Archive for April, 2016

Support for Staffordshire’s looked after children

Monday, April 25th, 2016

I thought that I would recount a meeting with our Fostering Team and a group of foster carers this week. I’ve taken a close interest in this area, as it’s clear that quality fostering has a disproportionately positive effect on looked-after children. The Through-Care Team that I visited in Burton recently were unequivocal in their support for longer term placements with high quality carers. We are the only local authority in the West Midlands who are graded Good by Ofsted for Children’s Services, and we have a good reputation with foster carers, but we cannot afford to be complacent. I wanted to know what more we could do.

The answer is that there is no easy single solution. We run targeted advertising campaigns, which work, and there may be something that we can do to smooth the process that brings potential carers into the service. We can also probably do something more to assist our current carers in communicating with each other, as it was clear that this is a vocation, and one which shares its best practice at a very practicals level.

The bottom line is that I left the two hour session once again inspired by the Child Protection Social Workers and the Foster Carers that work for us in Staffordshire. With the public’s focus again on child protection, we must strike the right balance between responsibility, accountability and authority; this profession will only work effectively for the vulnerable children for whom we assume the role of corporate parent, if we continue to attract and retain good quality people.

On a more jolly note, I would remind those of you working for the Council of the My Discounts scheme. If you haven’t already got a card, you should look into it. I’ve got my B&Q and Wickes card, which give 9% and 11% discounts respectively. With the amount of work that we’re undertaking on our old house, they are very welcome.

Neighbourhoods and roads

Monday, April 18th, 2016

I thought that I’d lead with our annual meeting with the representatives of the county’s Parish Councils. This event has sometimes, in the past, been characterised by some tension. Chaired by Mike Lawrence, this year’s was a very useful discussion about how we are going to work together in the new realities of the public sector in Staffordshire. The fact is that we are being asked to do more with less by central government, and we are having the same conversations with district and parish councils – anything else would be disingenuous. Much of what the parish councillors are interested in lies in the Highways department, but they were happy to extend the conversation into the health, social care and families area. We will work with them, and it should probably be on a more regular and less formal arrangement, to ensure that we use their excellent local knowledge and wish to live in great neighbourhoods to its greatest effect.

There has been much discussion around the Infrastructure Plus arrangement with Amey these past few weeks. I think that we probably need to tell the story a bit more effectively than we are at the moment. Darryl Eyers, James Bailey and I had a very useful meeting with Amey’s senior leadership, who are totally committed to making a success of this ground-breaking arrangement. There is a lot going on: the online reporting system is now fully up and running, and linked to the tasking process for the repair crews; we have new equipment in the form of a velocity patcher (a large “gas-fired hair dryer” which dries and heats the pothole before blasting molten tar and gravel into it – don’t try this at home!); the survey of the 190,000 drain gulleys is complete and is about to drive the maintenance schedule on the basis of need, rather than routine. We will set up visits for Members in the coming weeks to get the message out, and look to get other events which help residents to understand the realities of road maintenance, in which I’ve found that everybody considers themselves an expert. More to do, but the fundamentals are already there.

Sharing experience

Monday, April 11th, 2016

We’ve had some fascinating discussions this week, and I thought that it might interest you to read about a couple of them.

I met with Anthony May and Paula Mullin of Nottinghamshire County Council, following on from Philip Atkins’ meeting with their Leader, Alan Rhodes.  It is always useful to listen to people who are in the same business, and it was fascinating to learn how Nottinghamshire were tackling a similar problem set to ourselves.  The answer is similarly, but with some interesting differences. They don’t enjoy the same modern offices that we do, but their approach to digitise working is something that we will follow up on.  Additionally, they are interested in our Business Plan, and we can probably learn from their approach to adult social care.  We’ll follow up with a joint SLT session, focussed on the issues that we can learn from each other’s experience.  As I said recently at our monthly Business Brief session, a lesson isn’t truly learned until you have changed something for the better.

This week’s Chief Executives’ meeting at Northfield Village in Stafford was the first in which we have gone somewhere out of the office, but in the business, as an old friend who ran some very successful businesses used to put it.  It was a useful session, in which John Tradewell gave a thought-provoking presentation on Public Sector Reform, a wider theme than local government devolution.  More to come here, I’m sure, but the good news is that there was more agreement than argument on the way ahead.

Lastly, the plans for the consolidation into SP1 and 2 are moving ahead well.  For me, this is more than getting everybody in Stafford into the modern working environment.  It is about making the most of the technical opportunities.  That is why we are regarding it in two tranches; Tranche one is the move, which will be complete this year, and Tranche two is an open-ended drive to be more effective and efficient.  This will be more than new technology – if we get this right, it will pave the way for more flexible working and a more confident, agile organisation working for the benefit of Staffordshire’s residents.

Leading for self and others

Monday, April 4th, 2016

I don’t often use my blog to repeat other people’s thoughts, but when they are exceptional, I’m very happy to make an exception. Richard Holmes, who died almost five years ago, was a reservist Army Brigadier and a renowned military historian. He was also one of the nicest, most decent men that you could hope to meet. His ’10 Diseases of Leadership’ popped up on my LinkedIn feed this weekend, and it reminded me not only how much he is missed, but also what great advice he gave. I repeat his thoughts here as we all have a leadership role to play in our jobs, be they front-line or in management. In short, if you can recognise yourself in any of the statements below, have a think about how you might change your approach.

1. Lack of moral courage. In the military, physical courage is often supported by the sense of team and shared commitment to a specific task. Moral courage is often a far lonelier position, and so that much harder to undertake in practice.

2. Failure to recognize that opposition can be loyal. Encourage constructive dissent rather than have destructive consent.

3. Consent and evade. Do not consent to a plan that you do not agree with then evade its implications by doing something different without telling your leader.

4. There is a need to know and you don’t need to know. Some people use information and access to it to reinforce their leadership position.

5. Don’t bother me with the facts. I’ve already made up my mind.There is always a point where the detail of a plan is confirmed, after which there is a tendency to ignore any new information that might suggest a change to that plan is required. The British as a people have a greater tendency than most to succumb to this.

6. The quest for the 100% solution. A good plan in time is better than a great plan too late.

7. Equating the quality of the advice with the position of the person providing it. Wisdom and insight are not linked inextricably to rank and experience.

8. I’m too busy to win. Failure to exploit opportunities that arise by being focused on routine work.

9. I can do your job too. Avoid the temptation to slip back into your old comfort zones. It will smother others.

10. Big person, cold shadow. Consider the effect of your presence and involvement in a task. Will it help or hinder?