Exploring a Best in Class Offer through Cross-Boundary Service Redesign: Broadland District and South Norfolk Councils

Broadland District and South Norfolk Councils sought support from the LGA’s Housing Advisor Programme to develop a pioneering, shared service model for the single officer team who have been delivering the Housing and Homelessness service from January 2020.


What went in 

Priority area addressed:

  • Bringing together one officer team and one vision
  • Developing the blueprint for an innovative and preventative Housing and Homelessness service to meet the needs of people we serve in a post COVID-19 landscape.

Budget: £50,000

Other resource needed:

  • Officers from: Housing and Benefits team, Policy and Partnerships Team, Internal Consultancy Team, Senior Managers,
  • Public and stakeholder engagement.
  • Importantly a Joint Member Working Group throughout the whole process.

Time taken to achieve outcomes: 11 months

What came out

Deliverables

  • A shared vision and blueprint for best in Class housing services across two district councils and a quarter of a million residents.
  • A benchmark for joint working and innovation for the two councils and their new single officer team:
  • A shared IT system and aligned Allocations Schemes.
  • Suite of TA Operational documents for consistent approach.

Difference made/ indication of success:

  • Adoption of Allocations Schemes and commitment to work towards the shared Best in Class Housing blueprint by both Councils.

A statistic that evidences the above:

  • Unanimous agreement to adopt The Allocations Schemes in full Council meetings.

A quotation from a relevant stakeholder about their experience:

Councillor Fran Whymark said: “This is a great example of the benefits of working in partnership. Both Councils were already proud of the Housing Services they offered, but rather than being protective they were open and willing to learn from each other. We took the best from both services, and worked with our partners and consultants, to build a new sector leading, holistic system that focuses on outcomes and benefits, making sure residents get the support they need, when they need it.”

Cllr Fran Whymark – Portfolio Holder for Housing and Wellbeing, Broadland District Council

Councillor Yvonne Bendle: “I was really impressed by the openness and honesty shown during the design of this new, best in class service. The Housing Team consulted our partner organisations asking for detailed feedback. This allowed us to gain a clear and honest reflection of the services we were offering.

As a result, with the assistance and support of consultant Campbell Tickell our new service co-designed by officers, members, partners and customers has built on the already good services we were offering to deliver a truly holistic operational model.”

Cllr Yvonne Bendle – Portfolio Holder for Better Lives, South Norfolk Council


Executive summary

Broadland District and South Norfolk Councils are taking a leading and pro-active role in re-thinking local government. In June 2018 a feasibility study exploring potential for strategic collaboration and one joint officer team supporting two autonomous councils was published. It found that a shared services partnership could drive efficiency, strengthen partner working relationships and increase opportunities to deliver better value for our residents.

The new structure commenced in January 2020 and provided an opportunity for a clear process and policy for the Housing and Homelessness Offer, in addition to reviewing the service as a whole, creating something that was innovative, led to sustainable housing solutions and scalable on a wider footprint.

We worked with our consultants – Campbell Tickell to:

  • Redesign the Social Housing System
  • Explore the redesign of a Temporary Accommodation (TA) Pathway.

 

Absolutely key to the success of this work was the input and leadership of a joint working group comprised of cross party representation of members from both authorities including Portfolio Holders.

The outbreak of COVID-19 forced us to deliver the project remotely at a time of increasing demand and uncertainty, however it meant we could design a service that will meet the long-term challenges of COVID-19.

 

Challenge and context

Broadland District and South Norfolk Councils sought support from the LGA’s Housing Advisor Programme to develop a pioneering, shared service model for the single officer team who have been delivering the Housing and Homelessness service from January 2020.

Although two autonomous Councils with individual member cohorts, Officers work collectively on behalf of 260,000 residents across both district area with a geography encompassing an urban fringe, market towns and rural hamlets covering an area approx. the size of Greater London.

Areas of affluence across the districts can mask the difficulties of accessing affordable housing, with housing costs significantly at variance with average salaries. Rurality can also bring challenges through the provision of transport and infrastructure and issues of social isolation.

Both teams took a highly prevention-based ethos to resolving housing issues. However this was achieved by the use of the housing register which is not sustainable in the long term. In addition the councils had two different temporary accommodation offers, two different methods of allocating social housing; Choice Based Lettings (CBL); and Nominations and even different IT systems.

Further complexity and urgency was added by the outbreak of COVID-19, which has increased both the quantity and complexity of demand on the housing team, the nature of which continues to evolve and requires adaptability in our approach.

As councils we were at a point of reinvention with an opportunity to think smarter and achieve more. The Consultants; Campbell Tickell funded by the Housing Advisor Programme provided immeasurable added value through the provision of an impartial and nationally informed viewpoint and project management oversight.

The challenge for officers and members was to establish a best in class design and shared service pathway which; acknowledges the best practice across both councils; demonstrates efficiency and transparency; provides an excellent customer experience; and finally; is responsive to the circumstances during and following COVID-19.

What we did

This was a significant and highly inclusive project and drew on Council resources from a number of departments in partnership with a six strong expert team from Campbell Tickell. Initially the project team agreed design principles, helping to focus key outcomes and deliverables.

Following this we embarked on establishing a service baseline through the activities given below:

  • Approach - a cliff-edge service
  • Insight - demand, causation and needs
  • TA Provision review
  • Social housing provision review
  • Service user perspectives
  • Partnership perspectives

The project team looked at levels of demand and outcomes for applicants since the introduction of the HRA. It also explored demand for TA and if the current TA portfolios meet that need. Campbell Tickell subsequently worked with the Housing & Benefits team to develop a comprehensive suite of tools to enable the Councils to make best use of their TA provision and to identify opportunities to create a flexible accommodation pool that will enable us to meet need. 

The Social Housing provision review looked at the Council’s Allocations Schemes and processes by which people moved through the service. This was undertaken in conjunction with a service user survey of those who had recently been rehoused through either of the councils housing registers which received a response rate of 30% and indicated respondents are happy with the service but there were areas for consideration such as frequent contacts and re-banding decisions.

From this an Allocations Scheme was drafted which would underpin the resulting Accommodation Pathway and provided a single, transparent policy for service users, staff and stakeholders. This involved agreement on a shared process for allocating social housing properties, local connection criteria and priority banding.

One to one partnership interviews with RP’s and other stakeholders led by Campbell Tickell fed into the Accommodation Pathway which provides an overarching structure to the previous two project streams. The Pathway will deliver a holistic housing service to the whole community regardless of their immediate need. It aims to enable people to plan for long-term accommodation needs with a realistic options, whilst supporting those who reach a point of crisis to establish and sustain a suitable home.

As two independent council’s with established and different processes, there was considerable interest from both staff and members in terms of the direction of the service. The Joint Member Working Group, comprised of cross party representation across both Councils attended a series of workshops enabling them to engage with the different stages of the project and to build a shared consensus of the principles and structure of the new housing offer.

Originally scheduled for three face to face workshops, the scale of the project and the pandemic restrictions meant that this evolved into a series of eight zoom workshops over a four month period.

As the project developed, so did our understanding that continued member involvement was vital to the success of the project. With that in mind, we also developed a series of slides detailing the proposals available for members to discuss at their group meetings and held a number of briefing sessions open to all members prior to starting the formal approval process.

The difference we made

Members from both councils have unanimously agreed for us to continue to implement the Best in Class Housing Offer and the approach we took in terms of the joint member working group and the program of member briefings have been cited by members as the benchmark by which future shared service projects should be presented.

Having the opportunity to work with Campbell Tickell through the HAP funding meant that we were able to take a more comprehensive approach, over a shorter timeframe, particularly as we responded to COVID-19 at the same time. It also meant we could think bigger and develop a world class housing service that will change the culture and approach for supporting residents to find housing solutions. The model will enable the council to take a proactive approach to housing need at a time when we continue to see a sustained increase in demand from our residents.

Implementation of this best in class blue print will unlock ongoing efficiencies, most notably operationally through savings and re-focusing opportunities, based on implementation of the single, flexible operating model and efficiencies delivered through self-service and process digitisation, for example, through the near identical Allocations Schemes providing staff with a clear system and an opportunity for residents of both areas to access Social Housing in either district, and procurement of a single IT system which will see savings to the councils of £69,666 over a four year period.

What's next?

The project is just beginning. We are currently developing a number of work streams over an anticipated 3 year delivery plan to fully execute the vision behind the best in class housing offer including; the online Marketplace, introducing the TA operational processes and Allocations Schemes and developing the TA accommodation pool.

Working with stakeholders will be crucial for successful implementation in looking at the sustainment offer for new tenants but also as we look at opportunities for scaling up our model which can provide an income stream upon which we can develop further services.

Lessons learned

An unseen barrier was identified mid-way through the project in terms of the use of two different IT systems when trying to pull identical data. An exercise to compare different priority banding models on existing housing list applicants took over a month instead of a few days as planned and was a highly resource intensive and manual process. This was because of the difficulties in trying to extract information from one of the systems which then had a knock-on effect on the some of the other activities.

Having the drive from officers, members and Campbell Tickell to continue with the project during difficult circumstances meant that we were able to complete pretty much on time. Thanks to our IT team, we were able to move meetings online quickly and to continue as normal as possible. This actually speeded up the process as it allowed for easier and more frequent meetings.

Member engagement, from the early stages right through to the start of the approval process ensured that expectations for both officers and members could be considered and managed. In particular, the briefing sessions for all members provided space for officers to present proposals, including where there were changes from existing delivery and the time for members to scrutinize the proposals and to have queries resolved.

Ultimately, this member involvement has meant that we have been successful in developing a single offer that provides; clarity for staff, a best in class offer for the people we serve and a model for other local authorities exploring their own shared service potential but also maintains the individual identity of each council.


Contact

Victoria Parsons
Policy & Partnerships Officer
victoria.parsons@broadland.gov.uk