Behaviour change is a whole council problem

April 30, 2011

As councils draw breath from painful 11-12 budget reductions, Chief Executives are starting to turn their attention to the 12-13 budget. Demand management, and the behaviour change underpinning it, are starting to grab their attention. But quickly they come up against some tough questions: Will it work, can I afford to take the risk? And the killer question – will it really help me to save money?

Perhaps we need to turn these last two questions around. I think we can’t afford not to take the risk. And we have to make it work, because in many councils there isn’t anywhere else to go for 12/13 savings. So the next questions are: How do you do this? Who knows how to do this stuff in my council? Which services should I prioritise?

Taking service prioritisation first, I think we should prioritise big spending, core services like social care. If demand management is to make a real difference we have to start applying it to those services where the most financial pain is being felt. At a recent regional Chief Executives meeting I attended they said that that on current trends, local government would be delivering only Adults and Children’s services by 2020. This is an urgent, now problem.

Specifically which areas? Well, I would suggest picking services where the energy, enthusiasm, participation and cooperation of the individual or family is pivotal to the success of the service. To me this means big spending areas like home to school transport, particularly including transport for care clients, and preventative / early intervention services in social care such as reablement for older people and ‘Think Family’-type services.

A successful outcome is a combination of effort from the citizen and from the state, so the more we can understand the motivation of individuals to really make that effort count, the more productive our spending will be, and we will find opportunities to save money. And when it’s preventative services, this payback is all the more significant. We are starting to see significant savings opportunities (15%-20%) in the services we are currently targeting with our clients.

Who knows how to do this? Well, there is a growing set of experience, but here I would suggest that there are already some skills in some councils – but in the main they are concentrated in schemes which are now regarded as ‘nice to have’ now there isn’t any money left – e.g. such as getting people out of cars and onto bikes, or recycling, or reducing their carbon footprint – or community engagement though neighbourhood management.

Cost pressures in social care are a whole council problem, so Chief Executives will need to make sure their departments join up their skills and knowledge. Social care has experience in individualised, tailored personal service – understanding an individual’s needs, but doesn’t have as much experience at self-help. Other services have more experience at encouraging self-help, and getting people to do things differently – e.g. more recycling, community gritting, transport modal shift, but doesn’t have the personal touch. If we can take the best of both of these areas then we might have a chance of success.

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