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Jon Ainger

Which Councils Are Best? 2019

The publication of ‘Which Councils are Best?’ has become one of the biggest events in IMPOWER’s annual calendar, and generates huge interest from the local government sector (including today’s coverage in the MJ). People love a Top 10 list, of course – but actually we think the response also indicates the hunger in the sector for a better definition of what ‘good’ looks like given the complexity of the systems in which they operate.

As we argue in our new book, The EDGEWORK Manifesto, all public service systems are complex. Complex systems do not have linear inputs leading to repeatable outputs. That makes measuring performance and comparing results between different organisations much more difficult.

Coping with complexity

Many people respond to this challenge by narrowing down their focus to measure something very specific. But with Which Councils are Best?, we have gone the other way, and widened the lens. Only by looking at a broad range of outcome measures and by aggregating spending can we approximate the complex systems being run by local authorities. This EDGEWORK approach makes our analysis of productivity particularly powerful, because it shows that despite this complexity, some councils are significantly more productive than others, and are able to achieve better outcomes for people whilst also spending less money. Our list of the Top 10 most productive councils celebrates their success.

What is productivity?

Through the IMPOWER INDEX, we define productivity as outcome value for every pound spent. Using publicly available data, we measure performance against outcomes (per pound invested) through seven different lenses: children’s social care; older people; all age disability; health and social care interface; housing and homelessness; waste and recycling; and – new for 2019 – children with high needs. The INDEX scores each council for productivity through each lens and then ranks them. Councils in the Top 10 list achieve greater than average outcomes from a less than average spend per head.

Focusing on core business

Councils which make it into our Top 10 over multiple years are showing the best features of local government. They are consistently managing to deliver better than average outcomes for lower than average cost, and they are doing this across most or all of their systems.  They are demonstrating good, consistent management grip and driving improved performance despite complexity.  They are focusing on the core business of steadily (and determinedly) improving public outcomes.

To find out which authorities are in this year’s Top 10, see our Which Councils Are Best? report.

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