Innovation rather than incremental improvement is the key for local authorities in meeting growing public expectations and financial pressures, says a new report from the Audit Commission.
The "Seeing the Light: Innovation in Local Public Services" report says many councils are innovating successfully, with pressure to improve efficiency being the main driver.
Outcomes of successful innovation have included improved performance, increased democratic engagement and better value for money.
But while most councils and fire authorities are engaged in some form of innovation, there is still scope to yield bigger gains, said the Audit Commission.
Evidence from the Commission's corporate assessments suggests that only one-third of single tier and county councils and a quarter of fire authorities are involved in extensive innovation.
The report recommends that authorities identify service areas in most need of innovation, such as those for which aspirations are high and performance is low, and support staff in generating and implementing innovative projects to raise standards.
The report highlights examples of local authorities that have improved the value for money of their services, achieved more effective service delivery and built stronger relationships with their communities through innovation.
Woking Borough Council, for example, was at the forefront of local action to address climate change before it was accepted more broadly as a serious concern.
The council adopted a wide-ranging climate change strategy including plans to adopt a carbon-neutral approach to future services and activities.
Using innovative approaches to funding, technology and partnership working, the council has reduced CO2 emissions from its own property by 82%.
Michael O'Higgins, chairman of the Audit Commission, said, “Local authorities are seldom portrayed as hotbeds of innovation, but our report shows that many are innovating to deliver better services within tighter budgets. Innovative authorities realise that greater efficiency is not always about working harder, it's about being smarter.
"As the pressures grow on councils and their partners to improve performance and deliver even bigger savings, incremental approaches to improvement just won't be able to keep up,” said O'Higgins.
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