Archive for January, 2020

Local Enterprise Partnership, and Holocaust Memorial Day

Monday, January 27th, 2020

There is much happening in the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Local Enterprise Partnership (SSLEP) at the moment, and I thought that readers might wish to take a moment to familiarise yourselves with it.  A new Chair has been appointed in the shape of Alun Rogers, the Founder of risual, a software development company which some may be familiar with from their work with the Council to implement our digital programme.  Alun is a superb choice for Chair, a local business owner who is focussed on getting the very best for Staffordshire.  Even before his appointment, as Deputy Chair, he has been leading the work on forming the Local Industrial Strategy (LIS), a key document to ensure that the County’s economy continues to prosper and makes the most of the opportunities that business outside the European Union holds.  The LEP launched the consultation a couple of days ago and we’re aiming to submit a single response as a county council which employees have the opportunity to contribute to.  Any thoughts/views should be emailed to: matthew.shufflebotham@staffordshire.gov.uk by midnight on 5th February.

We had an excellent Members’ event at Beaconside on Tuesday in which we discussed the Strengths-based Approach for Adult Social Care and Restorative Practice in Child Protection Social Work.  These are hugely important changes for us an authority, and although they come with different terms and tactics, they share a common strategy – that of working closely with families and communities, focussing on what people can do for themselves, rather than on a deficit-based approach of what they can’t do.  Elected Members are enormously important in implementing these policies, and it was hugely encouraging to listen to the level of engagement and conversation around these concepts.  Lastly for this week, Monday 27 January is Holocaust Day, and this year it is particularly poignant as it marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Army in 1945.  We’ve worked with the Holocaust Memorial Trust to produce some material to publicise this event; I would encourage you to browse through it if you have a chance.  Although this year is naturally focussed on the Nazi genocide of European Jews, the reason for having the day is to ensure that such things can never happen again.  Sadly, there are historic examples before and since which suggest that it was not an aberration, and the worrying thing for me was that otherwise and previously decent people convinced themselves and others that killing or denouncing their neighbours was not only all right, but was actually the only proper course of action. It must never happen again.

The importance of listening

Monday, January 20th, 2020

For me, the highlight of a very varied and interesting week was our first LEAD Conference of the year on Tuesday afternoon, which brings together 100+ of the county council’s senior leaders, managers and members of cabinet four times per year.  Regular readers will be familiar with my theme of opportunity for Staffordshire County Council as we enter the new decade, and that came out strongly in the discussions.  This grouping of people is, for me, pivotal to success, as the attendees are the leaders and managers who will take the county council’s strategy, convert it into tactics and make it real.  I was hugely impressed with the energy and morale of everybody there.  I believe that we are ready.

Our external speaker, Simon Eastwood of Blue Starfish, gave an excellent session on communication, focussing on how we speak and how we listen.  Some readers may remember Simon from previous work which he has done with us, but it was the first time for me, and I was hugely impressed.  He told us about the three levels of listening, and it reminded me of my efforts when I first came to Staffordshire of bearing down on our meetings culture.  I think that we have got better, but I brought it up with the group, and the feeling was that we should remind ourselves of the basics.  In essence, let’s make more time for doing meaningful things rather than sitting in meetings.  If you’re checking your emails while sat in a meeting, you should ask yourself what you’re doing there, as you’re not listening at Simon’s third level, where you’re taking in the non-verbal communication as intently as the words.  Equally, can we have another go at timings?  Let’s try to complete a half-hour meeting in 20 minutes and a one-hour meeting in 45 minutes.  That leaves time to do other things, like emails, with complete attention. 

I’ll share one last thing that Simon mentioned, which absolutely rang a bell with me.  If you feel, when talking to somebody, that there’s nowhere else that you’d rather be, discussing any other subject, or with anyone else, then your partner in the conversation has made a great achievement in empathy and leadership.  I know a number of people who fit that description, and my challenge to us all is to be that person.  Have a good week.

New Year, Clarity and Finances

Monday, January 13th, 2020

Firstly, Happy New Year to those of you to whom I have not already seen in person.  I hope that 2020 is a happy, healthy and prosperous year for you and your family.  It is also the start of the new decade, and it feels like we have a number of differences for Staffordshire County Council to take advantage of.  The political stalemate in London has been cleared, and we now have some clarity in terms of leaving the European Union; that clarity will hopefully also extend to getting some of legislation, held up for the three years since the European Referendum, passed.  Secondly, the Prime Minister and his government have stated that they are more focussed on the Midlands and the North of England than they were before, and we must be ready to react quickly to attract as much of that attention – and funding – to Staffordshire.  Thirdly, we are in a good place as an organisation, well-balanced and capable – the obvious partner for realising the government’s ambitions.

Picking up on the last point, if you have not read our Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), it would be worth a few minutes of your time to browse through it.  Getting to this point has been hard; we have made tough decisions and followed through on them.  We are a smaller, more agile organisation than even when I arrived in post five years ago, and I do not underestimate the effort required to get here.  That said, we have come through austerity in good condition, and some of the conversations that I have had on the side-lines of local government events before Christmas about “Is austerity over?” are missing the point.  We are where we are, and we won’t be going back.  If there is some more money in the coming months and years, we will aim to invest it in the future, for the benefit of Staffordshire’s residents, rather than turning on things that we have turned off in the past.  The analogy with our personal finances is, in this case, sound.  When we face a financial shock at home, we can either raid the savings, run up debt on the credit card, or reassess our spending.  Like every sensible person, Staffordshire County Council did the latter, and if our income rises in the future, we will spend it on what we need today and tomorrow.