Making It Happen: The Business Case for a Business Case


By Chris Twigg


Councils across the country have spent recent weeks going through the formal process of signing off their budgets. In an environment of ever-tighter spending and rising need, their next job is to launch projects and initiatives that prioritise where to spend the money they’ve got – and show how they will deliver on that spending.  

Recently I was having a conversation with the chief executive of a council about his next steps. “Right now the last thing you need is a strategy,” I told him. Instead of being taken aback, he immediately said: “I totally agree.” Together we agreed: We need delivery plans. What we would call a business case. 

The default to strategy often happens as a result of the process to set priorities, because it’s a useful way to set out an understanding of local context and current performance, against the main challenges and needs of residents. If you’re a local politician, you need to know that you’ve got a strategy for drug abuse, for the sea front, for transforming the workforce, for regenerating the town centre. Being able to stand up and talk about that is a significant and high profile milestone. But the hard work comes after a strategy is approved. 

Where a good strategy will go on to describe how a council plans to make changes – including details of the resources required – very many don’t, because the emphasis, with all the best intentions, is often placed on the production of the document rather than the deliverability of it. Often, dedicated staff are short of time, under pressure from day to day operations and facing immediate tasks relating an array of other matters. The government’s recent ‘Levelling Up’ white paper is a prime example of this. It has a lot of very interesting ideas, and an understanding of some of the challenges, but no ‘how to’ section. 


For councils tasked with delivering on levelling up – and an urgent need to rethink services under strain – a business case insists that the organisation consider how the strategy will be delivered. It forces the organisation to quantify the cost versus the benefits, to set out the leadership and the team and the support around them that it will put in place to ensure success. When an organisation has approved a business case rather than a strategy, it has taken an holistic decision about the affordability and deliverability of the strategy. 

Trust matters. The public is too often cynical about their public services. Working out a business case helps a council work out how to make places better and step into the space of leading local community creativity, involvement and drive. To show in detail the financial return to the council and economic benefit to the area of the work it plans to do. To lead the regeneration of their areas rather than feel they must observe others doing it. The more councils are able to do that deeper, richer thinking, and follow through on their declared commitments, the more trust they can build with their communities and staff that they are doing what they said they would do.  

If you’re serious about getting things done, a business case is the only way. It’s the start of the system of delivery.