Tag Archives: Assets

Improving the wellbeing of future generations in a resource-rich cash-poor Wales

Prof Tony Bovaird is Director of Governance International, a nonprofit which works throughout Europe on outcome-based public policy and citizen co-production, and Emeritus Professor of Public Management and Governance at Birmingham University.  In his contribution to the The Future of Governance Seminars in July,  Tony shared his strong beliefs on the need for public bodies to get real about the weak state of collaboration in public service commissioning and delivery, the lack of commitment to clear outcomes and the highly variable performance in engagement citizens in co-commissioning, co-design, co-deliveyr and co-assessment – and how the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act could help on all these front. In this blog he picks up one aspect of co-production – how Wales can make better use of its hugely valuable resources, even in a period when budgets are severely constrained. 

A photo of Tony Bovaird of Governance InternationalThe Governance workshops in July, hosted by the Wales Audit Office and the Good Practice Exchange, provided an opportunity to reflect on the key issues which will determine how the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act can be implemented effectively in Wales. A key issue which was raised at different junctures during the discussions was how resources have become much scarcer in the aftermath of the sharp economic recession after 2008 and the continuing financial austerity budgets of the UK government since 2010.

People

However, I argued at the end of both workshops that this fixation on budgets is misplaced. Yes, cash is scarce in public services. However, this is not the whole of the story –  cash in our budgets represents only one resource.

In particular, Wales is not short of the key resources of capable people, valuable buildings and equipment, or state-of-the-art ICT. However, these are not being used to maximum effect.

Let’s look at the fantastic people resource in Wales. The most common headline statistic is the unemployment rate but the real resource waste is NOT commonly headlined each month – the number of fit, active and willing people who are not registered as being in the workforce.  In 2016, this amounts to just short of a million people in Wales, about half of whom are between 16 – 64 years of age, and the other half are 65+.

The most talked about group amongst these million adults in Wales who are not ‘economically active’ is the over-65 group. We do not, however, talk about the fact that they are the largest group of experienced, educated and, for the most part, fit and healthy people that Wales has ever had on tap, as a ‘reserve army of the under-appreciated’ to do socially and economically useful things to improve their own wellbeing and that of their fellow citizens. No, not at all – we tend rather to talk about them as one of the ‘jaws of doom’, threatening to swallow up all our public sector resources, as they grow older, unhealthier and more needy. Are we actively seeking to help them to maximize their quality of life outcomes, and the way they help others to improve their quality of life? After all, research shows that people who are active, whether seeking the improvement of their own wellbeing or that of others, tend to have far more positive quality of life outcomes. The lack of a co-ordinated approach to this challenge is perhaps the biggest waste of resources in our modern resource-rich, ideas-poor society.

Buildings

We don’t just underuse our resource of people. Our housing is one third under-occupied (and a high proportion of these homes have only one resident, often lonely and isolated, quite often depressed).

Over 20% of our shops are empty, the floors above shops are very often empty, and our public buildings are often only partly occupied. Our leisure centres are largely empty in the mornings, our community centres are often empty in the afternoons and most of our schools are empty in the evenings, at weekends and during the holiday weeks. Our cars tend to empty all day (parked at work) and our public transport is largely empty most evenings.

Isn’t this inevitable? Aren’t these assets generally owned by someone who sees no reason to make them available to those who would most benefit from using them? Well, let’s start with the public sector – is there really any excuse for under-use of public assets when others are desperately looking for venues for events, rooms for meetings, addresses out of which to run their voluntary organisations, facilities for small scale printing jobs, etc? Let’s shift our gaze to the third sector – is there any justification for giving public grants or contracts to an organization which isn’t prepared to share its underused facilities (and volunteers) with others who are doing similar activities? And in the private sector, why not give tax relief to firms which can show a record of sharing staff and facilities with public or third sector organisations?

Assets

However, such approaches are only the tip of the iceberg of what could be done. More important than this organizational sharing is the potential for matching of citizens’ capabilities to potential users in the community. This is the dream ‘app’. For the moment, we only record the ‘needs’ which citizens bring to the public sector – not the capabilities they have and the strengths and resources they are willing to share. This is the greatest challenge facing public bodies as they address the issue of improving wellbeing in Wales.  Of course, co-production with citizens needs co-ordination by public bodies – this will need some spending, but it promises to liberate hugely more resource that it uses up.

In summary, the Wellbeing of Future Generations in Wales depends critically on getting the most out of our existing resources, and ensuring their future development and expansion. A resource-rich country where most of the resources are underused and decent people are wasting huge amounts of time in scrambling over small (and declining) cash budgets and grants is a sign of wrong government priorities. A fundamental rethink of how to match our abundant resources to the needs of the citizens of Wales is an urgent priority.

Understanding Staff Behaviours and Business Travel Needs

Aylesbury Vale District Council's on-site hourly rental pool cars

Aylesbury Vale District Council’s on-site hourly rental pool cars

How did Aylesbury Vale District Council save £90,000 and halve their emissions? Ena Lloyd spoke with Alan Asbury to find out.

I recently attended a seminar run by Enterprise Rent a Car on how public services are engaging with the private sector to improve their business travel arrangements. This has resulted in major contributions towards their sustainability targets and big savings.

I caught up with Alan Asbury, Sustainability and Energy Manager from Aylesbury Vale District Council and asked him about the Council’s travel policy. I was particularly interested in their focus on staff behaviour and their critical use of data to get a clear understanding of staff business travel.

I started by asking a little about the Council. The Council covers the northern half of Buckinghamshire and employs around 500 staff of which around 220 drive for business.

They created the policy with Enterprise to bring the council in line with the sharing economy and the latest cost-saving technology. They analysed the council’s usage data and was able to segment its employees’ business trips by cost-efficiency, highlighting where hourly rental and daily rental would be most effective. For example, by restricting daily rental to those with journeys of more than 75 miles or eight hours, it has ensured its low-emission car club vehicles are used more regularly.

Translating the policy into action meant that nine on-site hourly rental pool cars were sourced through Enterprise Car Club, which were provided for employees making short journeys, along with Enterprise Rent-A-Car daily hire cars for longer journeys. These have successfully replaced the grey fleet as a less expensive and more environmentally-friendly option.

The travel policy was changed to focus on safety, which is essential for the council’s duty of care responsibilities. Staff who still use their own vehicles for work first complete a tick box form checking several aspects of vehicle and driver maintenance such as safety, insurance, driving licence, health and fitness and vehicle condition.

As part of the initiative, the ‘grey fleet’ mileage reimbursement rate was cut from up to 0.65 pence per mile to 0.15 to encourage employees to use the Enterprise Car Club vehicles as well as daily rental, given the potential cost savings and the environmental benefits.

After careful monitoring, the scheme now been pared down to eight Enterprise Car Club vehicles. All are all low-emission and include three pure electric Nissan Leaf cars. In the first year of their use, the Council has saved £90,000. It’s also allowed them to re-introduce a 50% bus subsidy on all four locally-operated bus routes. Overall, its transport carbon emissions have been reduced by more than half. The Council also operate electric vehicles including BMW i3s.

Reflecting on their new travel policy, Alan said: “Our new travel policy was based on an in-depth understanding of how our drivers behaved and their needs in terms of mobility. Enterprise helped us analyse where, how often and why staff were travelling, which was vital if we wanted them to do it more efficiently.

“Using a car club has helped us save tens of thousands of pounds, and Enterprise also helped us work with our employees to understand the aims of the programme and demonstrate what we were trying to achieve. It has been highly successful and we’ve now been invited to speak with other public and private sector organisations to show them what we did and how we did it.”

Adrian Bewley, Director of Business Rental UK & Ireland at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, adds: “The council has been able to use a blend of hourly and daily rental, as well as leasing, to create a far more effective and greener approach to employee travel.

“The Council is, quite rightly, being viewed as a leader in public sector business travel. They have achieved silver in the annual Energy Savings Trust Fleet Hero Awards November 2015. Most importantly, the success of the programme is due to the fact it was based on an analysis of driver behaviours and journeys. Data is the most important tool in creating a better travel policy and changing how employees think about driving.”

If you’d like to learn more about the project and how Aylesbury might help you to do something similar, Contact Alan at aasbury@aylesburyvaledc.gov.uk

Gwesty Seren: Effective asset transfer and a new way of providing respite care

As we live in challenging economic times, it’s likely that a lot of voluntary organisations and Town and Community Councils will have community assets transferred to them. Dyfrig Williams visited Gwesty Seren to hear the lessons learnt from their community asset transfer and how they deliver respite care.

We are often signposted to examples of good practice, but it’s not so often that we hear about a project with good practice to share for a few different reasons.

We went to Gwesty Seren, a hotel based in Gwynedd that offers supported holidays, to learn about how it’s been transferred successfully to the community. But I also had a broader interest in how they’re providing respite care in a very different way.

The charity’s work

Picture of Gwesty Seren

Gwesty Seren

Seren is a charity that is based in Blaenau Ffestiniog, which provides care for people with learning difficulties. The charity was founded 20 years ago under Care in the Community, with the aim of supporting people to move out of institutions and into the community. People create craft and art, which is then sold in the shop and market garden. This helped people to be independent so that they didn’t rely on fees from Gwynedd Council or private individuals, and it also gives them a chance to get a taste of work. This mentality has continued at Gwesty Seren, where they provide work experience.

Gwesty Seren decided to go further than standard respite care. They wanted to provide a different kind of care, so they created a 3 star hotel with a focus on supporting disabled people. The toilets and rooms have been developed so that they are accessible to everyone.

The hotel also allows families to stay there. Their research showed that a lot of families have received poor respite care in the past, so they weren’t happy to leave their children’s care entirely in the hands of someone they didn’t know. The hotel allows them to stay with their children if they want, but whilst also giving them the break they need. This unique service means that the hotel also provides spaces for people who receive services from nearby councils, like Conwy and Ceredigion, with families even travelling to stay from across the border in England.

The success of the hotel has led to it working with three companies that specialise in holidays for people with learning difficulties, and recently, two further companies that specialise in holidays for physically disabled people began using the facilities. The people who have stayed there often end up coming back and making a block booking.

A photograph of a room at Gwesty Seren

A room at Gwesty Seren

The history of the building

The building itself was originally built by Lord Newborough in 1728 as a summer house. It stayed like this until just after the First World War, when the family took in soldiers who had had an accident or shock in the war to have a break or respite.

In the 1930s the building was given to two Franciscan Monks. They invited homeless people to stay, with the youngest monk travelling to London to invite people to stay at Bryn Llywelyn, as it was called at the time. Then the building was sold to Meirionnydd Council as a residential house for children, before being turned into an old people’s home. In 2010 the Council decided to close it.

Seren made a bid for the building to the Welsh Government and the Big Lottery Fund’s Community Asset Transfer Fund. A full application was submitted, before the work began in 2013. The work was completed in April 2014.

Transferring the building

Usually the transfer of assets from the public sector take place free of charge, but in this case, the council decided to sell the building at less than the market price. The council had to go through committees and raise awareness through the media, so it was not a quick process.

The cost of everything, including the purchase, was around £1,000,000, and applying for grants was a laborious process. Because it required a significant amount, the charity went on to borrow from the Charity Bank.

They were aware that questions would be asked about State Aid, so the charity hired a Cardiff law firm that specialised in it. A report was written on minimising the risk and the document showed the rationale for why it did not break the rules. It was a great help when working with European Officers and the Welsh European Funding Office.

Key messages

So one of the main message from Gwesty Seren is that asset transfer isn’t a quick process. But it’s clear by looking at the comments on their TripAdvisor page that the hard work has been worth it. And from the testimonials of other customers (whether it’s directly to the hotel or in a newsletter), I can see that their respite care that has a big impact on people’s lives, has helped the regeneration of  Blaenau Ffestiniog by creating 10 full time jobs and is actively contributing to the area’s tourist industry.

Why managing energy is not just for the ‘energy person’

This is a guest blog post from Geraint Norman, National Assets Working Group.

At the end of June, I took part in a Good Practice Exchange seminar. This one was on Energy Management. Like Neville Rookes from the Welsh Local Government Association (who has already blogged about this seminar), I helped facilitate a workshop on the day. There were many energy specialists at the seminar, but what was most interesting for me was the need to avoid a ‘bitty’ approach to energy management. Make it a part of everyone’s daily work and you’ll get much further than leaving it to the energy specialists alone.

National Assets Working Group / Gweithgor Asedau Cenedlaethol

I don’t know if all readers will immediately agree with me. In some organisations, energy is the responsibility of the facilities team and doesn’t always capture the interest of senior leadership. But what about the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme? What about saving money in a period of austerity? Making sure energy is managed right across your organisation can lead to some real benefits.

It was great to hear lots of good practice from delegates. There was also lots of sharing of ideas and examples where improved energy management has improved services. I was particularly interested in three ideas that we discussed during the seminar.

  1. Include energy management in staff performance reviews. Sounds a little scary, but could be an effective way to make sure each department keeps on top of energy use. It’s also a way of demonstrating good management skills; staff and budget management. Directors can also hold their managers to account if they are specifically made responsible for this aspect of making savings.
  2. Get senior leaders interested in energy efficiency. Not always easy I know, but making it a key objective for your organisation gives you a good amount of leverage to get things done. Renia Kotynia from Wrexham County Borough Council had some good examples of how to get senior leadership involved.
  3. Try and make saving energy fun. Yes, it should be part of your strategy and yes it should be carefully monitored and managed – but it should also involve your colleagues. During the seminar, I heard about coloured sticker systems, blackouts and asking staff their opinions on new energy projects. These could be good ways to make sure that everyone thinks about saving energy as they go about their daily work, not just the energy manager.

So, what am I and the National Assets Working Group going to take forward from this seminar? Well firstly as a Group we need to communicate the outputs from the seminar across the sectors. We then need to keep energy management on the agenda and consider the need for future events.  As a Group we will also be supporting the Wales Audit Office in its future shared learning seminars. I look forward to seeing some of you there.

Making the Most of Your Assets

3. Asset Management ImageDid you know that since 2006, business energy costs have risen by 243%? No, nor did we. The public sector in Wales is well aware of the need to cut costs and improve services. But what do you do when you’re faced with costs that seem out of your control? You could look to manage your assets better by trying new ideas or approaches. The Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Exchange aim is to help you find these new ideas and approaches through offering free seminars, resources and guidance on asset management.

 What do we mean by asset management?

It covers a wide range of topics, including energy, IT, fleet, buildings and plant and machinery – all things you need to make your organisation function. Whilst you can’t cut any of these from your budget, you can try to manage them better. The aim is to make financial savings without having negative effects on service delivery.

Some good work has been done across the UK on asset management. Over £800m has been saved since 2004 in central government estate, according to the Northern Ireland Audit Office. In Wales, the National Asset Working Group helps organisations work together to make financial savings. But costs still rise and now that sustainable development is becoming a core principle for the Welsh public sector, why not look at some new ideas?

That’s what the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Exchange is doing this year. We’re planning on running some free seminars and gathering good practice on energy, fleet, IT and buildings management. We’ll share with you some key ideas and themes coming out of our work on this blog and our website. In the meantime, you may find the knowledge that we gathered previously helpful.

Why is finding these new ideas important? The public sector in Wales is facing tight financial constraints and well-managed, considered risks and new ideas could help. Sharing and learning from each other’s experiences can help organisations tackle asset management in a new way. Instead of struggling with your energy management, you could adapt the successful approaches taken by someone else – that’s our philosophy.

What else is out there?

The National Asset Working Group’s new hub could be a good place to start. The Energy Saving Trust has a blog with some interesting ideas and the Guardian has a collection of sustainability case studies from businesses. Some general internet research will turn up a range of ideas you may find useful.

Asset management is not just for your estates and facilities department. It’s an enabler of services   for your whole organisation. You could spend some time developing your strategy and see what new changes you could make to save money. If you’re not very familiar with asset management, you could do some research to see how important it is and what can be achieved.

Keep an eye on our website for new ideas and resources to help you think afresh about your asset management. There will be a collection of energy management resources available at the end of July. You can also see details of our Energy Management Seminar on our website. On the day, you can follow #WAO_EM on Twitter for some new ideas and approaches.

We’d like to hear from you if you’re doing some interesting work in this area or if you find any of our ideas particularly helpful – leave us a comment below.