Posts Tagged ‘election’

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.   

End of year budget

Monday, June 12th, 2017

I’ll probably refrain from making any observations on this week’s General Election, as the dust has not settled and there remains much that is undecided.  Life in Staffordshire, however, goes on, and there is much to do.

We have some good news on the financial front, which is something that I have not been able to write for some time.  The financial outturn for 2016/17 – our end of year budget position – will be published here tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday 12 June). We have closed the gap, which at one point stood at a £22million overspend, down to just over £4.5million, which we can cover from reserves.  Regular readers will remember this from last year’s running theme of in-year savings caused by the failure of the NHS to pay us the £15m contribution in the Better Care Fund (BCF) and an overspend in the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership Trust (SSOTP) for adult social care.

I am delighted that we have managed to reduce our costs by an additional 4% in year, as well as the 6% that we had planned, without causing our services and those who rely upon them significant harm.   Many of you will have heard me say that I have not seen this done well – in-year savings usually cause fratricidal damage inside organisations, and more often than not fail to meet their targets.  Well, I have seen them done well now, and while it has been a tough 12 months, it is down to the efforts of the politicians and officers of the council who have tackled this in an admirably professional manner.  Every part of the business has contributed to the effort, and I am hugely grateful for everybody’s efforts.

The trick now is to take what we have learned in terms of financial awareness, attention to detail and cohesive decision-making, and shift at least part of our attention to the longer term and the big ideas that will make the difference for the citizens of Staffordshire.



John Henderson

My election experience as Returning Officer

Monday, May 8th, 2017

The highlight this week was undoubtedly the county council election on Thursday, and the results day on Friday.  For me, it was the first experience of being a returning officer, and it was fascinating.  The counts were actually undertaken in 8 centres across the county, with the district and borough Chief Executives in charge of the administration, but the results were not final until I read out each result in the Oak Room of County Buildings.  There was something slightly surreal early in the day about reading out a string of results to an empty room, with just our election staff and a couple of journalists.  Later on, some of the successful candidates arrived to listen to the other results as they came in, which provided more atmosphere.   The final result was a significant swing to the Conservatives, who retain control under the leadership of Philip Atkins, who will have 51 of the 62 seats in the council;  there will be 10 Labour members and one independent.

The slightly disconcerting thing about being a returning officer is that one does it as an individual rather than in the chief executive role, which means that if a candidate mounts a challenge in the courts against the running of the election, the returning officer is responsible for his or her own defence.  Insurance, and an eye for detail are therefore key requirements for the role.  It’s all a far cry from my previous election experience.  I was responsible for the security of the first democratic presidential election for the northern 5 provinces of Afghanistan in 2004, while I was commanding the NATO forces there.  I suppose, looking back, that the stakes were higher in terms of danger, but nonetheless, Thursday and Friday were exciting enough as a returning officer.  All went well thanks to the hard work of staff up to and on the day and it was pleasing too that voter turnout was up on the last election at around 35%.

I was in on Saturday morning to sign the new councillors’ declarations of acceptance of office, and it was good to meet so many new members, all keen to do their best for their residents.  This coming week, we have an induction day for the new members where we brief them on multiple issues, and get a chance for SLT and them to get to know each other.

And of course the hard work starts now, working with the Cabinet to deliver their programme for Staffordshire.   With a general election, Brexit, and the county’s economy growing well, I know that we face a challenging and rewarding period ahead of us.