Archive for November, 2020

Staffordshire in Tier 3 and the Spending Review

Monday, November 30th, 2020

The main news this week that Staffordshire and Stoke will be placed in Tier 3 when England exits the national lockdown on Wednesday has somewhat eclipsed the progress we’ve made in reducing infection levels across the city and county, a 25% reduction from the peak 10 days ago. The task in the next two weeks is to maintain this progress and make the reduction to Tier 2 at the next decision point a certainty. 

As well as maintaining residents’ compliance, which is a challenge the longer this emergency lasts, we are working to develop our local Test and Trace programme, using Lateral Flow Testing (LFT). This is the technology which gives results in 30 or so minutes, which allows us to move more quickly in pursuit of outbreaks. We have the freedom to create an end-to-end process from intelligence-led targeting of businesses, schools and communities, through testing, contact tracing and testing of contacts, to support and compulsion for those who have a positive diagnosis. We already have around 150 volunteers applying to be testers in our programme, and we will develop the tactics, techniques and procedures as we learn by doing. 

The other big news this week was the Chancellor’s Spending Review on Wednesday.  Obviously, we will have to wait for the full detail, but I’m cautiously optimistic, and happy with the result. For local government, it was a rollover from this financial year and a little bit more in some important areas; there’s a bit more for social care, the potholes fund continues, and there is a mechanism for recouping a proportion of lost council tax. This last piece is very important, given the economic impact on our residents of the pandemic.

Having been careful in our shepherding of resources over many years, and particularly throughout the pandemic, Staffordshire County Council is well-placed to lead the response and recovery for our residents, businesses and communities, and we can do so without having to make difficult and damaging cuts in our activities.  The advantage of this is that we can remain focused on our residents, complete the transformation programmes as planned and stick to our MTFS, safe in the knowledge that it’s working well.  As an old friend used to put it to me, we’ve made our own luck, and now is the time to make the most of it. 

iManage and leadership energies

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

I thought I might cover something other than Covid this week.  I was fortunate to meet virtually with a group of colleagues on the first workshop of the iManage programme.  You might recall that we agreed at an SLT and WLT session that each member would sponsor a group, and more importantly, take an active role in each of the activities.  I have to say that it was a welcome opportunity to listen to colleagues, discover a new approach to management, and do a little introspection.

Dave Tomkinson of AndPartnership introduced us to the concept of the four energies of leadership: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.  In essence, these are qualities that we all possess in some quantity, and the proportions that we use dictate how we lead and interact with our peers.  The core of his teaching is that, although we have a natural level of these in each of us, we can dial them up and down to suit the situation, within the limits of our approach being credible and genuine.  It got me thinking about how my own approach had evolved over the years, in response to changing environments, the amassing of experience and the evolution of attitudes in society.  For example, a General pointed out to me about 15 years ago that my almost forensic, intellectual approach at that time could be intimidating to those working with me, so I consciously dialled it down. I also dialled down the physical energy and dialled up the emotional energy when I arrived in Staffordshire County Council, as I realised that I was working in a different environment, which needed a different approach. I find it interesting that the Armed Forces have, in the interim, done the same thing in response to the changes in society, with the Sergeant Major of the Armed Forces, Glenn Houghton, speaking openly about mental health; that simply would not have happened a decade ago, but it is very welcome.

The iManage sessions are a real opportunity for all of our managers, and I would really recommend that you make best use of them.  I’d welcome any reflections that you have had as a result of Dave’s sessions and the conversations that follow.

Covid vaccine, virtual events and the US election

Monday, November 16th, 2020

I write this entry in the second weekend of the second lockdown, and in the week that we learned that a vaccine for Covid has achieved 90% effectiveness.  The Prime Minister was absolutely right to be cautious in his optimism at the news, as we remain a long way from putting coronavirus behind us.  All that said, we are a step closer to the finish, and Staffordshire County Council is closely engaged in making any vaccination programme a reality for our residents. 

Meanwhile, we are continuing to operate as we have always done, but with so many more events now virtual than before.  This week saw the excellent Dignity in Care Awards take place virtually, with attendees contributing in the chat box, rather than face to face.  I’ve mentioned this event before, in that it is unusual – possibly unique – in celebrating professional as well as voluntary carers.  It has added another string to its bow by going online.  We also had an Informal Cabinet away-day to discuss the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), which was a hugely useful session in laying out and discussing our options for the years ahead.

Both of these events, and many others, such as the recent Practice Week for our Children’s Services, held entirely virtually, have demonstrated our ability to adapt and overcome these difficulties.  Regular readers will remember my analogy of the pendulum having swung from face to face to virtual, and that it will swing back to some degree; our task is to choose where it stops, making the best of all options.  I’ve asked the Digital Leadership Group to start to consider our preferred choices in the future. Some will return to face to face; some will offer hybrid choices; and some will remain online. Your views count – please let me, or a member of the Group, know what your thoughts are.

I couldn’t finish this entry without a mention of the elections in the United States.  I spent three years living there, and another three working in an American military environment, which taught me that the biggest mistake that Brits make with Americans is thinking that they’re Brits with funny accents.  It really is a different country, and this past fortnight has demonstrated that admirably.  I’m sure they will find a way through it, but the level of Covid infections, hospital admissions and deaths across the US must be a great concern to American public health professionals.   

Tackling coronavirus

Monday, November 9th, 2020

I’m writing this on a very unusual Remembrance Sunday, on the 4th day of the second lockdown.  Although this is a very unwelcome turn of events, it’s probably the only viable option given the rise in infection rates through October.  In Staffordshire, we have risen from below the national average to well above it, with outbreaks in a range of settings. The highest source of transmission though is in and between households – between families and friends. We continue to manage outbreaks down with our local version of Track and Trace, but there is really only one way to make a difference, and that is by changing our individual behaviour. Each and everyone one of us has the power to stop the spread of this virus by staying at home where we can, following the guidance around ‘hands, face and space’, isolating and getting tested if we have symptoms. We’ve got just under four weeks to get Staffordshire back on track.

Hopefully, the four-week lockdown will have the desired effect, but there is a real need to think beyond the New Year and work out what our long-term strategy is. One of the many differences with this lockdown is that the public are tired and stressed after eight months of Covid countermeasures, which have affected our lives and livelihoods.  Thankfully, in Staffordshire, we have always treated our residents with respect and trusted in their common sense.  This puts us in a better place in terms of maintaining the consensus that is required to get through what is already shaping up to be a difficult winter.   

What this means for us as colleagues in Staffordshire County Council is that we remain focussed on doing the best for our residents, while looking out for each other and ensuring that we remain well.  We will continue to work hard when we have to, but also take time to relax and decompress when we can.