Queens birthday honours, and a Peer Challenge

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.

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