Just do it - it was this approach that won a public sector organisation this year's overall honours plus a special Engaging People Award, sponsored by the Institute of Customer Services (ICS). In view of the financial constraints imposed by local government, the performance of Bromley Council's Environmental Health and Trading Standards (EH&TS) division is even more remarkable. Led by chief environmental health officer Richard Foulger, the EH&TS concentrates on the possibilities of delivering excellent service and provides a model of innovative service provision for public and private sector alike.
The two other finalists - Foxdenton School and Integrated Nursery, a primary school for pupils with special needs in Oldham, Lancashire and the Riverside Cheshire Division of the Riverside Housing Association - are further examples of high-level service provision in the public sector.
They were unlucky to find themselves measured against the EH&TS, which continues to dominate this category - winning it for the third year running.
The EH&TS was created to ensure fair standards of training, enhance the environment, and protect and promote the public health of the borough's 300,000 residents and visitors. The remit of the EH&TS covers everything from noisy neighbours to stray dogs, and demand for its services is increasing.
With only 88 employees and shrinking budgets, the EH&TS has had to learn how to do more with less. The answer, says Foulger, is innovation.
Innovative describes many aspects of service provision in this organisation.
Over the past eight years, Foulger and his staff have put in place the processes, procedures and measurement systems to ensure their goal of Total Quality Service. The organisation has gained Chartermark Awards, ISO 9000 and Investors in People and recently adopted the Business Excellence Model in a bid to ensure consistent standards of service delivery. Having achieved that consistency, the EH&TS has turned its attention to developing new relationships with its customers and partners: the EH&TS 'customer base' includes more than 1,000 traveller families living in the Crays area of the borough; over 2,000 refugees; and an above-average proportion of residents aged 75 or over.
The EH&TS has recently introduced several new methods of gaining feedback from its more disadvantaged customers. Among its traveller families, for example, it conducts surveys in partnership with local residents. The EH&TS also supports a number of special projects using the creative arts to give local people a voice in developing a vision for their community's future development.
To address the needs of specific customers such as the elderly or minority groups and make more of its limited financial resources, the EH&TS develops many of its services in conjunction with partners and other local interest groups. Examples of these initiatives include the Crays Community Forum - a multi-agency strategy development group; 'Food Hygiene Training' for the voluntary sector - a joint initiative with Age Concern, MIND and Bromley Council Voluntary Services; and a multi-agency group developing policies for dealing with difficult neighbour relations.
Enthusiasm for change and new ways of working permeates the EH&TS organisation.
The division's 'Just Do It' philosophy works in practice because staff have the skills, training and experience to tackle customer challenges and the encouragement from Foulger and other managers to develop new customer initiatives which they believe will work. In the past year, as the result of a review of its services, the EH&TS has introduced self-managed teams supported by project managers, specialist consultants and a small management team.
'Our partners now find it easier to merge into our organisation and this way of working provides us with the flexibility to react quickly to changing demands such as the need to shift resources into a particular geographic or service area,' Foulger explains.
Greater operational flexibility combined with a responsive and creative team of people will, Foulger hopes, give the EH&TS the capability to do much more than its customers expect. Foulger wants to extend the horizons of his organisation by taking a more holistic view of what impacts on people's health. The next goal is to help develop healthy neighbourhoods. Proving again, as one judge noted last year, that this is one organisation that simply refuses to stand still.
- Develop partnerships with other agencies
- Make it easy for customers to give feedback
- Encourage a 'just do it' culture
- Adopt flexible working practices
- Set stretching goals of service provision.