These are challenging times for cities across the UK and the world. Our cities were built to house and serve the industries that thrived in that location, be it mining, milling, ship building or manufacturing. For many cities those trades no longer exist or have shrunk and a city cannot undo its past and return to a village, so rejuvenation and re-invention has been a theme of the last 30 years and in this age of austerity will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Coventry remains an important manufacturing community for the British economy, home as it has been for over 100 years to luxury car maker Jaguar. Although Jaguar Land Rover continues to perform strongly, overall car manufacturing has shrunk in Coventry with brands like Talbot now a distant memory and Peugeot having returned to its French heartland.
“The city is determined to improve its offering to residents and visitors,” says Kevin Malone, Assistant Director of ICT at Coventry City Council. The IT leader is at the forefront of an organisational and community driven transformation program in the midlands city.
“Coventry is very proud as an Olympics venue and is determined to punch above its weight as a compelling investment opportunity for the business world,” he says. Malone outlines how Coventry has a history of rising from ashes; the city became a manufacturing heavy weight despite its proximity to Birmingham, once the workshop of the world, suffered terribly from the blitz in World War Two and became a major manufacturer again in the post war years. The Coventry Transport Museum drives home the message that if it had an internal combustion engine and went places, Coventry built it. Today the city is also becoming a leader in manufacturing carbon-free technology, a counterweight to its long association with fossil fuels.
As with communities across the nation Coventry is learning to operate on lean budgets and having to cut services. In November 2011 the City Council announced overall cuts of £18.7 million and a cut of £20 million from specific central government grants as well as losing £2 million from its education budget. This has led to 500 redundancies and 100 managerial posts being phased out during 2012 to 2013, which will save £5 million.
But Malone says Coventry is using this financial blitz as an opportunity.
“We have a transformation programme called ABC – A Better Coventry. It is not like other transformation programmes as it is not just about efficiencies. That is important, this is much bigger and much wider, it is more outward looking and asking how can Coventry City Council play a role in this changing landscape of a decentralised UK in the local area?” As Whitehall devolves decision making and provision of government services out of London to local communities Coventry wants to play an active part for the midlands.
“There is a massive change in how services can and will be delivered,” he says.
“The transformation started with the new chief executive Martin Reeves three years ago. He has a vision of what the area needed to do and there was a desire from councillors to move forward.”
With many deep cuts having already been made, Malone says phase two is underway as the “city takes itself forward as a good place to work and live”.
“The transformation board see ICT as a key enabler to these plans and carried out a service review that concluded that bringing ICT services back in-house would give greater control and make it more responsive.”
ICT has to deliver revenue savings of £5 million the authority over the next three years, achieving initial savings of £3.8m in the first year and then £1.2 over the next two years and Malone says he’s on target.
“Staffing was the primary saving. The ICT service has been repositioned and that meant we had a 30 per cent head count reduction, these were a mix of outsourced workers and staff. A consolidation of ICT teams into a central team has created economies of scale. Centralising the ICT budget allows greater monitoring of ICT spending across the entire council. He adds that ICT was 30 per cent of the total head count loss at the authority.
“The total value of the old de-centralised operation did not meet the ambitions of the council because it didn’t have the skills or technology, so it was not possible to help the authority support transformation.
“Now we have taken strategic control of what ICT will do and how it will support the city,” he says.
Coventry brought in PWC to advise it on a wide range of business changes, including ICT. The local newspaper has been paying close attention to the PWC assessment and the cost of PWC advice, but Malone is adamant it was crucial.
“PWC brought in skills that we didn’t have for that level of analysis. I don’t see how the council could have done what it has done without external advice.”
One of the most significant changes has been to bring technology back in-house largely.
“Coventry is used to having an outsource provider. Now we are building the links in the business to where they ought to be so that we can make significant change.
“It’s been challenging. To take a collection of people into a new team, introduce new ITIL processes and building a new culture that is supportive and gets the job done. It is no longer disparate teams, we are one team.
“We had 39 staff from the former outsource provider join the new team under TUPE regulations. You couldn’t spot the former outsource staff. I’m really pleased that many of the former outsource staff liked the look of the new service and wanted to join.
“Sadly there were people who didn’t secure jobs,” he says of his 120 strong team, although there were some that left on their own volition.
Malone is on the board, which was part of the job description that tempted him to join the authority 15 months ago when he saw the transformative vision. Malone has a recent career of consolidating local government IT services.
Soon after the interview it was announced that the UK had slipped into recession again, but Jaguar continues to thrive and it is expanding in nearby Staffordshire. Competition and pressure between local authorities and central government is intense. Coventry has a track record of coming back from the brink and Malone believes IT and the city ABC ambitions will allow it to do so again.