Archive for January, 2019

Capita’s Growth Conference, and the public/private sector

Monday, January 28th, 2019

I spoke at Capita’s Growth Conference on Monday in Manchester, which was a fascinating opportunity.  The company has gone through some turmoil in the past couple of years, along with most of the other outsourcing companies with whom local authorities and the wider public sector do business.  It matters to us in Staffordshire County Council because we have a Joint Venture with Capita in Entrust, delivering our education support services, along with some other capabilities.  We also have relationships with many other commercial partners, and they have been hit by the same issues.

Regular readers will remember my comments that we need a better narrative on our relationships with the private sector than the polarised pendulum swinging between “Public Good, Private Bad” and “Private Good, Public Bad”.  We are fortunate that we seem to have stopped the pendulum in Staffordshire at a point where we recognise that the public sector are better at some things and the private sector at others.  For instance, I would be amazed if any private sector company took on a complete children’s service, as the risks, both financially and reputationally, are almost unlimited.  On the other hand, where we only do things on a relatively small scale, such as our Waste to Energy plant at Four Ashes, it makes sense to engage a partner, such as Veolia, who focusses on this activity and does it many times across Europe – they can build expertise on a scale that we cannot. 

So it was good to listen to Jon Lewis and his team talk about the future direction of Capita, and it struck me that, under his leadership of just over a year, they have moved much more closely to the public sector in terms of social responsibility; I was struck by their Head of Sustainable Development talking about their values and standards – I wouldn’t have heard that 5 years ago.  At the same time, the best public sector organisations, and I would count SCC in that cohort, have become much capable commercially.  It means that the conversations that we are having are different, more informed and a meeting of like minds.  I would predict that the big outsourcing deals are a thing of the past, and we will be working with partners such as Capita on more distinct activities where they have the technical skills and scale that we do not.  It’s a new approach, and I, for one, regard it as a positive move.

The Stoke and Staffordshire LEP Annual Conference

Monday, January 21st, 2019

This week saw the annual conference of the Stoke and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, a combination of public and private sector leaders whose role it is to steer the Staffordshire economy.  Although there is much focus on the LEP Review and whether the current overlapping membership of our 4 southern districts with Birmingham will continue, the real task at hand is writing the Local Industrial Strategy.  This vital piece of work will dictate the level and direction of future central government funding that will replace European funding when we leave the EU – probably as importantly, and more so, is making our economy fit to face the challenges of the coming decade.  It is therefore worth taking some time to make sure that we get it right. 

As the famous American baseball player, Yogi Berra, stated, “Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future”.  The challenge therefore is to get it more right than wrong, as making no predictions, or assuming that current industries and businesses will continue as they are today, is not an option.  The economy of Staffordshire will inevitably change, and the pace of change is accelerating.  The world of work is changing – jobs which exist now will either cease to be, or will require people to adapt, and there will be jobs which we can only guess at now.  The dominant theme would appear to be digital, and speech by Alun Rogers, Vice Chair of the LEP, drove home that message.   We are probably on the right track in our work on Smart Staffordshire, with its focus on enabling people to operate effectively in the future digital world, whether at work, while learning or at leisure, but we certainly can’t afford to be complacent.

Senior Manager’s Conference, and a thank you to the Emergency Duty Team

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Continuing with my theme of renewal and energy in 2019, I was enormously grateful for the enthusiasm and engagement that our leadership demonstrated at this week’s Senior Managers’ Conference at Yarnfield.  The central theme was raising our eyes from the here and now and looking to where we want to go.  To use a motoring analogy, we’ve spent a lot of time under the bonnet in the past year, and now we need to get back into the driving seat and get moving. 

One of the highlights for me in 2018, which was one of the busiest years that I’ve ever experienced, was the increased engagement of the Wider Leadership Team in our thinking and planning.  We have created a level of understanding and knowledge across the organisation that allows us to become much more than a sum of the parts – we wouldn’t have achieved the results which we did in terms of the MTFS, the strategy, and the People Strategy to name but three, if we hadn’t had that engagement.  The Peer Challenge in September found great strengths in the knowledge levels and capability of our Members and Officers, and highlighted the WLT as a particular strength.  I want now to extend that into the Operational Management Team, the level below.  In simple terms, the WLT take the strategic idea from Cabinet and SLT and convert it into the tactical plans required for delivery – the OMT then deliver on those plans for the benefit of Staffordshire’s residents.  Thursday’s conference took a slightly novel form with much more conversation and feedback on 2019’s themes than in previous events, and heralds the first of a regular series of these events involving the OMT in landing our delivery plans.   I predict that this will have a similarly transformative effect.

And finally, I wanted to say a big ‘thank you’ to our Emergency Duty Service (EDS) team.  As you will have no doubt seen on the news, last Wednesday a lorry found to be harbouring 27 migrants was picked up by police on the M6.  Amongst the 27 were four children, so our Emergency Duty Service had to work quickly in tough circumstances to ensure we had everything in place to support these children.  Our EDS team do very difficult job, and this incident was particularly trying.  I wanted to say thanks for their professionalism and the speed in which they worked to ensure these children were getting the right support.

Happy New Year

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Firstly, can I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

I hope that you had an opportunity for some downtime with family and friends, and have returned refreshed.  I would also like to thank those of you who were on duty during the holiday period.  The nature of the services that we provide to the people of Staffordshire is such that we operate around the clock and through holidays.  I know that for some of our services, there is a paradox over Christmas that demand rises rather than falls; the weather can cause more problems on the roads, and for some families and individuals, the festive period can exacerbate the stresses of the rest of the year leading to problems in which we must become engaged.

Looking forward to the New Year, I’d like to share a thought with you that I have found useful in the past.  As we enter the New Year, cast your mind back to when you arrived in your present job, and remember the energy and enthusiasm that you had at that point.  Also, remind yourself of the objectives that you set yourself, and run a checklist on whether you have achieved them.  If you can, try to summon up some of that initial energy, and bring it to your efforts in 2019.