Local Government Reorganisation: Buckinghamshire Council

Background
‘Unitary Authorities’ are new, single tier local authorities set up in England using powers granted under the Local Government Changes for England Regulations 1994.  The system brings together local government functions usually undertaken separately by County Councils and associated District or Borough Councils into a single tier (unitary) authority.

In May 2019, The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government passed a structural changes order to create a single tier of local government in Buckinghamshire. The new unitary authority, to be known as Buckinghamshire Council, would bring together Buckinghamshire County Council and the four District Councils of South Bucks, Chiltern, Wycombe, and Aylesbury Vale.

A centralised Programme Management Office (PMO) was set up with resources from across the County and District Councils to manage the transition under the direction of Programme Director, Roger Goodes. As part of the programme governance regime, change management consultants, Ameo Group, were appointed to provide critical friend programme assurance.

Requirement
The critical friend review undertaken by Ameo was very positive towards many aspects of the programme,  however it identified the need for some additional rigour around the planning process and recommended some additional targeted support to help establish and bed-in the PMO function. Ameo approached CMI Synergy to support the requirement, initially focussing on the Resources element of the programme. CMI’s Darren Marshall joined the programme in August 2019.

Approach
Darren’s initial approach was to spend the first few weeks working with the PMO team and Resources Programme Lead to understand the programme structure, processes, and deliverables. The initial assessment identified some gaps in the PMO’s processes and established that some clarity was needed around the RAG status for the dashboard reporting. Darren worked with the team to address these issues and to help define the critical scope and delivery milestones for the Resources elements of the programme as recommended by Ameo’s review.

Once the PMO was operating effectively, Darren worked with the Resources Programme Lead, James Streeter, in a mentoring capacity. After some discussion with James, it became apparent that his biggest area of challenge was managing his work-life balance. James consistently worked evenings and weekends to keep on top of the day-to-day management and it was clear something needed to change to avoid undue stress and potential burnout.

Following a short period of assessment, Darren introduced James to some simple planning techniques to assist with time management and helped him to adjust elements of his programme management approach. By freeing up time and focusing on face-to-face rather than written engagements with stakeholders and project leads, James was able to become a much more productive programme lead without compromising his rigorous approach.

Further into the programme, Darren directly supported Programme Director, Roger Goodes as a ‘floating’ resource to provide targeted interventions to elements of the programme that were struggling to maintain pace with their plans. Robust project management skills were employed to ensure that these projects were properly scoped and planned and were following the right delivery approach.  Darren also developed an innovative S-curve dashboard reporting tool to visually show the impact of slippage across elements of the programme. This helped to focus the PMO, Boards and Corporate Management Team efforts around the critical aspects of the programme.

In early March, the programme was impacted by the national COVID-19 lockdown. As Council resources were diverted from the programme to urgently support the County’s COVID response, Darren supported Programme Lead Coordinator, Rachel Shovell, to manage a significantly smaller PMO team. The focus changed to prioritise the absolute critical aspects of the unitary programme needed for the 1st April. Due to lockdown restrictions, the team worked remotely to coordinate and report on progress to ensure that all legal and business critical aspects of the programme were delivered by the March 31st deadline.

Outcomes
The unitary authority was successfully created on the 1st April 2020 despite the late challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Darren was retained by the Council to help manage the outstanding aspects of the programme that were paused due to the pandemic as well as integrating related aspects of delivery scheduled for post 1st April. 

Specific achievements:

  • Supported the drafting of the PMO governance manual specifically in areas of change control and the RAG status used in dashboard reporting tools.
  • Supported the Communications Team by analysing data from a branding survey and drafted the approach to the corporate rebranding strategy for pre and post vesting day.
  • Supported the Finance Team by coordinating work around the review of corporate fees and charges and ensuring that all proposals were legally compliant for the new authority.
  • Supported the Property Team by reviewing the approach to access control and room booking projects and drafting papers to support funding and decision-making through the Corporate Management Team.
  • Developed an innovative s-curve dashboard to visually show the impact of slippage across the programme.

Testimonial

Roger Goodes, Programme Director said: 

“It was great having you on board and acting as the critical friend, particularly for me. It definitely made the work much stronger, the team benefited from your rigour and challenge, and in several key areas your intervention was invaluable in ensuring we delivered on time”.


James Streeter, Resources Programme Lead said:

Darren offered excellent counsel and guidance. He was an great sounding board and with his considerable experience was able to shape and improve our change programme bringing in new tools and approaches. Darren provided me with practical and actionable advice and helped me step back from business issues and talk through courses of action. 

Darren’s skill were particularly apparent with problem solving and trouble shooting. Where a project or initiative was going off track Darren was able to zone in on the issue, diagnose the problem and bring structure, clarity and rigour whilst at the same time bringing people with him. If you have a complex, demanding project and need someone who will address issues, solve problems and build positive relationships Darren is your person.”


Rachel Shovell, Programme Lead Coordinator said:

“We had a Programme Lead in place though he was actually more of a Project Manager, so Darren mentored him and really helped him enhance his skills. When COVID hit it decimated the team overnight and Darren’s experience proved crucial. His pragmatic approach helped guide us, enabled us to realise what the critical parts of the project were and, what could practicably be managed in the time remaining. He is very approachable, easy to work with and was able to build good relationships across all the Council teams, at all levels. He mentored a number of the team helping to build their skills and confidence and even now you can see the difference in those he coached.”

Skills Used

Skills Used

Assurance

Coaching

Consultancy

PMO

Programme Management

Project Leadership

Stakeholder Management

Teamwork

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