Awards 2005: public sector finance team – Richmond Upon Thames

Richmond upon Thames was named and shamed for its poor financial performance
in 2001, but this year wins our award for Finance Team of the Year ­ Public and

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The new finance team in the social services and housing directorate was
created in response to the council’s performance after the annual audit letter
highlighted Richmond’s ‘poor quality budget monitoring’ and ‘serious weaknesses
in financial control’. Overspending had increased year on year and was up to £4m
in 2001/02, undermining the council’s attempts at service planning.

The Audit Commission has since reported favourably on the council, stating
that there has been no overspending since 2002 and that ‘budgets are now in

This sound financial performance has created a platform for performance
improvement. More than three-quarters of performance indicators for children and
families are expected to be in the top band this year, compared with 34%
previously, while performance indicators for adult services increased by 12%.

Improvements in welfare provision have been made while still achieving
savings ­ which amounted to £600k this year ­ thanks to improving efficiency and
tight financial control. Spending per head for some groups has fallen while the
number of clients receiving a service has increased.

The team also reacted to criticism by inspectors in 2004 regarding the high
turnover in social workers. Not only was this disrupting the continuity of a
service valued by its customers, but the remuneration, agency and recruitment
costs were also draining council funds.

The team responded by changing the remuneration scheme. It had been most
favourable to social workers in their first year of employment but now pays out
a lower sum in the first year that increases over three years. This added
incentive for staff to stay on helped cut staff turnover from 25% to 12%, while
having very little impact on the cost of employment.

The council’s approach to non-residential care was also altered when
modelling showed that billing clients on lower incomes was uneconomic. The team
developed a new policy that allowed clients to keep all their disability
benefits rather than incur the costs of clawing them back. This approach managed
to minimise costs and maximise client income.

Savings from the new policy funded London’s first welfare-rights joint team,
with the finance team acting as client. In its first 12 months, Richmond
residents claimed over £1m of extra benefits.

Our judges said: ‘They have delivered tangible success. It was an impressive
business performance, which put the reformed finance department at the heart of
a reformed organisation.’

The team comprises a variety of staff covering financial management and
accountancy, income collection, financial assessments and payments. The team’s
staff have clear objectives and workplans, with regular team meetings and a
formal system of internal communication.

Morale within the finance team has risen, and staff turnover is now
negligible. Teamwork has been crucial to its success, and the submission makes
it clear that staff from all parts of the team have contributed to its

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