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RIEPing the benefits

Saturday August 22nd, 2009

By Miriam Deakin, Improvement Manager, RIEP Programme Office, IDeA

One year on, the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnerships are making strides in achieving efficiencies and improvements to services for citizens.

As the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnerships (RIEPs) enter their second year, they face new challenges in a more volatile economic climate with an increasing emphasis on supporting local authorities to accelerate their efficiency gains and help local people and local businesses in difficult times. One year into this three-year programme, there is no doubt that the nine RIEPs are building on a strong start.

The RIEPs have already repaid government’s initial investment of £50 million in the RIEP Programme in year one, reporting gains of over £100 million for 2008-09 with further efficiencies projected over the coming years. The Partnerships are also working with over 95 per cent of local authorities in England and offering tailored support to 36 authorities to help improve their performance in particular areas.

What are the RIEPs?

The RIEPs were created in April 2008 to build on the achievements of the Regional Centres of Excellence and Regional Improvement Partnerships, providing an integrated and sector-led approach to improvement and efficiency at the regional level. As a fundamental element of the National Improvement and Efficiency Strategy (NIES), jointly published in December 2007 by Communities and Local Government (CLG) and the Local Government Association (LGA), the RIEPs have been allocated a devolved funding package of up to £185 million to support local authorities to deliver efficiencies, improve services and incubate innovation. 

Crucially, the RIEPs are neither regional organisations nor quangos, but partnerships of the local authorities in the region and their delivery partners working together at regional and sub-regional levels to support efficiencies and improvements to services which make a real difference to local people. Local ownership of the improvement and efficiency agenda is central to their success – the RIEPs are led by councillors from the authorities in their region and know that they are accountable to local as well as central government. The Partnerships form a central part of a sector-led support for improvement and efficiency and work closely with national bodies in the LGA Group, such as the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA).

 Supporting partnership working in the East of England

Improvement East (the RIEP in the East of England)’s ‘Aspire 2 Perform’ Diagnostic Toolkit has been developed to provide Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) in the east of England with an opportunity to assess their capacity to deliver. The toolkit was designed to be sensitive to the needs of the region, with elements that relate to two-tier working in particular. For those who have used it, it can provide a regional ‘benchmark’ for LSP arrangements and early analysis has helped to inform LSP capacity-building support.

Improvement East has also been quick to respond to the opportunities provided by Total Place pilots and is supporting and sponsoring a number of other authorities in the region to simulate the activity of these ‘official’ CLG-sponsored pilots, to count public expenditure in county areas and to drive the cultural change needed to overcome the barriers to more joined-up and customer-focused services.

The road to success in the East Midlands

The East Midlands Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (EM IEP) is funding the Midlands Highway Alliance, a partnership of ten highways authorities and the Highways Agency which is projected to achieve efficiencies of around £11 million by 2011. The Alliance will further benefit communities by driving the improved design and delivery of large-scale highways projects. Currently, four highways contractors have been signed up to the medium-sized schemes works framework and 27 schemes have been earmarked. Savings will come from reduced procurement costs, a professional services partnership, and commodity purchases such as rock salt.

Efficiency and challenge in London

Capital Ambition is developing the innovative London Efficiency Challenge which will enable authorities across London to deliver further savings, share best practice from around the capital, streamline services to residents and provide better value for money. The approach is currently being piloted in the London Boroughs of Camden, Richmond, Havering, and Barking and Dagenham.

The challenge begins with the authority completing a self-assessment on performance in 25 key areas of spend, followed by review and challenge from a team of peers led by a Senior London Treasurer and delivered in partnership with the IDeA. The team highlights where the authority could find quick wins, as well as recording notable areas of practice and signposting the authority to good work taking place elsewhere that they could learn from. Follow-up support is then available from Capital Ambition to enable local authorities to make the changes needed to realise the potential efficiencies identified during the process.

Supporting local government reorganisation in the North East

One of the North East Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (NE IEP)’s first activities was to support the two areas of Durham and Northumberland in their transition from two-tier to unitary status. NE IEP helped the authorities through the transition by giving advice on structure and change management, as well as facilitating and funding a package of change management and leadership development for newly elected councillors.

Northumberland County Council has used RIEP funding to support an internal project. John Litherland, LGR Programme Manager of the Joint Implementation Team at the council, said: “The Joint Implementation Team for local government reorganisation in Northumberland has used the RIEP funding to add value to our in-house effort to create and embed the new vision and values of the unitary authority. By bringing in external advisors to work alongside our Culture and Change Team we have constructively challenged existing practices in the county and are embedding the new direction with all staff and members.”

NE IEP stays in touch with the authorities through regular roundtable meetings along with CLG and the IDeA to ensure it continues to support their evolving needs, particularly around improvement and transformation.

Supporting excellence for neighbourhoods in the North West

Empowerment is a key theme for the North West and complements its sub-regional structure whereby 60 per cent of funding is devolved to five sub-regions to ensure that service delivery supports local improvement needs. The North West Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (NW IEP) runs a wide-ranging support programme for empowerment and engagement at both regional and sub-regional levels.

One key achievement has been the development and roll-out of the North West Neighbourhoods Excellence Award, a new award scheme which has been developed by Neighbourhoods North West with the support of the NW IEP to inspire neighbourhood management organisations to achieve the national standard of Investors in Excellence. The scheme provides a bespoke framework for neighbourhood management organisations which drives improvement activities and recognises their achievements to date.

So far, two authorities, Blackpool Borough Council and Preston City Council, have piloted the framework and earned the Management Excellence Award. Benefits have included motivating partners to co-ordinate activity and deliver efficient services in response to local needs, and boosting the morale of staff and residents alike. The award scheme has now been launched for roll-out across the region.

New thinking in the South East

Improvement and Efficiency South East (IESE) has worked with colleagues in the West Midlands, South West and East Midlands to develop a care funding calculator (CFC) which is now widely used by local authorities and Primary Care Trusts to manage the costs of residential care and supported living for adults with learning disabilities, and to tailor care packages more closely to individual needs. Though initially developed specifically for learning disabilities, it is now being used successfully in other adult care services such as mental health, physical disabilities and sensory impairment. 

Led by IESE, the South East region alone saved over £3.6 million from the CFC in 2008-09. In addition to significant efficiency savings, the CFC supports local authorities to implement the ‘personalisation’ agenda as it tailors packages to individual needs. In fact, the tool is also helping to improve relationships with providers, as many see the CFC as providing a fair and transparent basis for negotiation.

Improving outcomes and reducing cost in the South West

Developed by five peninsular authorities in the South West, the South West Tendering project aims to entrench a new method of procurement whereby the needs of children and young people are more accurately and appropriately matched to independent sector placements.

The process consists of establishing a list of quality providers and then matching each individual placement against what support-based outcomes the provider states they can provide for the child. The South West Regional Efficiency and Improvement Partnership (SW RIEP) has provided key funding and support for the project which has achieved savings for authorities of £1.6 million to date, improved engagement with many providers and improved placement stability for children in care. 

Brian Grady, Head of Commissioning and Procurement at Children and Young People’s Services, Devon County Council, said: “The SW RIEP has enabled us to make an exponential leap forward in our commissioning practice, in particular in demonstrating links between choice and outcomes. With RIEP facilitation we have been able to design services and systems which have improved outcomes for children while achieving savings, and their assistance and support is greatly welcomed.”

Regional buying power in the West Midlands

Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands (IEWM)’s buying programme has been built on a strong legacy established in the 2004 Spending Review. In corporate procurement over £17 million of savings have been delivered to date, with almost £7 million of this being achieved in 2008-09 through encouraging collaboration to lever economies of scale and reducing duplication. Of the £7 million savings delivered in the past year, £4 million came from various commodity savings (home to school transport, insurances, banking services, salt etc) and £2.7 million from the West Midlands Procurement Hub and associated framework contracts.

The Regional Procurement Hub run by IEWM acts as a ‘one stop shop’ with ready access to over 270 ‘best deals’ – contracts and frameworks – which are growing monthly. On the Hub, local authority employees can find live contracts, procurement information, standard procurement documents and information about the events and training which IEWM runs to build skills in this area.

Paul Galland, Strategic Director for Environment and Economy, Warwickshire County Council, said: “Creating a collaborative procurement approach has already delivered cashable savings. With significantly more opportunities in the pipeline, IEWM provides an ideal forum for this to thrive and grow in a positive partnership environment.”

A regional response on climate change in Yorkshire and Humber

YoHr Space is the RIEP for Yorkshire and Humber. Its vision for climate change is to meet the needs of local areas in addressing climate change and prepare for its impacts, including the real risks from flooding in the region. Achievements have included joint working between YoHr Space and the West Yorkshire Leadership Academy on Climate Change to provide development support for officers and members, workshops on ‘mitigation and adaption’ and flooding, development of flood risk partnerships, development of practical toolkits authorities can use to support them in this key risk area, and funding for specific projects in the region.

The region is ambitious about creating a legacy of joint working on climate change, developing actions on long-term issues with targets already in place to 2050. YoHr Space sees its role as enabling local authorities to lead the region’s response.

What next for the RIEPs?

The RIEPs are an important element of sector-led improvement support, and have established local leadership of the improvement and efficiency agenda and reported encouraging efficiencies in their first year with more savings projected to come. 

Joyce Redfearn, Chair of the Chief Executives Task Group and Chief Executive of Wigan Council, said: “The RIEPs have proven they can be agile and flexible by assisting the sector to respond effectively to the economic downturn, and we have also made strides in supporting local authorities to deliver ambitious Local Area Agreements to collaborate on a wide range of innovative projects and on specific themed activity such as community empowerment.”

Well into their second year of delivery, the RIEPs are now geared up for the challenges ahead, including supporting local authorities and their partners to deliver on Comprehensive Area Assessment and looking to the next generation of partnership working through their support and involvement in the Total Place pilots. 

In the current economic climate, both central and local government face difficult times with demand rising for key services and the continuous pressure to make efficiencies. In this context it has never been more important for local authorities to work together, and the RIEPs will play a fundamental role in ensuring local authorities are providing the best value services they can for local people.

Councillor David Parsons CBE, Chair of the LGA Improvement Board and the RIEP Member Forum, said: “The RIEPs’ success shows that devolution and a sector-led approach to improvement continue to deliver. The RIEPs are central to enabling local authorities to deliver value for money services to their residents in a challenging financial climate.”

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