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Solace blog

10th June 2016

The most important assets in commercialism are human

Although commercialisation or commercialism, whichever you prefer, has been talked about greatly for a long time now, it’s still a minority of councils that are heading down this road – for a raft of different and valid reasons.

As the name suggests, it’s simply a way of councils commercialising their assets, physical and human, to provide additional revenue streams in response to sustained reductions in funding.

For our part, ENGIE has been involved in what could be called commercial ventures for a while. For instance, as one of the UK’s leading energy and services companies, including facilities management, we’ve been making the most of our clients’ property portfolio by leasing buildings, running functions and organising events.

In a nationally-lauded example at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, we’re one of the Our Parklife partners, a community interest company, which on behalf of the London Legacy Development Corporation, is enabling people to participate in the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Visitors, volunteers and unemployed residents from the surrounding boroughs, as well as the local economy,  are all benefiting financially and socially.

In addition to exploiting bricks and mortar and beautifully landscaped spaces, ENGIE is developing innovative commercial solutions around council services, bringing together our main activities of services, energy solutions, and energy infrastructure. We recently set up Home Energy, which enables residents, in a competitive energy market, to buy their gas and electricity directly from their local authority, as a trusted supplier.

While there is nothing new about commercialism, what is relatively novel is harnessing the skills and talents of the workforce to provide commercial services to other organisations.

At North Tyneside Council, ENGIE back office staff trained in robotic process automation, online services and Lean Six Sigma are able to market their expertise in process efficiency and customer self-service to other councils, and beyond; increasing income for the authority. The hands-on experience of the teams is enhancing the credibility and commerciality of the service offering.

But as the tune goes, it’s not what you do; it’s the way that you do it, which applies very aptly to commercialism. To be delivered effectively, commercialism must not be seen as an add-on to council services, another task to perform. Instead, it has to be how the council functions and operates. It has to be part of the culture of the council, one of its core values.

Let’s not pretend though that this is easy. Some staff may well be willing to go down the commercial route, some may be skeptical converts and others may require a serious amount of convincing. This is entirely understandable.

Many would say that people do not go into the public sector for the money or to make money. Their motivation and rewards come from serving the public good, not from maximising the public purse. So the crux of how to deliver the commercial agenda lies firmly with establishing an accepted and acceptable commercial culture within the public sector organisation.

This is where the public sector can learn from the best in the private sector. Those companies driven solely by the profit motive are never as valued (or as successful, it could be argued) as those who focus single-mindedly on the customer experience. Healthy revenues are then a natural by-product of happy customers providing repeat and recommended business.

Local authorities must, therefore, regard commercialism as more than a means of monetising services. Instead, it’s about creating a consented commercial culture, in which staff have the customer focus, entrepreneurial spirit, proactive opportunity-seeking mindset, technical capabilities and business skills that can be harnessed to increase revenues within their own authority and generate additional income from outside organisations. That way you have a self-supporting, self-sustaining strategic approach to commercialism.

In some respects, commercialism is a wider topic than you may first think. In other respects, it’s very specific. It’s often said and it’s never truer than when going commercial, the most important asset you have is your people.

By Gordon Sheret, Managing Director – Cities & Communities, ENGIE