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Case study: Reading Culture

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

Client: Reading Borough Council

Date: April 2019 – November 2019

Challenges faced by the client: Reading Council are responsible for providing a variety of cultural services including theatre and art services, Reading Town Hall and Museum and library services. These services were commercially focused, independently generating revenue, and highly valued by the Council and wider community. There were however significant financial constraints on the Council, with a requirement to deliver savings of over £40 million between 2018-21 which resulted in these services incurring significant budget reductions.

These savings targets, coupled with internal restrictions impacting service delivery and a commitment to deliver services differently to improve quality and better respond to community needs, provided a strong case for change. Although the services collaborated in some areas, the existing structure meant they had separate budgets, staffing models and priorities which resulted in areas of duplication, capacity issues and a lack of clarity with regards to the customer pathway. The services also felt that corporate systems and processes were not always fit for purpose and prevented them from functioning in a commercial manner.

Support offered: As part of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Mutual Support Programme 2, MV supported Reading Council through two phases of work. The first phase explored the desirability, feasibility and viability of establishing a new delivery model for their cultural services. Following a rigorous assessment of a wide range of delivery models, none of the models represented a financially viable proposition.

As a consequence of this, MV recommended that in-house transformation of the in-scope services should be prioritised. By improving the way the services operated and integrating the overall management structure, it was felt that the services could reduce duplication, increase joint working and improve the customer journey while also capitalising on growth opportunities. These improvements could also provide the pre-conditions required for externalisation of the services in the future.

The second phase of work therefore aimed to provide Reading Council with information to support the establishment of an in-house, integrated ‘Culture Services’ function.

This work focused on identifying:

  • examples of where in-house improvements had been made through changes to governance arrangements

  • opportunities to improve existing operational processes and practices

  • areas of growth that would enable Culture Services to generate more revenue

  • critical success factors for establishing a Corporate Joint Venture (which was the highest scoring model in the first phase) should this option be taken forward in the future

Outcome achieved: This work provided Reading Council with a clear roadmap for integrating their services and creating a ‘Culture Services’ function. It identified lots of potential to improve processes and free up time of the service managers to enable them to focus on more strategic work such as exploiting partnerships, external funding opportunities and maximising the collective resources.

An implementation plan was developed which included work to change the culture with staff in the different functions with a key output being an overall vision, brand and strategy for Culture Services and capitalising on quick wins identified where, for example, corporate support services were not being utilised to their full potential. This work provided the evidence to enable constructive conversations with these support functions to allow the services to collectively access appropriate support such as ICT while also supporting the new Assistant Director for Culture to gain a comprehensive understanding of her services.


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