Posts Tagged ‘digital’

An outstanding college, and a chance to complete the Digital Skills Survey

Monday, November 18th, 2019

We heard this week that Newcastle and Stafford College Group (NSCG) have become the first Further Education (FE) college in England to be judged “Outstanding” across all areas by OFSTED.  This is a major achievement, only 3 years after the amalgamation of Newcastle and Stafford Colleges.  The offer of high quality academic and vocational education and training is key to improving the prosperity of individual residents and Staffordshire’s economy.  The Local Industrial Strategy, which is in its final stages of drafting, makes great play of providing more, highly paid and highly skilled jobs.  NSCG are very much playing their part, and we are very fortunate to have them in the county. 

Talking of skills, we have a Digital Skills survey that is now live to support a Learning and Development offer. The survey is open to the whole workforce, to gain an insight into the current digital skills level of our workforce when using technology and software. The results of the survey, which closes on 27 November, will help us identify a suitable and targeted learning offer to help develop our colleagues.  The links for the Leadership Teams and the  Wider Workforce will take you straight there.  Please take a little time to complete it – it will help us to focus our efforts in this vital area.

It has been pointed out to me that I omitted a specific mention of children with disabilities in my piece in last week’s blog entry on SEND.  Clearly, providing the right support for children with disabilities, with the aim of enabling them to live as independent lives as possible, is our focus in this vital area.  As with those with Special Educational Needs, the focus of our efforts is to allow them to be educated in mainstream settings with the appropriate support, which benefits not only the children with disabilities, but also wider society through greater inclusion.  I am happy to correct the omission. 

Digitisation, and the Children’s Services Ofsted

Monday, February 11th, 2019

I’ve spent part of this weekend with the leadership and governors of Staffordshire University, where I am the Deputy Chair.  It’s a fascinating organisation, on a similar journey of modernisation to the County Council, and facing some interesting challenges.  I learn a lot from the sessions with them and from listening to the people involved, both staff and students. 

Like us, the university in on a digitisation journey, and probably ahead of us in many ways.  They have always been a leader in computer science, and Liz Barnes, the Vice Chancellor, has put huge emphasis on expanding this area, along with computer gaming and e-sports.  This last one was a fascinating example of moving quickly – it went from a concept to delivering the teaching to the first students in little over a year, making Staffs Uni one of the first in the world to offer a degree in e-sports.  We also move quickly in the County Council, but I sense that there was a little more acceptance that it would not be perfect before implementation, and I think that we could learn from that.  If the idea is right, one can keep a little capacity to making running amendments and adjustments as the idea develops.  As the famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre put it, “Better is the enemy of Good”. 

Lastly, many thanks and well done to everybody who has been involved in the OFSTED inspection of our Children’s Services over the past 2 weeks.  We will get the formal feedback in 2 weeks’ time, but the immediate debrief was a positive experience; much that was good and better was reflected to us, and those areas for improvement being known and understood.  I am hugely impressed by the inspirational manner in which everybody “turned to” and told their story to the inspection team – despite our being in the middle of a complex transformation process, everyone that they spoke to was positive about what they were doing and who they were doing it for.  People often talk glibly about leadership – as if it were the secret ingredient in a cake recipe to be added by those in the know – but there is real, quiet and effective leadership in our Children’s Service, built up over a long period.  I’m very proud of you, and a bit in admiration.

Lots going on in August

Monday, August 6th, 2018

With many of our colleagues enjoying some well-earned rest and recuperation, one might expect that life back in SCC would be quieter.  But there is still a lot going on, and I thought that it might be useful to signal some of the more significant activities that affect us all in this blog entry.

We are working closely with a number of external partners on the digital agenda, and I would ask that you take a bit of time to work out where you fit in to these activities, and engage with them as appropriate.  Firstly, we are well into the implementation of Office 365, the latest version of Microsoft Office.  Risual, a Stafford-based software development company are working closely and very well with us across the organisation, to ensure that we get the maximum benefit from this new package.  There are new tools and techniques that we will be using to take us to the next stage in our Smart Working journey.  Have a look at the new package, have a chat with the Change Champion in your area, and think about how you could use this.  For example, is there an another way of holding meetings, rather than face to face, using Teams and Skype?  If you’ve got a good idea, make sure that we hear about it – if you’re not sure to whom to send it, send it to me.

Secondly, we have digital specialists Rainmaker assisting us with identifying and landing digital projects, particularly in the adult social care area.  We have carefully selected them for their record of practical achievement in other local authorities, government departments and private sector businesses, but we must engage with them closely and keep us all focused on delivery.  There is always a temptation for this type of work to default towards working in the strategic sphere, as it is more enjoyable and has more freedom – painting on clouds as a General for whom I once worked put it rather dismissively – but the hard part is making things work in the real world.  We’ve got a good strategy which we’ve worked hard to produce over the past year; now we need to make the jump to the tactics and the delivery.

Thirdly among a large number of other projects, I would highlight the progress towards the Workforce Strategy.  I have been hearing very positive reports from people who have been taking part in the sessions with Sue Evans and our own team from HR.  We will have a first draft coming together in next few weeks, with a view to taking it to Cabinet in October for formal approval.  This is quite rapid progress, and I’m really pleased with it.  Many thanks to all of you who have given your time to ensure that we hear your views, as the important thing with this project is that we collectively feel a sense of ownership.  It is, after all, the basis on which we and our successors will operate as colleagues to support the residents of Staffordshire.

Lastly, if you are planning a holiday in the coming weeks, I hope that you, your family and friends have a relaxing break.

Congratulations to Matt Biggs, and an update on Network Staffordshire

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

I couldn’t begin this week’s entry with any other subject than to congratulate Matt Biggs on being recognised at a national level as local government’s Rising Star of the Year.  This was the first year of this prize, which was presented at the MJ Achievement Awards on Wednesday in London; in the words of the Right Honourable Alan Johnson, this is the prize to which people will aspire in coming years.  Regular readers will remember my mentioning Matt’s excellent leadership of the 30 hour childcare pilot, in which he multiplied the positive effect of this initiative with the simple, yet highly effective, coordination of employers as well as parents and providers – a simple idea to explain, harder in practice, and beautifully executed by Matt and his team.

We had a very useful meeting this week of Network Staffordshire to take stock and work out where next.  Again, regular readers will remember that the Network was an effort to re-energise the Staffordshire Strategic Partnership and brings together leaders from councils, the wider public sector, business, the voluntary sector and our universities.  It’s worked very well, and has spawned the Smart Staffordshire initiative, which crosses public and private sector boundaries, and is ready to float off under its own steam (if that’s not too old-fashioned a metaphor for a digital initiative!). In a nutshell, this project is about putting all the elements in place to help residents and business thrive in the digital age. Having agreed this, we considered several options, and decided to work towards the county’s Industrial Strategy.  This will be a focussed version of the national strategy, and will be hugely relevant after Brexit, when, for example, funding for development, infrastructure and research will be controlled from Westminster rather than Brussels.  The local Industrial Strategy will, we understand, be the key document in terms of making the decisions on where the funding will go.  That means that Staffordshire’s has to jump out compared with the others – the active participation of all members of Network Staffordshire will help to make that happen.

County Show, Future First Events and Childcare Success

Monday, June 4th, 2018

It’s been the week of the Staffordshire Agricultural Show and it was a great pleasure to spend a couple of hours walking around the stands and watching some of the judging of the animals in their competition classes.  Coming from a farming background, I spent a fair bit of my youth at such events with my father, and it is very good to note that “our show” has retained its agricultural feel, demonstrating that farming remains a vitally important part of our economy.  The county council was well-represented, with 3 separate activities and stands.  The Fostering and Adoption team were there with their brightly coloured minibus, spreading the word about our Children’s Service and the constant need for more committed carers for the most vulnerable young people.  Closer to the farming industry were our County Farms team who were getting a lot of interest from those who would like to get into farming but don’t have a family connection to get them started.  And lastly, but by the look of the crowd around the stand, certainly not least, were the Animal Health Team in the main building with the stock pens.  It was a good day out, and the length of the queues and the crowds in the showground suggested that it is a popular one.

On a different tack, next week will be the first in a series of Future Search events running over the next few weeks. These events are an opportunity for you to understand and influence where we’re headed as an organisation and explore how you’ll be supported and rewarded in the future as the role of local government continues to change.

I would urge you to sign up for an event in your area.  They simply won’t work as well as we would like without our combined efforts.


Lastly, it was a delight to receive a thank you letter from The Right Honourable Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education, in recognition of our success in providing 30 hours of childcare.  Not only have we achieved the highest level of participation in the West Midlands, but Matt Biggs, Laura Ballinger and their small team have managed to multiply the effect by engaging with employers as well as parents and childcare providers.  The result is that families are accessing the childcare that they need to get better and better-paid jobs, and, at the same time, get more time together.   It really is quite inspirational and humbling, and is down to the careful and innovative work of a small number of local government officers.  Who says you can’t make a difference?

Meetings, and the common issues facing county councils

Monday, May 14th, 2018

I spent a day and a half with the other County Council Chief Executives last week at their Spring Seminar. It’s always a good event with excellent speakers and discussions. Part of it is quite therapeutic, in terms of understanding that every other large local authority is facing similar challenges to ourselves, but mostly, it’s an opportunity to compare notes and listen carefully to what others are doing.

Not surprisingly, much of the conversation is about keeping up with rising demand and what we are doing about it. Our thinking on digital and on People Helping People is probably about as good as any that I heard. The challenge that everybody is struggling with is using digital initiatives to enable people to do more for themselves and allow us to switch off the existing analogue service. As I write this WLT is wrestling with this very issue.

The other interesting aspect of the seminar is how the rise in demand for children’s services has replaced the concern about adult services across the country.  There is a lot of work being done to understand why this should be so, and we have done some ourselves, but there is no single easy answer. Newton, the consultants, are working with the LGA to analyse the relative costs of different services when compared with deprivation and other drivers. This will be published in early July, and we look forward to reading it.

Meanwhile, I’m off to have one of our periodic meetings with Staffordshire’s Members of Parliament today – more about this next week.

The importance of cyber security

Monday, January 8th, 2018

In the coming weeks, all staff will be required to do some mandatory cyber security training. The importance of this was brought into sharp relief this week, when I was very nearly the victim of a cyber-attack.  It’s apparently called a “whaling attack” which is not a great description so soon after Christmas when I’m trying to lose the effects of the big meals over the festive season. Apparently it’s to do with tricking the “big fish” in an organisation to do something.  In essence, somebody managed to emulate my email without hacking the account and asked Andy Burns, our Finance Director, to pay an invoice immediately.

Thankfully Andy had the presence of mind to ask me a couple of questions face to face, and I was able to confirm that I had not sent the original message.  That said, the message was quite convincing, even using my turn of phrase, and it took some time to discern that it had come from an AOL account, and not my work account as the header suggested.   It’s a reminder to me that we all need to be very careful, and I will be making a point of paying particular attention to the Cyber Security Training.

Many of us have been getting to grips with the new MyHR and MyFinance systems over the past few weeks.  In the main, by which I mean 99% plus, it is going well, but there have been niggles which will need us all to put a bit of effort into solving.  The most obvious one has been the need to initiate purchase orders in MyFinance before making a purchase.  It’s pretty straight-forward, but it is a change of process as well as a change of system, which has caught some people out.  The Finance team is working with the business to resolve the outstanding invoices, but all of us in the management structures need to do our bit – I’m particularly grateful to the Change Champions for dealing with the problems so effectively and with such good humour.

The good news is that the system is intelligent, and once it has learned something, it will be there the next time that you have to do something.  One of the other benefits of bringing managers into the approval of invoices is that it has made us all realise where we can do things better and save money.  For example, as a result of realising how we order stationery, we are re-negotiating our contract with our major supplier to ensure that we don’t have individual invoices and delivery charges for each order.

The Digital Revolution

Monday, December 4th, 2017

We seem to be making real progress on the Smart Staffordshire work, in which the county council is working with our universities, businesses and the Staffordshire public sector.

This last week saw two events, the latest in a series in which there is a commitment and energy that I’ve not seen in this area before. The first was a digital leader’s forum to summarise progress to date and plan next steps, and the second was a meeting of the Staffordshire Hundred, held in the offices of one of our leading digital companies, Risual.

I listen to many presentations about smart cities, and how that will revolutionise the way that we live. If I’m being really honest, they are a bit “techy” talking about sensors in your bin to tell when it needs emptying, and sensors in your bike lamp to work out where you’re getting delayed on your commute.

Both, and many more using location data from your mobile phone, are absolutely possible today and will undoubtedly save time and money, but I believe that they are examples of limited ambition.  If the digital revolution is genuinely a revolution, the biggest opportunities and challenges remain in the human sphere. We need to have the appropriate skills to operate and innovate in this world, and the infrastructure which supports the development. Therefore, the question in my mind is: having got ahead of the curve on Superfast Broadband in Staffordshire, what is next? Is it 5G mobile telephony, Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), or some other technology?

If you’ve got a view, I’d love to hear it.

Better skills will improve our knowledge, which in turn will make us more confident to accept a culture that welcomes data sharing as part of life. It is interesting to note that I’m receiving about 5 emails a day at the moment offering to help me with my General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) problem, laying out the threats and dangers of not getting it right. The only problem is that it isn’t a problem. GDPR clarifies data sharing – we will have to make changes, but it is a good working knowledge of it, not fear, that will get us into the right place.

It’s the human dimension of digital that need our greatest efforts at the moment – skills, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Crowdfunding, and thanks

Monday, September 18th, 2017

There’s a hugely important milestone in our People Helping People work this week, with the launch of the Crowdfund Staffordshire platform. I would ask you all to have a think about whether it can support the important work you are doing.  It’s not just about finding another funding source for activities that we want to do with and for Staffordshire’s residents, but also a very good way of grabbing people’s attention for a particular subject.  In essence, if somebody contributes even a pound, they feel a greater connection and ownership with the issue.

Click here to find out more about the initiative—I would encourage you to have a look at it.


I just also wanted to thank everybody involved in managing the closure of a privately run care home over the past three weeks.  It’s sadly a relatively frequent occurrence, often, but not always, brought on by a poor rating by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).  The team from Health and Care have to find alternative care settings for very frail people at short notice, working with families and friends to get the best solutions.  It’s not an easy task; emotions run high when these things happen, but the team have dealt with the closure in a calm, reassuring manner, finding suitable accommodation for all of the residents.  It’s one of those unseen and thankless tasks that our colleagues do every day, and I, for one, am very grateful to them.


Summer breaks, My HR and the return of IRONMAN 70.3

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

I hope that you have all had a relaxing break over the summer and had the opportunity to spend some well-earned time with family and friends.  In the Henderson household, it continues to be a busy year as we get to the end of our self-build project.  It has meant that every spare moment has been booked with building and construction tasks, as well as supporting my wife, Shona, who has been acting as project manager.  It’s been a long haul, but it’s been worth it.

Back at SCC, this week sees another step on our way to being a smart working organisation with the launch of My HR.  This is rather more than a new software package, as it puts you in control of your own HR and finance.  You will be able to update your details, submit expenses claims, manage your leave and view your payslips from anywhere on your own smartphone.  We’ve taken great care of the introduction, and I’m hugely grateful to the Change Champions who have given so much of your time to ensure that everybody has had the appropriate training.  I know that it has taken you away from your normal duties, and that you have had to demonstrate great adaptability and resourcefulness, but, if and when this introduction is a success, the credit belongs in no small part to you.

Lastly for today, many of you will have read about the Ironman competition continuing in the county next year, and potentially beyond, but moving its finish from Shugborough to Stafford town centre.  This is excellent news, and a real result for our Sportshire Coordinator Jude Taylor who has carefully led the negotiations with a large number of stakeholders.  With the finish in our thriving county town, local people and businesses have an even greater opportunity to view and benefit from this amazing spectacle.