Archive for June, 2016

EU Referendum and Staffordshire

Monday, June 27th, 2016

What a week.  We’ve voted to leave the European Union, the Prime Minister has resigned, we’re on the way to a second Scottish independence referendum, and, as I write this on Sunday afternoon, eight members of the Shadow Cabinet have resigned.

Staffordshire voted two to one to leave, in common with many other areas in the North of England and the Midlands.  I can see both sides of the argument.  Having lived in Belgium, France and Germany, I’ve seen the benefits of European integration, but I’ve also seen in those countries, and on military operations in the Balkans, the attitudes inside the EU that have annoyed British politicians, journalists and of course citizens so much.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision, we have to make the best of the country’s future.  There will be big decisions for the next Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet to make, not only about the EU, but about the economy and the country more generally.  We will watch whether large infrastructure projects, including HS2, survive in their present form, and which direction English Devolution takes, to name but two.  We will have to remain focussed and on the front foot.

In the meantime, the day job in Staffordshire hasn’t changed.  There are children to be protected, disabled people to be looked after, and frail elderly to be cared for; and then of course, there are potholes to be filled, infrastructure projects to be managed, and all of the myriad other functions that we undertake for the people of Staffordshire.

As I reflect on a remarkable week, I hope that this is about our leaving the organisation called the European Union, and not cutting ourselves off from Europe.  I suspect that the young people who voted in large proportion to remain were making a statement about their opportunities.  There’s now a monumental task in unpicking 45 years of EEC, EC and then EU membership.

Life just got a bit more complicated/interesting/exciting (delete as applicable, and possibly all three).

Spending control update

Monday, June 20th, 2016

You will know, I hope by now, that I prefer to be upfront and honest with the organisation – I’ve always found that it works best.  I wanted to use this blog entry to give you some feedback on the financial squeeze that we’ve been going through for the past month.

Most of you will be aware that we were in a formal arrangement with the NHS called the Better Care Fund.  In essence, we undertook to do certain things to keep people out of hospital and in good health, and they undertook to give us some money for last year, this year and the next. The bottom line is that the CCGs, the bit of the NHS that commissions all their work, don’t believe that they will have enough money to give us our money in this financial year.  We’re stilling fighting hard for the money, and we’re now waiting for the Department of Health to tell us how much we’ll get, if any.  That’s why we’re taking precautionary measures to ensure that we stay within our overall budget.

Understandably, this has spread a bit of concern in the organisation. I do not want you to over-react.  The sum that we’re seeking to save is about 5% of our overall non-schools budget, and we’re making good progress towards the target – I hope to be able to give you some feedback in early July on how we’re doing in more detail.  It isn’t easy in the present taut financial climate, but it will be much easier if we start now, rather than waiting for later in the financial year.

I want to make it clear that this is a tightening of our present arrangements, and not a completely new set of procedures.  We took the right decision of having a rolling MTFS before the start of the Financial Year, with the Business Plan as our guide for how we’re doing; all that we’re doing now is adjusting the targets.  In order to give us more focus on what’s being spent and where, the SLT will have a standing weekly serial where we will examine uncommitted spending and consider any proposals that come from within the organisation, both for savings and spending.  We will then adjust the Business Plan, with its activities, accountable leads and financial targets, accordingly.

I am absolutely committed to making this work well for the organisation. In my past military service, I’ve seen savings exercises done well and, more often, done badly. In-year savings are notoriously difficult to achieve, and require self-discipline, agility and confidence to avoid inflicting damage on the organisation. Leadership at all levels is needed, and will undoubtedly be tested.  I’m reminded of a quote from Field Marshal Bill Slim, a general who commanded the British Army in Burma, and whom I admire greatly.  He was a self-effacing and approachable man, who had the interests of his soldiers as his first priority. He said, “I’m a hell of general when I’m winning – we all are, but it’s when you’re not winning – and I’ve not always been winning – it is then that the real test of leadership is made”.

Let’s make this happen together.

Queen’s Birthday Honours and Ironman

Monday, June 13th, 2016

It’s always good when good things happen to good people.  The Queen’s Birthday Honours List this weekend has brought some well-deserved recognition for Staffordshire residents.  Philip Atkins’ 30 years of service to local government has been recognised with his appointment as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). As Philip put it, nobody goes into public service with a view of getting these rewards, but it’s certainly a good thing when they happen.

From a personal point of view, and as a governor of Staffordshire University, it was excellent to see David Gage, Chair of Governors, being recognised with an MBE for his charitable works.

These awards put the icing on an excellent weekend celebrating the Queen’s official birthday, with street parties and the Queen’s Birthday Parade.

Also in Staffordshire, we have had Ironman for the second year.  The weather could have been better for the spectators, but for the competitors, light rain is pretty good for keeping cool while burning off so much energy.  My congratulations and admiration to all of our colleagues who took part.

New introductions and farewells

Monday, June 6th, 2016

It’s been a busy and varied week; we said farewell to Jean Evans, our Head of Law, after many years of service to the council. Jean is a magnificent character and a great leader. In my experience, the key quality that one seeks in a legal officer is clarity, and Jean gave us that is spades. We will miss her greatly, and wish her and her husband a long, active and happy retirement.

I met the newly appointed Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Alasdair Walker, in his headquarters on Wednesday with Alan White. He’s a vascular surgeon by background, with a huge amount of experience both clinically and managerially. The Defence Medical Services, which he leads, are one of the jewels in the armed forces crown, having achieved almost incredible survival rates in Iraq and Afghanistan, through the implementation of new and innovative techniques. I hope that we will be able to work with Admiral Walker’s staff and draw on their managerial talents to help us chart our way to better health and care in the county.

The Staffordshire County Show last week was an excellent event, and I was delighted to see the fostering and adopting team, as well as the county farms team present. Having grown up with agricultural shows in Perthshire where my father was a grain merchant, it is refreshing to note that agriculture is such a strong part of the life and the economy of the county.