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KWL: A Hull City Council wholly-owned local authority company

KWL: A Hull City Council wholly-owned local authority company

In August 2012, KWL were featured in the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) research report “Municipal Entrepreneurship”. The article examined KWL’s operating model and is featured below:

Kingstown Works Limited (KWL) is a local authority company delivering building maintenance and repairs works primarily to Hull City Council but they also trade with other local councils and housing associations. Since 2008, KWL has returned over £3 million to Hull City Council in the form of surpluses.

KWL is built on the model of a successful income generating company wholly-owned by the local authority. The subjection of Hull City Council’s repairs and maintenance service to open competition was identified as a timely moment to set up a company to provide services to the local authority. The ‘Teckal’ exemption provided the legal framework for Hull City Council by allowing them to establish a company to provide services to themselves, reserving certain works to that newly created company.

KWL is a company controlled by Hull City Council which is the sole shareholder. Democratic accountability is ensured through the Kingstown Works Limited Shareholding Committee which receives reports from the board of KWL which is itself made up of eight elected members from Hull City Council. The organisational model developed by KWL prioritises tight financial controls ensuring that the company has the freedom to innovate and bid for work as it arises within an overall framework of democratic accountability. Indeed, one important condition of its success, as recognised by its Business Leader, is that the board offers an effective challenge and scrutiny to senior management.

Employees are instilled with the importance of taking an entrepreneurial approach to service delivery combining a private sector approach with a supporting public service ethos. Recently, KWL have taken advantage of opportunities to move into the renewable energy market by developing expertise in installing and maintaining Solar PV panels on domestic properties. Crucial in facilitating the development of an entrepreneurial, innovative approach has been KWL’s buying power as one senior manager explains: “our buying power has allowed us to provide competitively priced solutions for clients who have contracted KWL for Solar PV schemes and the financial strength of the business gives clients the confidence that the installer will be around long enough to ensure that the schemes are properly maintained well into the future.”

Priority has been given to maximising the impact of KWL on the local economy, as one manager points out: “of our 300 or so staff 99% are local and 98% of staff employed by our subcontractors can also be found in the local area.

We have recently employed our 50th apprentice and are keen to develop the skills of our existing workforce, completing over 3000 days of staff training in just four years.”  Indeed, KWL has put in place training opportunities and multi-skilling of its staff which has offered it a certain competitive advantage in the local employment market.

The management team have put in place a widespread performance culture and bonus scheme which has, in the words of one frontline employee, “encouraged [us] to come up with solutions.”

Since 2008 KWL have focused on generating income for reinvestment in local services and maximising the benefits that the company has on the local economy. This provides KWL with the grounding to expand existing areas of business such as the citywide repairs and maintenance service. As one manager asserted: “KWL have recently secured a new contract delivering repairs and gas maintenance services to over 1200 properties.”