Archive for May, 2017

Manchester, and Volunteering Week

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

I could not start this week’s entry in any other way than to pay my respects to the relatives of those killed in Monday’s terrorist attack in Manchester, and to wish those injured a full recovery.  We had a sombre minute’s silence and speeches in the Annual Council Meeting this week, along with many national events.  Many thousands of words have been written on the subject in the past week, by people far more eloquent than me, and the common theme is a struggle to come to terms with such an attack on an event where the majority of participants are children.

More positively, Volunteering Week starts on Thursday 1 June, and we will be participating fully.  This is all the more relevant as we focus on increasing community capacity, or People Helping People as we have branded it.  The bottom line is that public services in the UK are changing, and we have recognised that individuals and communities are better placed to look after themselves than the state.

In Staffordshire, we have already got a nationally recognised track record of doing this, with community groups running libraries, children’s centres and youth centres, but there is much more to do.  I would recommend watching the People Helping People video for those who have not yet seen it, as it will give you an idea of what is being planned.  You can watch the video by clicking here.

It is about practical initiatives which make the difference to communities, giving them the tools and the techniques to do things for themselves rather than the state doing it for them.  It’s a different type of public service – the old saying of “give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime”, encapsulates it well.


Learning at Work Week; Stafford Office Moves

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Last week was Learning at Work Week, and it was a real pleasure to join a group of colleagues undertaking a 2 hour session on project and change management.  It was led by Helen Leake of the Transformation Support Unit (TSU), and I thought that it was excellent.  I know that many of you attended the other events organised during the week, and I hope that you got as much out of them as I did.  Of course, a true learning organisation does not limit its activities to the one week of the year when there’s a focus on the subject, and I hope that some of you will have got a taster for doing some more study.

I want to thank everyone who has been involved in the Stafford office moves, whether that’s the planning or actually moving.  It has been one of the smoothest, if not the smoothest, move that I have ever experienced.  I only heard of one small wrinkle, and that was solved inside an hour.  Because the moves have been so successful, we’ve closed the Stafford Moves Steering Group a little earlier than anticipated—in essence, there’s nothing left to discuss and plan.

On that note, if you’re a participant in a meeting that achieves little or nothing, please do have the courage to suggest that you cancel or change the meeting’s duration or its frequency.

Lastly, there appears to be a gathering head of steam on digital across the organisation, if that’s not too mixed a metaphor.  I’m delighted that people, at all levels and in all areas, are challenging how we do our business, and suggesting better ways of working.  Please do keep making the suggestions – in my experience, the best ideas come from those who have the fingertip feel for the services that can be improved.



An excellent session during Learning at Work Week

NHS IT Ransomware; The Trusted Executive

Monday, May 15th, 2017

The ransomware attack on NHS IT systems dominated media coverage over the weekend and really brought home the importance of cyber security for an organisation like ours. Technology has transformed the way we provide support to Staffordshire people in recent years. Protecting that technology and the systems we use is everyone’s responsibility at the county council and there are simple things we must all do when using county council IT. Look at for more information in an email to all staff today.

You might remember my mentioning John Blakey of the Aston Business School and his work entitled “The Trusted Executive”.  He has undertaken a survey with us and I recently had a briefing on the results.  John’s thesis is that trust in our society is reducing at an alarming rate – he believes, and I tend to agree, that the pendulum has swung away from our being a deferential society, and that, along with the good things that come with that, something has been lost.  John comes from a private sector background, and we are the first public sector organisation he has surveyed.  It does mean that although the results are illuminating, we don’t really have anybody else to compare ourselves with just yet.

John’s model of leadership works on three pillars – ability, integrity and benevolence.  For anybody who has read Stephen Covey’s books, such as “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Principle Centred Leadership”, he’s coming from a similar direction, striking a balance between traditional leadership qualities such as delivering, coaching and consistency, softer skills in the integrity area such as honesty, openness and humility, and kindness, moral courage and evangelising in the benevolence area.  John surveyed over 300 county council staff, and found that both the senior and wider leadership teams, and me, were strong on ability but weaker on benevolence.

The good news is that you think that leaders are honest and we deliver. On the weaker side, we rated less well on showing our vulnerability, which is not a great surprise, as it is not a quality that one would traditionally associate with leaders – it’s certainly not one that I would have named previously.  I would appreciate some feedback on whether this is something that readers in the organisation would like to see.  Equally, I’d value any thoughts from those that took part, or others, on what you would like us generally, and me in particular, to do more of, less of, or differently.  I found John’s feedback very useful and will be using it as one of the guides as I enter my third year in post.


John Henderson

Chief Executive

My election experience as Returning Officer

Monday, May 8th, 2017

The highlight this week was undoubtedly the county council election on Thursday, and the results day on Friday.  For me, it was the first experience of being a returning officer, and it was fascinating.  The counts were actually undertaken in 8 centres across the county, with the district and borough Chief Executives in charge of the administration, but the results were not final until I read out each result in the Oak Room of County Buildings.  There was something slightly surreal early in the day about reading out a string of results to an empty room, with just our election staff and a couple of journalists.  Later on, some of the successful candidates arrived to listen to the other results as they came in, which provided more atmosphere.   The final result was a significant swing to the Conservatives, who retain control under the leadership of Philip Atkins, who will have 51 of the 62 seats in the council;  there will be 10 Labour members and one independent.

The slightly disconcerting thing about being a returning officer is that one does it as an individual rather than in the chief executive role, which means that if a candidate mounts a challenge in the courts against the running of the election, the returning officer is responsible for his or her own defence.  Insurance, and an eye for detail are therefore key requirements for the role.  It’s all a far cry from my previous election experience.  I was responsible for the security of the first democratic presidential election for the northern 5 provinces of Afghanistan in 2004, while I was commanding the NATO forces there.  I suppose, looking back, that the stakes were higher in terms of danger, but nonetheless, Thursday and Friday were exciting enough as a returning officer.  All went well thanks to the hard work of staff up to and on the day and it was pleasing too that voter turnout was up on the last election at around 35%.

I was in on Saturday morning to sign the new councillors’ declarations of acceptance of office, and it was good to meet so many new members, all keen to do their best for their residents.  This coming week, we have an induction day for the new members where we brief them on multiple issues, and get a chance for SLT and them to get to know each other.

And of course the hard work starts now, working with the Cabinet to deliver their programme for Staffordshire.   With a general election, Brexit, and the county’s economy growing well, I know that we face a challenging and rewarding period ahead of us.

Comparing the challenges of the public and private sector

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

I spent a day last week in my Colonel Commandant role in the Army.  It’s a sort of non-executive director for the part of the Army where I spent most of my service, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), and it was fascinating to reflect on the issues that all organisations in the public and private sector are facing. 

The Army is facing some major challenges in terms of numbers of people and budgets.  The nub of the problem won’t be a surprise to anybody – if you only promote from within the organisation, you have to grow your own leadership, rather than bringing it in from outside.  The Millennial generation don’t want to commit to one career, and therefore the REME has seen average service drop from 15 years to 10 in slightly over a decade.  Add to that the fact that the Army has always done its own training rather than recruiting those already with the required skills, and you’ve got a model which is increasingly out of kilter with modern society. 

What is very reassuring is that the quality of young people who are joining the REME remains very high.  Indeed, we’re having to give graduate engineers more technical responsibility than previously in order to keep them motivated.  In essence, they are serious young people who want to use their hard-won qualifications, and that is a good thing.  For soldiers, we’re looking at how we can recognise the qualifications which they have amassed in Further Education colleges, and shorten the courses that they have to do at Lyneham in Wiltshire where the REME is based; it sounds like a small thing, but it is a large step for the Army.  More broadly, the Army has an advantage over other employers in that those looking to leave have a choice to transfer to the Army Reserve, the old Territorial Army, and continue part-time.  Up until now, we haven’t made enough of those advantage in terms of allowing people to pursue a matrix career, but this change is being driven by necessity.

On budgets and money, and in particular with regard to giving responsibility and flexibility, the Army remains a long way behind local government.  It was fascinating to listen to briefings and discussions about financial issues that we would have solved in Staffordshire County Council at a relatively low level and quickly.  It was disappointing to note that links between different parts of the Ministry of Defence have seemingly not improved since I left regular service 2 years ago; people still appear to make decisions that adversely affect outcomes outside their area without thinking through the consequences.  It was a salutary lesson on which to return to Stafford.

By the way, thanks for the feedback on last week’s entry on attention to detail.  It’s clear that this is a subject that is close to people’s hearts.