Posts Tagged ‘MTFS’

A meeting with MPs

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Philip Atkins and I spent part of Monday in Westminster for one of our regular catch-ups with the County’s MPs.  It’s always an interesting session, and, given the understandable preoccupation with Brexit in Parliament, it was a pleasant surprise that 6 of our 9 MPs attended in person, with the others represented by their constituency workers.  In slightly over an hour, we had a spirited and good-humoured conversation that covered pretty much everything that the County Council does for Staffordshire residents.

Of course, the question that we were all waiting to be answered is the final outcome of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, delayed until this week because of the Brexit debate.  This is frustrating, but we have had some clarity on at least 2 parts of the money question.  We will be getting an additional £8.89M for highway repair, a repeat of this year’s Adult Social Care grant of £3.5M specifically to ease winter pressures next year, and an additional £6.05M for social care more widely – children’s and adults’.  The main area of uncertainty is the awaited result of our Business Rates Retention Pilot, which would be probably the only money to come without any strings attached.  Of course, it’s all “one-year money” which means that we can’t plan beyond April 2020 with any certainty around it, but it is welcome nonetheless.

A lot of work is currently being done to ensure that we get best value for money, but we think that the conditions are reasonable and will allow us to achieve maximum effect.  If there is a downside, it is that there is little prospect of being able to roll back the MTFS measures which we have published, and we will have to implement what will be a difficult plan.  The extra money will undoubtedly make the implementation easier than it might otherwise have been.

In summary, we are fortunate in having the support of our MPs; they have lobbied strongly on our behalf throughout this difficult year.  Of course, they will be challenging and want us to solve issues for Staffordshire residents, just as our elected Members do, but they do understand the pressures under which we are operating.  Leaving Westminster and the atmosphere generated by the Brexit debate, I was very happy to be returning to the relative calm and sanity of Staffordshire.

Sometimes you have to count your blessings.

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 LGA Peer Review

Monday, September 24th, 2018

This week has certainly been an active one, with the Local Government Association Corporate Peer Challenge and the discussion of our MTFS at Cabinet, among several other key activities. 

The Peer Challenge is effectively our 5 yearly inspection, although the team and the LGA do not use the “I” word; that said, it is a hugely important event, and it is the key point at which external assessors look at the overall health of the organisation.  Ours was led by Councillor Colin Noble of Suffolk County Council and Nathan Elvery, Chief Executive of West Sussex County Council.  We couldn’t have asked for a more accomplished and capable team, and they really got under the bonnet of SCC during their 4 days.  I found it an excellent experience, although definitely not a relaxing one.

We will have to wait for the final report in a few weeks’ time, but the debrief on Thursday afternoon gave us an overall clean bill of health.  They were very complimentary about our people, both members and officers, and highlighted the cohesion and morale in the organisation.  They fed back that we all grasp the financial challenge, and that there is a real will to tackle it.  Nathan was particularly taken by his session with the Wider Leadership Team and the Operational Management Team, as was Colin from his sessions with Cabinet and members.  They also commented on the strength of our external relationships. 

There were some really useful observations which we’ll take on board in the coming weeks.  Our performance and financial reporting is difficult for outsiders to grasp at the first attempt, and we will look at simplifying that, as we will at the length and complexity of our Cabinet reports, which took some time for them to understand.  We also need to get on with the Children’s System transformation and the Workforce Strategy; the team liked them and felt that we should press ahead.  I agree entirely.

Lastly, on a more personal note, we have been making some videos about the mentoring scheme for our Looked After Children.  My interview with Ryan, a looked-after child who has just started at the Defence Sixth Form College is on the intranet if you are interested.  The scheme is open to all officers and members, and allows us to give something back to these children in terms of mentoring.  As I say probably too often on the video, it’s probably the single most rewarding thing that I’ve done in this job.

Leading and managing change

Monday, June 25th, 2018

I went to a number of events last week which centred on leading and managing change, and they have set me thinking. We had an excellent event for our elected Members on Tuesday, during which we discussed the digital and People Helping People programmes. I then spent a fascinating morning presenting at an event for Staffordshire digital businesses with Alun Rogers, Co-founder of Risual, one of our fastest growing digital businesses. Lastly, but by no means least, I sat in on the event on Friday for our Change Champions in County Buildings.

These outwardly very different events all had a common thread, namely how to lead and manage change in a large and diverse organisation such as our own.  We all have a different appetite and readiness for change, and the first trick, if there is one, is to bring those less happy with change along without slowing down the pace.  Recognising that those who fear and resist change are usually doing so out of a wish to protect themselves and the organisation is a good start for leaders.  I have found that it helps enormously in bringing them along on the journey.

Most senior leaders have risen through organisations in the modern Western Model because they are content with uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity; those who prefer to stay in the operator level often prefer clarity and certainty.  In every large organisation, there is a level at which the leader must take the strategic uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity and translate it into tactical clarity and certainty. I sense that level sits at the Wider Leadership Team in Staffordshire County Council, and that is why I’m investing so heavily in bringing them into the planning process for our strategy and MTFS.  The sessions that we have had have surpassed my expectations and hopes.

As we work towards what is an exciting, but frankly uncertain, future, we need to be agile and confident to keep up with the pace of change.  We will achieve that much more effectively by communicating, listening and understanding.