Posts Tagged ‘Finance’

New Year, Clarity and Finances

Monday, January 13th, 2020

Firstly, Happy New Year to those of you to whom I have not already seen in person.  I hope that 2020 is a happy, healthy and prosperous year for you and your family.  It is also the start of the new decade, and it feels like we have a number of differences for Staffordshire County Council to take advantage of.  The political stalemate in London has been cleared, and we now have some clarity in terms of leaving the European Union; that clarity will hopefully also extend to getting some of legislation, held up for the three years since the European Referendum, passed.  Secondly, the Prime Minister and his government have stated that they are more focussed on the Midlands and the North of England than they were before, and we must be ready to react quickly to attract as much of that attention – and funding – to Staffordshire.  Thirdly, we are in a good place as an organisation, well-balanced and capable – the obvious partner for realising the government’s ambitions.

Picking up on the last point, if you have not read our Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), it would be worth a few minutes of your time to browse through it.  Getting to this point has been hard; we have made tough decisions and followed through on them.  We are a smaller, more agile organisation than even when I arrived in post five years ago, and I do not underestimate the effort required to get here.  That said, we have come through austerity in good condition, and some of the conversations that I have had on the side-lines of local government events before Christmas about “Is austerity over?” are missing the point.  We are where we are, and we won’t be going back.  If there is some more money in the coming months and years, we will aim to invest it in the future, for the benefit of Staffordshire’s residents, rather than turning on things that we have turned off in the past.  The analogy with our personal finances is, in this case, sound.  When we face a financial shock at home, we can either raid the savings, run up debt on the credit card, or reassess our spending.  Like every sensible person, Staffordshire County Council did the latter, and if our income rises in the future, we will spend it on what we need today and tomorrow.          


Monday, September 2nd, 2019

With the return from summer holidays, for many of us our thoughts turn to finances.  That is especially so this year, where we are awaiting Chancellor Sajid Javid’s one-year spending round being unveiled on Wednesday 4 September. As was reported in the LGC last month, uncertainty is hanging over at least £3.5 billion of council funding streams for 2020-21, including the £1.8 billion Better Care Fund. 

On Monday 2 September, we will be joining in with the Local Government Association’s #CouncilsCan campaign, to call on the Government to give us the certainly we need from the spending round and ensure we can sustain the services we provide. Councils up and down the country will be posting about how secure funding from Government will help to continue local services. I hope you can join in with the campaign–look out for the hashtag #CouncilsCan on the County Council’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, and get behind the campaign by pressing the like button, retweeting and sharing the posts.  

Hopefully, this will highlight all the great and innovative work done by you and local government every day to keep communities running.  It’s a timely intervention, and I would add that Councils Already Do, and Will Do in the Future, but that probably doesn’t have the same ring as #CouncilsCan!

The Medium Term Financial Strategy

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Most of you are aware that we published our Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) last week. It will be discussed and recommended for approval at Cabinet tomorrow, after which the hard work begins to implement it.

The figures are sobering. We have to take £35M out of our operating costs next year – that’s a bit over 7% across the business. We’ve been at this for a long time – £240M removed from costs over the past 9 years. But as we all know, it gets harder every year as the savings become increasingly hard to find. On top of that, at the same time as we’re finding savings, demand for social care is rising; SCC is spending £315M on children and adults this year against £200M a decade ago. It just means that there is less money around for the things that don’t immediately contribute to safety and health.

With the scale of the changes we are proposing, there will be a period following the Cabinet meeting where detailed plans will need to be drawn up so that you have a clear view of what will happen and when.

I know that this is a very difficult process, and that the announcement has caused a great deal of uncertainty. My undertaking to you is that I will be open and honest and tell you what we know as soon as we can.

I would reiterate my thanks to you personally and corporately for a job well done thus far. I’ve been enormously impressed with the commitment and professionalism of officers making what are often difficult and painful decisions as well as the continued passion of colleagues to do what is right for our citizens. I finish by reminding those of you in leadership positions to do everything you can to support your people as we work to implement this programme.

Our Strategy, and good news for Staffordshire families

Monday, April 9th, 2018


I wanted to make sure that you had all had a chance to familiarise yourselves with the Plan on a Page, the short version of the council’s Strategy.  We have now linked this firmly to our Delivery Plan, which many of you have been involved in. I’m enormously grateful to everybody who has made this a reality.

Many of you will hopefully remember our efforts in the past 2 years to link the Delivery Plan to our medium term financial strategy (MTFS), which we have now achieved. This allows us to align responsibility, accountability and authority, a theme that many of you will have heard me banging on about.  This year, the Delivery Plan is more focussed with only 23 activities, covering the major change programmes. I’m now content that we’ve got Business As Usual (BAU) running well, and I’m happy for that to be covered in Directorate and Team Plans.

The reinforced link to the strategy is however new, and this is what I’d like you to take a little bit of time to read and understand if you haven’t already. Look out for a toolkit in the coming weeks that will help managers and teams talk about the strategy in more detail, and what it means for their day to day work. It will include an interactive version of the plan on a page and other information to make sure our strategy is something that continually guides what we are doing, rather than sitting on a shelf gathering dust

There are two pieces of good news which I’d like to share with you. Our Building Resilient Families and Communities has been awarded Earned Autonomy status. What this means is that we get £5m of government funding up front (in the past we have received payment from Government based on results) so we can develop our work further and faster. The feedback on the quality of the application and on the work that we’re doing in Staffordshire has been effusive. Simply put, Mick Harrison, Barbara Hine and the team are achieving great results for the most troubled families in our county, and, with Earned Autonomy, we can do more.

Secondly, the results of the uptake on the Government’s initiative to provide 30 hours of free childcare have been published, showing that more than 6,000 families in Staffordshire are enjoying this excellent opportunity. This is the highest total in the West Midlands, which means that more families are able to access work and study, and enjoy a better quality of life. The innovative approach undertaken by Laura Ballinger, Matt Biggs and our team to include employers as well as families and providers is clearly working, which is great news indeed.

Putting the MTFS into action

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

We had the first meeting of the combined Wider Leadership Team last week. You will have read and heard that we are going to take a different approach to the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), starting earlier in the year (now for 2019/20 in fact), and looking for initiatives that straddle directorates and functions. It links strongly to the new strategy for the next 4 years that will come into effect in April and the Delivery Plan for 2018/19 which sits below it. I’m delighted that we have now linked all of the key plans together in a cohesive form.

If that sounds a little technical and clunky, then I’ll try to explain it in plain English. We need to save between £20m and £40m next year from a budget of just under £500m – that’s about 4% – 8%; the range of figures is because we won’t know how successful our lobbying has been until late in the year, which means that we have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. It also comes on top of the other savings that we have made in the past decade, so we can expect it to be challenging.

There are a number of ideas being considered, and the role of the WLT group is to land them, and come up with others. My old favourite of digital is especially challenging, but in perhaps unforeseen ways. The new digital service is often hard to get to work technically, but the really hard piece is switching off the old analogue service, because if you don’t do that, you don’t make savings.

So we’ve got a lot to do, but I’m encouraged by the determination and spirit that I encounter across the organisation. Last Monday’s WLT Meeting was a good start, and I think that it will develop into a real thinking powerhouse. We will be following up in the coming weeks with a couple of sessions during which we will work up the options. I’ll certainly be doing all that I can to ensure that we succeed.

Special Blog: Medium Term Financial Strategy

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

We have published our Medium Term Financial Strategy, which includes next year in detail and the further out years in decreasing levels of outline.  In essence, we have a balanced budget for Financial Year 18/19, but not yet for future years.  I’m very grateful for everybody’s efforts in getting us to this point, which has not been easy, and the focus must now turn to making more efficiencies in the future.

My reasons for using my blog to communicate this to you is that I firstly wanted to thank everybody involved in this complex and drawn-out process, but also to signal that we will be adopting a different process for next year.  The process which has served us well for the past decade or so has run its course, and it was clear that going through our activities line by line was not identifying the required reductions to meet our budget.  We have yet to decide exactly what next year’s process will look like, but the first point is that our thinking starts now rather than waiting for the summer, and secondly, we will be looking at decisions which replace and transform activities rather than running them in a leaner manner.

The key driver will undoubtedly be digital, and this will require courage as well as innovation.  In essence, you don’t make the savings with a digital service or activity, unless you turn off the analogue service.  This will require us to bring our residents with us as well as our staff, and follow the analysis of the data that we have gathered.  It’s neither easy nor is it straightforward, but I know that it is possible, and the other key enabler, our workforce, will deliver what is needed.

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.

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.

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