Meeting the challenges of delivering services

  • Local government is cutting services, and some town and parish councils are having to take on new responsibilities
  • This brings with it new risks, which councillors and officers need to understand
  • Careful operational planning is required to improve risk management

Local government is going through the most profound, and challenging, period in living memory.

“Austerity and the Localism Act, along with the push for greater efficiency and value, are together driving huge changes in the way services are delivered, and, perhaps more significantly, who is delivering them,” says Geraldine McFaul, risk consultant at Zurich Municipal.

For example, as cuts bite and local government pulls back from some of its services, some town and parish councils are stepping up to deliver those services themselves.

“If local people want to have these services delivered, and local authorities are not providing them in the way they were before, then often the only choice is for local people to take them on themselves through their town and parish councils,” says Geraldine.

New challenges

But new responsibilities mean new risks for councillors and officers – especially when they find themselves having to deliver services that they have no prior experience of managing.

“Examples include councils that are taking on parks and open spaces with specialist equipment and facilities, street cleansing, winter maintenance and leisure facilities, and these functions present a whole range of new risks,” says Geraldine.

“Councils may previously have run a parish hall or another facility, but some of these risks are on a whole new level.”

Managing new and larger contracts, for example covering public transport provision, also requires skills that the council may not yet have.

“Before taking on any new responsibility, councillors need to ask themselves: ‘do we have the right skill set for this?’” says Geraldine. “And if they don’t, how can they get that skill set? Have they got the capacity and resources they need?

“It might be desirable to be able to provide a certain service to your parish, but can you actually do it successfully?”

Common problems

One potential pitfall is employee liability. If staff don’t have the training to do a job, then this may impact on staff and public safety.

Councils may previously have run a parish hall or another facility, but some of the additional risks taken on from local government are on a whole new level

Geraldine McFaul, risk consultant at Zurich Municipal

 Another common problem is not having a proper asset register. “Many councils do not fully understand what they are responsible for, and this can cause real problems,” says Geraldine. “Often it’s only after there has been a mishap that they understand what their risks are.”

Tackling the risks

Key to successfully negotiating this complex new territory is planning. Councillors and officers need to understand well in advance what to have in place before they take on services: what are the training needs? Who can provide this? How much will it cost?

In addition, councils should talk to their insurers about the way their risks are changing, and ask them for advice in managing them. For example, help is available from the Local Council Advisory Service (LCAS), a membership service from Zurich Municipal that offers advice on risk management, including safety at work, public events, ground maintenance and the proper control of contractors.

“LCAS is there as a risk management sounding board for our members,” says Geraldine. “We run training and awareness courses, as well as offering a comprehensive pdf library of documents that offer guidance on managing risk and carrying out effective risk assessments.

“There may be some very real challenges ahead, but we are here to help.”