Merger transition thinking and action has commenced. That means it’s time to look to the horizon and imagine the future state of councils. Yes, there will be an enormous resource burden on the transition activities but we can’t operate in isolation from the broader and future organisation and community requirements.
Whatever our views on the government’s merger proposals, at the end of the day, reform is a political process. However, as leaders of local government you are able to influence decisions and the future form of local government by what you do. Despite the recent uncertainty with proposal and counter proposal we believe you should be considering both:
- what can be done now; and
- what the future Council and its community will look like
What can be done now?
Any merger will only be achieved through a huge amount of work and clever prioritisation of time and resources. Our experience suggests that you need to start with a prioritised plan tailored to your individual situation. There are many plans with most having a similar process, including the DPC approach.
Given the current uncertainty and importance of not wasting resources we think you should concentrate on what we call the ‘discovery phase’ to create a known base that will assist regardless of what’s next.
What the future council and its community will look like?
Defining the council of the future, the community and the new organisation, along with the key support tools, resources and guiding principles that will guide the transition process is fundamental to success.
The key challenges and opportunities will centre on delivering the council of the future to an engaged and satisfied community, and the change processes should be built around that. Some things to keep in mind include:
Cultural integration and harmonisation
- Essential to recognise and understand the stages/emotions that staff will go. Individuals and teams with be affected differently and progress at variable rates, and others will opt out
- This impacts directly on service standards, morale, leave levels and performance
- Comprehensive workforce strategies, programs and support needs to be in place
Benefit realisation in a political environment
- How do we quantity, measure and capture the benefits? The new council and councilors will have their own priorities and agenda
- Where is the value for money to the community? The latest from the Auckland Council merger suggests that $1.24 billion has been spent on IT since it was formed in 2010 - the original transition estimate was some $70m
- Might benefits be enshrined into the proclamations or some other mechanism, as was effectively the case in Victoria and Auckland?
Service efficiency and organisational performance
- In an environment where costs are being incurred through the mergers, where revenue is constrained by the rate peg and four year rates restrictions are in place, councils will have to look internally at ways to improve efficiency
- How services are delivered will need to be explored as a means of driving organisational performance
- Perhaps the most significant opportunity is digital transformation
- Digital transformation is also about accessibility, consistently high data quality, expansive service provision, engaged and satisfied customers. The mergers are a catalyst to accelerate this opportunity
- Successful digital transformation is driven by a focus on understanding the end user and how they are supported to adopt and embed new ways of engaging with council services and business systems
- Implementation of the technology in and of itself will not deliver the benefits anticipated without considering how to enable users to understand the systems and feel motivated to do so
- Change management of the very highest quality is required