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Stoke-on-Trent City Council (the council) appointed Pennington Choices to provide independent and impartial advice and to support the council to manage a detailed options appraisal of the delivery mechanisms for the future provision of the Council’s housing and public buildings repairs and maintenance services. At the time, their arrangement with Kier-Stoke was less than two years from expiry. The commission set out specific requirements that were split in to two parts as follows: Part A: Support the delivery of a robust options appraisal of four identified delivery mechanisms; Support and inform a clear and costed recommendation for how the council should deliver the repairs and maintenance services when the current arrangement ends in February 2018; Support and inform the development of an implementation plan for the preferred option identifying key milestones and the resources required. Part B: Support council officers, as required, to develop the preferred option; Support the reporting process through Cabinet and ready the council for implementation once the preferred option is approved by Cabinet.

The Challenge

The Council wanted Pennington Choices to evaluate and appraise four potential delivery mechanisms, cost and design the implementation of the most suitable one, and support the delivery of the recommendations to the Council’s Cabinet. In doing so, we were required to understand the merits and shortfalls of each option, as well as evaluate how well they would operate in reality when considered in the context of the Council’s long-term strategic objectives. When establishing a view of how the future service should operate we understood the importance of defining objectives which were locally relevant, achievable and cost effective. For example, it was important that tender opportunities were promoted to Stoke based small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and that the local supply chain was engaged as part of the chosen delivery mechanism.

What We Did

A phased approach to the study was deployed, which was undertaken collaboratively with a group of senior officers, connected with the service. In summary this involved: Developing a clear, shared and agreed vision for the sort of service that the council wants to operate in the future. The intention of this is to be specific, clear and precise, while local and relevant, taking into account local constraints and issues. Reviewing the existing service using a combination of analytical tools and assessing the capacity of the organisation to change and meet the vision. Determining the ‘gap’ between where the service is and where it wants to be. Evaluation of the options for closing this gap and more generally meeting the ambitions of the council as set out in the brief. Drawing conclusions, reality testing these and producing the outputs required by the brief. The report we submitted to the Council then allowed them to consider the future of the service at a strategic level, whilst gaining an understanding of the present service and the challenges that it faces. In doing so, the Council would be able to choose the best option address these issues and hence take the service forward and meet the needs of tenants and the Council’s wider corporate ambitions. The report was also supported by a technical appendix that contained a detailed financial analysis of the current services performance against that of other comparable organisations. The analysis covered the following areas: Cost review of direct and indirect costs across various applicable work streams. Benchmarking analysis specific to direct labour organisations and commercial organisations carrying our similar activities. Productivity analysis of current performance vs. optimal expected performance.

Our Achievements

The principle aim of this piece of work was to provide the Council with an idea of how to best deliver their new repairs system based on all of the considered options. Our final report presented a detailed theoretical, financial, and operational analysis, which allowed each option to be studied at a strategic level. The resulting recommendation was that the Council should establish a wholly owned subsidiary to deliver their repairs and maintenance service. Our concluding recommendations were organised in to a number of key themes which had to be addressed in order for the new arrangement to succeed, these were: Service delivery arrangements Format of the Wholly Owned Subsidiary Service offering Implementation By evaluating the recommended option in conjunction with the Council’s vision, objectives and priorities, as well as the current commercial model, we were able to help Stoke to fully define the goals that would achieve their desired outcomes, and in turn what the most appropriate delivery model would be. As a result the Council were able to make an informed and evidence based decision whilst knowing that the relative advantages and disadvantages of each option had been appropriately analysed, and the feasibility determined. Since its inception, Unitas has received a lot of positive coverage in the media and we are proud of the role we played in making this happen. Steve Wilson, the Operations Director of Unitas, recently stated in The Guardian that staff productivity had risen by 15% since the creation of the WOS. Whilst Carl Brazier, the Director of Housing and Customer Services, reported to Inside Housing that the cost of repairs per property had dropped from £1171 to £870 within the first since months of Unitas being launched, which represents a saving of 26%.