Clare Lawrence outlined the challenges presented to the Shared Service in merging three different historic LA procedures and three IT systems. She went on to explain the particular issues currently in Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) that was going through a major restructuring, which had diverted resource and time away from implementing solutions. She stated that the Shared Service needed to operate as a business to be able to compete in the market and that the proposed changes at WBC would not facilitate that model. There were four possible models, outlined in the report, and the recommendation was that option 3, to function as a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) be adopted as it offered the most opportunities whilst maintaining risk at a manageable level. The LATC model offered most flexibility in terms of setting competitive staff terms and conditions and so on. The councils were required to provide a statutory service and the Shared Service, by bringing in private business, allowed these services to be carried out at a lower cost with greater efficiently whilst still maintaining oversight of the work in terms of overview and scrutiny.
Referring to the action plan, Clare indicated that the surplus referred to in the previous item would be reinvested to cover any deficit in year 1 costs of setting up a single IT system to replace the multiple legacy systems. As a result, much of the issues around time delay and de-motivation of staff would be reduced. The amount would cover the capital cost, consultancy and data transfer. It was proposed that the Service adopt the building control software produced by Tascomi. This Irish company, which offered Cloud-based solutions, was well thought of in terms of their product and their customer care. Officers had visited STG Building Control, a long-standing 3-way service based in Kent, who were very happy to commend the system and suggested there were no problems with compliance. Any data would be owned by the Shared Service.
During discussion around the action plan and budget, Members queried the prioritisation of actions and the method of funding the IT. Officers indicated that a loan could be taken out but that the cost of funding capital loans through WBC was twice that of West Berkshire Council. It would be preferable to keep the finance and investment within the Shared Service. The new system could be developed in conjunction with the Public Protection Partnership, but the two joint services had different priorities. The Building Control Shared Service had the immediate need and the funds were available now.
In relation to staffing, the historic problems with recruitment and retention were improving and would benefit from an integrated IT system, a new business model and more competitive terms and conditions. There had been staff turnover, but this was not attributed to dissatisfaction. The current staffing levels were not sufficient and more resource was required to assist with the implementation of the new systems. Implementing the action plan would allow the Service to be more resilient in terms of staffing and it would be easier to plan for succession. On the question of office base, Clare Lawrence stated that there were clear advantages to having a single base, both for staff and systems, and she asked the Board to approve this.
Clarifications on the action plan and costs included that there was no current allocation of funds to a Change Manager and that the accommodation costs would be £30000 pa. Processes and procedures in the three authorities would be merged and the best approaches retained.
1. Options for funding the IT system be re-examined;
2. Options for resourcing be re-examined and clarified;
3. A breakdown of the action plan showing time dependencies and a risk register to be developed and supplied to Board Members, and
4. The Officers be authorised to carry out more work on the model of a LATC for submission at a future meeting.