Tag Archives: Welsh Local Government Association

To Charge or not to Charge?

Can councils make better use of their resources by charging for waste services? Gwyndaf Parry of the Welsh Local Government Association blogs for us on an event that they held with the Wales Audit Office.

Public services are coming under more and more pressure, with local authorities expected to deliver more with less. To deliver a wide range of services to residents and maintain that high quality of service, Councils in Wales have the legal powers to charge for a wide range of services, including Garden or green wastes, Bulky waste collections and replacement bins or recycling containers.

The event was hosted by the Welsh Local Government Association and facilitated by the Good Practice Team from the Wales Audit Office, to encourage and enable Welsh local authorities to share good practice when introducing a charge for waste collection services. Delegates were encouraged to participate in discussions and learn from others, helping to avoid making the same mistakes and to save costs and time.

Andy Phillips from the Wales Audit Office introduced the day and interestingly showed the income gained from waste services per resident, showing the difference between Wales, Scotland and England. Income earned in England has steadily being increasing since 2008/9 whilst reducing in Scotland and Wales.

A graph that shows that charging for Waste services has dropped in Wales and Scotland since 2008/9, but grown in England

Di Bradbury from Wirral Council shared her experience of introducing a charge for collection of garden waste, and how Wirral managed the introduction of a charge back in 2013/14. One of Di’s key pieces of advice was ensuring a robust IT system was in place from the outset, ensuring your IT system can handle customer registration, manage the customer database and manage payments. Di stressed that this was one of the most time consuming elements of introducing a charged service – people expect a high quality of service when they pay for a service. Missing a collection should be avoided, when building a reputable charged collection service.

Wirral acknowledged the importance of public consultation, as part of their waste planning they consulted with the public to gain their thoughts on charging. 51.7% of the respondents said they felt having to pay for a garden waste collection was completely unacceptable. However budget constraints meant the council had to push forward with a charge. However they ensured alternative options to residents including:

  • Online subscription discount of £5 (89% of customers use this option),
  • Shared bin option with neighbor, and
  • Promotion of home composting bins

A valuable lesson learned by Wirral was to offer a 14 day cooling off period, residents under law must be offered a 14 day period where they can receive a refund. In Wirral they only offered this refund if the resident had not received a collection.

As would be expected the tonnage of garden waste collected at the kerbside reduced in the Wirral, however the HWRCs saw a considerable increase in garden waste throughput. Overall garden waste tonnage reduced by 11% over a two year period. Contribution to overall MSW recycling rate decreased for two years post introduction of a charge, however in the third year the rate is seen to be increasing to just under its original state. Interestingly over the same period number of fly tipping incidents have continuously decreased.

Is the future green?

This first Workshop breakout session was hosted by Jim Espley from Denbighshire Council. Having introduced a charge for garden waste service on 30th March 2015, Denbighshire are the latest LA in Wales to charge, therefore had some valuable tips for other councils.

Since getting approval to introduce a charge in September 2014, Denbighshire had relatively short time period to introduce the service, key activities to ensure success were:

  1. Communicating with residents – introducing the new service available,
  2. Setting up a suitable IT system including payment processing system,
  3. Dealing with complaints and setting up suitable processes, and
  4. Buy suitable barcode and scanners for the bins.

12,500 (30%) properties signed up to the new service initially, by the end of the year this went up to 17,000 (40%) properties. Customers could sign up online (with a discount) or face to face, over the phone and at One Stop Shops. Denbighshire worked closely with their IT department to ensure a fit for purpose system was in place. A purpose built Database allowed them to capture, address details, collection day, assisted collection info, as well as other collection history. Every bin is issued with a barcode sticker and this is linked to the customer database. The database is also liked to a ‘Trackyou’ software system that has in-cab technology allowing the crew to monitor and record customer details in real-time. Helping Denbighshire offer their residents a top quality service.

A photo of the Track You device used by Denbighshire County Council

A valuable lesson that Jim shared with the group was that on-line subscriptions would ensure high quality data was fed into the IT database. Whilst a number of errors were experienced in customer details when hard copy paper work was completed. Therefore Denbighshire is working towards encouraging more and more to subscribe online.

How green is your valley?

A second workshop hosted by Carl from Monmouthshire was all about sharing lessons learnt, Monmouthshire have a well-established charged garden waste collection service. From July 2013 Monmouthshire have been charging for the collection of Garden waste. Having an initial charge of £8 per collection of a 90litres hessian reusable sack, by 2016/17 the charge has increased to £14 per sack.

Residents are issued with a free sack and must pay for the permit that is tagged on to the sack. Once again Monmouthshire reinforced the importance of having an IT system that was fit for purpose – this can make or break a successful service.

Number of residents signing up to the charged service has increased year on year in Monmouthsire, with households that tend to have larger gardens purchasing an increased number of bags. Carl also emphasized that an increased tonnage of garden waste was going into their HWRCs, therefore having suitable HWRCS in place that could manage the increased capacity was important.

Top Tip

A key message from the day was to invest and allocate time and resources into a suitable and fit for purpose IT system that can manage payments and manage customer data and information, making it easier to know who is signed up for the service and if their collections have been delivered or not. Customers expect a high quality service when they pay for it.

Welsh Local Government Association and Wales Audit Office Route Optimisation Workshop – How it went…

What is Route Optimisation? / Beth yw Optimeiddio Llwybrau?

We all know as a service, waste can be a difficult service to change. It’s one of the most visible services run by the local authority. Any changes to the service impacts on all residents, and therefore, it goes without saying, any service changes should be well thought through. Addressing route optimisation can allow smooth transition without effecting service delivery. It can also achieve significant financial savings, helping to keep public and politics happy.

It’s not easy – there’s no magic button – but it’s not difficult either, allocating the right resources is essential to get the best results.

Here’s a synopsis of approaches highlighted at our workshop:

Carmarthenshire’s Approach

In his presentation, Hywel Thomas from Carmarthenshire County Council shared their experiences of going through the route optimisation process. Carmarthenshire has diverse needs, with the North of the county being quite rural, whilst the southern half is somewhat more urban. Either way, the population demands a robust, cost effective, efficient and reliable collection service.

The most significant decision was to allocate dedicated staff to the project. They were moved away from their day job which enabled staff to focus 100% on the route optimisation project.

Prior to actually starting the project, It is essential to collate robust data, including; tonnages collected on current routes, timing of current routes, vehicle capacity (per type of material stream), and access to hard to reach areas. This base line day is essential to the quantifying the efficiencies made.

Once all the base line data is in place, the real work begins. Carmarthenshire used local knowledge and expertise to build their own rounds ensuring the operational team were happy with the final detail.

All this hard work resulted in significant savings and benefits:

  • An efficient service
  • Reduction of 6 front line vehicles
  • A 31% reduction in mileage
  • Advice and guidance for Local Authorities

The workshops

Here’s a synopsis of the key points from the four workshops.

At the Webaspx workshop, we heard that accurate baseline data is essential as a starting point. We also heard that if you run various scenarios, you can make sure you have the best outcome for your authority, as it provides you with hard evidence to help the decision making process. Technology and software is always adapting, and it can help waste managers get the most efficient services possible.

In the Integrated Skills workshop we heard how ‘Binfo’ allows crew to provide live updates to operational and waste managers. Again, we heard that accurate data is essential, as assumptions and averages can cause problems. The key message from the workshop was that a saving is not a saving until it has been delivered – plans must be delivered effectively.

The discussion in the Carmarthenshire workshop focussed on dedicating time and resources up front to collate relevant information. In house staff have the local knowledge and expertise, which we should make use of to make the most of the technology, because technology and staff can work hand in hand to achieve savings through route optimisation.

There were lots of discussion in Caerphilly’s workshop, including on the benefit of engaging your staff and trade unions from the start, so that you can bring everyone with you on the journey – be open and transparent. This will also help maintain ongoing relationships with crews as further changes are adapted. It’s essential to have a robust project plan with realistic timescales, and there are benefits to consulting with other departments like planning to understand future building developments.

What did I take away from the day?

Walking away from the workshops, it was clear, the top three messages were:

  • Robust baseline data
  • Engaging with all stakeholders at the earliest possible opportunity
  • Utilising in-house staff and local knowledge

Next steps for you?

There may be support available to you and your council from the Collaborative Change Programme through WRAP.

Communication is key to ensuring success during the route optimisation process. Networking opportunities are available through the South and North Wales Waste Managers Group. Remember, it’s good to talk.

Gwyndaf Parry, WLGA

How many times have you been stuck behind a bin lorry when you’re rushing to get to work?

Could your organisation benefit from route optimisation? Andy Phillips, Performance Auditor at the Wales Audit Office looks at the potential benefits.

Rubbish / SbwrielPicking up our rubbish is an essential council activity and visible evidence to all about the efficiency with which your council operates this unglamorous service. What appears at first glance to be a straightforward job actually needs very complex planning given the need to shave costs to a minimum and to put in place collection rounds that cover the whole county, that run efficiently and to the satisfaction of residents and traders. And with as little disruption as is practicable.

It’s not just refuse that is collected. Recycling is increasing in both in the quantity and types of materials collected such as food, dry recyclables and garden wastes. The amounts of these that councils need to collect constantly change with economic activity, seasons, and the introduction of waste strategies. In practice, this can mean the councils need several different types of collection vehicle and operatives may have to sort recyclables at the kerbside. The crews on collection rounds face a considerable physical challenge to load refuse and recyclables all day and in all weathers, so they need collection rounds that protect their safety and wellbeing and fairly balance workloads between each crew.

Optimising the design of waste collection routes is a good way to make collection routes more efficient. Careful design of routes can minimises the number of vehicles or other assets in use, the mileage and the cost leading to less miles, less fuel and less carbon footprint. But nobody knows the rounds better than the crews themselves. This is why they need to be a part of any review of their rounds because what looks like a great route on a map in practice may have many practical problems such as with access through narrow streets or with congestion, such as seen when collecting waste during the school run.

Waste managers from across Wales are gathering at the MRC in Llandrindod Wells on Wednesday 25th March at the Welsh Local Government Association’s route optimisation workshop. The Wales Audit Office has great experience of running seminars for other service areas through its Good Practice Exchange, and will be helping out with the workshop. Speakers from the waste industry will demonstrate their route optimisation techniques and software, and representatives from councils that have already rationalised their waste collection rounds will share their experiences and offer some good practice. The sessions will be interactive and should be a lively debate leading to great benefit in terms of sharing quick access to knowledge and experience, and create discussions and collaborations that can continue after the meeting closes. The focus will be on savings made, challenges faced and lessons learned.

Although the workshop is for waste managers the same route optimisation process can be applied to other service areas, such as: winter maintenance, street cleansing, mobile services like libraries, highways inspections, grass and hedge cutting, social care applications like routine home visits or school and day centre pick-ups or meals on wheels deliveries. Taking the knowledge gained from this shared learning workshop and sharing within your own organisation could greatly increase the benefits of attending the workshop in Llandrindod Wells. We look forward to seeing you there at 10am, if you don’t get stuck behind a bin lorry that is…

The Wales Audit Office and Co-production

Re-shaping services with the Public

How does the Wales Audit Office’s work fit in with the co-production agenda in Wales? On Tuesday I attended Working With Not To’s Big North Wales Co-production meet up! to share what we’re doing.

Finance

When I started thinking about co-production and audit I immediately started thinking about public service performance. But after we ran a shared learning seminar with the Society of Welsh Treasurers last Friday, it struck me how our finance work is equally tied into co-production. Participation Cymru’s All Wales Network was also taking place down the road, and despite the different subject matters, the Wales Audit Office report on Meeting the Financial Challenges Facing Local Government in Wales linked them together as “ineffective stakeholder engagement means that some councils may not be adequately reflecting the needs, priorities and expectations of their citizens.”

So co-production can help save money by targeting it where it can be used most effectively. But at the event I also pointed out that genuine co-production still needs resources to be successful. We heard a lot at our Land and Asset Transfer Shared Learning Seminar about how assets that had been passed on to town and community councils weren’t viable without the right support.

Council 2025: A vision for local government in Wales

A couple of weeks ago the Auditor General for Wales spoke at the Welsh Local Government Association’s Annual Conference and examined re-organisation of local government. I recommend watching the video below if you haven’t already as he asks some searching questions – where is the debate in Wales about what local government should be about? Where are the models of delivery and enablement that will help us deliver the value and quality that Wales needs?

He also looks at co-production in Welsh local government:

I carried out as you may recall a study on public engagement in local government a couple of years back. That found few practical examples of collaborative forms of engagement. Since then, I’ve seen very little evidence of a shift towards co-production, or as it’s often described, working with and not to.

The Wales We Want

Co-production is also a theme in the mid-term report of the Future Generations Bill. The bill presents a big challenge to public services, including the Wales Audit Office. The only way that we can audit in a way that’s meaningful and proportionate is by working with councils to co-produce a solution. We’ve already started doing that by using feedback from the Future Generation Bill Shared Learning Seminar in the work that Mike Palmer is leading on, and there will be more chances for public services to let us know how audit can be effective.

So what is the Good Practice Exchange doing to help?

In order to help public service organisations to get to grips with this, we’re holding a free seminar on Re-shaping Services with the Public. We’re practicing what we preach about working in partnership, and the event will be run in collaboration with Welsh Government, Welsh Local Government Association, Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Wales Public Service 2025, 1000 Lives Improvement Service, Wales Co-operative Centre and Good Practice Wales.

Sketch notes for the Wales Audit Office and co-production presentation / Nodiadau Braslun ar gyfer cyflwyniad Cydgynhyrchu a Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru

Sketch notes for the Wales Audit Office and co-production presentation

The theme of the event has obviously struck a chord, as next week’s event in Cardiff is fully booked, but there are still some places available for September’s event in North Wales.

The emphasis of the seminar is going to be on sharing practical experiences of how different relationships can help re-shape public services to deliver better outcomes. We’ll be using the #ReshapeServices hashtag on the day if you’d like to follow it on Twitter, and we’d love to hear from you about what’s working in your area too.

Dyfrig

All along the watchtower – #Scrutiny13

Scrutiny

Guest blog from Stu Hodges, Communications Officer, Welsh Local Government Association

Stu Hodges                           imagesCA1CH1I0

 “prepare the shield…set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth” -Isaiah: 21

Written by Dylan but popularised by Hendrix, ‘all along the watchtower’ blends this biblical reference from Isaiah within a song that both laments the confused nature of things, while also offering a firm resolve to seek out new roles and ideas.

We may have found our anthem.  The changing world that the scrutiny process operates within is confusing and, while it may not be biblical in proportion, the act of bringing together over 270 scrutineers at a conference on 28 November does mark a significant step in challenging this confusion and defining what role the scrutiny process should play in Wales.

A far more experienced and well-versed local government scrutineer has already outlined on this blog how scrutiny finds itself at a crossroads, and how it must shake off the identity crises of its ‘teenage years’ and define for itself a new maturity and clarity of purpose – perhaps one based on innovation, regulation and public engagement.

As a collaborative effort between the WLGA, Wales Audit OfficeCentre for Public ScrutinyWelsh Government and Cardiff Business School, the ‘Scrutiny in the spotlight’ conference will support this ‘rite of passage’ by exploring what the scrutiny function will need to look like if it is to meet the future demands of a dramatically changing public sector environment.

The event demonstrates the commitment that exists to ‘shine a light’ on scrutiny, and to evolve the scrutiny process so that it can play a leading role within a Welsh public sector that will need to manage significant structural change while developing new models of public service delivery.  All scrutineers share a common purpose, and the event will offer delegates a unique opportunity to pool collective knowledge and forge new ideas for improving the scrutiny process in Wales.

The need for reinvention is clear.  Scrutiny, now more than ever, needs to ‘come of age’, and it will have to do so at a time when local government is facing the most challenging period in its history.  A painful new financial reality has arrived, and it has done so with some force.  Demographic and wider societal trends mean demand for public services is on the rise, and there is widespread acknowledgement that things must change.   Yet I suspect that the scale and shape of the reinvention that is required will only really be known when the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery reports later this year.

It’s all about the timing.

An active questioning of the role and scope of the scrutiny process has already featured strongly in the discussions between local government leaders and Sir Paul Williams during the Commission’s evidence gathering sessions, and no doubt the growing impetus to reconfigure public service delivery will continue to raise a number of searching questions for both local accountability and local democracy in Wales.

By bringing together the right people, at the right time, the ‘Scrutiny in the spotlight’ conference will begin the crucial process of setting the “watchman”, and offers a timely opportunity to identify how scrutiny must adapt, evolve and reinvent itself to meet the significant challenges, and also the many opportunities that will exist in a dynamically changing Wales.

Anyone involved in the scrutiny process will know how crucial such timing is. The demands expected to be placed on local councils during the next period are significant, and will require an increasingly responsive scrutiny process that can operate in ‘real time’ and at the ‘front-end’ of the decision making process.  This in turn will increase the demands and expectations that are placed on our scrutineers.

While radical change will often require innovative responses, by definition, innovation stands as no guarantor of future success.  Scrutiny programmes and agendas will need to become increasingly focussed and prioritised, and the scrutiny process will have to offer early and targeted intervention if it is to help steer local councils through the difficult decisions that lie ahead.

Changing public sector structures will need to be matched with robust governance.  Changing forms of service delivery will need to demonstrate not only cost saving efficiency but be shaped by public expectation and need.  In a rapidly changing and open communications environment, every member of the public is now the “watchman” and has quite rightly joined the ranks of the scrutineers.  Rooting the reinvention of the scrutiny process upon innovation, regulation and public engagement suddenly seems a ‘none-too-shabby’ suggestion on where to start.

Ultimately, the question that needs to be answered during this revisioning process is one of how to meld the aggregates of scrutiny, regulation and good old fashioned public opinion into a systemised and collaborative approach.  This approach must “prepare” and position the scrutiny process as a “shield”, one that is wielded to protect the quality and diversity of local public services which are so vital to communities in Wales.

Cue the music.

Is Scrutiny about to come of age……….?

Scrutiny

Until recently, many people have considered Scrutiny in Welsh local government as the ‘poor cousin’ of the local democracy. It’s had a turbulent few years in finding its feet in 21st century Wales. Some members of the local government community have questioned the value of scrutiny and examples of effective scrutiny have often been difficult to find. However, I get the distinct impression that the recognition of scrutiny’s important role is about to come of age.

Over the last year, the Wales Audit Office has been working with Local Authority Members, the Scrutiny Officer community and others with experience of local democracy to look at how local government scrutiny is taking shape across the 22 councils in Wales. The Wales Audit Office decided to carry out this work because we believe that scrutiny has a very important role to play. When undertaken effectively, scrutiny can add a lot of value to local government. It can expose officers and executive Members to challenge, scrutinise policies, plans and decisions and form an important part of self-evaluation and performance monitoring. By undertaking these roles scrutiny can strengthen an authority’s governance arrangements.

When we started planning our work we asked the scrutiny community what they thought would most help scrutiny to develop. The response they gave us emphasised the need to share and learn from the different and innovative scrutiny approaches at different authorities. However, we must recognise that every authority is configured slightly differently and that a ‘one size fits all’ approach isn’t necessarily going to work. We therefore designed our work based on the principle of adapting what works to meet local circumstances, not the wholesale adoption of practice form elsewhere.

We did not undertake the scrutiny study using the ‘traditional’ audit approach of reviewing individual authorities, arriving at an audit opinion and issuing a report. We felt this study lent itself towards a peer review approach where Members and Officers would share and learn from each other and observe first-hand how other authorities hold their executives to account and support improvement.  It’s the first time we have conducted a study in this format and the feedback on out approach has been very positive.

The timing of the study was also important. We carried out our work during the first year of new council administrations following the Local Government elections of 2012. In some councils up to a third of councillors were newly elected. With so many new faces and people in different roles it felt like a good time to carry out the work. New Members could learn from the Members with many years of experience, but could also bring new ideas and question the way scrutiny had been undertaken in the past.

We also used the study to pilot a set of Characteristics of Good Scrutiny, which were being developed in collaboration with the Welsh Local Government Association and the Centre for Public Scrutiny. The study provided an opportunity to test and to fine tune the characteristics before they were finalised and rolled out more widely.

There is a strong drive for increased collaboration and joint working within public services in Wales. It’s a way of working that provides opportunities to deliver public services more efficiently and effectively. As well as planning and delivering the scrutiny study in a collaborative way, we tried to use the study as a vehicle to encourage councils to identify opportunities for joint working on scrutiny.

During the course of our work with the scrutiny community it became clear that there was a desire to have an event to share the learning on scrutiny that had emerged during the study. Alongside this the Welsh Government, Welsh Local Government Association and Centre for Public Scrutiny were all proposing to hold scrutiny events.  It therefore made a lot of sense to join together and work collaboratively to develop and stage a scrutiny conference.

The result is the All Wales Scrutiny Conference which will be held on Thursday 28 November 2013 at the SWALEC Stadium.  The aim of the conference is to provide local government officers and Members with:

  • A greater understanding of the changing role and the potential for scrutiny;
  • A clearer focus on where they can make improvements in scrutiny arrangements; and
  • Ideas for how they can drive change and innovation through sharing experiences and ideas.

We aim to achieve this by giving delegates the opportunity to share and learn from each other in a relaxed workshop environment.  We will also ensure that we capture ideas, suggestions and examples on the day and share this information widely online. This is the tried and tested approach of the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Team, who develop and run a series of shared learning seminars, often in collaboration with other organisations such as the WLGA, Chwarae Teg and CIPFA.

We also intend to use social media to encourage discussion and awareness within the Scrutiny community before, during and after the conference from across Wales. The hashtag for use in connection with any tweets sent is #Scrutiny13.

There will be a series of blogs from the Scrutiny Conference partners over the next few weeks. I encourage you to get involved and share your ideas and views on developing effective scrutiny in Wales.

Alan

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.