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Tuesday 8 January 2013

Council Leaders act on the lessons from Lyme Green


It has been a busy time over Christmas for the Leader and Chief Executive at Cheshire East Council, as they responded quickly to the findings of the independent investigation into the causes of the failure of the Lyme Green development project.

Although the Council last year put in place a comprehensive Action Plan to improve its systems, procedures, and staff training for project management, local people are eager to have a better understanding of what went wrong and to have the assurance that the Council has acted on the lessons to be learned.

As a result, the Council’s Leaders will shortly publish a report which will tackle the serious management failings identified by the investigator, by making bold and sweeping changes to the Council’s management structures and ways of working.

Leader of the Council, Michael Jones, explained that “Lyme Green has exposed serious weaknesses in our organisational culture, which are a product of the separate professional silos in our current management structure.   These have caused confusion and inefficiency and have led to poor decisions by some senior staff, because it was not clear who had authority to act and who was ultimately accountable for the success or failure of the Lyme Green development project.

“The lack of proper communication between different Council services, together with uncertain lines of reporting up the management hierarchy, has led to poor management of the risks involved.  As a result, public confidence in the Council has been dented and we must act swiftly to restore this.

“The investigator’s report reveals a culture amongst some managers where, regrettably, there was no clarity about what was required to ensure a successful outcome at Lyme Green, and a lack of care over important parts of the process involved, such as early consultation with the local residents affected by the project.

“Lyme Green required staff from a range of different services to work together as a team, but relationships between the different professionals involved were sometimes strained.  For this reason, necessary advice was sometimes neither sought nor taken at key stages in the project and, therefore, wrong assumptions were made as a result.  This approach also meant there was insufficient challenge over key decisions and judgements, with staff not having the confidence to question these or being too reactive.

“To cure these failings quickly, I asked our interim Chief Executive, Kim Ryley, to bring forward proposals for sweeping changes to the Council’s current management arrangements.  These are designed to make us more effective in the future, by reducing management costs and overheads, whilst improving service performance accountability for outcomes.  This will give the public better value for money.

The Council’s Chief Executive, Kim Ryley, clarified that “As Head of Paid Service, I have a statutory role to advise elected Members of the Council on the best form of organisational structure, and on the numbers and types of posts needed to carry out the Council’s functions, within the resources available to us.  It is clear from the Lyme Green report, and from other major changes affecting us now and over the next few years, that we need to boldly rethink how the organisation is led and managed, from top to bottom.

“My proposals will seek to break down outdated professional silos, so that the Council works as a single team, with greater clarity over shared objectives and the desired outcomes to improve quality of life for local people.  This has meant that a thorough and complete review of management roles and responsibilities at all levels is needed, and that necessary changes and improvements need to be put in place quickly over the coming months.

“The revised management arrangements will reduce the numbers of tiers of management, and will increase spans of responsibility to reduce the overall number of management posts by at least a quarter.  As well as reducing costs to protect frontline jobs and services, the proposed changes will clarify managers’ personal accountabilities and change working methods to strengthen integrated team effort and solutions across the organisation as a whole, so that everyone involved is clear of their role and responsibilities.

“The new structure will separate those whose job it is to design and purchase services for local people from those who are responsible for delivering services to them.  It will bring together related functions and types of expertise to provide a more seamless, joined up approach to our wide range of activities.  This will also have the benefit of making it easier for our local partners in the Police, Health, and Fire and Rescue Services – as well as for the public – to do business with us in the future.

Recently, some interim changes have been made which already move the council in this direction, and our managers are keen to have an opportunity to show that it is unfair to judge the council on the basis of past failings. I believe that this approach will be supported by our staff and the trade unions, by our local partner organisations, and by councillors, given the obvious benefits involved.

“Once the proposals have been agreed by Councillors, the first phase of the new structure affecting the Council’s top 40 staff will be in place by Easter, with the full management review being completed by the Summer.  The approach will be designed to keep and develop the skills and experience of our most talented managers, and to retain enough capacity to carry out the major programme of service changes and improvements the Council has planned over the next few years.”

Council Leader, Michael Jones, said that “Although the Investigator’s report must remain confidential, this report by the Chief Executive will provide the transparency that local people want about the causes of the Lyme Green project’s failure, and will demonstrate that we have acted swiftly and decisively on the lessons learned about the need for more effective management of such important projects in future.”

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