Archive for September, 2018

The LGA Peer Review

Monday, September 24th, 2018

This week has certainly been an active one, with the Local Government Association Corporate Peer Challenge and the discussion of our MTFS at Cabinet, among several other key activities. 

The Peer Challenge is effectively our 5 yearly inspection, although the team and the LGA do not use the “I” word; that said, it is a hugely important event, and it is the key point at which external assessors look at the overall health of the organisation.  Ours was led by Councillor Colin Noble of Suffolk County Council and Nathan Elvery, Chief Executive of West Sussex County Council.  We couldn’t have asked for a more accomplished and capable team, and they really got under the bonnet of SCC during their 4 days.  I found it an excellent experience, although definitely not a relaxing one.

We will have to wait for the final report in a few weeks’ time, but the debrief on Thursday afternoon gave us an overall clean bill of health.  They were very complimentary about our people, both members and officers, and highlighted the cohesion and morale in the organisation.  They fed back that we all grasp the financial challenge, and that there is a real will to tackle it.  Nathan was particularly taken by his session with the Wider Leadership Team and the Operational Management Team, as was Colin from his sessions with Cabinet and members.  They also commented on the strength of our external relationships. 

There were some really useful observations which we’ll take on board in the coming weeks.  Our performance and financial reporting is difficult for outsiders to grasp at the first attempt, and we will look at simplifying that, as we will at the length and complexity of our Cabinet reports, which took some time for them to understand.  We also need to get on with the Children’s System transformation and the Workforce Strategy; the team liked them and felt that we should press ahead.  I agree entirely.

Lastly, on a more personal note, we have been making some videos about the mentoring scheme for our Looked After Children.  My interview with Ryan, a looked-after child who has just started at the Defence Sixth Form College is on the intranet if you are interested.  The scheme is open to all officers and members, and allows us to give something back to these children in terms of mentoring.  As I say probably too often on the video, it’s probably the single most rewarding thing that I’ve done in this job.

The Medium Term Financial Strategy

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Most of you are aware that we published our Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) last week. It will be discussed and recommended for approval at Cabinet tomorrow, after which the hard work begins to implement it.

The figures are sobering. We have to take £35M out of our operating costs next year – that’s a bit over 7% across the business. We’ve been at this for a long time – £240M removed from costs over the past 9 years. But as we all know, it gets harder every year as the savings become increasingly hard to find. On top of that, at the same time as we’re finding savings, demand for social care is rising; SCC is spending £315M on children and adults this year against £200M a decade ago. It just means that there is less money around for the things that don’t immediately contribute to safety and health.

With the scale of the changes we are proposing, there will be a period following the Cabinet meeting where detailed plans will need to be drawn up so that you have a clear view of what will happen and when.

I know that this is a very difficult process, and that the announcement has caused a great deal of uncertainty. My undertaking to you is that I will be open and honest and tell you what we know as soon as we can.

I would reiterate my thanks to you personally and corporately for a job well done thus far. I’ve been enormously impressed with the commitment and professionalism of officers making what are often difficult and painful decisions as well as the continued passion of colleagues to do what is right for our citizens. I finish by reminding those of you in leadership positions to do everything you can to support your people as we work to implement this programme.

The new John Taylor Free School

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

It is always a delight when a long-planned project comes to fruition, and this is particularly so when it has taken a lot of effort and involved a lot of people.  This week sees the opening of the John Taylor Free School in Burton, the first all-new secondary school in Staffordshire in the past 25 years – we’ve refurbished many and rebuilt some more, but this is the first all new school for a long time.  It fills a well-established need in Burton where there has been a significant uplift in the building of new houses, and therefore a notable increase in the birth rate.  The build phase has lasted 2 years, and incorporates such innovations as a leisure hall that is built alongside the school that can be used by the wider community in evenings and weekends as well as the students.

The project was large in every respect, costing £30M from the County Council and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and with a capacity for 1550 pupils.   It was designed by Entrust, our education support services joint venture company with Capita, and constructed by Seddon.  Although the construction ran pretty much to plan, the whole project took a long time to come to fruition, with a wide variety of opinions on where the school should be, and what form it should take.  We are delighted that the location is close to one of the larger developments to the west of Burton, and that the John Taylor Multi Academy Trust has taken the leadership of the school, with Sue Plant as the Head Teacher.  Given their strong reputation for running other schools in Staffordshire, we are sure that this sets the school on the right track for success.

Having got back into the stride of secondary school construction, our Cabinet will be shortly considering a paper which proposes a number of new school construction projects to support Staffordshire’s growing population.

Getting the most out of My Performance Conversations

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

With the arrival of autumn, it’s time to think about our My Performance Conversation (MPC), and the mid-year appraisal.  You might recall my blog a couple of weeks ago about having conversations between leaders and led when things are going well and not so well.  This is just an extension of this, with an opportunity to have a conversation about how it is going.  I would ask you not to get hung up on process, but just to sit down and have an honest and open discussion.

I would offer the following 5 questions as a guide:

How are you?
What’s gone well?
What hasn’t gone so well?
What do you want to do next?
How are we going to get you there?

For many colleagues, the answer to the fourth question will be no change; they don’t want to be promoted, and just want to keep on doing their job well.  I’m very content with that, and I would ask you therefore to make the fifth question: What can we do to make you more effective in that role?  With the Workforce Strategy that we are working up, and the opportunities of apprenticeships in the workplace, there are many ways to develop ourselves and learn.

I take a close interest in who is doing their MPCs and what level they are achieving, because I believe that giving feedback and taking an interest in your people is, in my view, a basic leadership function.  I would suggest that two conversations a year is too few – personally I like to hear feedback as and when it is available – but the rigour of having MPC reminds us in a busy world that we need to do think about our people.