In conversation with Theresa Grant
Theresa Grant is the Chief Executive of Northamptonshire County Council and will be delivering the keynote session Balancing the books: Northamptonshire’s £165m challenge at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 26th June 2019.
Of all the financial challenges that face Northamptonshire which is the biggest one that you are keen to overcome?
Interestingly the biggest challenge to now overcome in Northamptonshire is more cultural than financial.
We have been successful in balancing this year’s budget which, given at one point the potential deficit stood in excess of £64m, is a remarkable achievement. We have also set a deliverable budget for next year.
What this means is that one of the key remaining challenges to overcome is to create a culture of budgetary rigour and savings delivery which the organisation has failed to do in its turbulent recent history.
So, while we have succeeded in stabilising and resetting the financial context of our budget, the work to transform the culture of the organisation to ensure this stabilisation is sustainable is the next challenge which simply must be overcome.
What will be the key tenets of your strategy to overcome the negative press associated with Northamptonshire County Council?
Combatting the inevitable negative media coverage, the Council has attracted should only be approached as part of a far wider communications strategy.
At the heart of this strategy should be ensuring our key stakeholders both within our county and the sector hear and engage with a new narrative about the organisation.
Communicating this through the media is of course one element. This will require moving the organisation on to a far more proactive footing than has been possible up until now and continuing transparent dialogue with key journalists to help us tell this new story.
But of course, in this age of self-publishing, it is not just about reaching people through the news media but also reaching over the media directly to people. The more content, case studies of transformation and examples of progress we can communicate directly, using our significant digital and community footprints, the more engaged our stakeholders will be with our story.
What long-term solutions will be put in place to prevent future financial difficulties?
I alluded to this in the first answer. As stated, there is a significant challenge to change the culture of the organisation to ensure budget delivery becomes entrenched.
As part of this we are putting in place a far-reaching Transformation Programme to ensure that services truly transform to be able to improve and still deliver outcomes despite a reduced budget context.
Much of this is around building an in-house capacity back into the Council. For too long the approach was to cut away at Council services and capacity. This has led to an over-reliance on expensive external support – whether through high numbers of agency staff or expensive contracts with external suppliers.
Our Transformation Programme is designed to build financial resilience, stability and continuous improvement into our services.
What are the main benefits of reforming the district structure to the two unitary authorities?
With reference specifically to Northamptonshire, the benefits of Unitaries structure would be to truly wipe the slate clean.
Understandably residents, businesses and people who use our services have felt let down by us and unitary governance would allow a refreshed beginning to this relationship.
More widely of course, the benefits of Unitaries would be the same as those benefits felt elsewhere. These would include more seamless service delivery, increased value for money for residents and enhanced transparency of accountability.