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									Excellence in a Changing World
Report to Cabinet 8 December 2003, from the Leader of the Council, Cllr
Simon Milton


1.    Summary

1.1 This paper sets out some reflections on the future strategy and direction for
    Westminster City Council, building on the progress made in the last three
    years.

1.2 In particular the paper addresses:

     a) drivers for change from governmental level, our customers and the
        impacts of the wider economy on the city
     b) the challenges of maintaining excellence in service provision within
        constrained budgets
     c) the political priorities of the Majority Group on the Council
     d) the likely size and shape of the organisation in the light of change and the
        localism agenda
     e) the opportunities to become a trading council
     f) impacts on officers and Members

1.3 Councillors and officers are invited to respond to the paper as a first step to
    setting the Council‟s medium term strategy. If approved by Cabinet,
    consultation with other stakeholders will take place.

2.       Introduction

2.1 Four years ago, Westminster was a coasting council with pockets of both
    excellence and poor performance. Individual departments pursued their
    own agenda with little attempt to impose a corporate policy overview other
    than the need to maintain a low council tax, at which we were very
    successful. In many areas of the council, capacity had been eroded over
    time and there was little impetus to innovate or take risks. Externally, we
    appeared inward looking and defensive, a legacy of years of hostile media
    and political scrutiny post-designated sales.

2.2 So we should all take pride in the huge progress that we have made
    together. In almost every aspect of Council life we have moved forward.
    The list of achievements is staggering when viewed as a whole:

         A failing education authority improved year on year against every
          measure, far outstripping national achievement trends



Excellence in a Changing World. Leader of the Council’s report to Cabinet 8 December 2003
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         A failing housing benefits service turned around
         A much criticised cleansing service became an award winning flagship
          once again
         A youth service that has mover from being weak to good
         Outstanding inspection scores for housing, social services, environmental
          services and, of course, the highest CPA rating in the country
         A new community protection department to co-ordinate enforcement
          across the council - a first for local government
         Major projects implemented from Hungerford Bridge and Leicester Square
          to the letting of the CSi
         Major improvements in the way we interact with the public from the CSi
          revolution to Area Forums to City Surveys
         The highest public satisfaction ratings in local government
         A renewed willingness to speak out, campaign and lead from the front
         Stronger relationships with a range of external partners and our own
          diverse communities
         A truly corporate approach to challenges with a new emphasis on internal
          communications
         And all for a low council tax!

2.3 Impressive though this list is, it shouldn‟t surprise us. It wasn‟t achieved by
    external consultants or hit squads. Nor did we all become supermen and
    women overnight. The secret of our achievement, I believe, was uniting the
    whole organization behind the shared vision of Civic Renewal and a clear
    focus on priority issues. Civic Renewal gave us a common agenda around
    which to organise the resources of the Council to achieve specific outcomes
    and targets. It‟s brought departments closer together and given us a clear
    set of messages to communicate about what is important in Westminster
    and what we plan to change.

2.4 Of course it doesn‟t mean that we get everything right. Far from it. There
    are still more than enough instances of patchy performance to be
    complacent and we still need to deliver on our Civic Renewal targets. But
    increasingly, I hear colleagues ask “what next?” Where do you go when
    you are already judged to be excellent and there is increasing pressure on
    budgets? Is our goal to hold the line and maintain what we have or must we
    change further? What might Westminster City Council look like in five years
    time?

3.       Drivers for change

3.1 One thing is a given and that is the world will continue to change around us.
    Huge technological leaps are impacting home, work, leisure and travel.
    Globalisation is transferring jobs, skills and economic activity to the other
    side of the world. Mass migration is a reality - London‟s population could



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     grow by another 800,000 people in the next fifteen years. Each of these
     trends has major implications for city centres like Westminster.

3.2 Closer to home, there is renewed debate on the governance of London
    including proposals to rationalise boroughs and redistribute powers between
    government, GLA and ourselves. The boundaries between public agencies
    will become increasingly permeable. And both main political parties are
    promoting localism and a new settlement which could either include or
    sidestep local councils.

3.3 Some of the bigger more immediate changes will come about as a result of
    government policies.

3.4 The creation of two City Academies in Westminster will move up to a
    quarter of Westminster‟s secondary school pupils outside the formal control
    of the LEA. This makes the existing LEA structure financially unviable and
    means we must start work now on a designing a new model for changed
    circumstances. This model need not necessarily be part of the local
    authority and could be established as a separate trust. Alternatively, we
    may seek a merger with a neighbouring LEA in order to share overheads
    and improve cost effectiveness. In either case, we will need to retain
    appropriate levels of democratic accountability. There will continue to be an
    important role for us in promoting and supporting high quality education but
    our mechanisms will change.

3.5 The Children‟s Green Paper will change the pattern of service provision at
    local level with the likely creation of a children‟s department. There is also
    likely to be much closer working with the health authority in providing
    services for elderly people including pooled budgets and shared strategic
    planning. Ultimately, it is not clear that these services will be delivered
    within the local authority but by consortia of local councils and health trusts.
    Both of these trends will have implications for the traditional social services
    department.

3.6 Together, these two areas of activity account for 81% of the Council‟s
    expenditure.

4.   Excellence on whose terms?

4.1 CPA was a useful exercise for us. The process was universal and involved
    rigorous self-assessment which is something any well-run organisation
    should utilise as a matter of course. But the ultimate scores were based on
    the government‟s agenda and priorities rather than our own. Clearly there is
    overlap but we also spend a great deal of officer time and resource
    responding to government targets, producing plans and strategies and




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     generally navel gazing. All in order to jump through whatever hoops the
     government has dreamt up this month.

4.2 External government and auditor validation is welcome but consumer
    satisfaction should be our ultimate measure. If we are to achieve
    excellence in absolute terms, it won‟t be because the government says so
    but because service users tell us.

4.3 So in a period when financial constraints dictate an ever greater focus on
    fewer priorities, the first lesson is that we need to define excellence for
    ourselves. This means establishing robust methods for understanding what
    our customers want, establishing priorities and delivering to their
    expectations. Much of this is in place already and will merely extend the
    way we currently operate. But it will also mean taking a more selective
    approach to government targets and sometimes forgoing top scores in
    every inspection if to do so would jeopardise our ability to achieve our own
    agenda.

4.4 Excellence in absolute terms is not about meeting our government imposed
    performance indicators. It should mean that we aspire to be a council with
    both a vision for our city and the wherewithal to deliver – more than just a
    branch office of central government.

5.   Political priorities

5.1 We are three years into the Civic Renewal programme which was originally
    intended to be a five year strategy and contained eighty separate projects or
    programmes. As we look ahead and mindful of the increasing need to
    prioritise, we have already started reducing annual Civic Renewal targets
    from the original 20+ a year to a more focused number.

5.2 Distilled to the core messages our priorities will be Order, Opportunity and
    Low Tax.

5.3 What does order mean? In a city with major population growth; where we
    are asking people to live at ever greater density levels; where the distinction
    between residential and commercial neighbourhoods is more blurred; where
    24 hour work and entertainment is an increasing fact; and where your
    neighbours will likely as not come from a completely different background or
    country to yourself, cities can only work if there are clear codes of rules for
    living which are strictly enforced. In fact, I would go so far as to say that
    people now yearn for a more orderly society where standards of acceptable
    behaviour are set and maintained.

5.4 So for us that means maintaining a ruthless focus on quality of life issues
    that impact directly on city living. That means personal security, the state of



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     the streets, defending public space, combating noise and anti-social
     behaviour and ensuring appropriate development and licensing controls.
     These issues are already prioritised in our Civic Renewal themes of Clean
     Streets, Customer First and City Guardian.

5.5 Opportunity means helping our citizens make a better life for themselves
    and their families, independent of the state, and regardless of age,
    nationality or ethnic background.         That means first ensuring that
    Westminster remains an attractive and viable place for businesses to start
    and grow. And second, that our residents have access to a variety of well-
    run schools that offer high quality academic and vocational education. With
    a growing ethnic minority population, we must also remove barriers to
    achievement such as unfair discrimination so that individuals can succeed
    through their own efforts. If the new national Conservative agenda for
    policies to devolve more choice to individual citizens is implemented, we will
    need to help our residents to be more effective consumers of education,
    health and other public services.        And finally, we have to ensure
    Westminster remains a place that is not only desirable to live in but which is
    affordable to more than the wealthiest or most dependent. In particular, we
    need to find ways to provide more housing opportunity to the children of
    Westminster residents. The Civic Renewal themes of Education Guarantee,
    City Development and Customer First address these concerns.

5.6 Finally, low taxes. Not just because it is electorally popular but because
    minimising our call on people‟s hard earned income strengthens personal
    independence and increases choice. It also protects those on fixed
    incomes who don‟t qualify for welfare benefits and who are hardest hit by
    unexpected increase in tax. “Low taxes” however needs to be synonymous
    with value for money. Residents won‟t thank us if their streets aren‟t swept
    or if we lose control of our estates and public places. But we should not
    yield our position of being one of the UK‟s lowest tax authorities. Much will
    depend on the census outcome. Each month, the evidence builds that the
    census severely underestimated our population.            However, getting
    government to accept this evidence and act on it is not guaranteed. We
    need, therefore, to prepare ourselves for a period of financial austerity until
    the situation is resolved.

6.   What will the Council of the future look like?

6.1 Westminster‟s department-based structure is unlikely to survive in its
    historic form.

6.2 Changes in the way education and social services are provided have
    already been referred to.




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6.3 The CSi is revolutionising not only the customer experience of dealing with
    Westminster but the organisation itself. Providing the contact centre is only
    half the task. Re-engineering the rest of the council to fulfil customer
    requests in a timelier and more cost-effective way will mean changing
    existing work patterns and departmental arrangements. We will use the
    information generated by CSi to understand better how our customers want
    to be helped. Transforming the organisation around meeting the needs of
    the customer is about organisation as much as technology. For example,
    businesses with multiple units in Westminster complain of inconsistencies in
    approach within our regulatory departments. We might consider creating
    “relationship managers” who have responsibility for dealing with them
    across the city.

6.4 The West End management improvement plans have demonstrated that a
    much more joined up approach is needed if we are to make improvements
    at street level. Increasingly, business and resident organisations are asking
    us to appoint local service chiefs who have wide responsibilities for the co-
    ordination of streetscape and public realm services and who are an easy
    point of access to the council. We should respond to these demands in
    order to provide an integrated approach. This will affect the way P&T,
    Street Environment and Community Protection work together.

6.5 We already have a model partnership with the police but should aim for
    even closer working in the future. This will mean a more holistic approach
    to intelligence gathering and sharing, joint prioritising and implementation.
    Ultimately, we would like to be in a position where we have the major say
    over policing priorities – promoting local over national priorities. We should
    support proposals for local democratic accountability of policing through the
    local authority. Our joint aim should be not just to drive down crime but to
    make our residents feel safer than in any other comparable city. The
    nascent CivicWatch pilot projects are already demonstrating the
    tremendous gains that could be possible as we adjust our ways of working.

6.6 Wireless technology will provide opportunities for extending services to
    customers far more cost effectively – supporting our order, opportunity and
    low tax agenda. We will test the use of wireless controlled remote cameras
    and noise monitoring devices to monitor and respond to street based
    problems more quickly. It will also enable us to introduce new services to
    residential blocks, providing greater opportunities and a better quality of life
    for vulnerable residents. The information we get back through our various
    investments in technology will help shape the delivery end of the council.

6.7 The impact of all of these changes will be reflected in our people and
    buildings. It is certain that the impact of all these changes will be to reduce
    the number of directly employed officers and staff and the amount of
    property we require, freeing up more resource to reinvest in services.



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6.8 One area of weakness that needs to be addressed is the Council‟s
    monitoring processes. Other in highly specialised technical areas, I doubt
    that the council is best served by externalising the contract monitoring
    function. Where we are the client, we need to undertake the responsibilities
    ourselves or risk building in an additional costly tier of monitoring. However,
    that need not necessarily mean lots of extra staff. We can get better at
    identifying the implications for clientside monitoring in our contracts with
    external providers. At a political level too, we need to ensure that the
    operations of both council staff and contractors are effectively scrutinised by
    O&S Committees. Maintaining the Council‟s reputation for excellence
    means asking the hard questions and holding departments to account.
    Officers too need to review the way in which monitoring reports are
    presented in order that Members are empowered to exercise their scrutiny
    role more effectively.

7.   The Trading Council

7.1 Local councils‟ powers to trade may be extended by Government in the
    coming years and Westminster should position itself to benefit from these
    powers. This will not only allow us to recoup our costs where we are
    currently unable to charge for services e.g. special events but should enable
    us to sell services more easily to other authorities.

7.2 The Government has become increasingly frustrated at its inability to
    improve local public services. Target setting and central proscription have
    failed. Threats of hit squads and the imposition of private sector contractors
    have had only marginal impact. Now huge amounts of government money
    are being pumped into the IDeA and other agencies to support poor
    performing councils. It is debatable whether these efforts will achieve their
    goals.

7.3 Gradually, it will dawn on Government that the most effective way to spread
    good practice and improve services is to allow high performing authorities to
    take on responsibility for service management elsewhere. As a high
    performing council, Westminster should position itself to work with other
    local authorities where we believe we have particular strengths and where it
    makes sense to do so. We would need to be able to make a limited return
    that can be reinvested in building our own capacity.

7.4 A trading council could also create new opportunities for officers to take on
    new and bigger challenges and responsibilities as part of their personal
    development. It would also mean contributing to delivering improvements
    and higher standards in local government - not least in areas where people
    are being failed.




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8.   Implications for Members and Staff

8.1 All of this change has implications for Westminster Members, staff and
    officers. Our CPA score was testament to the quality and dedication of our
    staff. The Recognising Excellence programme currently underway is a
    response to that. The future shape of the council will mean we continue to
    need dedicated, resourceful officers with strengths in problem solving and
    project management. There will be increasing opportunity for people to gain
    management experience and develop their skills, particularly if we become
    a trading council.

8.2 Over time, I would envisage far greater fluidity and flexibility in the council
    departmental structure comprising teams of highly skilled and highly
    compensated professional staff able to come together in different ways to
    meet the evolving needs and demands of our customers. A „Total
    Westminster‟ approach that goes beyond joined-up working.

8.3 The evolution of the traditional council will also have implications for elected
    councillors. I believe that our skills as councillors are in administering
    scarce taxpayer resources, providing democratic accountability and setting
    standards in the provision of public services. In future, there will be less
    need for rigid departmental oversight and a greater requirement to work for
    solutions to multi-faceted problems. Blurred responsibility for issues that
    cross public sector agency boundaries, such as health or police, risks a loss
    of democratic accountability.

8.4 Member representation on outside bodies and projects will become more
    important in ensuring democratic oversight.       We currently lack the
    mechanisms to ensure good two-way communication between councillor
    representatives and the council. A better process will enable the Council‟s
    influence to be exerted more effectively.

9.   Communication

9.1 Successful communication to internal and external audiences is central to
    achieving our objectives. The recommendations of the recent review of the
    communications function have been endorsed by Cabinet. We need to
    strengthen our consultation processes even further and have in place robust
    mechanisms for understanding what our customers think and want. We will
    continue to manage our own reputation proactively and to take in part in
    public debate on issues affecting central London.

9.2 We are increasingly recognising that people‟s views of Westminster are
    formed in a variety of ways. Every contact with the City, from a phone call
    to a parking ticket, helps create a Westminster image. Our reputation
    matters – it helps attract and retain good staff, it influences government and



Excellence in a Changing World. Leader of the Council’s report to Cabinet 8 December 2003
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       partners, it can even affect residents indirectly. This places an even greater
       premium on establishing effective two way channels of communication and
       ultimately, the development of a Westminster brand which should be
       consistent across all dealings with the council.

9.3 This also has implications for contracted out services. Where public
    services are provided on behalf of the City council, it is essential that use of
    the council‟s logo and branding is thought through in advance and built into
    the contract. This has not always happened in the past.

10. Conclusion

10.1 Our priorities as a Council remain constant – to deliver order and
     opportunity whilst maintaining low taxes – but the methods to achieve them
     will change. Excellence will be maintained but its definition should reflect
     the expectations and needs of our most important audiences – our
     customers. The attributes of our success will be:

       A council that gets the basics right most of the time
       A world authority on city management
       A corporate management culture that values staff, adapts readily to
        change and seizes opportunities
       A reputation for customer responsiveness
       A broker and commissioner of excellent local public services across a
        range of agencies on behalf of our residents




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