Total Place is another initiative with the weight of delivering ‘step change’ in local government efficiency and service improvement on its shoulders. While I am a fan of the Total Place raison d’etre, I always feel sorry for the next ‘big idea’ asked to make up for all of the past failed attempts to deliver ‘enough’ step change. Total Place has 3 workstreams; Counting; Culture (wouldnt ‘counter-culture’ have been a great theme?) and Customer Insight. Boiled down, they’re about working better together on things, agreeing to deliver better things for communities over a wider geographical area, and achieving the Holy Grail of ‘streamlining services to deliver savings’.
A colleague with responsibility for a Housing and Planning across one of the Total Place Pilots posted some detail about their work on our Managing Excellent Planning Services (MEPS) Community of Practice. I thought the least I could do was to see if MEPS could could help in some way. I nearly did what I always do. Read up, understand a bit more, talk to colleagues and say ‘yeah, our work is really relevant to what they’re doing’, and then DO nothing. So I thought I’d actually pay a visit to the Total Place in question and tell them what we are up to, find out a bit more about them, and then see if THEY thought what we were doing was ‘any good’.
The Total Place areas have big growth (lots of houses to deliver) agendas. They are then given a set of badges so that people really understand what they’re about. The one I visited, as well as being a Total Place, is also a Total Pilot, a New Growth Point, and part of a Three Cities and Three Counties Growth Point. We get the point, totally.
So I presented MEPS to a group of officers from 9 (geographically) neighbouring authorities, quite different from each other, and all with their eyes open which was refreshing. Their reaction was positive – they could see how the findings of a MEPS project would be useful for improving as individual authorities AND also in helping them them begin to see how joint delivery of services might look in the future. They also observed that, while the benchmarking aspect will only really be relevant to ‘groups within the group’, just agreeing to get involved together, despite being a group of unitaries, districts and a county, was a fantastic opportunity to ‘work collaboratively’ on something with the same mutual benefits.
I learned some valuable lessons as well – that the Total Place agenda, seems to have (in this place at any rate) created a strong appetite among the participating authorities to work together, and MEPS provides a neat, managable proposition and opportunity to do just that. This group made me realise that, while the power of MEPS lies in the benchmarking, and works best with authorities that share similar characteristics, working with next door neighbours that you get on well with is also worth a lot in terms of being able to organise yourselves quickly and getting going.
To quote one member of the group (and this is the bit that I want to see really fly) – ‘this is the first thing I’ve seen that makes me think that one day we really could get to a position where we could truly benchmark on a national basis’. I like it and agree. First though, I am keen to start some meaningful work with this group – they will be sounding out colleagues and I’ll let you know what happens.