Archive for May, 2016

Peak Park Deal, and thank you

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

I wanted to thank those of you who have been involved in examining our expenditure for savings. I’ve been immensely impressed by the positive attitude that has accompanied this task. People have, in the main, taken another long, hard look at what we’re doing, and come up with sensible suggestions. This comes, I know, after a hard MTFS process last year, and therefore it’s difficult. Thank you.

I met with Sarah Fowler, the CE of the Peak District National Park, and Ian Stephenson, CE of Derbyshire County Council this week, in the first of what we hope will be regular meetings to make sure that we get the best for the residents of this beautiful area. Having lived in Germany and the United States, it makes me smile that we have such a relaxed attitude to national parks. In Germany, designating an area as a national park effectively bars entry by people so that nature can take priority. In the UK, we allow people to live in the parks, and indeed, the communities and skills are as carefully nurtured as the natural habitats. I think that we have got it right. We’ve got a Peak Park Deal, which we’ve worked out with Sarah and her team, and the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council team. It’s a good plan, and we’ll work on developing it.

The Shire Leaders and Chief Executives quarterly meeting took place in the Shropshire Council chamber.  We’re all grappling with the same issues – shrinking budgets, devolution, integration of health and care and academisation of schools. There’s always something to learn from our colleagues, but it’s quite reassuring to understand that we’re actually well up with the pack, to use a running term. We have some work to do to develop our own themes of devolution, but it seems clear that not rushing into the cities-focused arrangements last year was the right decision. We’ve got a good level of consensus for enhancing what we have already, providing better integration for the county and its residents.

 

A year at Staffordshire County Council

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Today marks my first year in Staffordshire County Council. I probably won’t give as much attention to anniversaries in coming years, but, given the change from being a General in the Army to being a Chief Executive in local government, I hope that you’ll forgive me a small piece of reflection.

The first, and most important thing to report is that this has been one of the most enjoyable years I’ve had at work for a long time, and it all comes down to the people. I sat at the Staffordshire Day evensong yesterday evening, and the Bishop of Stafford pretty much summed it up. The county is a hidden gem, populated by friendly and pragmatic people. I would say the same of the county council, whether talking of politicians or officers. I often meet people at wider events outside the county who comment on us positively as an organisation.

I’m often asked whether there is a huge change from life in the Army, and the honest answer is that there isn’t as much as I expected. I’m working with exceptional people, making finely balanced decisions – where usually there isn’t a perfect answer, and finding consensus in a financially challenged environment. So not much change there.

If I have one observation and recommendation, it is that we could afford to be more confident in our dealings with partners and with the public. I have found that, when I have explained the reality of the challenges that we face, whether in road repair, child safe-guarding, adult social care or school places, critics quickly understand that there is no easy solution. I think that a more confident organisation would be more agile in thinking through how we are going to keep Staffordshire the attractive place that we all know that it is.

So, thanks for your support in the last year, and here’s to many more.