County council overhaul could save up to £58m while protecting frontline services
• A new council ‘operating model’ would improve services and support thriving communities
• Digital technology will free up staff to provide services and reduce administration costs
• Job losses will be phased over three years and minimised through natural staff turnover and retraining
• The proposed changes deliver the £33m savings required without cuts to services
Oxfordshire County Council could get a complete overhaul to ensure it is ‘fit for the future’ and continues to meet rising demand for services.
The proposed changes, which will be considered by councillors in September, are crucial to enabling the county council to deliver its vision of ‘thriving communities for everyone’.
The transformation plan would protect and improve frontline services for residents, while cutting red tape and reducing the costs of ‘back office’ administration. The proposed redesign of the county council could save between £34m-58m a year and ensure a continued balanced budget, with the possibility of reinvesting in services in the future.
The council needs to save £33m as part of its four-year budget plan, so the lower end of the estimated savings meets that need. The alternative would be finding other savings that would be more likely to reduce services to residents.
Improving customer service and reducing administration costs
Customer service, supported by new technology, will be at the heart of the proposed new ‘operating model’ to make the council much more efficient. Residents contacting the council will see improved customer service, with better use of digital technology freeing up time for specialist staff to provide personalised services where needed.
The proposed redesign also makes working with communities the top priority, so that services are as effective and efficient as possible. This will include improved use of data to target resources where they are needed most and have the greatest impact.
The ‘operating model’ was developed after a review of every aspect of the way the county council works conducted by professional advisors, PwC. The review found the council had successfully managed reductions in government funding over the last eight years, but needed to fundamentally change to meet future challenges of rising demand for services – particularly care for vulnerable children and adults and to use technology to give residents a better service.
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said:
“These proposed changes are a crucial part of the county council’s commitment to supporting thriving communities for everyone in Oxfordshire.
“Over the last eight years, the county council has taken some difficult decisions so we can meet the growing demand for services while staying on a sound financial footing. We are now looking to the future to create an organisation that can provide services that Oxfordshire people and communities want and need.
“We still need to save money to meet our budget pressures over the next few years. This review has shown that we can provide more support by cutting red tape and reducing the costs of ‘back office’ administration and making sure taxpayers’ money is spent on providing council services.
“The advice from PwC will more than pay for itself by finding financial savings that we could not have found on our own. This is a golden opportunity to make real changes that would at one and the same time save money and benefit the public. The report clearly says that we can makes these changes without reducing the quality of services for residents.
“Our systems currently do not support staff as well as they could do in order for them to do the best job they can – and we know how frustrating that is because staff tell us that. There’s no doubt they are working hard and trying to do their best for Oxfordshire, but our systems, structures need to better support them. We have a duty now to act on that.”
The new operating model will be considered by county councillors during September, with a decision taken by Cabinet on 18 September. If agreed, councillors would meet again in October to consider how best to implement the operating model and the investment that will be required. Savings could then be made from the start of the next financial year.
As well as reducing the costs of administration, the programme is also looking at innovative ways to deliver services differently, including better use of technology. Ideas being considered include:
• Opportunities to improve the efficiency of home to school transport provision
• Remote testing of fire alarms
• Use of drones in emergency situations
• Assistive technology to help disabled children
The benefits and how the changes would be implemented
Oxfordshire County Council commissioned PwC to do a detailed analysis of the potential savings that could come from redesigning the council and investing in digital technology. According to this analysis, estimated savings in the range of £34-58m per year could be possible over a five-year period.
Implementing the new ways of working would address the savings the council needs to make and could enable future investment in council services. The estimated one-off costs of up to £18m to implement the new operating model, including the necessary digital investment, would be paid back from the savings made
Detailed design work is now well underway and councillors will be updated on progress during September. Much of that work has been based on a detailed “Activity Analysis” of the way the council’s departments and staff within them currently operate.
The detailed business case for implementing the new operating model currently estimates a potential reduction of approximately 600-890 full time equivalent posts at the council over a two to three-year period. The council’s annual staff turnover is about 650 posts so the number of compulsory redundancies is likely to be much fewer.
Council leader Ian Hudspeth added:
“We are committed to reducing the number of redundancies by retraining staff wherever possible to fill the new jobs that would be created as a result of the proposed new council operation.”
Like all councils, Oxfordshire County Council has had to manage a significant reduction to government funding since 2010 while coping with rising demand for services, particularly adult and children’s social care.
Annual savings of more than £300m have been made since 2010, with most of this money being used to meet growing demand for social care for vulnerable children and adults. The council has become significantly more efficient since 2010, including sharing HR and finance services with Hampshire County Council and reducing the number of managers.