Posts Tagged ‘County Council’

The county’s role in planning new homes

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

We had a visit last week from a couple of senior people from Homes England (HE), the government body which is charged with raising the number of houses being built from a historic low to levels not seen since the 1960s.  It is a daunting task, and our part in it is becoming increasingly clear.  For those with longer memories in SCC, you will remember the Homes and Communities Agency, HE’s predecessor. Some of you may remember that county councils had a formal role in planning through such devices as the structure plan.  Whilst the structure plan no longer exists, we are working with Staffordshire’s districts and boroughs to produce a Strategic Infrastructure Plan, which will create the framework into which individual developments will fit.  We have been doing this in an informal manner in the past, but, with the Council’s new strategy coming into effect last year, we have assumed a more hands-on approach.  I had a look at an early draft this week, and it’s very good.

The feedback from the HE representatives was very positive.  If Staffordshire was a listed company with shares, analysts would be rating us a “buy”.  We have a great location in the centre of the country, with a thriving economy and physical and digital connectivity of which most areas can only dream, yet our property prices are low and incomes are around the national average, which means that Staffordshire residents have more disposable income and a good quality of life.  We cannot allow ourselves to be complacent, and the aim is to build on that attractiveness with developments that meet the future housing need.  As such, we are looking at options for young and old, and energy-efficient developments for the increasingly discerning “green” customer.    

It is an exciting time to be in this area, and the next steps include an invitation to present our plans to the HE Board.  If we get this right, it will not only raise Staffordshire’s profile, but it will free up some government funding to unlock developments that work for all.

If you want to hear more from Mark Parkinson, who has developed our Strategic Infrastructure Plan, you can watch him at the recent Business Brief here.

CCN Conference, Knowledge Exchange and Smart Staffordshire

Monday, November 26th, 2018

I attended the County Councils’ Network (CCN) Conference last week, and rounded it off with a day discussing Smart Cities with representatives from the UK, Germany and France.  The CCN event was refreshingly upbeat, given the challenges that we all are facing, with a real determination to get through.  This was my fourth CCN conference, and they seem to get better every year, with very engaged speakers and higher attendance.  Finances remain the number one issue, but there is just a sense that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.  We await the detail from the Autumn Statement, due on 6 December, but the extra money for social care and highways will certainly help – let’s hope that we are successful in getting a Business Rates Retention Pilot.

I attended a session with other county chief executives at which we agreed to form an online Knowledge Exchange in which we can exchange best practice.  We will lead the implementation from Staffordshire, and I am looking for a facility in which we can swap best practice and seek advice from other practitioners.  The Army started a very successful version during the operations in Afghanistan, which allowed units in theatre to share experiences and seek advice from a wider, but secure, community; the upshot was a much improved and rapid lessons learned process.  If we can achieve that, I would be delighted.

I’m very glad that we published our MTFS early, as it has allowed us to start the discussions with partners early.  There are, as we all are aware, some very difficult measures to implement in our plan, and we will need to bring people with us on what will, at times, be a hard journey.  The evening that Philip Atkins and I spent with the elected members of South Staffordshire District Council was enormously useful in setting the context and seeking their views.  We are discussing similar sessions with a number of other districts and boroughs, which is very encouraging.

Lastly, a footnote on Smart Staffordshire, our version of a smart city.  We appear to be up with the leaders of the pack in our thinking, and our offer is quite unusual, if not unique.  In essence, we are working towards producing as many of the advantages of smart living in a city, but in a mixed urban, suburban and rural setting.  My fellow delegates found our focus on people being enabled to live better lives in a digital world innovative and compelling; many still focus on the technology rather than the people who will use it.  There were some fascinating discussions, including one led by a German technologist who painted a very different and attractive version of retail in our high streets, which is possible now, but which is yet to be taken up.  Clearly, this is a rapidly moving area, and our role is to make it possible for residents and businesses.

The importance of talking openly and honestly about death

Monday, March 26th, 2018

 

I’m attending a friend’s funeral tomorrow, and, as well as reflecting on his life and the people he leaves behind, I couldn’t help but make the connection with the Dying Matters Staffordshire discussion that we’ve started on talking openly and honestly about death.

Nigel served a full career in the RAF and died of a degenerative lung disease in his mid 60s. Although it is desperately sad that he and his wife didn’t get a long retirement together, it strikes me that his early death was probably more planned around his wishes than if he had survived into old age.

This is, in essence, the challenge for us. The UK has the world’s leading palliative care and hospice movement, and we have absolutely got it right for those who die early. We now must extend this learning – the honesty and the compassion – across the population.

Those of us who are not yet in old age are frankly kidding ourselves if we think that our elderly loved ones don’t want to talk about death.  My own mother, now in her late 80s, has made her wishes to remain in her home very clear, and, as a result, we have put in place the measures to keep her there for as long as practical.

This openness must also extend to the health and care sector. Too many nursing home residents die in hospital, surrounded by strangers; the best way of making sure that they die with family and friends in peace is to have the conversations that Nigel had with his wife and his doctors in the weeks before his death. They are not easy conversations, but it makes the grieving process easier.

SLT Away Day; Providing a better health and care system

Monday, July 31st, 2017

The Cabinet and the Senior Leadership Team had our long-awaited Away Day last Monday to consider the direction of Staffordshire County Council over the coming 4 years.  It is probably just as well that we did not have it in the weeks following the county council elections in May, as so much has changed in the intervening time.  Saving any other shocks and upsets, we hopefully have as clear a view of the way ahead as we’re going to get.

The themes were all familiar to us: the future of Health and Care in Staffordshire; how we grow the economy and provide adequate housing for those people whom we hope to attract to the county; how we continue the improvement in Staffordshire’s schools in an environment where our direct influence is waning; and, of course, the future of local government finance to look after the most vulnerable and needy in our society.  We did not aim to get into detail, but rather to sketch out our aims and to make objective judgements on the relative importance of each area, and on relationships with organisations and people.  It was probably one of the most useful days that I have spent since coming to this role over 2 years ago.

On Health and Care, it is clear that we need to do something different.  Staffordshire and Stoke’s Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) has just been graded in the bottom 5 of the 44 STPs nationally – needing the most improvement.  All but one of the measures are in the health arena, with the Delayed Transfers of Care (DTOCs) being the only one with a local authority flavour.  It is often said as a joke that the definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, but in this case, as there so often is, there is a germ of truth in the witticism; the national structures and directives are clearly not achieving the results that anybody seeks.  I felt very proud of our politicians at the full Council meeting the week before last, when all members put party interests aside to vote unanimously for a motion to work with the NHS and the people of Staffordshire to provide the health and care system that meets our needs in the future.  Unlike so many other parts of the country, we are engaged closely with our health colleagues locally, but we do need to align responsibility, accountability and authority locally if we are to make the system work as it should.

 

Improving children’s services

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

I attended a working dinner this week with a group of local authority leaders on the subject of improving children’s services. It was under Chatham House rules, so I will respect the anonymity of the comments made by the other attendees. But the conversation did make me think, and I’d value your views.

What struck me was the almost complete focus on structural solutions and on the role of individuals in senior leadership positions in transforming children’s services.  I can’t help thinking that it is leadership at all levels, along with professionalism, mutual trust and confidence, that has got us to the point in Staffordshire where we have the excellent Children’s Services that we have.

One of my aims since arriving in this role just over 2 years ago has been to align responsibility with accountability and authority.  I would be the first to acknowledge the role of leadership in success, but my experience in many appointments is that you’re only as good as the people whom you lead.

We have an ambitious programme in the Children’s System to reduce the number of Looked After Children, and to produce better outcomes for those for whom we become the corporate parent; these will require our combined efforts, whether you are a child protection social worker, a family support worker, work in a Local Support Team, or in a supporting role such as ICT, or indeed as a senior leader.  As those of us know who are involved in this complex business, there are no easy solutions. Despite that, I have confidence that we have the right people and the right plan.

 

People First Digital Always, and the smart working survey

Monday, July 17th, 2017

There has been some great progress made in recent months on smart working and specifically in the digital arena.  The initial feedback from the smart working questionnaire about which I wrote to everybody last week is very positive, and I would encourage those of you have not yet completed the survey to do so before the closing date this week.  Although it is always reassuring to hear that things are moving in the right direction, and that people feel that their views and aspirations are being addressed, the real value of this survey are the suggestions and ideas from those who are actually doing the job.  You will know far better than me what could be done to improve the way that we do things, and achieve better outcomes for the residents of Staffordshire.

Specifically, I am keen to use digital means to achieve the outcomes that we seek – prosperous, healthy and secure residents.  The overarching idea is that we enable ourselves to do the human aspects of our jobs more effectively by using technology.  It’s not about replacing people with technology, automating processes, or operating machines where one only sees the machine, but rather about using the technology to free us up to concentrate on the things that people do best, namely interact with other people.  We have been thinking about what this would look like in the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), and a suggestion for the strapline is “People First, Digital always”.  I quite like that, and I’d appreciate your views on this, and any other subject.

P.S.  As we enter into Summer Holiday season, can I take this opportunity to wish you, your families and your loved ones, a relaxing and enjoyable break when it comes.

Video Blog: The importance of digital

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

 

 

In my first video blog, I talk about the importance of digital and the opportunities it presents to us here in Staffordshire.

A transcript of the video is also available here:  CXO Video Blog 1 Transcript

 

 

The importance of diversity

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

As a large organisation employing some 5,000 staff, one of our real strengths is the diversity of our workforce, and the contribution this makes to the way we deliver better outcomes for Staffordshire and our people.

Diversity in the workforce is about valuing everyone as an individual, and it is my firm belief that diverse teams, where everybody’s input is valued, make better decisions and produce better outcomes.  A good diversity strategy for an organisation goes beyond what we are legally required to do, and actually makes a direct contribution to employee wellbeing and engagement.

I think it’s important to remind ourselves of the general principles  as well as our own diversity policy.  It is also important that we uphold these principles and, where possible, challenge those who don’t in an appropriate way.

I have already seen many good examples of how diversity is helping the county council to foster a more creative and innovative workforce.  Long may this continue.

A reminder of our diversity policy can be found here.

The Grenfell Fire

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

The fire in the Grenfell tower block in Kensington was a truly horrific event, one that defies description in any normal way.  Our sympathies are naturally with the families of those lost or missing, and with those who have been injured.  There will, of course, be repercussions in how such buildings are built, maintained and managed, and how local authorities and government reacted to the disaster, but that will not bring anybody back.

Having led investigations into fatal accidents and incidents in the past, thankfully none on the scale of Grenfell, the common theme is that there is a chain of events and decisions which lead to the disaster, any one of which having been different would have avoided the event.  I was always left with the slightly frustrated feeling of, “if only this or that had been done, or not done…”.

In order to ensure that public confidence and trust is restored, and most importantly to make doubly sure that people’s homes are safe, we have to ensure that steps are taken to so that this event can never be repeated.  While the County Council is not directly responsible for housing people in Staffordshire or managing blocks of homes, we will do everything that we can as part of the national effort, and more locally to confirm that high rise homes in the county are safe and do not have any of the combination of factors that led to this awful fire.

 

NHS IT Ransomware; The Trusted Executive

Monday, May 15th, 2017

The ransomware attack on NHS IT systems dominated media coverage over the weekend and really brought home the importance of cyber security for an organisation like ours. Technology has transformed the way we provide support to Staffordshire people in recent years. Protecting that technology and the systems we use is everyone’s responsibility at the county council and there are simple things we must all do when using county council IT. Look at for more information in an email to all staff today.

You might remember my mentioning John Blakey of the Aston Business School and his work entitled “The Trusted Executive”.  He has undertaken a survey with us and I recently had a briefing on the results.  John’s thesis is that trust in our society is reducing at an alarming rate – he believes, and I tend to agree, that the pendulum has swung away from our being a deferential society, and that, along with the good things that come with that, something has been lost.  John comes from a private sector background, and we are the first public sector organisation he has surveyed.  It does mean that although the results are illuminating, we don’t really have anybody else to compare ourselves with just yet.

John’s model of leadership works on three pillars – ability, integrity and benevolence.  For anybody who has read Stephen Covey’s books, such as “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Principle Centred Leadership”, he’s coming from a similar direction, striking a balance between traditional leadership qualities such as delivering, coaching and consistency, softer skills in the integrity area such as honesty, openness and humility, and kindness, moral courage and evangelising in the benevolence area.  John surveyed over 300 county council staff, and found that both the senior and wider leadership teams, and me, were strong on ability but weaker on benevolence.

The good news is that you think that leaders are honest and we deliver. On the weaker side, we rated less well on showing our vulnerability, which is not a great surprise, as it is not a quality that one would traditionally associate with leaders – it’s certainly not one that I would have named previously.  I would appreciate some feedback on whether this is something that readers in the organisation would like to see.  Equally, I’d value any thoughts from those that took part, or others, on what you would like us generally, and me in particular, to do more of, less of, or differently.  I found John’s feedback very useful and will be using it as one of the guides as I enter my third year in post.

Yours,

John Henderson

Chief Executive