Archive for January, 2018

Special Blog: Medium Term Financial Strategy

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

We have published our Medium Term Financial Strategy, which includes next year in detail and the further out years in decreasing levels of outline.  In essence, we have a balanced budget for Financial Year 18/19, but not yet for future years.  I’m very grateful for everybody’s efforts in getting us to this point, which has not been easy, and the focus must now turn to making more efficiencies in the future.

My reasons for using my blog to communicate this to you is that I firstly wanted to thank everybody involved in this complex and drawn-out process, but also to signal that we will be adopting a different process for next year.  The process which has served us well for the past decade or so has run its course, and it was clear that going through our activities line by line was not identifying the required reductions to meet our budget.  We have yet to decide exactly what next year’s process will look like, but the first point is that our thinking starts now rather than waiting for the summer, and secondly, we will be looking at decisions which replace and transform activities rather than running them in a leaner manner.

The key driver will undoubtedly be digital, and this will require courage as well as innovation.  In essence, you don’t make the savings with a digital service or activity, unless you turn off the analogue service.  This will require us to bring our residents with us as well as our staff, and follow the analysis of the data that we have gathered.  It’s neither easy nor is it straightforward, but I know that it is possible, and the other key enabler, our workforce, will deliver what is needed.

Encouraging our creative industries

Monday, January 22nd, 2018


I visited Falmouth University with colleagues from Staffordshire University on Tuesday to see how they support entrepreneurs and businesses in Cornwall.  Their Launchpad scheme is a very clever combination of teaching and practical business development, which involves small groups of students developing a business scheme to the point of seeking external investment as part of a master’s degree programme.  About 3 or 4 of the business ideas per year are attracting investment and launching in Cornwall, which is very impressive from a relatively small scale undertaking.  Many of these businesses are digital in nature, and therefore very welcome in an isolated county where seasonal employment in tourism, fishing and agriculture predominate.

Our colleagues from Cornwall County Council were present, and it was an excellent opportunity to compare what we are doing with an informed group of people.  The lessons for us in Staffordshire are that we probably could do more in terms of encouraging the creative industries.  With Staffordshire University occupying the place as the country’s leading computing and computer gaming university, the creative industries are no longer limited to traditional skills such as painting and pottery, or even performing arts – digital has transformed this sector as well, and we are well-placed to capitalise on these developments.

The importance of cyber security

Monday, January 8th, 2018

In the coming weeks, all staff will be required to do some mandatory cyber security training. The importance of this was brought into sharp relief this week, when I was very nearly the victim of a cyber-attack.  It’s apparently called a “whaling attack” which is not a great description so soon after Christmas when I’m trying to lose the effects of the big meals over the festive season. Apparently it’s to do with tricking the “big fish” in an organisation to do something.  In essence, somebody managed to emulate my email without hacking the account and asked Andy Burns, our Finance Director, to pay an invoice immediately.

Thankfully Andy had the presence of mind to ask me a couple of questions face to face, and I was able to confirm that I had not sent the original message.  That said, the message was quite convincing, even using my turn of phrase, and it took some time to discern that it had come from an AOL account, and not my work account as the header suggested.   It’s a reminder to me that we all need to be very careful, and I will be making a point of paying particular attention to the Cyber Security Training.

Many of us have been getting to grips with the new MyHR and MyFinance systems over the past few weeks.  In the main, by which I mean 99% plus, it is going well, but there have been niggles which will need us all to put a bit of effort into solving.  The most obvious one has been the need to initiate purchase orders in MyFinance before making a purchase.  It’s pretty straight-forward, but it is a change of process as well as a change of system, which has caught some people out.  The Finance team is working with the business to resolve the outstanding invoices, but all of us in the management structures need to do our bit – I’m particularly grateful to the Change Champions for dealing with the problems so effectively and with such good humour.

The good news is that the system is intelligent, and once it has learned something, it will be there the next time that you have to do something.  One of the other benefits of bringing managers into the approval of invoices is that it has made us all realise where we can do things better and save money.  For example, as a result of realising how we order stationery, we are re-negotiating our contract with our major supplier to ensure that we don’t have individual invoices and delivery charges for each order.

Happy New Year

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Firstly, I would like to wish you, your families and friends a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year in 2018.

Harold Macmillan was once asked what shaped his tenure as prime minister, to which his answer was, “Events, dear boy, events”. After a year in 2017 when there was no shortage of events, I’m certainly hoping for a bit of stability to get on proactively with the many plans that we have to benefit the residents of Staffordshire.

Top among them is getting our strategy for the next 4 years out. We’ve been very successful in the past couple of years linking the Delivery Plan and the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), and that has been borne out by our results, dealing with the unexpected and delivering at pace and on target. The task now is to link them to the strategy, which means a slightly different type of document to the previous version. In essence, I’m looking for something that goes beyond outcomes and aspirations, vital though they are, and links directly into activities whose success or failure we can measure.

If we get it right, it will be a living document which we’ll redraft every year as we take stock of our progress, and of course those events.