A record of action in Lib Dem led Torbay

Torbay Council is the sixth smallest unitary council in England with 139,300 residents, sitting on the beautiful Tor Bay – it is breath-taking, captivating and characterful. However, against that backdrop, we have residents in extreme need with significant levels of deprivation.

A row of houses in Torbay facing the beach

Gloomy skies are a thing of the past…

Torbay Council is the sixth smallest unitary council in England with 139,300 residents, sitting on the beautiful Tor Bay – it is breath-taking, captivating and characterful. However, against that backdrop, we have residents in extreme need with significant levels of deprivation.

In 2015 a LGA Corporate Peer Review highlighted the extent of our challenges, including financial viability, core leadership and governance issues, as well as ‘deep rooted and long standing’ challenges in Children’s Services.

We have come a long way since then, both in terms of enhanced performance, but also by establishing a culture of continuous improvement which provides solid foundations to achieve long term and sustainable success. The ‘tanker has turned’, everyone is on board and we are steering the right course to our final destination of a Torbay where everyone thrives.

Lead and learn 

We embrace challenge and we apply the learning. Our work with LGA, PAS, Local Partnership, Solace and others evidences that this concept is embedded in our leadership ethos and flows through to our empowered workforce, who in turn deliver that improvement.

We have reignited our drive on performance and risk, creating a culture of openness and honesty about where we are and what we need to do at every level to drive change.  We reintroduced service planning, empowering managers to take ownership and accountability to deliver improved outcomes.  

We recognised the need to engage with our communities differently, listening and learning from them. This resulted in publicly designed sea defence schemes, improved recycling services including the introduction of a garden waste service, initiatives that support climate change, improvements in town centres and investments in our sea fronts.

Stabilising the budget is a success in itself…which allows other successes to follow

As the Corporate Peer Review highlighted, Torbay had long been associated with the spectre of financial non-viability.  Our two social care services make up 76 per cent of our overall budget, therefore their financial stability is key to the Council’s overall position.

Historically we increased the budget for Children’s Services, which, coupled with a vision articulating a desire and need to improve every aspect of the service, delivered financial stability and significant improvements in service delivery. We recognised the need to make sure children were protected, whilst driving change by engaging, re-energising and upskilling the workforce, improving our performance management and quality assurance capability – all the time instilling confidence in others that this was not another false dawn. 

We  worked through the implementation of our vision, including a new restorative practice model; delivering on Improvement and Sufficiency plans and the creation of our Learning Academy, which all culminated when Ofsted arrived in March 2022 where they highlighted the “strong political and corporate commitment”

The achievement of ‘Good’, in the context of our history was significant, but even more so in the knowledge that at the same time we were able to make significant budget savings. 

In Adult Social Care, we have a long and proud history of integration which continues with the acute Trust delivering the service on our behalf. In March 2022 we signed an extension to the integrated arrangements, providing the Council with a fixed cost arrangement for a further three years. With partners we continue to be at the forefront of innovation, focusing on a co-designed asset-based approach.  A radically re-designed front door is being delivered by the Community and Voluntary Sector through a community helpline which started life during the pandemic. The results are overwhelming; from a sample of 242, the majority were diverted to community and voluntary services.  For 47 needing formal help, the level of help was lower thanks to a dual approach between statutory and community/voluntary services meeting their needs. 

The level of stability achieved in these budgets has allowed reinvestment in our place-based services, which we know are the services that residents often value the most. Through the creation of our wholly owned company, SWISCo, we are delivering improvements in our waste and recycling – with consistent collections and a wider range of services to improve our performance, alongside improvements in our public space operations, addressing a decade of under-resourcing of the service.  We currently have a key focus on driving up performance in our Planning Service. 

Partnership working improves outcomes 

We have re-invigorated our Strategic Partnership, coming together to  develop the “Torbay Story”, a fresh approach to be ‘place’ led in everything we do. Our Torbay Story - Launch - YouTube

As a ‘place’ we have a clear, forward-looking and shared story for Torbay, providing focus for development and promotion. Through the Place Leadership Board, the Town Boards and Champions programme, we have broadened the leadership of our ‘place’ - all helping to put Torbay on the map, highlighting the great opportunities we offer to attract investment and create jobs.  

Whole Council Transformation

Through our Council Redesign programme, we are modernising, simplifying and standardising how we work to support the communities of Torbay to build a resilient council fit for the future. The programme ensures a coherent and joined up approach to change and fundamentally addresses our operating model.  We’re working together to redesign our system and organisation, including the technology we use, so that we create room to transform how we engage with our communities.  We’re developing our role as a gateway to services across the Bay, enabling our people and economy to thrive. 

Putting Torbay back where it belongs

The LGA Remote Health Check from May 2021 recognised “this is a really exciting time for Torbay, with a focus on transformational changes in the Council and ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity’ in the regeneration of Torbay as a place. The authority is undoubtedly making good progress and there is much to be proud of.” 

We continue to build upon the foundations the LGA observed to make sure that we secure a brighter future for Torbay and its residents, and we are now proudly supporting other authorities with our officers and politicians sharing our experiences and learning.