avoiding duplication and taking a preventative approach.

“The pilot supported 190 households and resulted in a 23 per cent reduction in anti-social behaviour and a 17 per cent reduction in rent arrears in the area. The council has since rolled out the approach to more areas in the city.”

The Co-operative Working pilot scheme was introduced in the Little Chell and Stanfield ward in 2013. The programme, which saw huge success through its pilot scheme in the north of the city, won more than £4.9m in funding through the government’s Transformation Challenge Award. It has also achieved national recognition after being shortlisted for two MJ (Municipal Journal) Achievement Awards 2015 and was recently praised by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The programme has now been successfully rolled out to two thirds of the city, and will be launched in remaining areas in the New Year.

David Sidaway, the council’s interim head of paid services, welcomed the report. He said: “It’s very pleasing to hear this innovative project receiving praise from Wales’ Auditor General, and we would welcome meeting with any Welsh local authorities who are interested in finding out more about Co-operative Working and how it could help improve the way they deliver services.

“All public bodies across the UK have to look closely at how they can work together to deliver the best public services and best outcomes for residents.

“That is what we have done here and the results on the ground are there for all to see, with reductions in anti-social behaviour and an increase in employment levels are a couple of the many benefits experienced.  This programme will improve outcomes for our residents and reduce spend across the public sector by working in a more efficient and proactive way in the delivery of good quality services"

Picture courtesy of Wes Webster Photography