best-value-in-harrogate-borough-council

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Best Value in Harrogate Borough Council

‘Best Value’ is a UK Government initiative which places a
duty on all local councils and authorities to deliver the most economic and
efficient services possible. Councils must report to their public and the Government
each year on their performance, in addition to reviewing all their services to
identify and achieve continual improvements. In this way the Government has
challenged local councils to look at the way they deliver services and raise
their quality at a reasonable cost.

This case study looks at the way Harrogate Borough Council
in North Yorkshire – the author’s own district – has addressed the needs and
challenges of Best Value through a fiveyear review program of:

Culture and community
safety.

The local economy;
local taxation and benefits.

Managing the council; access to services.

Public health and
protection; the local built and natural environment.

Highways and traffic management; housing.

The vision,
objectives, etc.

The council’s vision is to ‘provide civic leadership and
high quality, cost-effective services to fulfil the aspirations of the
community, local people and visitors’. In working towards achieving its
long-term vision, the council has identified three broad aims and nine key objectives
(Table C6.1)

Core values

The council’s vision and nine corporate objectives are
supported by the following core values:

Best Value in Harrogate Borough Council.jpg”>

Involvement: We
will involve local people in the council’s decision-making process through
consultation, discussion and engagement initiatives, both corporately and at a
service level.

Fairness: We will
work towards fairness and equality of opportunity for all people regardless of
age, culture, disability, economic status, gender, race, religion or sexuality.

Openness: We will
ensure that the decisions we make are clear, open and honest; that we will
listen to people and ensure that people have the right to challenge our
decisions.

Respect: We will
treat people with dignity and courtesy in providing services which reflect and
celebrate local diversity, local need and provide choice.

Sustainability:
We are committed to giving people a better quality of life now, without leaving
problems for future generations either here or elsewhere.

Principals

The council is committed to seven key long-term principles:

Quality services: Providing responsive, customer-focused and
efficient quality services, accessible to all, which try to meet the needs of
all our customers, including vulnerable groups.

Effective management: Managing the authority’s financial and
other resources effectively to achieve its service commitments within agreed
budget limits.

Integrity and accountability: Maintaining the highest
standards of honesty, integrity and accountability and demonstrating fairness
and equity in dealing with customers, employees and specific interests.

Employee development: Developing employees’ potential, their
commitment to public services and the contribution they can make to improve the
services that the council provides.

A prosperous economy: Working to support the development of
a balanced local economy with rising prosperity shared by all.

A quality environment: Preserving and improving the health
and the quality of life by protecting and enhancing the natural and built
environment of the district.

Community leadership: Providing community leadership and
focus so that the community’s views and opinions are taken into account by the
council’s actions whilst working to sustain and enhance pride in the Harrogate
district.

Quality of life

Working together – councils, voluntary sector, businesses,
health agencies, Police, etc. – to achieve a sustainable society which has, at
its core, the national quality of life agenda. (Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions – ‘A Better Quality of Life’).

That agenda has the following characteristics:

Economic

Combating
unemployment.

Encouraging economic regeneration.

Tackling poverty and
social exclusion. Developing people’s skills.

Improving people’s
health.

Improving housing
opportunities.

Tackling community
safety.

Strengthening community involvement.

Environmental

Reducing pollution.

Improving the
management of the environment.

Improving the local
environment.

Improving transport.

Protecting the diversity of nature.

Harrogate Council has incorporated the above agenda into its
priorities, plans, budgets and targets. As both an employer and a provider of
services, it monitors and reviews the quality of life agenda both as part of
its Best Value reviews and in its approach to everyday management.

The Corporate Action
Plan and Best Value Performance Plan

The Corporate Action
Plan sets out the planned actions and targets which deliver the council’s
corporate objectives and priorities. It enables the authority to look beyond
immediate issues and problems and to plan ahead for the longer-term future of
the district. The Corporate Action Plan links into both the Best Value
Performance Plan and the service and business plans prepared by the council
departments to deliver their part of the council’s corporate plans and targets.

Some of the actions in the Corporate Action Plan are
designed to meet a local need or policy issue while others are to address the
council’s current performance. All of them are agreed by the council for
implementation, following consultation with local communities and partners in
the district. The council reviews the Corporate Action Plan twice a year to
measure the progress being made in meeting the council’s longer-term vision and
strategy through the achievement (or not) of service actions and targets each
year.

The Corporate Action Plan is divided into action tables –
one for each of the council’s corporate objectives. The council agrees a number
of key priority areas for action to help deliver each of its corporate
objectives and these are set out in detail in the plan, together with the
actions and targets planned under each priority area, and the links into the
relevant service and other council plans. An example part of the plan’s details
under ‘Sustainable Environment’ – Highways and Traffic is given in Table C6.2.

Details of the council’s longer-term priorities and targets
are set out in a separate ‘corporate strategy’ document.

Best Value in Harrogate Borough Council.jpg”>

The council’s budget for the financial year is explained in
detail in a separate ‘Budget’ document and each year, the council allocates
funding in its General Fund Revenue Budget to enable it to deliver its annual
corporate priorities and targets. Details of the council’s funding of corporate
priorities is set out in the Best Value Performance Plan.

A Best Value Performance Plan is generated for each coming
financial year. This provides a snapshot of the council’s performance and
achievements for the previous year – what worked/what did not – and looks
forward to what the council needs to do to meet its commitment to provide
high-quality, cost-effective services which meet the needs of the people of the
Harrogate District.

The objectives and priorities are stated together with the
long-term issues facing the district. The council’s performance has improved in
a number of areas and, where it has not improved, the council has taken action
to address this. On the Government’s national top 11 indicators for District
Councils, Harrogate’s performance in the year of the case study preparation was
in the top quartile on five indicators, average performance on three indicators
and below average performance on three indicators. Over 70 percent of people
living in the district were satisfied with the overall service provided and the
council met over two-thirds of its performance targets and ‘almost met’ a
further 7 percent.

Performance indicator
support pack

A document on ‘Best practice guidance for staff working with
performance indicators (PIs)’ has been issued to address the users and uses of
performance information. This contains the following information:

Performance
indicators

What they are for.

What they do.

What makes good PIs.

Developing new PIs

Who the PI is for.

How the PI will be
used.

The importance of PI
focus and balance with the ‘bigger picture’.

Robust PIs.

Documenting PI
calculations

Audit trail.

Support/guidance.

Evidence-based.

Transparent/replicable.

Sign posts to evidence.

This excellent document points out that PIs indicate how
well an organization is performing against its aims and objectives, they are
not a means to an end but:

Measure progress
towards achieving corporate objectives and targets.

Promote
accountability of the service providers to the public and other stakeholders.

Allow comparisons of
performance to identify opportunities for improvement.

Promote service improvement by publicizing performance
levels.

The council recognize that good performance information
helps identify which processes/ policies work, and why they work, and is the key
to effective management including service planning, monitoring and evaluation.
Clearly in this public sector environment performance information is important
externally as it permits greater accountability and allows members of the
public and stakeholders to have a better understanding of relevant issues and
to press for improvements.

The Audit Commission in the UK has a set of five-point
guidelines on good practice for performance information: ‘Councils should try
to develop and use a range of performance indicators that measure five aspects
of their service’:

Its aims and
objectives (why the service exists and what it wants to achieve).

Its inputs and
outputs (the resources committed to a service and the efficiency with which
they are turned into outputs – cost and efficiency).

Its outcomes (how
well the service is being operated).

Its quality (the
quality of the service delivered explicitly reflecting users’ experience of the
service).

Its accessibility (the ease and equality of access to services).

Services will need to consider over time the set of the PIs
that they have in operation (national PIs, local PIs and management
information) and judge whether they need to adopt new PIs to fill in gaps or
cover any new work areas. This can only be done once councils consider what
they currently monitor and its usefulness, the department/service aims and
objectives and where they want to take the service in the future.

Performance
management corporate arrangements

Harrogate Borough Council has prepared information and
advice on the authority’s corporate performance management arrangements.

Each department has its own performance monitoring
arrangements which cover, at a service level, setting objectives and targets
together with the reporting of performance to both officers and members. The
Business Unit Manager’s Handbook issued to the Authority’s managers sets out
the council’s policy on the management of a monitoring/ reporting at a service
level. The focus of this document is on the arrangements to manage the
authority’s performance corporately through both the Corporate Management Team
(CMT) and the cabinet.

The leader’s annual
statement

The leader produces an Annual Statement of the Political
Administration’s key aims and objectives, policy targets, etc., for the next
financial year and coming years. The Annual Statement is the key outcome of
discussions in the spring each year between CMT and the cabinet.

Corporate action plan
(CAP)

The Corporate Action Plan is part of the Best Value
Performance Plan (BVPP). Its purpose is to summarize how the council intends to
deliver its long-term corporate objectives in the coming year. The BVPP and CAP
are adopted by council in early March and published by the 31st March each
year. A separate summary BVPP is printed and distributed to every household, to
local businesses, to the voluntary sector, etc., in early March each year. The
CAP is reviewed mid-year and at the end of the financial year and the results
are reported to CMT and the cabinet.

Business units

The Business Unit Manager’s Handbook requires all council
service managers to prepare a Business and/or service Plan each year, setting
out the planned actions, targets and accountability arrangements for the coming
year. The handbook also requires all council service managers to agree with
their relevant chief officer and cabinet member the frequency of reporting of
service or business performance. (The minimum reporting requirement is twice a
year.) In addition, each service manager must prepare and agree a work plan to
deliver the agreed business and/or service plans.

Each business unit’s performance monitoring report is based
on the agreed business and/or service plan and includes links to the relevant
corporate objective and action in the BVPP and CAP. Chief Officers and senior
managers meet regularly to review the performance of their services including
benchmarking with other providers (public, private sector, etc.), comparing
performance over time, etc. Service-related performance is reported to CMT only
where there is a corporate issue to address.

Performance appraisal

At their annual appraisal interview, conducted by the Chief
Executive, the Chief Officer is required to account for their own performance
and that of their Department. Their main service and departmental objectives
are reviewed during the Chief Officer’s performance appraisal.

A Chief Officer’s performance is reviewed half-yearly with
each Chief Officer reporting to the Chief Executive on progress and changes in
their objectives over the last six months. Performance appraisal looks back,
looks forward and sets objectives which reflect the chief officer’s priorities
and the Chief Executive’s priorities. The relevant committee cabinet members
are present at a Chief Officer’s performance appraisal. They are also present
whereappropriate at the appraisal of executive officers. In order to report
effectively to the Chief Executive on their policy priorities and performance,
each Chief Officer must review the performance, each of their own services
through ad hoc reviews, department management team meetings and individual
performance appraisals of senior departmental managers. The Chief Executive’s
performance appraisal is a report back to members on the Council’s priorities
and a look ahead to set policy priorities for the coming year. Within each
department, the Chief Officer conducts regular performance reviews with their
senior officers. Once a year, the performance of each employee is appraised by
their line manager as part of the Council’s Staff Appraisal Scheme.

Corporate planning
process

The corporate planning process requires stakeholder
consultation to take place, at both corporate and service levels, as part of
the development of plans, targets and performance indicators. This requirement
is set out in the Business Unit Manager’s Corporate Handbook.

The corporate planning process and the departmental/service
planning processes are linked requirements for the administration’s Annual
Statement of Objectives to inform service and business planning and for draft
Service Plans to be summarized in the BVPP. Service and business plans must
explain, in deail, how service actions will deliver the council’s corporate
objectives and priorities each year. They also explain, in detail, how each Business
Unit Manager will monitor the delivery of corporate objectives and priorities
at a service level, what targets they will use, etc.

Monitoring
performance

Every week the Chief Executive meets the authority’s
political leadership (the leader meeting) and every month has a joint meeting
with the leader and the leader of the opposition group. Reports on progress and
performance form part of the discussions. Chief Officers and senior Officers
attend the leader meeting as necessary to discuss service and corporate
performance.

The Corporate Management Team (CMT), comprising the
authority’s seven Chief Officers, meets fortnightly. The team’s composition is:

Chief Executive.

Director of Finance.

Director of
Administration.

Director of Leisure
and Amenity Services.

Director, Harrogate
International Centre.

Director of Technical
Services.

Director of Health and Housing.

The CMT’s agenda includes reports from corporate projects
and groups on a pre-agreed frequency (the minimum reporting frequency for a project
or group is once a year). CMT also receives reports on corporate performance or
issues (as necessary), either through thestanding CMT agenda item ‘Information
Exchange’ or specific agenda items/reports. The CMT receives regular financial
monitoring reports on the authority’s revenue and capital budgets. It also
receives regular monitoring reports on the authority’s corporate performance
against national and local performance indicators, the district audit’s BVPP
action plan, etc.

TheChief Executivecarries out a variety of reviews during
the year. Some are ad hoc, asking for information, and some are planned as part
of an annual review program, including regular meetings with the Director of
Administration, the Head of Environment (on environmental health issues), the
Audit Manager, the Head of Human Resources (on training), the Borough
Administrator (on political management), the Assistant Director of Technical
Services (on community safety), the Head of Museums and Arts, the Director of
Health and Housing (on housing issues), the Chief Estates Surveyor (on property
issues) and the Head of Planning Services.

The Chief Executive attends a Departmental Management Team
(DMT) meeting in each department twice a year to explain the council’s approach
to budgeting and other major issues such as the New Political Framework. It is
also an opportunity for Senior Officers in departments to raise issues or ask
questions.

Each Chief Officer is responsible for monitoring and
reviewing the performance of their services. A Chief Officer will report on
service performance to the Chief Executive or CMT (or both) on an exceptional
basis.

Each Chief Officer is responsible for reviewing the
performance of their services and budgets during the year using Best Value
Performance Indicators (BVPIs), local performance indicators and targets. Chief
Officers need to ensure that they compare and benchmark their services with
other providers (public and private sector) on a regular basis. Each Chief
Officer is responsible for reporting the performance of their services and
budgets to the relevant cabinet member on a regular basis.

The cabinet meets once a month and comprises eight members:

Leader of the
Council. Deputy Leader of the Council.

Cabinet Member
(Planning Portfolio).

Cabinet Member
(Housing Portfolio).

Cabinet Member
(Leisure and Amenity Services Portfolio).

Cabinet Member
(Environmental Health Portfolio).

Cabinet Member
(Public Works Portfolio).

Cabinet Member (Opposition Member without Portfolio).

The cabinet receives regular financial monitoring reports on
the authority’s revenue and capital budgets. It also receives regular
monitoring reports on the authority’s corporate performance against national
and local performance indicators, the District Audit’s BVPP Action Plan, etc.

In addition to this each Chief Officer is responsible for
reporting the performance of their services and budgets to the relevant cabinet
member on a regular basis.

Cross-cutting issues

The Council’s budget has its own annual process which
involves central corporate analysis and review by CMT and an established
corporate timetable and reporting program, including a budget seminar for
members.

Economic indicators

Information is picked up through the council’s Economic
Development Strategy. It includes consultation with other organizations such as
major local employers and the Chambers of Trade. The information on economic
indicators is fed back through the political leadership into the authority’s
policy-making process.

The authority’s Medium-Term Financial Plan is rolled forward
each year. The roll-forward involves extensive consultation.

The authority’s Capital Initiatives Strategy is rolled
forward each year. The roll-forward involves a corporate review of need and
resources. The review, etc., will form part of the authority’s Asset Management
Plan.

The authority has carried out several Risk Assessment
exercises in recent years, relating to risk management on revenue budgets, on
capital budgets, forward planning and on planning for high percentage budget
reductions.

The Strategic Management Officer is responsible to the
Corporate Management Team for reviewing the authority’s Corporate Performance,
on a six-monthly basis, in six key areas of corporate management:

1 The council’s Corporate Action Plan.

2 The implementation of the council’s agreed Service
Improvement Plans and/or Best Value Inspection reports.

3 The implementation of the District Auditor’s BVPP Action
Plan.

4 The authority’s audited performance against the national
BVPIs and targets.

5 The overall performance of council services against last
year’s targets and the current year’s targets.

6 The preparation of draft service and business plans for
next year.

There is an annual corporate performance monitoring
timetable to meet the above corporate performance requirements. The outcomes of
each of the six corporate performance reviews are reported to CMT and the
cabinet for each to challenge and agree. In addition each Chief Officer is
responsible for comparing, monitoring, reviewing and reporting the performance
of their services and functions.

Each Chief Officer is responsible for their department’s
performance management arrangements through their line management structures
and processes. These arrangements must enable the Chief Officer to monitor each
year whether the corporate objectives and targets set out in the BVPP are being
delivered by service actions and expenditure in their department. The annual
work programs of the authority’s corporate groups are discussed and agreed by
CMT in advance of the start of the year to which they apply.

Conclusions

Harrogate Borough Council’s performance management
arrangements reflect the devolved service culture in the authority. They are
supported by a management culture of delegation and accountability at a service
level.

The developed management culture includes appropriate checks
and balances, together with ‘incentives’ which encourage effective business
unit management. The incentives are set out in the Business Unit Manager’s
Handbook and cover the treatment of budget surpluses and losses, virement and
internal trading relationships.

The authority’s approach to performance management is ‘hands
on’, whether at a service or corporate level. This provides an open management
environment in the authority where problems, failings and successes are
reported upwards on a regular basis.

In a value for money study on the authority’s service and
financial planning arrangements, the main conclusion was ‘The council has a
well-developed corporate, service and financial planning process.’

Acknowledgement

The author is grateful for the contribution made by Rose
Johnston and Ben Grabham in the preparation of this case study.

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