Archive for August, 2016

Getting it right

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Some of you will remember my entry last year on meetings and time-keeping.  I’m delighted that appeared to have an effect on the way we work, especially if the reaction that I got from staff members around the offices was anything to go by.  This observation is on a similar line, about attention to detail.

I know how hard you work, and I know that you strive to give your best every day, often in trying circumstances with difficult projects. I also know that we are fewer in number in a lot of teams, and that means you are often juggling multiple pieces of work. Mistakes are a part of human nature, but they have an impact on our relationships with our partners and residents, and don’t cast us in the best light. Let’s get a grip on this by minimising the errors that creep in to our work, and ensuring that we learn the lessons when things do go wrong.

Regardless of the number of jobs created on the business parks we build, how many people benefit from the social care we provide or the difference we make by keeping hundreds of young people safe from harm, what individual residents think about the county council is generally coloured by their experience of dealing with an individual department on a single issue that they care about. It’s essential in all dealings with local people that we provide good customer care, give people the right information at the right time, and do what we say we will do. That goes for our dealings within the council to, not least with our members, who are the elected representatives of local people.

We often deal with the public in stressful situations, telling them things that they may not want to hear: their child won’t be getting a place at the first choice school; we won’t be resurfacing the road outside their home straight away; access to a child in care is limited; a service or facility that they have grown to love will change or close – the list goes on.  Experience tells us that when residents disagree with our decisions, they will often attack the process as much as the decision itself.  Just recently, I have come across a small number where we have made situations worse in our dealings with Staffordshire people by failing to get simple things right first time.

Not only do these initial failures cause much more work than was avoided by the original slip-up, but it has a corrosive effect on all of our activities and our reputation. Ten seconds spent just checking that everything is in order will save many hours undoing problems caused, not to mention the damage to our reputation.

This is not a widespread issue, and there is no need to over-react.  Our figures from the Local Government Ombudsman this year suggest that we are bucking the trend of rising complaints, with fewer complaints than last year, and fewer upheld.  All that said, part of leadership is understanding what your people are doing, and ensuring that things are being done properly.  Let’s get a grip of this while it’s still a minor problem.

Highways and Amey

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Philip Atkins and I met Andy Milner this week.  He’s the new Chief Executive of Amey, our partner in Infrastructure Plus. He’s just undertaken a full restructuring of the business, concentrating on their outputs, which means that the people with whom we deal have changed. In essence, the company’s focusing on delivery, which should be a benefit for us as customers and partners.

It was good to hear that our contract is very important to them, and they are keen to see performance improve across the board. The benefit for us in working with a large construction company like Amey is that we get access to their research and latest thinking in road and infrastructure repair and maintenance. This new focus will hopefully continue the improvement in performance in repairing Staffordshire’s 6,500 kilometre road network. I was delighted that Andy’s visit on Wednesday was followed by his directors and senior managers the next day when they met with Mark Deaville, Darryl Eyers and James Bailey, the political and officer leads for highways. Given the public interest in this theme – I get more letters about potholes than about any other subject – this is a welcome development.

Gold in Rio

Monday, August 8th, 2016

What a great way to start the week, waking up to Team GB’s first Olympic gold medal won by Uttoxeter swimmer Adam Peaty, who smashed his own world record in the process. An incredible achievement and also fantastic to see his grandmother, 74-year-old Mavis Williams, becoming a social media sensation in the process. Just search #OlympicNan to find out more. Maybe a future champion for us to turn to for inspiration as we become an increasingly digital organisation!

I sent a message to senior managers last week saying thank you for the efforts made on the Business Delivery Plan.  Head of Insight, Planning and Performance Kate Waterhouse briefed Cabinet and SLT on Wednesday about the progress we are making across the organisation.  She demonstrated how our new approach to measuring our work through the so-called Total Performance Management (TPM) tool allowed users to interrogate the data and find out how we’re doing in relation to the deliverables and targets that we have set ourselves.  I know how much work has gone into this, and how it is a bit of a change on how we have done things in recent years, but it is working, and I’m very grateful.

Six weeks after the referendum, and I think many of us were beginning to wonder if we had all been making too much of it, and that nothing would change.  Now, we have a new government, with new priorities, including perhaps a different take on devolution, which might be less focused on cities, and more evenly framed for urban and rural areas.  Slightly worryingly, we have evidence of business and spending plans put on hold, a reduction of interest rates (which I know will be welcomed by many mortgage payers) from their already historic low, and a return of the quantitative easing that we saw in the depths of the down-turn.

The task for us in Staffordshire County Council is to do our very best to get ahead of the opportunities and threats, maximising the former and avoiding the latter.  We’re preparing a paper on Brexit’s Effects for Staffordshire.  When I got to 25 assumptions and 15 major factors, I realised that this was not going to be a trivial task, but it’s necessary.  The only sure thing is that history will prove that it was not 100% accurate, but it’ll be more accurate than doing nothing, and it should help us avoid the worst of the pitfalls.

Philip Atkins has written to all of our wider public sector partners in Staffordshire, telling them about the unanimous agreement at last month’s full council meeting to navigate our way through Brexit, and continue discussions about how all public sector partners work closer and better together to improve the lives of Staffordshire people.

At the moment, there are more opportunities than threats, and that’s how we need to keep it.


John Henderson

One public estate in Staffordshire

Monday, August 1st, 2016

This week has seen us host a group of young Germans who come each year to Staffordshire to maintain the war graves at the Cannock Chase cemetery. We have the only German military cemetery in the UK, containing the graves of those Germans who died either over the UK in aerial combat, or in captivity.  It is a mark of how we have progressed as a society that such a war in Europe between the UK and Germany is now unthinkable.

Closer to home, we submitted our One Public Estate bid, having successfully got through the first stage of selection.  I’m very hopeful that we will be successful and that we can continue some of the excellent work that has been done recently in terms of making better use of public sector land and buildings.  We’ve already got county and district services working together in Codsall, Cannock, Leek, Newcastle and Tamworth, with a new build coming in Newcastle, and more integration in Stafford.  I know that the Government Property Unit were impressed with what we have already achieved, and our aim is to keep up the momentum. I’m pretty sure that we’re unique in our bid in that we have the Ministry of Defence and the NHS actively engaged with us, along with the districts and boroughs, fire and police – that gives us the majority of public sector land-owners, and more flexibility when it comes to designing solutions that reach across what traditionally would have been boundaries.  Stoke-on-Trent City Council have also intimated that they will be linking up with us in this area, as have the Local Enterprise Partnerships.

My old boss, General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the General Staff (CGS) stopped by on Thursday, and had a round table discussion with Philip Atkins, Alan White, David Frost (Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership), Graham Morley (Principal of South Staffordshire College) and myself.  We were keen to find out how ambitious he is for the Army in Staffordshire, as their presence here brings real economic benefits to us. The answer is that he is every bit as keen as we are to see the soldiers and their families in both Stafford and Lichfield engage with the wider county.The hard bit is now to take the strategy and make it real.  It’ll be worth the effort.