Julia Ross, a former Director of Social Services who now runs the Pi Benchmark division on Care and Health, reports on a success story…from Haringey
Good local news from Haringey. Michael Wood who is head of corporate procurement there, explained how the Council had managed to use a new data analysis system to identify £250,000 of actual savings and to uncover a potential £2 million more. Unlike many central and local government techno solutions which cost an arm and a leg but deliver rather less, Wood said Haringey had spent around £20,000 to save council taxpayers and local residents hundreds of thousands. “A ratio of over one to ten isn’t a bad start,” Wood said. And this is only the tip of the iceberg
Taxpayers and voters will be looking to their local Council to follow the example of Haringey and others in identifying these savings. Democratic accountability now has to be fit for purpose, especially in the light of recent policy changes on publishing the details of all council expenditure of over £500. Councils that insist
on business of usual may well face the ire of their local electorate, the press and the blogosphere, who will demand real transparency. .
How does this latest software work and why doesn’t everyone use it ? The Procuretrak tool is simple to use but highly complex in its data sorting. One of the immediate practical results for Haringey was that it sent out messages to search and find duplicate invoices. The sheer volume of transactions makes this virtually impossible for most current systems. Many Councils believe they can do this inhouse themselves, not realising the power of new tools that are now available.
Achieving this is way beyond simple analysis. It doesn’t sound like rocket science but it took economists a long long time to develop it into the Haringey solution we have now. We all “go compare” these days whether we are entrepreneurial meerkats or not – but for businesses and large organisations it is rather more complex than that.
Wood is sensibly analytical and practical. Back in Haringey, he explained that the use of the new system allowed them to make some interesting discoveries. “We discovered we used bottled water from 14 different suppliers, that we still used bottled water was bad enough but 14 different suppliers at 14 different prices was not acceptable” he said. But PI’s Procuretrak software does more than allow companies and local authorities to rationalise their supplies of Perrier. This software will help Councils abide by the new
and changing legislation on greater transparency.
The main benefit, however, was much more strategic, Wood explained. It allowed Haringey to get a complete overview of what was being spent by departments on what. Far more important than water was the question of agency staff and consultants for example. The use of a good analytical tool also has psychological consequences. The culture of efficiency now required in Local Government now permeates to Councillors as much as officers.
Officers who want to spend money know that budgets are transparent and can be analysed by others and of course challenged by Councillors. Wood explained that when budgets were being decided and justified, they were able to look at the complete spend of every department – and analyse. Responsible officers were sometimes surprised by the opportunities being presented by seeing the data in a holistic way – and it gave them good ideas for where to save.
For Wood, the key difference of Procuretrak from older analysis systems is that whilst other systems could be helpful in identifying problems and issues, these systems did not go far enough to empower the user in coming up with the answers and specific action steps to realise savings.
Procuretrak, Wood argued, also made it possible for north London boroughs of which Haringey is one to see where they could co-operate to make savings. He thought that was a very promising form of future cost efficiency. Eric Pickles makes a big case for collaboration and shared services being the obvious way to seek future savings .
Councils who start to use this type of product will be at the forefront of the changed culture . Knowledge is power and especially power to effect change in trying times.