Posts Tagged ‘thanks’

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.

The relationship between the private and public sectors

Monday, May 21st, 2018

I was invited to speak this week at a dinner of the New Local Government Network, one of the leading think tanks in our sector.  The subject was the relationship between private and public sectors.  The narrative in the country at the moment on this subject is quite polarised and sceptical, bordering on cynical.  In essence, we have “public good, private bad” on one side and “public bad, private good” on the other. None of these versions represents the reality, and they do us no good.  We have to change the national narrative.

The fact is that nobody would design a county council like it is if we were starting from scratch.  In a recent exercise to understand the breadth of actions we as a county council undertake, Helen Riley found 153 separate activities and services.  No commercial business would contemplate that spread of activity, but there is no other organisation capable of taking them all on.  The political discourse in the country at the moment in local government is around geographical reorganisation rather than functional responsibilities, so it doesn’t look like there is any appetite to change what we do.  What we can do is identify organisations who have a more focussed skillset, and can take on discrete activities.  The private sector will be better in some areas, and the public sector in others. We have some very effective partnerships with both public and private sector organisations, and we adjust them regularly as the situation and demand dictates.  As we move into the next phase of transformation around digital and People Helping People, we will need the very best from both sectors if we are to meet the needs of our residents in the future, and continue to change the local narrative.

On a different, but in reality related area, thanks also to all who took part in Learning at Week work, both teaching and learning.  I was delighted to meet a highly enthusiastic group of colleagues on the stairs of County Buildings on the way to one of the SUMO sessions. My small part was in hosting a webinar with the assistance of Verity Plumb and Jesica Sotelo, which was fun, and a learning experience.  Looking into the webcam without any feedback from the audience reminded me of doing a live TV interview to camera from Northern Afghanistan on the eve of the country’s first presidential election.  It’s quite disconcerting, but it seems to have worked.  If those of you who have seen it think that it has merit as a means of communicating our policy as we move further into Smart Working, let me know, and we’ll do them again.

Thanks to our gritting crews, a ministerial visit, and recognition for Families First

Monday, March 5th, 2018

I couldn’t start this week’s entry with anything other than the winter weather – the combination of snow and wind has made it especially challenging for those keeping the roads clear. Our gritting crews have been flat out for the best part of a week now, and they’ve done a magnificent job. We shouldn’t also forget the Fleetcare crews who have been keeping them on the road in some of most inhospitable conditions for mechanical machinery.

We had a visit from Nadhim Zahawi MP, the newly appointed Minister for Children and Families, on Thursday to see what we are doing in the Government’s flagship 30 hours of childcare scheme. In the pilot, Matt Biggs and his team have taken a bold initiative and engaged with employers as well as families and childcare suppliers to persuade them to change shifts and work patterns so that the families get the most benefit. The challenge is now to do the same at scale with the main scheme but we are already making great progress with Staffordshire now having one of the highest take-up rates in the region, with almost 4,500 children taking advantage of the funded childcare.

It was also a very pleasant surprise to hear that one of our Families First Colleagues is to be recognised by Staffordshire Police for her part in Operation SHADE, a particularly complex and harrowing Child Sexual Exploitation case which came to a conclusion recently. She and a number of colleagues have worked conscientiously and carefully over many months in some pretty difficult circumstances to ensure that the twin aims of bringing the perpetrators to justice and looking after the victims is achieved. It’s quite humbling to be part of the same organisation.