7 reasons why local councils do not share best practice

Ian Gotts

I recently got a parking fine in Brighton, a seaside town on the south coast of Britain, and I was very impressed by their e-commerce system for paying or disputing the fine.

But I was then unlucky or stupid enough to get a parking ticket in my local town in a different county. It was an awful experience.

Which got me thinking.

The town, borough and country councils are not in competition and all have broadly the same core processes. So why don’t they collaborate and decide who has the best version for each process and then every council implements that version of the process.

Uh-oh. What does a parking ticket have to do with process excellence?

For example, Brighton has the best parking fine system, Havant has best refuse collection resource management, Winchester a really good council tax system and so on.

If this happened across the whole country then we could have local government with process excellence across the board. Think of the benefits. Firstly, the cost savings within every council. Secondly, the morale of council workers who are not having to fight poor processes and the resulting improvement in productivity. There are clear links between happy staff and productivity, as this article shows

Finally, the time saved by everyone who has to deal with the councils. Win. Win. Win.

And now is the perfect time, with councils under the most extreme budgetary pressure they have ever experienced. What greater driver could you need?


Such a simple idea. So why doesn’t it happen? Brainstorming with a few process professionals and we quickly came up with 7 core reasons:

Reason #1: Lack of long term view

This requires a strategy view and altruism from the top of every council; giving before you get back. The pressure on Chief Executives is for short term gains, quick fixes and PR stunts. Just like their bosses in government.

Reason #2: No clear incentives

This is a strange one. If you were at school and actively encouraged to copy the correct answers of the smartest kid in the class, who wouldn’t jump at the chance? The benefit in this simple example is clear. But for the council the financial benefits are more difficult to quantify. And who gets the credit is not the same as who has to make the effort.

Reason #3: Common language doesn't exist

Every organization uses a different language or notation for capturing process. So first they all need to agree on a common language so that the comparison and transfer is as easy as possible.

Reason #4: Comparing disparate processes is too difficult

Every council has defined their processes with different scope boundaries making comparison difficult, if not impossible. Plus how do you work out which process is true process excellence? Many processes are incomplete, out of date or have no supporting metrics.

Reason #5: Requires changing underlying systems

Implementing another organisation’s processes means changes to the underlying systems, or implementing the other organisation’s systems. This suddenly increases the scope of the effort.

Reason #6: Lack of central repository

There is no one place where all processes can be deposited, compared and downloaded. The central library of process models and supporting applications needs to be established.

Reason #7: Fear of job losses

There is a natural fear that more efficient processes requires fewer people and exposes the poor performance of the staff. Therefore staff will be resistant to engage and contribute: "turkeys voting for Christmas".

The list above is probably not exhaustive, but it covers the main issues. And whilst it is a long list, none of them are insurmountable. Certainly the prize is worth the effort.

One approach is that a higher body mandates the approach onto all the councils. They define the scope of the programme, the common language, how processes are defined, the underlying systems, and run the repository. It determines which processes are best practice and finally it sets targets for implementing them in each council.

This will take some longer term thinking, a strong thick-skinned character to run the central programme, relentless coaching and cajoling of the council Chief Executives, and the support of a process software vendor.

The high speed rail plan linking London with Scotland will cost £55 billion and will shave 45 minutes off the trip to Birmingham, by 2030. The common process approach will save everyone in the country way more than 45 minutes per year, will cost less and be delivered more quickly.

So what are we waiting for?