The Long Read: Could Computer Algorithms & Robots Run SDC More Effectively & Efficiently?
At the start of April 2016 Shepway District Council (SDC) employed 385 people; by March 2017 this had slightly reduced to 374. SDC will soon be in a position where it will raise 100% of its finances locally, spend it locally and invest it locally. This will inevitably mean SDC has to become a smaller, flatter, leaner and a more agile structure according to the philosophy of “Transformation“; which at SDC is led by Cllr David Drury Monk and Tim Madden (s151 officer) & Corporate Director – Organisational Change.
On the 31st March 2019, the Central Government Revenue Support Grant SDC receive will end. While their resources may reduce they will still have to deliver value for money, ensure cost effectiveness in the services provided and make best use of their resources and assets.
The transformational effect for the officers of SDC is to learn to do more with less, or the same. SDC must transform to plug a £6.5 million deficit by 2021. Every penny raised locally, spent locally and invested locally counts as it helps the services SDC provide to us. That’s why tax evasion and avoidance in Shepway hurts us all, the less they pay in, the more we have to pay.
SDC have already begun their transformational Journey. On the 14th May 2014 SDC incorporated Oportunitas Ltd, their commercial company which has bought property/flats and rented them out. SDC have also recently acquired former Chief Excutive of Ashford Borough Council John Bunnett (pictured). John will become the new Corporate Director of Commercial Services and will bring a breadth of commercial experience to SDC, according to the press release.
Digital transformation is also happening at SDC, who recently introduced new self service machines at the Civic Centre. SDC in co-operation with their main ICT Contractor, Sopra Steria have identified realizable savings of up to £600,000 per annum – based on 60% automation.
Sources inside the building say that Transformation = cuts and job losses. There is fear, palpable fear in the building and staff who are not senior management are thinking “Is my job next to go.”
In the latest Risk Register both Tim Madden Corporate Director – Orgainsational Change & Cllr David Drury Monk with responsibility for Overall Strategy and Leadership of SDC, have recognised
“There is a risk to the Council that the Council will not be able to attract and retain those officers who have professional skills which are essential to the delivery of the corporate plan”
To prevent this senior managers have developed a network of specialist agencies that can commission consultants and provide additional support. The result will be a pool of resources which the council can call on if necessary with faster lead in time than using standard recruitment methods each time. Consultants on the list will still be subject to the council’s usual procurement and contract standing rules. So in short SDC are using recruitment agencies to employ permanent and temporary staff.
This outsourcing of recruitment SDC has implemented has so far cost them 65% more when compared to the same period last year.
Is a 65% increase in costs for temporary staff value for money, cost effective and best use of SDC’s resources and assets? Would Cllr David Drury Monk or Tim Madden Corporate Director – Organisational Change, like to comment?
SDC have said in their traditional purple font they will refocus the Council around us the customers, voters, tax payers. It cost SDC £60,000 for the consultants from Ignite to tell SDC how to refocus, meaning SDC had lost its focus on us its customers presumably.
When you ask staff to do more with less, this increases the pressure and stress levels. One has to equip one’s staff by investing in training to make them multi skilled. In Nov 17 SDC spent £6,207 on training, that’s £16 per employee on average. However, not every member of staff received training in Nov 17. Increased pressure due to lack of training can increase stress levels on staff. Not every one is a pressure junkie and we all react differently to stress. Stress in a changing organisations can and does lead to absenteeism and sickness levels rising. Perhaps sickness and absenteeism played a part in November’s Temporary Staff Costs to rocket to £180,000.
Or was it because SDC have employed more short term staff due to the vast quantity of Strategic/Major Developments ongoing across the district, such as Otterpool Park, Princes Parade, Martello Lakes/Nicholls Quarry, Folkestone Seafront, Shorncliffle Garrison, Sellindge Village Expansion, Urban Sports Park, New Romney Broad Locaction.
SDC must evolve and adapt like all other companies and organisations. It is not immune from the new forms of mechanised labour which are and will transform our working worlds here in our beautiful district and beyond.
So could computer algorithms and an army of friendly C3PO’s and R2D2’s run the council more effectively and efficiently?
Can Robot Automation Processes make humans at SDC redundant? Yes it is already happening, ask those who left the Revenue & Benefits Team, the reduction in staff in the call centre where waiting times on the phones have risen for customers.
SDC have said in Report C17-67 Appendix 1 increased waiting times for phones to be answered rose in April, May & June 17. They say in the report:
“Due to volume of calls received in Q1 and resource issues the target of 3 minutes was not achieved.”
Between April – June 17, SDC received 33,612 calls and answered 26,883. So 1 in 5 calls went unanswered. That’s 20% or 6,723 customers who did not get their calls answered. How is that making best uses of their resources and refocusing on their customers when they’re not even talking to them? And what about those resourcing issues which were mentioned. We make it clear that the SDC staff who answer the phones are exemplary and excellent at what they do with the resources they have. The issues of 20% of customers not being answered when calling the Council are management issues, not call centre staff issues. Could algorithms or Robotic Process Automation (RPA) have made better decisions than the management regarding the streamlining of SDC’s call centre?
Technology is only as good as those who are using it; and what with SDC spending £16 per employee on average for training in Nov 17 – and not every officer received training, SDC really do need to invest in more training for all their staff.
Might we try a computer algorithm to see if it could make better decisions to bring those temporary staff costs down, as those responsible, for the transformation of SDC, Tim Madden Corporate Director of Organisational Change and Cllr David Drury Monk seem to have no clue in managing the financial resources and assets of the Council.
Could a computer algorithm have helped Report AuG 17-11 reduce the risks, resources and assets of SDC? The report highlights the fact that;
“The percentage of retrospective purchase orders (RPO) for the Council as a whole was 20% or 1 in 5. Since monitoring the use of RPO’s began their numbers have fallen to between 8-15% across the Council.
To understand why Retrospective Purchase Orders can have serious negative consequences for SDC, we first need to understand what a Purchase Order (PO) is.
A PO is a confirmation note from SDC to a supplier to deliver goods or services. It is a document created by SDC that officially authorises the purchasing transaction, when accepted by a supplier, this becomes a binding contract between the parties.
The correct order for a PO can be best summed up thus:
A Retrospective Purchase Order works like this:
The sequence above is exactly what SDC have done in 1 in 5 cases, or 20% of the time. It should NOT be doing so. Best practice should be i.e. invoice is created by supplier based on PO received from SDC.
There are negative consequences and effects of RPO’s and these are just a few.
Lost savings on negotiated & contracted price, discounted items and volume aggregation – thus making purchases more expensive in some cases for SDC.
Savings leakage across SDC as a whole.
Lost control & compliance over the purchasing process, increasing chances of fraudulent purchases, potentially leading to unintended liabilities for SDC.
50 staff are going over the next few years . Don’t need the Indians only fat cats