The Welland Partnership comprises five UK local authorities in a largely rural area of 1,000 square miles with a combined population of about 360,000.
"The Partnership," as it is called -- which includes East Northamptonshire Council, Northamptonshire; Harborough District Council, Leicestershire; Melton Borough Council, Leicestershire; Rutland County Council and South Kesteven District Council, Lincolnshire -- decided to work together for mutual benefit.
According to Beverley Jolly, communications and projects manager of Harborough District Council, the initial project was designed to meet the UK Central Government's creative directives for electronic service delivery to enhance and improve its service offering to the public. "The set goal was that by 2005," said Jolly, "the focus of online services in the UK would be entirely on the citizen. In order to accomplish this, five rural councils formed the Welland Partnership in February 2000 to automate and consolidate their information technology infrastructure and provide customer-first services."
For the past four years, the Partnership has worked with Software AG UK on online planning, a call center initiative, online council tax system using the Government Gateway for authentication, and the Welland Electronic Records Management system.
"It was clear that by working together," said Jolly, "the councils could turn the spotlight on the needs of their communities in a way which no individual council could do on its own."
To coordinate activity and iron out any disagreements, Partnership governance is accomplished by four groups:
- An annual conference of member communities -- including officers and members of partner authorities, key stakeholders from other public bodies and the voluntary and business sectors -- develops vision and aspiration.
- Senior councilors and chief executives from all the partner authorities meet every three months to consider strategy and progress. There is a commitment to reporting back through the structures of each partner council to ensure that Welland Partnership activity has the support of and input from all five councils.
- Chief executives meet each month to consider new opportunities, maintain the momentum and hear about progress on projects.
- Officers work together in network groups, holding regular meetings and reporting to the chief executives' group. These network groups share best practice and benchmarking information and develop ideas and systems for joint working.
According to Jolly, the Partnership has resulted in a number of tangible benefits to members. "If we take just the initial project, the community portal and online transaction services were established without creating a heavy tax burden that would have existed had they tried to meet the e-government directives alone." In addition, constituents of these councils are provided with easy, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week access to information and services across the 11 market towns served by the Partnership. The customer service infrastructure records and stores all customers interactions from all channels and holds all service-related information, which means a resident can make an initial query through the portal, follow this up by telephone or through a contact center and the service agent will have all the correct information on hand, thus providing a single view of all resident data.
As to what recommendations she would make to other regional jurisdictions considering such a partnership, Jolly said she would ensure that resourcing with clearly defined roles and responsibilities are sorted early in the project and that everyone is clear what and who is required and when and for how long. "Communication in a partnership is key," she explained, "ensuring that all parties have access to correct and up-to-date information. We went some way on this by creating an Extranet.
"Do not underestimate what can be achieved by collaborative working," said Jolly, "and being able to trust your partners to lead for you from time to time or on an agreed basis."