Published on 24 May 2021
Our transformation story started over three years ago when a three-month review was undertaken to assess the current state of the council and its fitness as we move into an ever-changing future.
Three months extended into a year and out of it came a deep dive into the fundamental workings of Stratford District Council. This identified a number of areas where we felt we could improve the way the council operates and how to be more approachable to residents.
The challenge was how to improve on what we had without damaging it in the process. Having some history in being involved in a number of reorganisations in other businesses, I did not start with a blank sheet of paper. I focused on what the council is all about. Local authorities are people organisations - not only do they employ people but our main focus of work is people, our residents. Whatever we were proposing had to be fundamentally based around people.
Having a technical background, I realised that our current IT platform was woefully out of date for a modern world and needed upgrading. We also recognised that the way residents will interact with our council in the future would be significantly different to that today.
The majority of interactions between the public and the council would certainly be through computers or mobile devices, however, there will always be an element of face to face and that was fundamental to the proposals.
The way residents interact with the council will change too. For example, a resident who wanted to report some fly-tipping would not necessarily need to talk to an officer. It could be done digitally.
The first task was upgrading the computer operating system. The old Microsoft Windows system was well past its sell by date so we moved across to a more modern cloud-based system.
The timing was fortuitous as shortly after roll-out started the Covid crisis started. Having the infrastructure available and a massive effort by officers, the IT team and our project managers, we were able to get all staff working from home in a very short space of time.
I had considered this 'agile working' to be the biggest organisational challenge to the Ways of Working programme but, as it happened, Covid accelerated that process dramatically. Within a short space of time people were meeting virtually and business as usual carried on.
Again, it is down to the dedication of our staff that the Council hardly faltered during the Covid crisis with many of our staff volunteering with the food distribution hubs as well as doing their day job. A sterling effort.
The Ways of Working programme continues apace. This element is all about how our officers work and how we interface with our residents. It's no use having a super new computer system if we do not maximise its performance. Back-office systems is an often-used term.
Basically, it means anything that happens in the office. This can range from writing an email to the complex financial systems we use to pay benefits. If we are to merge into a more efficient organisation then those systems need to be merged too. That is now the challenge of the new Transformation Manager recently appointed to post.
Broadband is another of my roles and this has proven to be more difficult than imagined. Firstly, who would have thought a year ago that most of us would be working from home? We soon discovered that word 'bandwidth' and the error messages like 'poor connection'!
Trying to home-school and do your job at the same time proved very difficult. We all need higher broadband speeds. If you live in a city or built-up urban area, then it seems you can not only get high speed broadband but 5G too.
If you live out in the sticks, as is most of Stratford District, then it becomes more problematic and more to the point, expensive. To get a fibre connection to a remote village can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, whereas the funding currently available is £1,500 per property. You can see the dilemma.
However, the Government has promised ultra-fast broadband under their 'outside-in' scheme and we are working with providers to achieve this. In the interim, we are exploring different technologies that can be used to connect remote communities using the phone system (4G). If a trial works, then systems can be made available to businesses and residents.
Stratford-on-Avon District Council
Elizabeth House, Church Street,
Tel: 01789 267575