Project Sponsorship and Governance – the importance of Elected Members in Service Change Projects

Posted by Lorna Pannett on 4 January 2017

Over the last 12 months I have spent many hours speaking to Elected Members about public realm services and about how and why change is necessary to keep services up to date. What has struck me during these sessions is the genuine concern that members have to understand the implications of their decisions, to see the evidence to support suggested change and to understand the ramifications for householders and the public purse.

The conversations that I have had have been through a range of fora from briefings to Lead Members and Portfolio Holders, to facilitated workshops for full council, cross party stakeholder groups and agony aunt style drop in sessions. I have also supported Officers in developing technical reports, briefing papers, cabinet reports and other materials for informing Members of options being considered and the business case for a recommended course of action. We have looked at topics as diverse as street cleansing priorities, quality of parks, options for refuse fleet replacement, changes to collection services, in-sourcing or contracting out services, waste treatment options and setting an overall vision for waste services.

Members are the ultimate decision makers within the Council and their support can make or break change programmes. Projects which succeed have the backing of at a minimum the Portfolio Holder and ideally of full council. This kind of support needs to be nurtured through dialogue and timely communications and through sharing of supporting evidence.

Over the years I have found that there are some key actions that officers can take to enable Members to understand the issues being considered and to obtain the support and sponsorship required to deliver changes:

Provide Elected Members with enough information to make key decisions

Elected members have a range of backgrounds and differing levels of technical knowledge and so it is important to provide them with enough information to make key decisions. We have found that this often means that for complex decisions (or even relatively straight forward ones!) it is vital to communicate with Members early; informing them that a decision will be required in the future, that officers are gathering evidence and assessing the options available and that members will be consulted at key stages in the process. Giving members an opportunity to set out their priorities at an early stage can direct the shape of options considered and inform evaluation criteria. It can also give Officers a steer on the type of evidence that will be required and the extent to which a business case will need to be set out. It is unrealistic to inform Members at the end of a detailed business case or strategy development project and expect their unanimous unconditional support. Allowing Members to input and buy in to the process from the outset will significantly increase the chances of a change project gaining traction.

Take into account governance structures

It is also vital to take into account governance structures within the Council, the role of scrutiny, timing of cabinet meetings, the need to put decisions to full Council and how any process fits with the overall Council timetable. Projects that don’t take these issues into consideration can flounder or slip when it becomes apparent that critical path decisions can’t be made in a timely manner because a decision needs to be made by full Council and delegated powers have not been set up.

Carefully consider when to go public

It is also important to consider at what point in the process information becomes public and how that fits with the overall communications plan? It is important that significant changes don’t come out via the press in an uncoordinated fashion due to the need (and rightly so) for important decisions to be made by elected members in public meetings.

There are a number of issues which are being considered by Councils across the UK at the present time and which we are regularly asked to support Councils with. In order to support this work we have developed a series of Briefing Papers which are available for Members, or for Officers to use as part of their discussions and briefings to Members. The aim of these papers is to provide a summary of the key issues surrounding a certain topic, like the impact of austerity, contamination or extended frequency of residual waste collections. The papers highlight the key drivers for change and issues to be considered, providing evidence and case studies to show what has been implemented elsewhere, as well as providing useful links to relevant guidance and the services Ricardo Energy & Environment can provide in support to authorities wishing to enact change.

The briefing papers can be accessed, free of charge, from the links below:

     • Austerity Innovation and Revolution

     • Circular Economy

     • Recycling Contamination

     • Contract Management

     • Extended Frequency (Residual Waste) Collections

     • HWRCs

     • Income Generation

     • Municipal Contracts

     • Public Engagement

     • Re-use

     • Insourcing


If you would like to know more about the topics covered in this blog post, please feel free to contact me.

Lorna Pannett

Lorna Pannett
Principal Consultant, Resource Efficiency & Waste Management
01235 75 3066

Webinar: Austerity revisited – to cut, to change or to charge?

Christmas is always a difficult time for recycling services: collections need rescheduling around the holidays, the weather can be tricksy and all that Christmas excess needs to be dealt with, piling on the pressure. And then, when it’s all sorted out, it’s back to ‘normal’ (whatever that is!) and dealing with the usual problems of improving performance by increasing recycling and reducing contamination. 
Contamination has been a thorn in the side of the recycling industry for many years and the latest Defra statistics indicate the problem is getting worse. That’s why our webinars looking at recycling communications and, in particular, ways to tackle contamination, have been so popular. Since our first webinar in December 2015, we’ve run 2 more on the subject which have been attended by over 250 people! I’ve also spoken at LARAC (another big audience), written a couple of blogs and, just before Christmas, Wastes Management published an article we wrote about the issue. 
A lot of the research suggests people are confused by recycling services and that could well be true. However, the main question for me is WHY ARE PEOPLE CONFUSED? There’s one simple reason: local authorities aren’t getting their individual local recycling messages through, so people are getting confused (and frustrated) by all the adverse ‘noise’ and criticism being created elsewhere (naming no names). 
The thing is, recycling isn’t difficult but people do have to invest a bit of time working it out and if services alter, hard wired behaviours can be hard to change. And if people get it wrong, well there are lots of excuses aren’t there?
Recycling and waste services are the most widely used and appreciated council service but we’re failing the public if they’re not getting the message and if their recycling is going to waste because of the habits of a minority. Contamination can also cost local councils (and their local council tax payers) a small fortune (quite large fortunes in some cases) which is very bad news in these cash-strapped times. Furthermore, with the growing interest to reduce recycling and waste collection costs resulting in many authorities looking hard at extending the frequency of residual collections, the pressures on recycling services to deliver quality and quantity are only going to increase. 
This is where comprehensive communications programmes must, once again, become a vital element in efforts to control spiralling costs, address contamination and increase the quality and quantity of recycling. Ricardo Energy & Environment has worked with many councils to develop communications programmes to support service change for alternate week and extended frequency collections, as well as introducing food waste collections. We’ve also helped a number of councils develop communications and engagement programmes to help them address contamination issues. These programmes target internal audiences as well as the public and look at the technical aspects of services that could be improved as well as communications. 
In our experience the solutions are never one-dimensional, and usually a combination of technical or service improvements are required, along with improved communications with the public and engagement of staff on the issues, the causes and solutions. That’s also why we talk about ‘programmes’ rather than campaigns because the latter imply a beginning and an end, whereas a programme is a continual process. We’ve worked with crews, senior officers, elected members and council communication teams to convince them of the importance of the issue and how they can help address it. This is always a positive process, leading to improved performance and internal co-operation. The end result is always the same: service improvements, increased morale and commitment, raised public awareness, increased recycling, reduced contamination and additional costs (due to rejection of loads) brought under control. 
If contamination, increasing the quality or quantity of recycling, or service change are issues that are taking the fun out of the New Year then see what technical and communications cheer we can bring to you.  Contact Gareth Morton for an initial discussion: 
Direct Dial:       +44 (0)1235 753 130
Mobile:             +44 (0)7968 707 034 

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