Posts Tagged ‘your council’

COVID in numbers

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Today marks three months since Boris Johnson announced that the UK was going into lockdown. For me, it both feels like yesterday, and also a lifetime ago.  That is not unusual when one is working at pace in a stressful environment.  If you’ve not seen it yet, the COVID in numbers infographic gives just a snapshot of the scale of our response to date. £30m spent supporting care for our elderly and vulnerable residents, 1,400,000 pieces of PPE provided to protect workers in health and care, over 3,000 emergency food parcels delivered… the list goes on.  We must remember that this is primarily a human tragedy – in the past 3 months, over 700 people have lost their lives in Staffordshire, but thanks to your hard work, we have seen the number of deaths in the county continually fall in recent weeks and we are now seeing fewer deaths than we would expect to see at this time of year. As a result, our focus is now shifting to local outbreak control and working with the NHS Test and Trace team/Public Health England to prevent the spread of infection. This is a new responsibility and we’ll be submitting our plans to Government this week. So far, we’re thankful that we have not seen any outbreaks in the county, but we are ready to act when we are needed.

It’s a unique feature of this emergency that we are working on response and recovery at the same time. Many of you are now working hard to support our recovery and early plans were considered at Cabinet for each part of the organisation last week. Already we have seen recycling centres and country park car parks reopen and our schools welcome a wider number of children back to education. We’ve also launched our economic recovery strategy and outlined what we will do to support Staffordshire to get back to business. I know how much hard work has gone into making this happen.

We expect an announcement this week that social distancing will reduce to 1m from 2m, along with a raft of other measures designed to allow life to return to a greater degree of normality while staying safe.  Philip Atkins, Mark Winnington and I met with representatives of the leisure and hospitality sector and a number of our MPs on Friday to clarify what was needed to get these sectors working again.  It was not surprising that the 1m social distancing makes a huge difference to occupancy, just as it does in our offices and schools, but also that they need notice of any changes to implement them in time (beer takes 2 weeks to brew, after all) and they want clarity.  Although it is easy to criticise, particularly when one bears no responsibility for the outcomes, these decisions will weigh heavily on ministers and scientist advising the Government.  There is no perfect answer, but it feels like we can take the next steps towards a return to normality.   

I’ll leave you with one final thought.  This has been something the like of which none of us has previously experienced; I only half-jokingly tell former military colleagues that it’s been an odd mixture of the last five years in Staffordshire County Council and the previous 30 in the Army. The challenges and opportunities presented to us have been exciting and exhausting. It is vitally important that you look after yourself so that we can continue to support our communities to the best of our ability as we go forward. Make use of the support available to you through your colleagues, through Thinkwell, Mindkind and iLearn.  In the coming days, you’ll be invited to share your experiences and views in a short survey so that we can learn from them and emerge from the crisis as a stronger organisation.

Lifting Lockdown, Microsoft Teams, and Online Coaching

Monday, May 18th, 2020

I mentioned in my last entry that we had reached the peak of the outbreak, and were going to be running response and recovery concurrently for probably several months, which is an unusual approach in normal circumstances.  But as you will undoubtedly agree, we are not in normal circumstances, and we have to adapt to the situation around us.  I’ve been immensely impressed with the way that colleagues have stepped into the breach; my abiding memory from this episode will be the fortitude and energy that you have put into their roles, and the willingness that you have shown in adapting to new roles and realities.     

As we plan towards lifting lockdown, last week we sent initial guidance to WLT/OMT and to the wider workforce via The Knot, which is well worth a read.  The key thing is that we are not in a hurry to rush back to our offices; we’ve made our own luck, as an old friend and colleague used to put it, with our efforts in Smart Working, and we can afford to get it right.  You should continue with your current working arrangements until your manager gives you the information that you need; those of you who are working from home should keep doing so.

I take my hat off to the ICT team for their exceptional efforts in maintaining and protecting our network.  With my military background, you won’t be surprised of the importance that I attach to being able to communicate effectively as a means of effective leadership.  The impressive part is that Vic Falcus and his team have not only maintained and protected, but also improved, which is always a risk when engaged in a high intensity operation such as in which we are engaged.  We’ve implemented split tunnelling, which most will have missed, but you won’t have missed the effect that video conferencing got a lot clearer a few weeks ago.  You will however, notice the next change, as we try to move everybody out of Skype and into Teams.  This week, we’ll be starting to encourage colleagues to stop using Skype for Business and start using Microsoft Teams to stay connected. Teams is a much better tool in my opinion and is really easy to use. More info here if you are interested in this.

Lastly for this entry, we’re offering some online Coronavirus Coaching to colleagues to overcome challenges and be the best they can be – we’ve got a pool of internal coaches who are there to support. Coaching is a big part of us being ambitious, courageous and empowered in the workplace. A number of them have agreed to keep coaching remotely, as we continue to work through the coronavirus response and recovery. There are some brief details here, and we’ll be promoting the offer in the various internal updates this week.

Stay safe and well.

Dealing with the present, and planning for the future

Monday, April 20th, 2020

It is a couple of weeks since I wrote a blog entry, mostly because I have been doing a number of video messages for The Knot, but in the spirit of planning for getting back to normal, here goes. Experts believe we are in the peak of the Coronavirus outbreak, and it is clear, that although the statistics of Covid-19 deaths are shocking, the NHS and Social Care Services are holding up well. Having done a brilliant job of constructing the temporary Nightingale Hospitals in London and Birmingham so quickly, it looks like they might now be used for other purposes, as the rate of illness has been kept within the Health and Care system’s ability to admit and treat. That is the strategy, and it seems to be working. The shielding operation whereby up to 1.5 million of the UK’s most vulnerable people are being supported as they self-isolate for 12 weeks, is, in my opinion, a piece of genius, and makes the most of the “N” in our NHS. To my knowledge, no other country is attempting this, as no other country has the level of personal health data at a national level to be able to achieve it. If it works, and I believe it will, it will reduce the death toll from this disease considerably. 

In Staffordshire, the care sector, in which we count Care and Nursing Homes as well as domiciliary care in people’s own homes, is holding up well so far. Starting our efforts to procure and supply Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) early in the emergency has paid huge dividends; we now have a stable and resilient supply chain with trusted suppliers, which has maintained the confidence of the users. That is absolutely key in a contingency operation where demand surges and ebbs, sometimes unpredictably. Having a reliable supply of PPE is a key factor in maintaining and bolstering the morale and effectiveness of the care workforce, and I would ascribe a good portion of the success to those efforts. Recruitment and training for our I Count and I Care volunteers continues, to create an emergency workforce that is able to fill-in where necessary in Care and Nursing Homes where staff are off work, self-isolating for Covid-19. 

Looking ahead, we are already planning to play a leading role in the recovery of Staffordshire’s economy and society. There will be a huge amount to do, and we will have to adopt a pragmatic approach. That said, there is much that come out of this terrible outbreak that is good; I would cite community spirit, the value of public service and a willingness to look at different ways of working to name but three. At Staffordshire County Council, we have cemented into practice the 4 years of cultural and digital changes that we achieved through our Smart Working programme; over 3,000 colleagues are successfully working from home, and we held our first Cabinet meeting over Skype last week. Many commentators are pointing out that things will never be the same again – we need to make sure that we choose the ones that we want.       

The importance of listening

Monday, January 20th, 2020

For me, the highlight of a very varied and interesting week was our first LEAD Conference of the year on Tuesday afternoon, which brings together 100+ of the county council’s senior leaders, managers and members of cabinet four times per year.  Regular readers will be familiar with my theme of opportunity for Staffordshire County Council as we enter the new decade, and that came out strongly in the discussions.  This grouping of people is, for me, pivotal to success, as the attendees are the leaders and managers who will take the county council’s strategy, convert it into tactics and make it real.  I was hugely impressed with the energy and morale of everybody there.  I believe that we are ready.

Our external speaker, Simon Eastwood of Blue Starfish, gave an excellent session on communication, focussing on how we speak and how we listen.  Some readers may remember Simon from previous work which he has done with us, but it was the first time for me, and I was hugely impressed.  He told us about the three levels of listening, and it reminded me of my efforts when I first came to Staffordshire of bearing down on our meetings culture.  I think that we have got better, but I brought it up with the group, and the feeling was that we should remind ourselves of the basics.  In essence, let’s make more time for doing meaningful things rather than sitting in meetings.  If you’re checking your emails while sat in a meeting, you should ask yourself what you’re doing there, as you’re not listening at Simon’s third level, where you’re taking in the non-verbal communication as intently as the words.  Equally, can we have another go at timings?  Let’s try to complete a half-hour meeting in 20 minutes and a one-hour meeting in 45 minutes.  That leaves time to do other things, like emails, with complete attention. 

I’ll share one last thing that Simon mentioned, which absolutely rang a bell with me.  If you feel, when talking to somebody, that there’s nowhere else that you’d rather be, discussing any other subject, or with anyone else, then your partner in the conversation has made a great achievement in empathy and leadership.  I know a number of people who fit that description, and my challenge to us all is to be that person.  Have a good week.

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.          

The General Election, support and Merry Christmas

Monday, December 16th, 2019

I couldn’t not mention the General Election in this week’s blog.  Many readers will have seen my message to all staff on Friday; whatever one’s views, we now have a period of more clarity in front of us; we must use that wisely.  It is mostly due to the hard work over the past years that we in Staffordshire County Council have the ability to plan for the future with confidence.  We still have a challenging Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), but it is achievable and balanced over the 5 year period; that is not something that all local authorities can state.  We have refreshed the strategy to include the focus on environmental sustainability, embody the ambition that we want to champion and support, and to enunciate that balance between encouraging personal responsibility and looking after the most vulnerable.  I’m very grateful for the efforts of Members and Officers across the Council in bringing us to this point.  It feels to me that we have a real opportunity, and we must use it wisely for the benefit of Staffordshire’s residents.    

Some readers may be aware of a recent court case which involved serious threats of violence made against one of our social workers.  I just wanted to mention it, both to thank everybody involved for their prompt and courageous behaviour in bringing this to court, particularly the social worker involved, but also to reassure colleagues that the Council will, in all circumstances, support those who are facing threats or violence.  We regularly work with people in stressful periods in their lives, and often with the most vulnerable people in society.  We will always strive to help and do our best for them, but never at the cost of risking the safety and well-being of our staff.  It’s a fine balance, and I am constantly impressed by the fortitude and resolve that our colleagues demonstrate.  Where that balance is tipped, we will always support our staff.  In this case, due to the significant threats being made, the Magistrates have referred the matter to the Crown Court for a higher sentence; the perpetrator has been remanded in custody until a hearing date is set.

Lastly, in what has turned out to be a very varied blog entry, this is probably the last entry that many readers will read before Christmas.  Can I take this opportunity to thank everybody for their immense efforts in 2019?  It’s been another busy and, at times, stressful year.  Looking back, we’ve achieved a huge amount across the organisation, and I am very proud of you.  I hope that you all have an opportunity to relax and enjoy some time with family, friends and loved ones over the Christmas break, and that you enjoy a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year in 2020.  For those of you who will be on duty in the services which cannot shut down, I hope that you have a quiet duty. 

Inspiration, and getting things done

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely sources, and so it was this week.  One of our Looked After Children acted where many others would have hesitated, and prevented a friend from making a terrible mistake.  Readers will understand if I don’t go into details as the incident involved the potential use of illegal drugs, but that was avoided by a young man who has faced his own challenges, having the strength of character to stand up for what is right.  Along with his own part in this, his foster carer and social worker can take credit for creating a positive environment to allow him to develop as well as he has. 

This time of year involves a number of conferences and events where Chief Executives and other senior leaders in Local Government gather to compare notes and learn from each other.  The conversations this year are framed by the unusual December General Election; policy and its implementation were always to the fore in the discussions.  The thing that has struck me more than anything else in my time in this appointment is the practicality and pragmatism of the Local Government sector.  Central Government, of whatever colour or tone, deal in strategy, policy and theories.  They pull metaphorical levers and switches in Whitehall and hope that they have the desired effect on the ground.  Local Government then takes the idea and makes it real, dealing with the problems and challenges along the way.  Taking a relatively uncontentious promise from the election campaign, on planting tens of millions of trees, it will be local authorities who have to source these trees, find somewhere suitable to plant them, and make sure that they survive into maturity.  It’s a details business, and one which will occupy the attention of councillors and officers long after the ministers and civil servants have moved onto their next initiative.  Having worked in both strategy and tactics, I wouldn’t have it any other way – making things real, as we do in Staffordshire County Council in so many areas, is much more rewarding when the two are connected as we are.  Have a good week.

The New Parent Mentoring Scheme and Vision for Staffordshire

Monday, November 4th, 2019

I’m always heartened by colleagues who take matters into their own hands and come up with solutions – it reminds me of the calibre and energy of our people. I spent some time recently with 5 members of the New Parent Mentoring Scheme, an initiative to assist colleagues who are becoming parents for the first time. The group is made up of people who have recently returned to work themselves from maternity and paternity leave, and who are keen to offer support to those going through the same process.  They focus on providing practical and emotional advice and guidance, providing a “buddy” from prior to the birth through to the return to work.  Some of what they have identified is practical, such as our ICT policies which lock accounts out which have not been active for a number of weeks, but a lot of it is about supporting people who are juggling work and parenthood for the first time. I was enormously impressed with the enthusiasm of the group, and I envisage that it will grow in strength, not only in the practical aspects of supporting colleagues, but also in formulating policy which fits with our People Strategy of retaining, developing and recruiting quality people. 

Also this week we had the high level meeting of the Vision for Staffordshire group, attracting senior leaders from across the public and private sectors.  The three areas that we are focussing on are: Smart Staffordshire, in which we are looking to retain the lead that we have built in superfast broadband into the next generations of 5G mobile phones and fibre broadband; a Data Institute in which we are looking to maximise the sharing of data across the public sector to the benefit of Staffordshire’s residents: and Place Branding, an effort to produce a coherent and compelling brand for Staffordshire with due consideration of our history, but focussing on the county that we want to be in the future. It’s a fascinating set of programmes, and it is clear that the County Council sits at the centre, as the organisation with the reach and the mandate to provide the necessary leadership and effort.

Lastly this week, we had a slightly longer Digital Programme Board in which we conducted an audit into the many digital projects that are running across the County Council. We have deliberately allowed colleagues the freedom to run with projects to make best use of the intelligence and enthusiasm in the organisation, and it was heartening to see how much is going on – over 50 separate projects. The other key finding was that there is remarkably little overlap and duplication, which is always a risk with this approach; it appears that we are much better at working across barriers than sometimes we give ourselves credit for. Watch out for the introduction of a chatbot to assist us in taking Smart Working to a higher level – we’re closer than I had hoped. 

Clothes Swap, and the Queen’s Award for Enterprise

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

For this week’s blog, I wanted to remind everyone about the Waste Team’s brilliant ‘Clothes Swap’ taking place in SP1 today. We throw away so many clothes these days, when many can be reused or recycled. This clothes swap is an excellent way to recycle your old or unwanted clothes, and will help us to think more carefully about what we throw away in future.

For more information and to get involved in this and future swaps, click here.

It was a pleasure to attend the awards ceremony for the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Conversion Rates Experts, a small and highly international digital company which is based in the unlikely setting of a country house in Rugeley.  Most of the employees were there, gathering for their one day a year when they meet face to face.  The rest of the year they work from their homes designing and optimising some of the most world’s biggest companies’ websites.  As well as sharing in their celebration, I learned more about Smart Working from a company that really makes it happen.  They have developed techniques and tools which build the ethos of the company, but the key is getting the culture right, which came as no surprise to me.  In an industry where people move very quickly, they have built up an amazing loyalty.  I’m hoping that Ben Jesson will come to one of our future Senior Managers’ Conferences to explain not only what a successful digital business in Staffordshire needs from its county council, but also perhaps share some tips on the next steps for us in Smart Working.

On a completely different subject, and testament to how varied this job is, I returned to the office to present the Health and Care Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) Estates Strategy to senior NHS officials.  Last year, we were disappointed to receive an “Improving” grade for our work, but we listened to the feedback, and this year it looks like we will be heading into “Good” territory.  This is testament to the efforts of a large number of people, but if I can single out 3 for particular praise, it would Wendy Woodward, Becky Jones and Phil Brenner.  The Estates Strategy will not in and of itself makes the transformation that community care needs in Staffordshire and Stoke, but it will enable many of the changes that need to be made, and support the new workforce model, as well as integration of health and care, and the digital offer. 

#CouncilsCan

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!