Agenda item

publicAnnual review of Publica

Dave Brooks, Chairman and the Jan Britton, Managing Director (Publica)


The Chair introduced Dave Brooks (Chairman of the Board at Publica), Jan Britton, (Managing Director), Bill Oddy (Group Manager - Publica) and Phil Martin (Group Manager – Business Support Services).


Dave Brooks thanked the committee for the opportunity to present another year of performance.  He reminded members that Publica was established in 2017, to deliver IT, finance and HR and in that time had generated savings of circa £3m for the four shareholder councils; twice the level set out in the original business plan.  Publica were now looking to evolve to meet the changing expectations and service requirements of the four councils and their residents and felt that the ‘2020-22 Business Plan’ encapsulated how Publica would do this.  He acknowledged that the last four months had been challenging but felt that Publica had worked well, fundamentally because of the shared service model that was in place. 


Jan Britton voiced his frustration that the plan had been agreed and then almost immediately the Covid-19 pandemic hit, but he felt that Publica had coped well and been able to provide support which aided the response of the partner councils.  This had undoubtedly caused delay to the delivery of the plan to drive progress and build on performance, but he was confident that they could achieve what they had set out to.


The group gave the following responses to member questions:


·      It was suggested by a member that political awareness was a fundamental requirement of a local authority company and yet a significant finding of the SWOT Analysis was that there was a limited political awareness and understanding across Publica.  Publica suggested that it was less about political awareness and more to do with awareness of the political environment and how to work effectively with Councillors.  Members were assured that employee training had already taken place and importantly staff had started to talk more regularly and effectively with Councillors.  This was not to say that they had done all they needed to do, but progress had been made and whilst Covid was clearly a terrible development, it had allowed Publica to nurture these relationships as it responded to demand. 


·      How did Publica prioritise the needs of four competing councils? Publica was non-political and independent, delivering shared services across the four shareholder councils, but it delivered these services in a way in which each council wanted, in order that they could retain their independent identities. Balancing these different demands was undoubtedly a challenge but they often emerged at different times for each council, allowing Publica to divert resources as required.  One thing that Publica were slow to understand as quickly as they should have, was the diminished appetite from the shareholder councils to make Publica more commercial, by delivering services for other organisations, as their focus shifted to other priorities such as climate change.  Publica would be surprised if local government restructuring and localisation was not on every councils risk register, but assured members that Publica would continue to provide support where necessary and that this issue would not cloud their primary focus on delivering good services, on a daily basis. 


·      The report, at 3.11 stated that based on the data Publica was delivering high performing services, but the feedback at 3.8 didn’t seem to support this statement and there was a complete lack of narrative around specific services, were Public sure that they were collecting sufficient data.  Publica highlighted that the report had been drafted prior to lockdown and that this period had not been reported on.  It was acknowledged that performance data was weak and was a measure of CBC provision rather than any other Cheltenham clients.  Publica were working with Gill Morris, Client Officer for CBC, to work on the indicator matrix and would ensure that a wider set of performance indicators and appropriate narrative would be included in future reports.  What was important to note was that Publica were delivering on all of the targets set by CBC.  


·      The staff survey was the first of its kind to be carried out by Publica and they had intended to repeat it but this had been delayed due to lockdown. 


·      What work did Publica undertake for Cheltenham clients, as there was no reference to any of these in the report?  Publica provided a range of service provision to three Cheltenham based clients: CBH, Ubico and the Trust. 


·      The weaknesses flagged in the SWOT relating to Directors and their lack of focus on strategic issues and the criticism from the LGA was worrying.  Public advised that a report had bene taken to the Executive Directors back in December and members were assured that they were now clear on what the Managing Director expected of them, as well as giving much more focus to strategic issues.  If this report had been written now it was likely that a significant progress would have been reported and it was suggested that this report represented a line drawn in the sand some 6/7 months ago.  The member followed-up with a query as to why Publica were presenting such out of date information and suggested that they should have redrafted the report or provided an update. 


Darren Knight, Commissioning Officer and Gill Morris, as Client Officer were invited to give their views from the client perspective. 


Gill Morris explained that as Client Officer she tended to deal with operational level matters and was in regular contact with Libby Butler, the Client Manager at Publica, who was very helpful.  She accepted that the performance data within the report was somewhat historical at this point and assured members that operationally performance had improved over the last year, with Publica proving to be much more responsive to CBCs needs and she described the support that had been provided throughout lockdown had been exceptional. 


Darren Knight, as Commissioning Lead started by welcoming Jan Britton’s direct involvement in procurement which he felt would result in a more holistic approach.  In terms of improvements he hoped to see over the coming year, one was that the Board maintain a focus on all shareholder councils and; the other was greater transparency in terms of costs.  He took the opportunity to thank Publica at an operational level for the support that they had provided over the last few months which had enable CBC to be as responsive as it had.  Members joined Darren in thanking Publica, particularly ICT for their support during lockdown.


The Chair thanked Publica for their attendance and advised that she and the other lead members would discuss whether they felt it necessary to hear from Publica again, before the 2021 performance review and update the work plan as necessary.

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