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Productivity Plan


  1. This Productivity Plan sets out the ways in which Worcester City Council provides Place Leadership for the City of Worcester. It sets out how we run our services and manage our organisation. It also describes how we manage change now and how we plan to do so in future to ensure that our limited resources are maximised for the benefit of people and businesses in Worcester, within the constraints set by Central Government.

  2. The starting point for the Council is the City Plan. This core document sets out the ambitions that the Council has for the city under five key themes:

    • Stronger and connected communities
    • A prosperous city
    • A healthy and active city
    • A heritage city with a 21st century culture
    • Enhancing and sustaining our beautiful city for future generations

  3. The City Plan is supported by a set of detailed aims and measures to help assess progress and is underpinned by a range of strategies to deliver our ambitions, including:

    • The City Centre Masterplan – which sets out our future blueprint for the city’s physical structure
    • South Worcestershire Development Plan – shaping communities across south Worcestershire in partnership with Wychavon and Malvern Hills
    • Housing Enabling Strategy – seeking to ensure that there is affordable housing for all in Worcester and its surrounding areas
    • Environmental Sustainability Strategy – setting out our approach to enhancing and sustaining our city
    • Arts and Culture Strategy – delivering the commitment to a city with a 21st century culture.
    • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy – recognising that equality affects every aspect of the Council’s work, with a commitment to make us an excellent local leader in inclusive practice and meeting the needs of our customers.

  4. Annually the Council’s Leadership Team of Councillors and officers agrees a set of work programme priorities which focus on the core tasks to be delivered in the year. This also sets out how senior management will implement the five core behaviours that we set ourselves for the delivery of excellent services:

    • Committed People
    • Creative Council
    • Customer Focused
    • Good Governance
    • Strong Performance

  5. The Council has a committee system which enables decision-making and policy-setting at a detailed level by Policy and Regulatory Committees, while the Corporate Leadership Team, working with Heads of Service and the Wider Management Team translate the policy steer into strategic and operational delivery of this programme of work.

  6. Progress is measured through our annual customer survey, which lets us know how the residents and businesses of Worcester value the work that we do, and through an internal staff survey, which tells how effectively we are managing the organisation. Both have showed steadily improving results over the past five years.

  7. This strong, clear-sighted corporate approach and leadership has brought huge success in the past four years, attracting over £45m in capital investment though the Cultural Development Fund, Future High Streets Funds, Towns Fund, Levelling up Fund, as well as grants for environmental sustainability initiatives (Green Homes Grant, Salix funding, Heat Networks, fleet electrification, solar PVS) and financial support from local sponsoring bodies and individuals.

  8. These funds have been deployed through wide-ranging stakeholder engagement and with the support of the Town Deal Board. Our response to wider changes has been shaped through consultation, such as our Environmental Summit in 2022, ‘Cost of Living Crisis’ forums, extensive consultation events for the ‘Scala’ in 2023 and, most recently, stakeholder engagement in the development of new Levelling Up proposals: our approach is based fundamentally on partnerships – ensuring that everyone who wants to contribute can deliver their best for our beautiful city.

Transforming Services

  1. While we are an ambitious Council, which was described in the 2019 Peer Review as ‘punching well above its weight’, we have faced the same challenges in terms of resources as many councils up and down the country. But rather than making risky investments to offset reducing government grants we have put our effort into being efficient and focused in what we deliver.

  2. Since the committee system was established in 2017-18 we have systematically implemented ‘income and efficiency’ and savings plans which have supported transformation in services and enabled us to focus on the things that our annual survey and engagement exercises tell us matter to our customers. This has included:

    • Bringing Homes and Communities together under one Head of Service to create synergy between these two overlapping functions
    • Bringing Parking, Bereavement Services, Parks and Open Spaces and City Centre Cleansing into closer co-operation to enhance key city assets. This has enabled us to deliver the on-street parking service on behalf of County Council at nil cost to County and maximising use of City Council resources.
    • Joining up Planning and Governance to strengthen approaches to Planning, leading to increased performance against Government targets and improved customer satisfaction scores
    • The creation of new Environmental Sustainability & Biodiversity roles to focus on the key issues of climate change and environmental management and respond to the Environment Act 2021.

  3. We continue to try to find the best model of service which will be the most efficient and provide the most direct delivery, tailored to customer needs.

  4. We operate through a range of shared services, including Regulatory Service, Revenues and Benefits, Internal Audit Services, ICT services, Transactional Finance and Building Control. These give us significant efficiencies and opportunities to bring in new ideas and approaches across Worcestershire councils. We take a collaborative approach to insurance procurement, for example, including councils outside the County, thereby saving substantial procurement fees and premium costs.

  5. We also operate with third parties such as our Leisure Service contractor which, with the development of a new leisure centre, enabled us to move from a loss- bearing service to an income-generating one with an active and supportive partner.

  6. Nevertheless, where we can see opportunities for improvement, we have not hesitated to act. We have brought back in house Property and Asset Management, Revenues Benefits Management, Customer Contact services, HR Payroll, the Tourist Information Service and festivals management, and the Worcestershire Museums Service in-house. All of which has produced savings and enabled us to adopt new approaches such as driving up income, diversifying into new product offers and growing commercial opportunities.

  7. Our approach has been thorough and committed. We have:

  8. Undertaken two rounds of voluntary redundancy and reviews of vacant posts, resulting in £1.5m reduction in recurring revenue costs, avoiding compulsory redundancies to date

  9. Maximised the benefits of capital funding by creation of delivery roles, funded from capital programmes and reducing reliance on expensive project management consultants

  10. Annually reviewed the use of earmarked and general reserves to focus on new priorities and maximised our cash and asset holding to generate more income to support core services

  11. Established a programme of driving down costs of non-statutory services and seeking to ensure that income from these services covers all costs so that those who benefit from these services pay for them, rather than being subsidised from Council Tax

  12. Re-established salary scales based on the national spinal column to stabilise the workforce and make recruitment more consistent – which has resulted in a significant upturn in the quality and number of candidates applying for posts and bringing expertise into the organisation.

  13. In 2024 we opted to move away from elections by thirds to a four-year cycle of all-out Council elections. This is another step to reducing costs but it will also enable the new administration to set a four-year policy direction to enable us to build on our history of transformational change and map out a new blueprint for the city.

Using new technology

  1. Modern councils, like all modern organisations, need to make the most of the opportunities provided by new technology to improve service delivery while driving down costs. Technology is the great ‘enabler’ of organisations and the services that they deliver: providing access for those who cannot easily engage otherwise, making things simpler for customers - such as making payments, applying for benefits or licenses, or checking the status of accounts - and creating a flexible workforce with a reduced carbon footprint and instant functionality, wherever they happen to be.

  2. We have introduced the Microsoft Office 365 suite of functions to reduce storage and ICT costs and enable access from remote locations. The introduction of Teams has supported hybrid working, reduced our file storge and our carbon footprint. This has been supplemented by a Bike Share scheme which utilises GPS technology and means that employees can now work from a variety of locations without adding to the city’s traffic congestion and supporting delivery of our Air Quality Action Plan.

  3. Our ICT Shared Service works across South Worcestershire. This is designed so that the same systems can be used at all three councils, reducing procurement and ongoing maintenance costs while enabling information to flow wherever it is needed. Cyber security is considerably enhanced by reducing multiple entry points and ensuring that all staff use the same strong protocols.

  4. The Strategy for the shared service has a wide range of actions and a new approach to Information Management is under development. Governance reviews and programmes to reduce paper-based approach to committee meetings will result in all Members on one .gov address with access to documents via sharepoint.

  5. We have shifted our regulatory service towards use of the ‘Intelligence Delivery Model’ to drive regulatory enforcement activity rather than traditional prescribed methods and have introduced in-cab technology for our refuse rounds to improve efficiency and ensure that there is live information passing between vehicles, the back office, and the teams operating at the doorstep.

  6. Even down to the most detailed level we are looking at ways to use technology to improve the way we work. We:

    • are developing our use of Artificial Intelligence to speed up research and development
    • have implemented use of hand arm vibration smart watches for City Services staff to support their health, safety and welfare when using hand-held or hand-guided equipment
    • have introduced card payment facilities at all our car parks
    • developed a Customer Services approach ensures that there are multiple ways to contact the Council, including through our new online chat facility, while preserving the opportunity to speak directly with customer services assistants for those who need to.

Reducing ‘wasteful’ spend

  1. Following several years of restructuring, internal and external challenge, bottom-up cost reduction exercises and stakeholder engagement we do not have ‘wasteful’ spend. The latest Oflog benchmarking shows that:

    • we are in the lower quartile in terms of Core Spending Power - i.e. we have less funding than most councils
    • our Council Tax revenue per dwelling is also lower than most
    • we are lower than average in reserves – showing that we are not storing up ‘surplus’ income
    • we have not undertaken risky borrowing to generate income.

  2. Yet our Council Tax collection through our shared service is efficient and complaints about the Council upheld by the Ombudsman are among the lowest for all Councils in England. Our planning application processing times are amongst the lowest in our peer group of councils and while we want to get better recycling rates, we have plans to change our waste collection in the coming year.

  3. But while we think we have consistently challenged ourselves to be more productive in the past few years, that doesn’t mean that we are complacent in our approach now. For 2024/25 we have committed to:

    • leading cost data gathering exercises across Worcestershire and Herefordshire councils to benchmark our financial assumptions and risks and identify opportunities for further efficiencies
    • undertaking a governance review focusing on ways in which we can speed up decision making and reduce time supporting the governance structure (we have already moved to all out elections and reduced the number of committees in 2024)
    • planning, in partnership with the County Council, to move to synchronised recycling and domestic waste collections to “same day same waste” that will enable us to make the service more efficient by maximising resources available on any given day
    • implementing a new ICT strategy with a wide range of actions.

  4. We are now developing the next iteration of our savings plan for the 2025/26 budget cycle, building on all the work that we have done to date to bring our increases in costs in line with our increases in income and reduce the budget gap in our Medium Term Financial Plan.

Barriers to progress

  1. While we are doing all we can to make ourselves as efficient as possible, while continuing to provide the support that our communities need, there are barriers to progress that Government could helpfully remove.

  2. Funding has fallen significantly in recent years and councils have worked hard to ensure services can be delivered with reducing resources. During the covid pandemic and subsequent cost-of-living crisis, councils were highly commended by Government for delivering £millions of support to local people and local businesses. Yet Government continues to criticise councils for ‘wasteful’ spending and ‘misguided’ approaches such as “discredited” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategies and employing expensive consultants. This undermines the position of local government and makes positive and credible engagement with stakeholders and investors much more difficult.

  3. We call on the Government to recognise, once again, the huge leadership benefits that councils bring to their local communities. Local councils are key to local place development. They know their communities best and can ensure that limited resources are channelled to support local priorities. Central Government now needs to get behind local councils and enable them to deliver for local people by:

    • Providing multi-year financial settlements so that we can be sure of delivering our agreed plans and not have to change course regularly as short-term funding – like the Household Support Fund – is cut with little notice
    • Removing the post-code lottery of local government funding so that councils which have little opportunity to obtain New Homes Bonus, or face significant reductions in business rates from declining High Streets, are not left behind
    • Offering revenue support along with capital programmes, so that not just assets are improved or built but the services that are to be to be delivered through those improved asset can be established until they are sustainable
    • Revising the Housing financing regime by increasing Local Housing Allowance rates, removing the LHA caps on subsidy for temporary accommodation and allowing a 1:1 replacement of housing stock, empowering RSLs to deliver much needed affordable housing
    • Avoiding arrangements where the involvement of multiple government departments, leads to a duplication of funding agreements being put in place, rather than a simpler arrangement with a lead department (e.g. flood support funding)
    • Reducing complex eligibility requirements which can result in the failure of major projects – such as the Home Upgrade Grant
    • Addressing the national challenge of recruiting regulatory staff and ensuring regulatory capacity – financial support to train the next generation of regulatory staff would be hugely impactful
    • Clarifying the position on 3 weekly residual waste collections. With Government mandating the introduction of weekly food waste collections, this will squeeze the contents of the residual waste bin by between 15% and 35%. Doing so therefore provides a logical opportunity for our Council to consider 3 weekly residual waste collections (with more capacity within the residual bin), which would deliver a financial saving
    • Reducing reporting requirements, which have multiplied considerably since the Covid pandemic and tie up staff who could otherwise be focusing on delivery
    • Not tying funding to specified outputs such as producing ‘Productivity Plans’ but allowing councils to focus on how that funding will improve outcomes for local peopleA meaningful two-way dialogue about the changes to current legislation which would enable District Council place-making to be quicker and more effective
    • Payment of New Burdens funding every time an additional requirement is imposed on local government without a corresponding removal of a requirement elsewhere, while recognising that some of the new services are an ongoing requirement, not just a short-term solution
    • Greater investment in sector best practice templates and resources to avoid duplication of effort across the country
    • Resolving the national failures of the external audit arrangements to support and keep pace with the local government sector.

  4. Many councils are facing financial hardship but they still have so much to offer and – as Government has recognised in recent years – they provide essential roles in shaping local places and keeping struggling communities buoyant. The new Government needs to move away from discrete and multiple bidding rounds for funding such as Levelling Up, which adds to the bureaucracy of managing finances and move to a funding model which gives councils the space to plan effectively with certainty of delivery. The simultaneous launching across multiple areas of national initiatives such as Levelling Up results in many local authorities attempting to procure programme management and construction at the same time, driving up costs and driving down availability of services.

  5. There needs to be a new focus on long term revenue funding which allows local authorities the freedom to deliver excellent services without the restrictive trappings of bureaucracy. In this way efficient councils like Worcester City can focus on doing what they do best – delivering efficient services for the benefit of those that need them and delivering innovative services for the benefit of those that want them.