Extracts from Gareth Daniel's latest Newsletter to council staff. Gareth Daniel is Chief Executive of Brent Council.
One Council, One Building, One Culture
The next twelve months provide Brent Council with an exciting once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-define itself and the way it does business. Our new civic headquarters in the heart of the Wembley regeneration area is visibly taking shape and remains on course to be fully completed in December this year. The complex £100 million project is on schedule, on specification and on budget – and staff will start to occupy the building in just over a year from now in April 2013. This will mean that all our departments will be able to operate from a single site for the first time ever and around two thirds of our non-schools workforce will be in the same state-of-the-art building. In every sense, this will be an important landmark in the organisation’s history.
By consolidating many of our services and staff into a single building, we will be able to vacate at least fourteen separate office blocks and other workplaces including the Town Hall, Brent House, Mahatma Gandhi House and Chesterfield House. We will obviously vacate the buildings that we currently lease and thereby avoid lease costs and repair liabilities. In those buildings that we own, we can look at possible alternative uses for these premises, dispose of them for hopefully substantial capital sums to re-invest in services or use them to facilitate the regeneration of the borough (or perhaps a mixture of all of these). By moving into a modern, efficient and sustainable building, we will also be making a substantial contribution of at least £2.5 million to our annual revenue savings target - so the Civic Centre will therefore help us to save money at a time when we need to be careful about how every pound is spent.
There is of course no point moving into a brand new building if we simply import our old working practices and behaviours into the facility. The opening of a modern technologically advanced building is an opportunity to overhaul outdated business practices and to streamline our working arrangements and this is precisely what we intend to do. The building itself will be one of the greenest public buildings in the country – it may even be the greenest public building in the UK. Single site operation means that flexibility and multi-disciplinary working will be incorporated from the outset. The boundaries between departments and services will become much more fluid and staff will work ever more closely with their colleagues in other service areas and partner agencies. And we will introduce an enhanced IT offer with much greater use of electronic document storage and management. There will also be masses of meeting rooms and break out areas of different sizes, fantastic community facilities including a 1000 person assembly hall, a programme of exhibitions and displays in and around our new central library, improved catering and retail facilities both in the building and nearby and a small leisure suite for staff.
As with moving house, we need to take this opportunity to de-clutter and get rid of the junk that we all tend to accumulate at work as much as at home. I know many staff have already started to do this and I would encourage everyone to keep up these efforts. We will be operating a strict clear desk policy in the new building – everyone will have some limited storage provision for personal items and the like but equally everyone will be expected to clear their desks at the end of each working day so that it is available and in a good condition for others to use if necessary the next day. For many of us, this will be a very different way of working but I am sure everyone will quickly get used to it. Evidence from elsewhere suggests that initial qualms are quickly dispelled once people get to know their way around and to see the potential that the new building has for working more efficiently and collaboratively.
Getting the culture right
However well executed the construction work is and however well planned the transition, there is another key ingredient we need in order to make the Civic Centre the successful and productive working environment that it is designed to be – that element is culture. If we maintain mental and professional barriers between services and teams, we will limit the benefits we can secure from the new building. If we ignore or undermine council-wide standards and procedures, we will increase costs and the likelihood of additional cuts being made to frontline jobs and services. I am confident that the vast majority of staff understand the huge potential for working better in our new building but everyone of us will need to do our bit to secure the benefits on offer. I am also pretty sure that, after a few months of working differently, most staff will be wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place!
But culture is also about values, attitudes and behaviours – the things that are emotionally important to us and which make us want to come into work each day with a positive outlook and a desire to contribute. Feeling valued and being recognised by other people is a big part of this – this is something we all want and expect but it is also something that we all need to demonstrate as well. Being supported and helped by your employer in difficult times is obviously important and I hope that most staff recognise that we are doing our utmost to avoid compulsory job losses and damaging attacks on terms and conditions. Working in an efficient, transparent and professional way and showing respect and integrity in our dealings with others are all important factors in the public sector and I firmly believe that our new building will help to foster these fundamentally non-negotiable values.
Underpinning all of this is a debate about what our core values are or should be. What do you think are Brent’s driving values and how if at all should they change in the future? Does our rhetoric as a ‘One Council’ organisation match our real life behaviour? How do we describe the way we do business around here and can it be improved? Are we proud of the council, what it does and how we contribute to it? Does everyone feel valued and respected or do some of us feel left out? How will the new building and new ways of working help or hinder our goals? These are some of the questions on which I would welcome your reflections over the next few weeks. The Corporate Management Team will be discussing these issues at the end of April so let me have your thoughts before then – all contributions will be gratefully received.
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