Archive for August, 2010

Bring on the sunshine

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Amazingly as I write this the sun is shining. I have to say I thought it was mid October earlier this week with the way the weather’s been.

This week as usual has been pretty eventful. As well as working through plans with the rest of the Senior Leadership Team on how the new organisation will shape up, my daughter Georgia got her GCSE results on Tuesday. After the horrible nervous anticipation, I’m pleased to say she did really well so we’ve been celebrating. I’ve also been impressed that provisional results for Staffordshire show that in 42 out of 56 schools show A* – C grades including English and Maths have risen 4.8%.

The team in Libraries also send me a report on this year’s ‘Young Teen Fiction Award’ which shows the campaign has gone from strength to strength with 52 schools taking part this year. I have some personal affiliation with the campaign as on 6 July, I was honoured to announce the overall winner for 2010 in true X factor style. Nominations are now been sought for 2011. Go here for more info.   

 There have been so many developments from the coalition government that it’s hard to keep up with them all. In health, there have been about eight reports in the past two weeks alone which have some major implications for us as a local authority and that’s just one area of our business. The policy team pull together a really useful update on the intranet – the coalition tracker – you can read it at:

 I for one am looking forward to the bank holiday weekend and I hope the weather stays nice. On Monday I’ll be cycling from Stockport to Southport and back and on Tuesday, I’m road testing a new made to measure road bike (made by my husband Chris) with my name down the side in gold letters!! Very pimp my ride.

Taking on the hot seat

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Helen RileyHi all

I’m Helen Riley, from September I’m the new Director of Strategy and Transformation but you’ll probably know me as the Director of Communities and Chief Executive’s Office. While Nick is on leave, I’m stepping into the hot seat and taking on his blog so you’ll have a few updates from me over the next few days.

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to spend a sunny afternoon cycling around the Staffordshire Moorlands. While I was peddling away at the back of the tandem (yes, a tandem), and wondering why nobody looks good in lycra, I was very much reminded about how beautiful Staffordshire is. The countryside was pretty awe inspiring and I for one am very proud that we have such a great county on our doorsteps. This view was echoed by presenter Matt Baker on Sunday night in BBC 1’s Secret Britain as he visited famous local sights The Roaches, Rudyard Lake and Lud’s Church. Good to see the county’s making national tv. 

This week, you’ll have hopefully seen the announcement about the new Senior Leadership Team. With the team in place, I’m sure that we are well placed to deliver what we need to and can now really start the transformation of our organisation. It will take time but I think it’s going to be exciting and gives us a great opportunity to really make our mark.

As some of you will know, we’re already underway with our review of support services. This will really help us to operate as ‘one council’ and to maximise our resources in the best way.

I was reading through the papers at the weekend and saw a piece about suggestions that have been made to David Cameron about cutting waste in public services. One which did make me laugh was the suggestion to ‘sell Cornwall’ – ummmm, not sure about that! But there were some very sensible ideas which central government departments have been asked to consider for action. If you have any bright ideas, you can get involved. Internally you can let me, the leader or Nick know by emailing Or nationally, you can go to until the end of the month.

From customer focus to football focus

Friday, August 20th, 2010

I blogged recently about the need to be more customer focused. Earlier this week I visited our ICT helpdesk to get first hand experience of how people within the authority experience customer care and listened in to a couple of calls (fortunately no-one knew I was there!) I was very impressed with the support provided and its clear customer focus. Following the visit I have also decided to trial a webcam for videoconferencing (as long as I can work out how to turn it on!)  New ways of working like this can change the way we work for the better and reduce the need for long drives to meetings and this is a culture we need to instill across the county council.

I’m off for a break in Yorkshire next week, but before I go there is one final request from me.   My son has failed to listen to good sense and, despite heart-rending pleas from his Dad, decided not to support Middlesborough Football Club.  Apparently he wants to support West Brom instead.  If there are any baggies fans out there it would be great to know which would be the best & most family-friendly part of the ground to go to with him on match days as I haven’t a clue.

Learn to listen

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Hi – I don’t know about everyone else, but I seem to be suffering from a plague of mosquitoes at home at the moment which has left parts of me resembling a pincushion. My wife advised me to sleep with the windows shut (fortunately for her she never gets bitten) but I didn’t listen and am now paying the irritating consequences as the critters have had their fill of my blood. It reminded me of the importance of listening to people as their advice is often useful.

This was brought home to me at Cabinet this week. The highest-profile item was on denominational schools transport. This has been the subject of thorough and extensive consultation. The cynical view of consultation and one that we unfortunately hear too often is, “what’s the point? They’ve already made their minds up”. Naturally you need a starting point for any consultation and that is the initial proposal. But the final schools transport decision shows that a well run consultation means we listen and truly informs the final decision. The county council’s finally adopted policy subsequently changed considerably. 

It has signalled an end to a system that was fundamentally unfair to the majority, which was the principal aim. But it now reflects what individual families told us about the impact on them. This has been a major project which has produced a positive end result in a very short space of team. It required teamwork, resilience and organisation. I would like to thank and congratulate all those involved.

Cabinet also discussed the LEP – the Local Enterprise Partnership – which we are forming initially with Stoke-on-Trent. LEPs will replace the former regional development agencies such as Advantage West Midlands. LEPs will be smaller, more flexible agencies, better able to respond to local economic needs. We have listened strongly to businesses and our partners when producing proposals for what the LEP will look like in our area. It is an area where the county council will be very active in the coming weeks, and is frequently mentioned by Philip Atkins in the Leader’s Blog.

Raising the standards

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Hi – I’ve been trying to get our broadband connection at home sorted out over the last few days.  While everyone I have spoken to at the company who does it has been very friendly, it has taken loads of phone calls and repeats of the issues to numerous people to finally get them to solve the problem.  It has been hugely frustrating and reminded me how important good customer service is.

One of the things that has continually impressed me since I came to Staffordshire is how helpful and customer focussed our staff are as individuals. One thing that I’m aware needs improving however is that the council’s organisation and processes hasn’t matched the willingness of staff to help.

The fact is that a lot of people who contact the county council don’t know who they should be dealing with to get help and support and quickly become “lost in the system”. This leads to frustration from our customers and gives them a poor view of the Council.

You will have seen from the new structure that the Council is adopting that I regard customer services and communications with the public as being pivotal to the way we work and it is one of the areas – in terms of improved processes that help, rather than hinder, our staff – that I am very keen to improve.

We introduced new Customer Care Standards earlier this year, but there is no point in having standards if our processes mean we can’t live up to them.

We are working on a number of initiatives. The recently introduced customer contact number – 0300 111 8000 – and a switchboard with more flexible operating hours was one of them.

Others will include the use of “mystery shoppers” to test not only how well we are performing but also how we can improve.  We also need to work closely with our partners in these areas – the public should not have to contact loads of different organisations if they have inter-related issues.  I want us to be a lot better at this than the broadband provider I had the pleasure (?) of dealing with.

 This neatly links to congratulations to Pension Services. Following a two day  assessment they have successfully completed the transition to Customer Service Excellence and retained their Charter Mark Accreditation.  That shows clear commitment to customers in an area that has redesigned its processes to be as customer friendly as possible.  Lets see if we can all be as good as them.

Working together for quality care

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Hi all – despite my best intentions I did not get to see any of the football at the weekend.  Unfortunately my Dad took a turn for the worse and I had to go up to the North East to see him in hospital.  Although his continuing ill health is causing the whole family angst I was really impressed by the quality of care he is receiving there, and the importance of an effective health service that works closely with its partners for the benefit of its customers and patients.

This was reinforced to me last week when I was shadowed by a senior manager from Burton Hospital part of their personal development programme.

 It was a good opportunity for me to spend time with a colleague from the NHS and understand issues from their point of view. Closer working with health professionals will be vital over the next few years, particularly in light of the government’s plans for health which will see Councils taking a wider role.  We need to work harder to provide personalised services that concentrate on what help and support people receive, not who provides it.

 My NHS shadow wasn’t only impressed by some of the work being done at the county council, but also the enthusiasm with which the work is being done.

 For instance we have done some exceptional work around hospital discharge rates. “Bed blocking” used to be a chronic problem, with many elderly people in particular languishing in hospital because there was a lack of suitable care available for them when they left.

 Some of our reablement work  is pioneering and helping people regain their independence and dignity. This is how we must continue to focus our efforts. It improves the quality of life for individuals, but also represents much better value-for-money for the taxpayer.

 The recent Health White Paper signalled closer working between local Government and the NHS and Staffordshire will be at the forefront of making this joined-up approach work.

Ivor opens eyes to emergencies

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Hi there – its been a busy week on the home and work front.  We’ve been househunting and (hopefully) will soon be able to put down roots properly in Staffordshire.  I also managed to find a bit of time to watch England complete a very professional victory over Pakistan in the Test Match, although this was tinged with sadness at the devastation that the floods have brought to that country.

 It brings into focus the need for good emergency planning as, although you hope it won’t happen, you never know what might be round the corner that we need to respond to.  I’ve taken part in Operation Ivor this week. This was both eye-opening and important. Ivor is emergency planning training and has helped prepare me for my role in dealing with major emergencies.

In the eyes of the law the county council is an emergency service – the Civil Contingencies Act places us on the same footing as the Police and Fire Service.

We have a significant part to play in the event of emergencies, whether natural, such as a flood or disease outbreak, or man-made like a ‘plane crash, terrorist incident or major fire.

We have major responsibilities for keeping the transport infrastructure working, supporting evacuees and warning and informing the public to name but a few. Essentially we help the people most directly affected by the emergency and try and prevent it from affecting the smooth running of the rest of Staffordshire.

Emergencies in recent years where we have been very active have included flooding in Lichfield, Swine Flu and Foot and Mouth Disease.

On a separate note I’ve also had a meeting this week with Professor Christine King, Vice Chancellor of Staffordshire University. We talked about various ways in which we could collaborate more in future, particularly around learning, skills and economic development. I met with several students who now run start-up companies with support from the university and was hugely impressed by what they are doing.

I was surprised to learn that Staffordshire University has thousands of graduates from overseas who live all over the globe, and value their links back to Staffordshire – a case of the knot uniting internationally as well as in Staffordshire.  I’m keen to explore how we can use this to stimulate investment into the County from overseas, but more of that another day. 

Finally, keep your questions and responses coming in on the new way of working. We are responding to every query direct or via the FAQs where names are not provided.

I’ll sign off now and wish you all a great weekend – start of the football season and I’m off to see Peterborough United play (don’t ask) before Middlesbrough start their season next weekend – as ever, I will live in hope!!