Archive for October, 2016

Connecting Us Survey results

Monday, October 31st, 2016

We have now done the first cut of analysis of the Connecting Us Survey, and I wanted to share some of the initial feedback with you. In general, there was a better response rate, which is really encouraging. The annual survey is our most important tool for understanding how you feel about working at Staffordshire County Council, what we could do better and what makes for a great place to work. As I’ve said before, I want us to become a learning organisation, always looking to improve what we do for Staffordshire and its people.

Indicators are slightly up on 18 months ago, which is good too, but the same areas that you told us needed attention last year remain in focus. We still need to do better with how our colleagues think that we manage change, and we need to communicate across the organisation more effectively. I could take solace from the difficult year that we’re having with the spending controls as a result of the Better Care Fund (BCF) not being paid, which has resulted in our having to take out £15M in year.  That will always put any organisation under pressure and make management of change harder.  But I’d still like to see us do better.

We will be discussing the detailed results at Senior Leadership Team and with Cabinet in the coming weeks, and most importantly agreeing how we act on what you have told us. We will share the survey results and the action plan with the organisation later this month.

The communications challenge is one that I would like to tackle up front, and I’d appreciate the feedback from readers of this blog.  By the way, I understand that some believe that it’s written by the Comms staff.  I can assure you that I take a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon and spend a few minutes knocking out the thoughts that are uppermost in my mind.  It really is all my own work!  I wouldn’t want anybody else to take the blame for it.

I don’t want to create another load of work for anybody – we’re all busy enough already.  I wonder whether we could use a bit of lateral thinking and modern technology to keep everybody better informed.  For example, I lead the Business Brief every month, usually in the Trentham Room in SP1. It would be very easy to video relevant presentations and updates, and enable you to watch them at a later date through the intranet from your desks.  I’d value your thoughts on this, and indeed any other suggestions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Maximising the economic benefits of HS2 for Staffordshire

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

I spent some of this week at MIPIM UK, the leading property development exhibition in Olympia, London.  We were the as part of the Northern Gateway Development Zone, which is a grouping of local authorities and local enterprise partnerships in Cheshire and Staffordshire with the aim of making the most of the development opportunities of the building of HS2.  As you may be aware, Staffordshire County Council voted against HS2, but now that it has been decided by central government to go ahead with the scheme, our aim is to minimise the environmental impact on our citizens and maximise the economic benefits.

It struck me that the enthusiasm  that I was hearing from many people for HS2 at the exhibition is in stark contrast with the views of many of our citizens.  I wonder whether they, and by they I mean HS2 Ltd, have made the case for the development sufficiently well.  As an engineer, it is fairly clear to me that the issue is not speed, although some people will bang on about being within an hour of London.  It’s about capacity in a crowded network – HS2’s argument is that the new lines are the motorway network for the railways, taking the strain off the crowded Victorian network that runs from the centres of our towns and cities.

The other aspect of HS2 for Staffordshire is if there is opportunity for more well-paid jobs from what will be the largest construction project in the county’s history, we want our fair share of them.  As I write, we simply don’t know how many jobs and how much it will be worth for our companies and citizens. However, mitigating the impact on local communities and the environment, remains our top concern.

Lots to do, and we will stay fully engaged with HS2 and the Northern Gateway Development Zone.

Taking care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children

Monday, October 17th, 2016

The subject of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) has kept us busy this weekend.  Late on Friday evening, the Government wrote to Philip and me telling us that the UK would be taking several hundred young children from the “jungle” camp in Calais, and asking Staffordshire to do its bit. This was specifically for those children and young people with family members in the U.K., but inevitably, the notice that the French government was serious about closing the camp has precipitated an increase in unofficial crossings, some of whom have been found on trucks in Staffordshire.

I tell you this, as it is gives those of you not involved in child protection a flavour of how complex this area is.  These young people appear without warning and present a very different set of problems for our colleagues in Families First than the “normal” problem set of British-resident children. Most charities will focus on giving housing to refugees, but in many ways, this is the easiest part of a complex set.

Many of these young people have lived for extended periods in war zones, without access to proper medical attention, education or even clean drinking water. As a result, they may have physical and mental health needs, as well as needing extra support for schooling and for language if for nothing else. Our normal group of foster carers do great things with Staffordshire children, but are not necessarily best placed in terms of skill sets to offer these young people the support that they need, so we have been looking at how we can attract a group of foster carers who would be better-prepared for this unusual task.  It’s not for the faint-hearted, but we are fortunate in Staffordshire in having a group on consummate professionals in our child protection social workers.  I take my hat off to them.

The Story of Staffordshire and MTFS

Monday, October 10th, 2016

Sometimes, one has to take some time to step back from the daily whirl of events and think ahead.  This week, I made some time to join the Insight team in preparing the Story of Staffordshire for this year. It’s an excellent publication, an in depth analysis of our county laced with the data we need to make the right decisions that will help us deliver better outcomes for Staffordshire people. It should be more widely read than it is. With that in mind, we’re going to advance its publication date so that all of the people who attend a meeting later this month of the county’s public and private sector leaders – called the Staffordshire Strategic Partnership – will receive a copy. The meeting itself is all about Brexit, and how we work together across the county to prepare for the opportunities and challenges that will come when the UK leaves the EU.

Meanwhile, back in the day job, the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) is taking shape – our budget and business plan for 2017-18.  After the decision to have a rolling process at the start of this financial year, and the in-year spending controls forced on us by the non-payment of the Better Care Fund money, it seems that we have spent the whole year thinking about money and savings.  We now have a chance to look forward and think more broadly about how we continue to transform the organisation, and the way we work with partners, to make a positive difference in the lives of local people. I’ll make no bones about it, the financial situation remains tough, but the decisions we make must and will not be all about the money.  We’ve already started the challenge sessions, where we look carefully at the options line by line, and Cabinet and SLT will have three longer sessions in the coming weeks to think through where we want to be as an organisation, with sessions on children, adults and economy and skills.

Using the digital gateway to make digital working a reality

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

You might remember me leading a bit of a charge against unnecessary meetings and poor time-keeping a year or so ago. You will hopefully also have picked up through this blog and my other communications with the organisation that I’m serious about making digital working central to our mindset.

With both those ideas in mind, I had an excellent session with Matthew Gratton and Richard Lancaster on Friday to talk about our Digital Strategy and how we help develop and prioritise digital innovation across the council through a new approach called the Digital Gateway. A good proportion of you will hopefully have heard of or used web-based discussion and sharing platform Pinipa, which is in use across the council, and is a big part of our new digital approach. The delight of the Digital Gateway is that it allows a meeting to take place over a period of days and weeks with the main players adding value at their convenience, without the requirement to physically meet. It’s effectively a forum in which the players can discuss a concept, exchange ideas and views, and ultimately vote on it, as you would in a meeting, but run virtually in a secure environment.

Matthew and Richard took me through a live example where one of our colleagues was seeking funding for a new concept. I know that there are times when face to face meetings cannot be replaced – I would contend that tools like Pinipa and the Digital Gateway allow us to make time for those events which currently get squeezed between all the others. You can find out more about the Digital gateway on the intranet.

Also on a digital subject, if you have not yet completed the Connecting Us Survey, please take a couple of minutes to do so. I certainly found last year’s very useful in gauging the temperature of the organisation, just after I arrived. I’d really value your feedback on how we’re doing, and what we need to concentrate on in the year ahead. Thank you in advance.