Monday, 20 October 2008

Handbags at dawn.

An ex-colleague phoned me after reading my recent blog Back to Front – how to get efficiency gains, to remind me of our meeting with a number of heads of department of a South Eastern unitary authority, where we had discussed the merging of three separate debtors systems, from three different suppliers, run in three different departments.

The business case was glaringly obvious, but none of the heads of department was prepared to give up their system. In the end the meeting finished for us, but continued for some in the car park with, reputedly, handbags flying between managers. In the end only two of the debtors systems were merged, the third head of department refusing to give up on her system – and the Chief Exec refusing to over-ride her.

This was, and still remains, a major hurdle in breaking down the “silo” nature of local authority departments – primarily in larger authorities – Unitaries, London Boroughs and Mets. Strong heads of department – and typically a Chief Exec who doesn’t want to get involved or make tough decisions over his Officers.

Many of the transformational gains that are available to local authorities involve cross-departmental or even cross-authority (e.g. shared service delivery) working. In many authorities this can only be achieved if the process is both initiated and seen through to completion by the Chief Exec.

Unfortunately, some Chief Execs do not see this as part of their or their department’s role. Some delegate responsibility to individual Officers, but give them neither the authority nor their support to drive strong heads of department down the agreed transformation route. These Chief Execs need to change their views – before someone changes the Chief Exec......

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