Performance management at Bath and North East Somerset Council

Bath and North East Somerset Council is using its new performance management system to inform decision-making and shape service delivery.

Performance management

The challenge

Prior to 2019, Bath and North East Somerset Council had experienced difficulties embedding a robust performance management system to drive, steer, and inform decision-making through regular and timely performance reporting. There were several reasons for this, including:

  • a lack of buy-in from council leaders and the senior management team
  • the council’s relatively stable financial position and generally good service provision
  • the removal of some mandatory central Government reporting requirements.

Consequently, there were no real drivers or incentives to encourage a performance management culture, meaning that performance management was viewed as a bureaucratic, resource-intensive and cumbersome process.

A new approach to performance management

In 2019, with the appointment of a new chief executive and senior management team, a new emphasis was given to performance management to ensure that the council could more effectively manage service provision. Further, the newly elected administration (May 2019) made it clear that they wanted the council to become more transparent and open, and accountable to its communities.

To achieve this a system and supporting processes were needed, in order to publicly report against the delivery of the council’s new corporate strategy for 2020/24.

In practice

The council quickly introduced a new framework and reporting regime, which has subsequently been implemented across the whole organisation. 

An integrated reporting framework (IRF): The council has developed its own in-house IRF which enables officers to monitor many aspects of the council’s delivery and performance. The framework is accessed through a dashboard-based online tool (Power BI) that allows the collection and monitoring of performance data directly from the council’s main business systems and is now used as the main tool for officers to measure progress. The IRF currently collects and monitors information on:

service performance through a set of agreed performance indicators

  • finance overview
  • risk management
  • contracts and commissioning intentions
  • corporate data and intelligence.

The IRF has over 200 performance indicators that officers use to measure council performance – many of these are of a statutory nature and need to be reported to central government. There are also a number of key local indicators which have been developed to allow the council to measure the delivery of services. The data is displayed through a set of dashboards showing service performance, targets, and trends and is updated both directly through online business systems (Liquidlogic, Uniform, and so on) and by manual input. 

It is possible for staff to view summaries concurrently. For example, an adult social care quarterly finance overview summary is also available on the adult social care performance dashboard meaning that performance and finance can be viewed together. This means that senior officers can draw conclusions around key aspects of service activity, performance and expenditure and their linkages.

Theme specific dashboards: These add value by pulling together all the relevant information about a topic of significance to the council in one place. For example, a dashboard has been developed for the climate and ecological emergencies policy, which is a core policy for the current administration. All the information about delivering the outcomes of this policy is now accessible to members and staff through this “one stop shop for data” approach. This enables more accurate and faster decision-making

Reporting performance to members: The IRF has over 200 indicators and this is considered far too many to meaningfully report performance to members through the democratic process. Therefore, a smaller strategic set of 22 indicators has been selected to allow members to focus on key areas of delivery, primarily focussing on the delivery of the corporate strategy. 

A strategic indicators report is presented to cabinet on a quarterly basis alongside the financial monitoring report, providing cabinet members with a holistic view of finance and performance. 

The report is currently presented to cabinet in a traditional paper report, but work is underway to consider whether the live Power BI dashboards could be used to present information at future cabinet meetings. The online approach has already been successfully trialled with the corporate scrutiny panel. The IRF is now being used as the hub for all key performance and finance data at the council and is a key tool in managing services. It allows directors to:

  • monitor both performance and finance in the same system, on a live basis
  • review and challenge the performance of their services
  • enable the better use of data for the development of annual service plans
  • ensure a comprehensive narrative and one ‘version of the truth’ is presented about the council and its area.

Factors for success

Most importantly, there has been strong senior leadership commitment to the IRF, aligned with a commitment to become a more evidence informed council.   

Appropriate resources to support the project were also critical. The council centralised business intelligence functions in 2019, allowing dedicated development resources to be deployed in the first year of the project. The work was then mainstreamed to the new corporate performance team (formed from existing performance officers across the council). 

Additionally, the data infrastructure was already in place as the council's IT team had previously invested in Power BI premium licenses, enabling content to be shared widely across the organisation.

The council has made good use of available support, actively participating in regional performance management panels organised by the LGA, which enabled the sharing of best practice and facilitated visits to other councils in the region. The development of the IRF has also made use of the LG Inform Plus API for drawing in national data sources to minimise manual handling, which has also aided data benchmarking.

The future

The council has several longer-term development objectives which include publishing the IRF on the council’s website to improve transparency and aligning performance reporting with programme and project monitoring, through the council’s new business change hub. It also intends to develop a greater focus on population level outcomes. 

The IRF is now the data hub for all key corporate data and evidence including risk, procurement and recently the council's new Strategic Evidence Base, which includes a joint strategic needs assessment (JNSA). Further enhancements and key corporate intelligence will be added over the coming months and year. It really is a “one stop shop” for all key corporate intelligence sources.

Contact

Steve Harman
Head of Corporate Governance and Business Insight
Bath and North East Somerset Council
steve_harman@bathnes.gov.uk