Archive for July, 2019

Taking time to reflect in the summer break

Monday, July 29th, 2019

As the schools break up for summer, I hope that you all get some time to relax with family and friends, after what has been a busy period.  There is much to do in the autumn; a new Prime Minister and a promise of leaving the European Union on 31 October, along with a raft of new policy initiatives.  We will certainly have our work cut out when we get back, making links with a completely new group of ministers (with the exception of Health and Care where Matt Hancock stays in post).  But that can probably wait for you to recharge your batteries. 

The natural break in the rhythm of the year allows us an opportunity to reflect on where we are and where we are going.  The major changes internally, which we commenced last autumn, are coming to a close, and we are seeing the new models and structures taking off.  Change on this scale is not easy, and it is something of which we can be very proud.  We are adapting to the world around us; the desired outcomes remain the same, but what activities we do to achieve them, and how we undertake these activities changes.  Some very valued colleagues and long-term friends have left the organisation–they have been part of our journey, and I wish them well in their future.

Looking forward to the autumn, we will be refreshing our strategy again.  The finances remain tight, but Rob Salmon and the team have a coherent plan to move the MTFS forwards which continues the good work that has already been done.  Although it will be something to discuss, I expect that environmental sustainability will rise up the agenda, and will appear in our strategy – the motion at Full Council on Thursday and the appointment of Conor Wileman to the Cabinet are key indicators that we will be Thinking Global but Acting Local.

Graduations and planning for the future

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Philip Atkins, the Council Leader, and I visited the New Beacon Group in Stafford this week to find out their plans for developing the Beaconside site to the east of the county town.  We met Richard Li-Hua, the President of the organisation, and his staff, and received a set of formal briefings, followed by a wide-ranging discussion.  They have great ambitions to link with Chinese universities in a business school and a School of China Studies, as well as with Staffordshire University.  We briefed them on the various plans for the county and the region, including HS2 and Midlands Engine.  It certainly feels like there is something in this that will benefit Stafford in the long term, and we will be working with them closely to achieve it.      

Elsewhere, the end of the academic year means graduations at our colleges and universities.  A few weeks ago, I attended the Newcastle and Stafford College Group graduation at the County Showground; last week it was Staffordshire University and this week it was Keele University.  It was a great pleasure to see so many people receive their diplomas and degrees after so much hard work – we are very fortunate to have such good colleges and universities in Staffordshire which take such a full part in the wider community as well as in academia.  It reminded me that I missed my own graduation because I was under training at Sandhurst – on the morning that I was supposed to be collecting my degree, I was soaking wet through, breathless and aching on an assault course.  There was, as I remember, no sympathy from the instructors!

This week has also seen a range of evening meetings in the many organisations in which we work with partners across the private and public sectors.  The Health and Care Sustainability and Transformation Partnership held a workshop with a wide range of partners on the progress of implementation as we look towards an Integrated Care System, and the Local Enterprise Partnership met to discuss how they are going to strengthen their planning ability as we approach Brexit.  In this latter instance, we will see the end of the EU funding that we have enjoyed for many years, and the start of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will use as its basis the Local Industrial Strategy.  It will come as no surprise therefore. that we are working hard to ensure that this is as good as it can be, so we can attract the businesses and good-quality jobs that we need to continue Staffordshire’s progress.     

Working together to solve some of the big issues

Monday, July 15th, 2019

We had the third of the revamped WLT/OMT Business Development Sessions on Tuesday, and I have to state that the new format is achieving the main aim, which is to engage across the business in the bigger issues that we are facing. It was a packed agenda, and I thought that we had some very useful discussions. We had four vignettes in the first session to set the scene of Doing Our Bit, and I’m very grateful for the effort that Louise, Julie, Ryan, Matt and Dan put into their presentations. Louise Molineux and Julie Street-Anderson talked about using puppets with people with Learning Disabilities; Patrick Baskeyfield talked about Leek Town AC FC, a football club focussed on those normally excluded from sport; and Ryan Proctor and Matt Pringle talked about the clean air initiative, enabling the children of a Cannock primary school to take the issue into their own hands and check air quality outside their school. Dan Maddock then talked about how we are going to make it easier to do our bit, giving time to colleagues to use their professional skills in the wider community, which is something that we will be working on in the coming weeks and months. I was certainly inspired, and from the looks on people’s faces around the room, I was not alone.

I am noticing a greater level of cohesion at the events, with colleagues making contacts across the Council, and working very well together. This is very much what I wanted to achieve, and I hope that you will start to see the benefits of these growing relationships in your everyday activities.

LGA Annual Conference, and thoughts on leadership

Monday, July 8th, 2019

I spent much of last week at the Local Government Association (LGA) Annual Conference in Bournemouth, which was a fascinating experience.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to a breakfast meeting with Matt Hancock MP, the Secretary of State for Health and Care, as well as sitting in the audience to listen to such luminaries as Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England.  It’s a concentrated string of events, in which one usually finds that there is at least 2 things happening at once that one would like to attend.  The overall tone was surprisingly upbeat; local government is an island of relative stability in a turbulent political sea at the moment, and the attendees reflected that feeling.  Ministers were, given the impending change of Prime Minister, naturally guarded in making promises and commitments – they might not be in those jobs in less than a month –  but there was a general impression that local government is doing a good job. 

I also managed to speak to Odger Berndtson’s Emerging Leaders Programme during the week.  This is the major recruitment agency (head-hunters in the vernacular) and they run a scheme for particularly promising candidates whom they have identified for jobs across the private and public sectors.  As a result, I was asked to speak to a group of about 30 on leadership.  I have avoided doing many of these so far; because leadership is taught well in the military, and is something that is hugely important to them, many retired senior officers go into this field, without necessarily understanding the differences across sectors and organisations.  I chose to speak on building trust and confidence, but treating them as relationships rather than one-sided qualities.  There is a recurring theme about trust in leadership circles and forums such as LinkedIn, which is understandable, but the discussion feels, at times, one-sided.  My own view, formed mostly since my arrival in Staffordshire, is that trust, like so many human qualities, is a relationship; if you want to be trusted, you have to trust people.  The same goes for confidence; I want SCC to be a confident, outward-looking organisation, but to do so, I, along with all leaders, have to demonstrate confidence in our colleagues and their abilities.  It all comes back to the assumption that has served me well throughout my working life – we all got up this morning wanting to do a good job.  s

Armed Forces Day, and a mental health event

Monday, July 1st, 2019

With Armed Forces Day last week, we had an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and sacrifices that our armed forces make for our country.  With my own background and experience of moving from the Army to Local Government, it is perhaps not surprising that one of the areas that I am very keen on is the transition of Regulars into second careers and also making the most of the experiences of Reservists both in their civilian employment and in their military appointments.  Last week, I had a fascinating discussion with Dr Penny Mell, the Assistant Director and Transformation and Digital at Walsall Council, and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Signals.  Her current military appointment is as a staff officer in the Army Headquarters, and it was clear from the conversation that the Army and Walsall Council have much to gain from her undertaking similar jobs in different circumstances; the cross-over of ideas allows her to take a different view of the same problems, but importantly based upon a wealth of knowledge and experience.  Sadly, as a country, we don’t make the most of this type of experience, and I would point to the United States, and particularly the Marine Corps, as an organisation where people transition seamlessly between full-time and reservist service, mixing the best ideas and experience to everybody’s benefit.

In other news, Chris Kirkland, the former Liverpool goalkeeper and mental health champion, is visiting Staffordshire County Council this Friday (5 July) to talk about his experiences, and continue the conversation about mental health.  There are a number of places still available, and you can find out more details here.

Do come along if you can – it looks like an excellent event.