Archive for June, 2019

#DoingOurBit, awards and helping our care leavers

Friday, June 28th, 2019

The #DoingOurBit campaign has got going very strongly.  Perhaps not at all surprisingly, many colleagues have come forward with the things that they are already doing within their communities and neighbourhoods.  You’ll see some examples on the “splash” page as you log on every day, and they are inspirational.  If you want to know more, you can read about them here.

Our Highways Department has been highly commended at last night’s MJ Awards for their Infrastructure Plus (I-Plus) contract with Amey.  This innovative approach to working with a major construction company has resulted in better results at lower costs.  Of course, there is always more to do, and the truth is that, in a perfect world, we would spend more money on Staffordshire’s roads, but this commendation is more reinforcement that we are getting good value for taxpayers’ money. 

Castle House, the public sector hub in Newcastle-under-Lyme was also short-listed under the infrastructure category.   This new building brings together the borough council’s and all of the county services delivered in Newcastle, along with the housing association and police.  It really is a one-stop shop, and proves that structural reorganisation is not always the answer; one can achieve many of the same results with the right culture and working environment. 

Lastly, it was a great pleasure to hear that our major IT supplier, Specialist Computer Supplies, have offered to give a laptop to each one of our care-leavers who go onto university.  One of the most pleasing aspects about this job is the manner in which Staffordshire County Council really do take the corporate parenting responsibilities for the children in our care seriously.  It is therefore especially pleasing to see our long-term suppliers helping us out in this endeavour.

The importance of #DoingOurBit

Monday, June 17th, 2019

You will hopefully have picked up the launch of #DoingOurBit. This is an honest conversation with residents about Staffordshire County Council helping people to help themselves, with the honesty around what we will now be enabling as opposed to doing, as we might have in the past.  It’s about the county council and residents working together for a better Staffordshire, but in a different way.  Part of this has been collating the countless things that our officers are already doing in their communities, and the presentation by the Destination Innovation group to Informal Cabinet on Wednesday was a real eye-opener.  This group of colleagues are taking an innovative approach to what many companies and organisations call Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), with the unique selling point being that it is about using our professional and organisational skills in our voluntary activities.  The first results suggest that we are engaged very firmly in our communities and groups – many of our colleagues play indispensable roles.  Given that 80% of us are Staffordshire residents, it should be no great surprise, but it’s clear that we are already invested in the project, and #DoingOurBit is as much about turning up the volume as it is something completely new.  I urge everyone to go to http://doingourbit.info  to find out more, and to explore the ideas for small things that everyone can do to help themselves, their family and their community.  Small things really do make a difference.

On Thursday morning, I was invited to speak to the Staffordshire University Staff Research Conference, which was a fascinating event.  Staffordshire University is on a rising curve under a group of excellent people, led by Professor Liz Barnes, whose well-deserved award of a CBE I mentioned last week.  Research is, in many ways, the glue that holds a university together.  It provides the answers to many problems in society, but it also forms the reputation of a university, and gives pride to students and staff.  The big names and projects are often associated with the larger universities, but it was a real pleasure to listen to some of the excellent work being undertaken at Staffordshire University under the direction of Dr Tim Horne, the University’s Director of Research.   

Lastly this week, I attended the Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE) Spring Seminar in Nottingham.  It was a great pleasure to gather with about 30 colleagues from across the country and discuss the big issues in local government as they affect England’s counties.  Although money and finance is never far from the agenda, the big themes this year are the pressures on children’s services and SEND, and the potential of digital to disrupt and improve what we do and how we do it.  After some very good presentations and discussions, it was crystal clear that we are all facing the same issues and challenges and that we need to work more closely together.  The closer links with the County Councils Network (CCN) allows a more effective mechanism for sharing best practice and the costs of innovative solutions.  Staffordshire County Council are engaged in this work, and we will be driving it forward in the coming weeks and months.       

Queens birthday honours, and a Peer Challenge

Monday, June 10th, 2019

I was delighted to see our colleague Sue Ball awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Sue has worked in our library service for more than 30 years. She oversaw the recent moves to new premises at Stafford and Newcastle, and is currently responsible for our strategy and policy. As past chair of the National Association of Senior Children’s and Education Libraries, she was instrumental in developing national approaches to helping expectant parents and tackling childhood obesity. So this recognition is richly deserved.

It was also a great pleasure to read that Professor Liz Barnes, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University has been awarded a CBE Liz has been in post slightly over 3 years, and has achieved a huge amount in a short time, establishing Staffordshire University as a forward-thinking and dynamic institution; this is reflected not only in this award, but also in the consistent climb every year in all of the university league tables.  You may have also seen the aptly named Jean and Bill Foster in the news, awarded MBEs after fostering more than 100 Staffordshire children over the last four decades.

I also want to thank everyone who played their part in making yesterday’s Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire another resounding success. It really is a day when we can showcase our wonderful county to a global audience and many of you play a part every year, either in your day job, by volunteering, or of course, taking part.

I’ve spent the last week leading the Local Government Association (LGA) Corporate Peer Challenge for Nottinghamshire County Council.  Many of you will have been involved in ours last September, and this is now the 4th that I have done, 3 as the team leader.  I have to state that I think that it is a very good system; a team of politicians and officers are drawn from similar councils across the country and facilitated by a permanent LGA senior officer.  This strikes the balance between the risks of having professional inspectors who inevitably become out of touch with what is happening on the ground, and keeping a constant standard across all peer challenges.  In essence, we start with an empathy for the council and understand the issues that they are facing, because we are facing the same things at home, but we have a guide to ensure that we follow the process and produce consistent results. 

Nottinghamshire is probably the closest peer to Staffordshire in the country.  They are a 2-tier authority covering 800 square miles with 817,000 inhabitants and a core city of Nottingham surrounded by the county; we are 1000 square miles with 871,000 and Stoke instead of the county town as the unitary council.  They are doing some really interesting things, and I have come home with at least 3 ideas that I’m going to investigate for Staffordshire.  There are also some significant areas in which we could cooperate, such as digital, where they are copying our MyStaffs app, and we could learn from their digital integration of NHS health and council care records. 

Perhaps most interestingly for those who follow local government closely, is Nottinghamshire’s decision to return to the committee system in 2012, leaving the cabinet system which we have in Staffordshire.  In a council where political control is more finely balanced than it has been in Staffordshire, there are logical reasons for this decision, and the team, all of whom came from cabinet-run authorities, took a genuinely agnostic approach the issues.  What came out was perhaps not surprising; both systems work, and it is the “how” rather than the “what” that is important.  We made some recommendations on how they might use digital means such as Microsoft Teams to speed up the production of papers for their committees, and hopefully it was a useful experience for all involved.