In a Revenues and Benefits shared service and partnership environment, engaging with existing and prospective partners to work together leads to the same question: “How are we going to factor in the national reforms to the benefit system and the migration of Housing Benefit to Universal Credit?”
Without directly quoting Donald Rumsfeld and his famous Known Knowns speech1, which is relevant to a point here but not quite the full fit, we do know about the unknowns and we know it! We just don’t know the exact local delivery role in this known.
Of course, we also have some genuine unknowns that only complicate our local planning further. And then of course we have the known areas of future delivery and there will be pressure to deliver efficiency and maximise income generation here in the future as well.
While wrestling with this, the drivers for partnership remain the same: “save money and maintain or improve performance for our service users”. However, the question of reform often causes concern in terms of how to deliver these objectives, while so much about the timetable, and final role for welfare locally, remains unclear.
The strength of delivering in collaboration
What is clear is the relative strength of being a member of a partnership, in order to achieve a better outcome in delivering transitional reforms. The resilience provided through the larger scale of a shared service operation during periods of change should also not be under-estimated.
The Government’s Universal Credit programme, unlike other recent national reforms, switches the emphasis from localisation to one of centralisation for working age benefits, including housing benefits and, perhaps in the future, local Council Tax support.
This in itself takes away some of the local delivery aspects of administrating these benefits directly, but potentially leaves some serious issues behind during the early part of the programme and indeed for the future.
The table over the page provides some of the strategic questions being faced at a local level, also from the point of view of collaborative working in the short-term.
All of these themes are being addressed at a local level and most of the time are not preventing collaboration, however many councils are faced with making the decision to invest time and effort into exploring the wider sharing of services, while at the same time working with these “known unknowns”.
With the Government announcing both support for the cost of potential redundancies as the full rollout on Universal Credit commenced in May 2016 and at the same time hinting at further localisation of some other state benefits, particularly Attendance Allowance, the “unknowns” are set to continue.
Again, this points to decisions on scaling down services before all of the aspects of local delivery are known.
So what should we be doing?
Firstly, we should focus on making efficiencies through collaboration, alongside the “known” service areas such as Council Tax collection and the increased emphasis on maximising income from business rates, with 100% retention on the horizon.
This focus, whilst also managing difficult transitions effectively, will keep our services at the forefront and highlight the innovation and efficiency we continue to deliver.
This in turn will only emphasise on a national platform, the strength of our collaborative working and the benefits to be found in supporting local authorities to be a large part of continuing to deliver valuable welfare services – locally in support of local people.
Please download the PDF of the article to view the ‘Opportunity/Pitfall Matrix for Partnership Working’ diagram