Archive for September, 2010

Your voice sessions underway

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Regular readers of my blog will know I went along to the UK Leadership of Pensions Summit in London last week. Hot off the press, consensus from the expert speakers there was that the recommendations from the pensions review is likely to be a continuing final salary or career average scheme for the lower paid with a defined contribution ‘top up’ for higher earners. I know this will impact on many of us so as soon as I know any more; I will of course keep you updated.

 The first Your Voice session was held on Monday in Stafford. I think it went well. 

Feedback was that it was useful and helped to fill the gaps for those who attended. From my viewpoint, it’s crucial for me and my colleagues in SLT to get to meet as many of you face to face as I can. You are the people doing the job and who know far better than me what works. So I’m asking all attendees (and that invite extends to you all) to let me know their ideas, issues, concerns, views and how we can do things differently.

It’s crucial that we all pull together and take action to make our new way of working a success – we can’t do it without you. So if you haven’t booked on a session yet, then please do so. We’re adding more sessions in November  so that more people have the option to come along.

We’re looking to work more closely with our partners and the local community to see where we can take advantage of opportunities in the current climate.  On Sunday I met with the new Bishop of Stafford. I’m hoping we can now take forward further discussions around how the Church of England can help with some of the community based outcomes (by outcomes I mean results that make a real difference to people and where they live) we are trying to achieve.

Aligned to this, last week we had the first Staffordshire Hundred event. This is where a large group of the key players in Staffordshire come together to look at how we can work together to improve the county. It was really positive – the athlete and OBE David Moorcroft was a keynote speaker and I thought he was really inspirational. We’ve now got general agreement on a set of key priorities to work on.

Yesterday I was at a West Midlands Council meeting with the leader Philip Atkins where we looked at key priorities shared by councils across the region and the ongoing support for them. Key topics included our approach to Local Enterprise Partnerships (you’ll have heard me talk about those before) and the impact on councils of the proposed changes to the NHS. The latter in particular will have a huge impact on us and I’ll keep you up to date with developments.

On a personal front I’ll be joining Ian Dudson, High Sheriff of Staffordshire, on one of his canal walks later this week.  He aims to walk every mile of the canal system to raise money for charity & increase the profile of the role of the High Sheriff.  He will cover over 150 miles in total, but fortunately for my feet I’m only joining him for around 10 miles of it.  Just my luck that the weather seems to have taken a turn for the worse again…

Bye for now

Nick

Your voice

Friday, September 24th, 2010

On Wednesday, I sent out an invite to come along to Your voice sessions to find out more about our new

way of working.  At these sessions, we will explain the thinking behind the new approach, the benefits it will bring, how it will be implemented and how we intend to listen to you and keep you up to speed with developments.

 We will keep our talking to a minimum, providing lots of time for you to ask questions.

 Already we’ve had a huge response to the sessions but if you haven’t booked a place and want to come along, please do so. Go to: http://www.intra.staffordshire.gov.uk/newwayworking/

 It’s really important to me that both me and the Senior Leadership Team hear your views first hand so if there is more demand than can be accommodated for at the sessions, we’ll put on some more.

A right royal week

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

This week is proving to be another interesting week to say the least.

It began with a conference at Alton Towers for headteachers and governors in Staffordshire. This was a chance to come together to set out the year ahead and to talk about the new way of working across the county council, including the exciting Families First programme which will transform services for children and young people, as well as the relationships betweens schools and the county council. It was good to hear first hand from the headteachers responsible for the education of thousands of children in the county. Hopefully they found it useful to hear about the context of what we’re doing in the county council and how this will influence their work.

Yesterday I was in the lucky position of meeting the Princess Royal, Princess Anne as at the opening of Kidsgrove Customer Services Centre and Citizens Advice Bureau. The new centre provides face-to-face access to many front line services from both Newcastle Borough and the county council including council tax, waste management and street scene together with links to the local community interest groups. The centre came about following a public consultation exercise and through analysis of customer insight information which set out customers’ diverse needs and preferences – exactly the type of approach we want to be informing our decision-making. It’s a great example of joined up working with county and district councils, the voluntary sector and town council all operating from one building.

Today I’ve been at the UK Leadership of Pensions Summit in London. Given the recent discussion about proposed changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme, government’s proposals to increase the retirement age and link pension payouts to the Consumer Pricing Index, it’s been timely.  I took part in a Chief Executive panel discussion with Michael Taylor of the London Pensions Fund Authority. It was clear that we’re all facing the same issues – it certainly gave me some things to think about for the future.

Tonight I’ll be at Shugborough for the ‘Staffordshire Hundred’ event where we are bringing together key partners from our communities, business and the voluntary sector to talk about what our shared priorities should be for the next year.  It should prove to be an interesting debate and I’ll update you with the decisions in a future blog.

Tomorrow it’s the new Senior Leadership Team Away Day, also at Shugbrough. This is going to be an opportunity for the new leadership team to look at how we’re going to work together as a team. We’ve also done team profiles so we can identify gaps and make sure we use our individual expertise in the best way together.

On Friday, I’m going to the regional Chief Executive’s meeting in Birmingham. This is where all 33 Chief Executives in the region get together to exchange information, look at cross working opportunities, share learning and build key relationships. They’re held every six months so this is the first I’ve been to. I’ll let you know what it was like next week.

To round off the week I’ll be at Lichfield Cathedral on Sunday for the welcome and installation of the new Bishop of Stafford, the right reverend Geoff Annas.  There’s never a dull moment in this job!

Nick

New working, new support and an eye on our health

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Hi there

I seem to have spent much of the last few weeks talking about how to help stimulate the local economy through the formation of a new Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for Stoke and Staffordshire.  This followed a request from the government to let them have proposals as to how local councils could work more effectively with businesses in their area to help foster economic growth.  We managed to submit our proposal by the deadline last Monday, and we are waiting for the government to (hopefully!) give us the go ahead for what should be a great opportunity to support local business.

However, we are not sitting quietly and waiting for this to be approved before we help our local businesses.  We have been providing support in a number of ways over the last few months, one of the most important being our business support fund, which has been running for around 10 months.  The fund currently supports around 20 well-run and viable businesses that faced difficulties because of the reluctance of traditional banks to lend to them and this number is growing. These businesses are the mainstay of Staffordshire’s economy and it’s crucial that we ensure their success. At Cabinet today, I’m pleased to say it was agreed that an extra £1 million of funding will allow it to continue its crucial work.

 Another important decision was also taken at Cabinet which broadly links to the economic sustainability of the county council and which I am a firm believer in – agreement to set up a county council trading company.   There are many things that we do phenomenally well in the council and where our skills would be in demand from other parts of the public, voluntary and private sector. 

Having a trading company allows us to sell these skills and services to others to help us generate extra income that can go some way to offsetting some of the financial challenges we face over the next few years.  However, Cabinet made it clear that our aim is not to compete against and take business from local companies (which would be counter-productive to the local economy), but to fill in gaps where there is no effective and viable local business.

 Cabinet also agreed a new operating model for the county council. Given the critical importance of this for the county council, earlier today, I sent out a global email to all staff setting out what this means. You can view my email here and see the new approach here.

Finally, and significantly, a new health and wellbeing strategy was also given the go ahead at the meeting. This strategy will help to reduce health inequalities in Staffordshire and will act to improve the life expectancy and quality of life of people in the county.  There has been an unprecedented level of co-operation and support from a variety of key partners in Staffordshire to pull this together.  

It is a sad fact that too many people in Staffordshire suffer poor health and reduced life expectancy because of where they were born or poor life-choices. While there are many communities in Staffordshire where people are healthier and live longer than the national average, there are still too many that lag well behind what we would want to see in a 21st century England. 

Through the strategy, we will look to ensure everyone has opportunities to live longer and healthier lives. You can view a film about the strategy here

 You can see all the papers that went to Cabinet in full here

Back to school

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

This week, we are looking at the next phase of our journey to transform the way the county council operates. This covers our Wider Leadership Team (WLT) – those managers in the next tier down from the new Senior Leadership Team which we recently announced. [See here if you missed it].

Following a lot of work behind the scenes, we are anticipating that we’ll be in a position to update staff more generally on the proposed WLT structure on either Thursday or Friday. This will be an opportunity to see the new proposed structure at this level. And as always, you’ll be given the chance to ask questions.

On 15 September, a paper which outlines how we aim to transform the county council  – that is the approach that we’ll follow to get us to a new organisation – will go to Cabinet for approval. This information will provide further context to illustrate what we need to do to become a more efficient, customer- focused organisation. I’ll let you know the outcome of that meeting.

Tomorrow, I’m off to at Special Public Finance Summit called ‘Facing the Cuts’. I think it will be a useful opportunity to find out more about how others are tackling the financial challenges we’re facing ahead of the Spending Review announcement that will be happening in October. It will give us a chance to pre-empt, with like-minded colleagues, options for how we can meet the coalition government’s plans for reducing the national deficit. I’m also going to be speaking at the event. Other speakers I’ll be interested in hearing more from are Bob Neill MP – Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government and Robert Chote who is Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. I’m expecting Robert’s update to be particularly topical – certainly, many of you will have read the news stories last week about recent research by the Institute which challenges the government’s ‘progressive budget’ and how it is controversially hitting the poorest people in society. 

There’s been an air of excitment in the house this week with Matthew’s first day back to school after the long summer break. We had a great summer together but if you’re a parent like me, you’ll probably breath a sign of relief to get back to the normal routine. It’s good to see children from all over the county once again having their brain power stretched – just like me when I get back to work after my holidays!

Putting the wheels in motion for future work

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Hi everyone

I’m carrying on as guest blogger this week.

I hope everyone had a great bank holiday break. It was nice having the long weekend, especially as the weather turned nice.

I was out road testing my new road bike on Tuesday. Unfortunately, pride comes before a fall, literally in this case. I was cycling the bike around lanes near Fradley Junction and fell off! I took the corner too fast and lost control. Needless to say, apart from a wounded ego and some minimal cuts and bruises, I was ok and got straight back in the saddle.

This month will be really busy. I’m doing a lot of work with partners around how the county wide Local Strategic Partnership will work in the future. It’s about less bureaucracy and talking shops whilst concentrating on the really “wicked” issues where working together will make a real difference.

One of these we’re addressing is the harm caused by misuse of alcohol. The Chief Constable is chairing a partnership group looking at taking ‘One Staffordshire’ approach to this. It will look at improved education for young people and families around the harm caused by alcohol, greater enforcement against under age drinking which often results in anti-social behaviour and other risk taking behaviour sometimes leading to teenage pregnancy and drug addiction.

 We’ll also be looking at the regulatory regime around licensing premises with district colleagues and the hidden harm caused by alcohol such as violent crime and domestic abuse. Our big challenge is to take a huge, strategic issue which affects most communities in the county and find locally appropriate solutions!