Section 114 Notices

With the recent increase in announcements of Section 114 notices, and more predicted to come, our Founder and Managing Director asks – are traditional, big transformational programmes and old fashioned approaches to change the way forward? 

The recent increase in Section 114 notices is of no surprise to those working in local government. After many years of cuts and austerity, the task of “balancing the books” is becoming increasingly difficult. The drive to make savings over the last 10-15 years has triggered a multitude of large scale transformation programmes, characterised by structure, PMO processes, and heavy investment in expensive big consultancies. 

Of course, to only look at financial issues through the lens of change is massively over-simplifying the issue. The combination of reduced finances, commercially challenging environmental factors, increased demand, and the impact of covid, have all negatively impacted finances. Add to this a  recruitment crisis, from social care to planners, and senior staff, all resulting in local authorities with increased agency and interim fees, and generally a lack of resources to take stock and really think. It’s a melting pot of challenges for councils to effectively plan and deliver plans around their budgets.  

This means an increase in focus on change and transformation, and the pressure is on. Indeed, some of those who have issued their section 114 cannot be accused of not trying – large scale, well-funded transformation programmes in partnership with big consultancies have been popular. But why then, are councils still struggling to make the changes they need to, in order to deliver their balanced budget?  

When times are tough and the pressure is on, it’s common for organisations to become more controlling about how they do change. They look for certainty and detailed plans, a long term vision, and PMOs that will give assurances around benefits realisation and programme delivery. But in fact, such assurances are somewhat rare, and long term, over engineered change programmes often lose their way. Programme officers can easily become administrators and not deliverers, and alienate the rest of the organisation. Big shiny consultancies can create cultures of change being done ‘to’ not ‘with’ and are at risk of increasing resistance and eroding organisational ownership of change. A focus on process and not people can result in change at a surface level which doesn’t permeate the culture and ways of working within the organisation. 

So how can local authorities in difficulty approach change in a quicker, more cost-effective, and impactful way? 

  1. Focus on what will be different. Those who have worked with me will have heard me harp on about this many times! If you are not clear on what will be different as a result of your change programme then you are at risk of getting lost and communicating poorly. So often organisations focus on the process of change and not the outcome. Be clear on this, and build your change programme around it.
  2. Think critically about the level of control and governance needed. People often create a machine of governance around change, which can slow things down. There are some cases where this is absolutely needed, but some where it isn’t, so try to catch yourself from falling into the trap of old habits and setting up boards and governance where it may not be required. As a general rule, you want decision making to be at the lowest appropriate level. Consider carefully where you need to be directive and strong in decision making and governance, and where a more agile, co-produced style will get you there quicker.
  3. Consider the pace of change you need – and reflect on this constantly. There are times when a short, sharp ‘ripping the plaster off’ approach is perfect (change dragging on for years helps no one: you, your staff, or residents). There are other times when a more evolutionary approach works better. Be conscious of these decisions.
  4. Build an approach to change that works for your organisational culture. As leaders, we are building and shaping our organisational culture every single day – whether it’s on purpose or not! This is not to say you should pander to resistance, but know your organisation well, and use the change programme as a chance to deliberately shape the culture you need. For example, if your organisation is process heavy, try a more experimental approach but wrap it in safety, to help move that culture along.

The key message here is not to revert to habitual ‘safe’ thinking that may not work. The programmed, sequential approach to change is dying out, and the art of leading change well is not to follow a specific tool or methodology. It’s more like spinning a range of plates and constantly adjusting your style as you go. Gone are the days of long term, fixed approaches to change. If covid taught us anything, it’s that it’s absolutely possible to make significant change happen fast. Let’s keep it up! 

Lucy has recently completed a research project interviewing Local Authority CEOs about their approaches to change during and post pandemic. If you’d like a confidential chat about your organisational approach to change and how it might be improved email her at  

By Lucy Trueman | 6th December 2023

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