Archive for October, 2015

Working with partners old and new

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Last week’s meeting of our Senior Leadership Team was unusual in that we held it in Codsall together with our South Staffordshire colleagues.  It was a fascinating insight into how 2 tier local authorities can work in a seamless and effective manner.  Steve Winterflood, the Chief Executive at South Staffs,  and his team have a grasp of local issues that is highly impressive, and we spent some time discussing their strategy and how it meshes with ours.  We hear a lot about how unitary councils are the way ahead, and if one were starting from a blank sheet of paper, one probably wouldn’t design the system as it is.  That said, where the county / district approach works well, it benefits the residents greatly.

I then spent the afternoon with the Shire Leaders – Leaders and CEs from Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Herefordshire.  It was a very useful meeting in which we talked about devolution, and how we can get the best for our residents.  It won’t surprise you to read that the challenges that they are all facing are variations on a theme of what we are facing. The good news is that we seem to be up with the pack on all subjects and out in front on some.

We had our first Cabinet day studying the financial proposals for the coming years, which you will hear referred to as our Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), which was fascinating and useful.  There are, as we know, some difficult decisions to be made, but there is a willingness to make the necessary savings in as compassionate manner as possible, and to take advantage of the new opportunities to have greater control over our financial future.

If you are based in Stafford you might see Will Foster, the Staffordshire Dean for Wolverhampton University, around SP1. He will working from the Fourth Floor when he is in the town.  This is excellent news for us, as Wolverhampton have plans which will advance the skills agenda in the county, such as a University Technical College concentrating on the electronics and ICT industries. Do say hello to him if you see him – he’s a delightful bloke.

Rising to unexpected challenges

Monday, October 12th, 2015

We are in the middle of the My Performance Conversation mid-year appraisals. I would commend them to all of you across the organisation.  We all like to get feedback on how we’re doing, and the My Performance Conversation gives us a structure within which to have these discussions.

You get a good impression of the capacity of an organisation by how it deals with a crisis.  Most of you will have heard of the problems at Flash Ley Primary School – many of you have been involved in dealing with them.  Without getting into specifics, some building works at the school over the summer holidays have gone wrong, leaving us with a strong smell of formaldehyde, and an unusable school.  We’ve had to reassure parents about health concerns for their children, and find another building for over 400 pupils.  With amazing efforts from school staff and council officers, the school will re-open on Tuesday at the Chetwynd Centre in Stafford.  It was notable that the parents who were interviewed on BBC Midlands Today after the public meetings on Friday were very grateful for the efforts.  I would add my thanks, and admiration, for all of those involved.  We’re not out of the woods in terms of getting the school back up and running, but the first hurdles have been cleared.

Devolution and positive relationships

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Devolution for Staffordshire is becoming a clearer vision, as all interested parties work through what problems and challenges would be better addressed locally than from London.  The areas where we saw the most progress and clarity last week were health and care and skills.  I was privileged to be invited to sit in on the Cabinet discussion on the subject. At the monthly meeting of the district and borough council Chief Executives, hosted by Tony Goodwin in Tamworth, we had a very useful discussion about what a deal in both areas could contain, helped enormously by the presence of a representative from the Department of Communities and Local Government, who represents our interests in the Department as well as being the lead for Health and Care.  The dinner that I had with five further education college principals on Tuesday both helped to clear my mind, and demonstrated that there is a real willingness to act collectively for the common good.  The same impression was apparent at the Healthy Ageing event at the Yarnfield Centre on Wednesday, which saw experts from across the country and Staffordshire come together to discuss the challenge that an ageing population poses to our region. Looking at the progress that we have made, I believe that we will some positive areas of discussion for the county’s politicians from county, city, districts and boroughs to discuss at their event in the next few weeks.  Thereafter, the preference is for us to adopt an ongoing approach, whereby we conduct a running conversation on offers and requests.  Very promising indeed.

The sessions to examine our budget over the next five years are going very well, but achieving the savings that we are seeking will not be easy.  I must state that I have been enormously impressed by our colleagues’ readiness to think out of the box as to how we can maintain and improve services for Staffordshire’s residents, while making the savings that we will need to make.

This positive impression extends to our relations with the trade unions.  Philip Atkins and I had our bi-annual meeting with the representatives of our staff, and more widely with the county’s teachers’ representatives. It was a very friendly and open meeting in which all present worked to find consensus.  In my previous job in Germany, I was fortunate to be introduced to this consensus led approach to industrial relations, where it is the norm.  It is a very pleasant surprise to find that we have a similar approach in Staffordshire – I know that it is not the norm everywhere.