Posts Tagged ‘your council’

#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!

Graduations and planning for the future

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Philip Atkins, the Council Leader, and I visited the New Beacon Group in Stafford this week to find out their plans for developing the Beaconside site to the east of the county town.  We met Richard Li-Hua, the President of the organisation, and his staff, and received a set of formal briefings, followed by a wide-ranging discussion.  They have great ambitions to link with Chinese universities in a business school and a School of China Studies, as well as with Staffordshire University.  We briefed them on the various plans for the county and the region, including HS2 and Midlands Engine.  It certainly feels like there is something in this that will benefit Stafford in the long term, and we will be working with them closely to achieve it.      

Elsewhere, the end of the academic year means graduations at our colleges and universities.  A few weeks ago, I attended the Newcastle and Stafford College Group graduation at the County Showground; last week it was Staffordshire University and this week it was Keele University.  It was a great pleasure to see so many people receive their diplomas and degrees after so much hard work – we are very fortunate to have such good colleges and universities in Staffordshire which take such a full part in the wider community as well as in academia.  It reminded me that I missed my own graduation because I was under training at Sandhurst – on the morning that I was supposed to be collecting my degree, I was soaking wet through, breathless and aching on an assault course.  There was, as I remember, no sympathy from the instructors!

This week has also seen a range of evening meetings in the many organisations in which we work with partners across the private and public sectors.  The Health and Care Sustainability and Transformation Partnership held a workshop with a wide range of partners on the progress of implementation as we look towards an Integrated Care System, and the Local Enterprise Partnership met to discuss how they are going to strengthen their planning ability as we approach Brexit.  In this latter instance, we will see the end of the EU funding that we have enjoyed for many years, and the start of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will use as its basis the Local Industrial Strategy.  It will come as no surprise therefore. that we are working hard to ensure that this is as good as it can be, so we can attract the businesses and good-quality jobs that we need to continue Staffordshire’s progress.     

LGA Annual Conference, and thoughts on leadership

Monday, July 8th, 2019

I spent much of last week at the Local Government Association (LGA) Annual Conference in Bournemouth, which was a fascinating experience.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to a breakfast meeting with Matt Hancock MP, the Secretary of State for Health and Care, as well as sitting in the audience to listen to such luminaries as Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England.  It’s a concentrated string of events, in which one usually finds that there is at least 2 things happening at once that one would like to attend.  The overall tone was surprisingly upbeat; local government is an island of relative stability in a turbulent political sea at the moment, and the attendees reflected that feeling.  Ministers were, given the impending change of Prime Minister, naturally guarded in making promises and commitments – they might not be in those jobs in less than a month –  but there was a general impression that local government is doing a good job. 

I also managed to speak to Odger Berndtson’s Emerging Leaders Programme during the week.  This is the major recruitment agency (head-hunters in the vernacular) and they run a scheme for particularly promising candidates whom they have identified for jobs across the private and public sectors.  As a result, I was asked to speak to a group of about 30 on leadership.  I have avoided doing many of these so far; because leadership is taught well in the military, and is something that is hugely important to them, many retired senior officers go into this field, without necessarily understanding the differences across sectors and organisations.  I chose to speak on building trust and confidence, but treating them as relationships rather than one-sided qualities.  There is a recurring theme about trust in leadership circles and forums such as LinkedIn, which is understandable, but the discussion feels, at times, one-sided.  My own view, formed mostly since my arrival in Staffordshire, is that trust, like so many human qualities, is a relationship; if you want to be trusted, you have to trust people.  The same goes for confidence; I want SCC to be a confident, outward-looking organisation, but to do so, I, along with all leaders, have to demonstrate confidence in our colleagues and their abilities.  It all comes back to the assumption that has served me well throughout my working life – we all got up this morning wanting to do a good job.  s

Armed Forces Day, and a mental health event

Monday, July 1st, 2019

With Armed Forces Day last week, we had an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and sacrifices that our armed forces make for our country.  With my own background and experience of moving from the Army to Local Government, it is perhaps not surprising that one of the areas that I am very keen on is the transition of Regulars into second careers and also making the most of the experiences of Reservists both in their civilian employment and in their military appointments.  Last week, I had a fascinating discussion with Dr Penny Mell, the Assistant Director and Transformation and Digital at Walsall Council, and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Signals.  Her current military appointment is as a staff officer in the Army Headquarters, and it was clear from the conversation that the Army and Walsall Council have much to gain from her undertaking similar jobs in different circumstances; the cross-over of ideas allows her to take a different view of the same problems, but importantly based upon a wealth of knowledge and experience.  Sadly, as a country, we don’t make the most of this type of experience, and I would point to the United States, and particularly the Marine Corps, as an organisation where people transition seamlessly between full-time and reservist service, mixing the best ideas and experience to everybody’s benefit.

In other news, Chris Kirkland, the former Liverpool goalkeeper and mental health champion, is visiting Staffordshire County Council this Friday (5 July) to talk about his experiences, and continue the conversation about mental health.  There are a number of places still available, and you can find out more details here.

Do come along if you can – it looks like an excellent event.

The importance of #DoingOurBit

Monday, June 17th, 2019

You will hopefully have picked up the launch of #DoingOurBit. This is an honest conversation with residents about Staffordshire County Council helping people to help themselves, with the honesty around what we will now be enabling as opposed to doing, as we might have in the past.  It’s about the county council and residents working together for a better Staffordshire, but in a different way.  Part of this has been collating the countless things that our officers are already doing in their communities, and the presentation by the Destination Innovation group to Informal Cabinet on Wednesday was a real eye-opener.  This group of colleagues are taking an innovative approach to what many companies and organisations call Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), with the unique selling point being that it is about using our professional and organisational skills in our voluntary activities.  The first results suggest that we are engaged very firmly in our communities and groups – many of our colleagues play indispensable roles.  Given that 80% of us are Staffordshire residents, it should be no great surprise, but it’s clear that we are already invested in the project, and #DoingOurBit is as much about turning up the volume as it is something completely new.  I urge everyone to go to http://doingourbit.info  to find out more, and to explore the ideas for small things that everyone can do to help themselves, their family and their community.  Small things really do make a difference.

On Thursday morning, I was invited to speak to the Staffordshire University Staff Research Conference, which was a fascinating event.  Staffordshire University is on a rising curve under a group of excellent people, led by Professor Liz Barnes, whose well-deserved award of a CBE I mentioned last week.  Research is, in many ways, the glue that holds a university together.  It provides the answers to many problems in society, but it also forms the reputation of a university, and gives pride to students and staff.  The big names and projects are often associated with the larger universities, but it was a real pleasure to listen to some of the excellent work being undertaken at Staffordshire University under the direction of Dr Tim Horne, the University’s Director of Research.   

Lastly this week, I attended the Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE) Spring Seminar in Nottingham.  It was a great pleasure to gather with about 30 colleagues from across the country and discuss the big issues in local government as they affect England’s counties.  Although money and finance is never far from the agenda, the big themes this year are the pressures on children’s services and SEND, and the potential of digital to disrupt and improve what we do and how we do it.  After some very good presentations and discussions, it was crystal clear that we are all facing the same issues and challenges and that we need to work more closely together.  The closer links with the County Councils Network (CCN) allows a more effective mechanism for sharing best practice and the costs of innovative solutions.  Staffordshire County Council are engaged in this work, and we will be driving it forward in the coming weeks and months.       

Queens birthday honours, and a Peer Challenge

Monday, June 10th, 2019

I was delighted to see our colleague Sue Ball awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Sue has worked in our library service for more than 30 years. She oversaw the recent moves to new premises at Stafford and Newcastle, and is currently responsible for our strategy and policy. As past chair of the National Association of Senior Children’s and Education Libraries, she was instrumental in developing national approaches to helping expectant parents and tackling childhood obesity. So this recognition is richly deserved.

It was also a great pleasure to read that Professor Liz Barnes, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University has been awarded a CBE Liz has been in post slightly over 3 years, and has achieved a huge amount in a short time, establishing Staffordshire University as a forward-thinking and dynamic institution; this is reflected not only in this award, but also in the consistent climb every year in all of the university league tables.  You may have also seen the aptly named Jean and Bill Foster in the news, awarded MBEs after fostering more than 100 Staffordshire children over the last four decades.

I also want to thank everyone who played their part in making yesterday’s Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire another resounding success. It really is a day when we can showcase our wonderful county to a global audience and many of you play a part every year, either in your day job, by volunteering, or of course, taking part.

I’ve spent the last week leading the Local Government Association (LGA) Corporate Peer Challenge for Nottinghamshire County Council.  Many of you will have been involved in ours last September, and this is now the 4th that I have done, 3 as the team leader.  I have to state that I think that it is a very good system; a team of politicians and officers are drawn from similar councils across the country and facilitated by a permanent LGA senior officer.  This strikes the balance between the risks of having professional inspectors who inevitably become out of touch with what is happening on the ground, and keeping a constant standard across all peer challenges.  In essence, we start with an empathy for the council and understand the issues that they are facing, because we are facing the same things at home, but we have a guide to ensure that we follow the process and produce consistent results. 

Nottinghamshire is probably the closest peer to Staffordshire in the country.  They are a 2-tier authority covering 800 square miles with 817,000 inhabitants and a core city of Nottingham surrounded by the county; we are 1000 square miles with 871,000 and Stoke instead of the county town as the unitary council.  They are doing some really interesting things, and I have come home with at least 3 ideas that I’m going to investigate for Staffordshire.  There are also some significant areas in which we could cooperate, such as digital, where they are copying our MyStaffs app, and we could learn from their digital integration of NHS health and council care records. 

Perhaps most interestingly for those who follow local government closely, is Nottinghamshire’s decision to return to the committee system in 2012, leaving the cabinet system which we have in Staffordshire.  In a council where political control is more finely balanced than it has been in Staffordshire, there are logical reasons for this decision, and the team, all of whom came from cabinet-run authorities, took a genuinely agnostic approach the issues.  What came out was perhaps not surprising; both systems work, and it is the “how” rather than the “what” that is important.  We made some recommendations on how they might use digital means such as Microsoft Teams to speed up the production of papers for their committees, and hopefully it was a useful experience for all involved.

The benefits of ‘Thinking Outside the Box’

Monday, May 20th, 2019

After a week off, it was straight back into it this week, but in a good way.  This week also marks my 4th anniversary in this appointment, which, as well as being an opportunity to reflect, makes this the longest job that I’ve ever done.  In the military, although you stay with the same employer, you never stay longer than 3 years in any one appointment, and usually a lot less.  Looking back on it, I think that they might be missing something, as I now see many of the things that we started in my early days coming to fruition – our renewed focus on delivery, strategy linked more strongly to tactics, a people strategy in place and digital and smart working taking hold.  I’m enormously grateful to all members and colleagues. 

A really good example of linking strategy to tactics came to my attention this week from Alison Hasdell of the Care Market Development Team (CMDT).  Providing Home Care for some of Staffordshire’s most vulnerable residents is one of our most important tasks, and one of the most difficult.  The profession has suffered from a poor reputation as a career, with 40% staff turnover annually, poor morale and the consequent fragility of providers; you simply can’t run an organisation effectively if you’re recruiting, training and exiting close to half your staff every year.  The CMDT have launched a Health & Social Care sector membership package for Staffordshire Care Providers in association with the Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce. This is the first health & social care package developed specifically for businesses in this sector nationally. It offers care providers access to a range of support, guidance and networking to help grow and sustain successful care businesses, drawing on the advice and support of other dynamic Staffordshire business leaders.

We are really proud that the team has forged a partnership with Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce to help Staffordshire care providers recruit and retain staff.   For me, this is a practical example of our people “thinking outside the box”; it involves a bit more effort now, but it will reap benefits in the future. If it is successful in Staffordshire, it could, and indeed should, be rolled out nationwide.

Supporting children with special educational needs

Monday, April 8th, 2019

I spent Monday afternoon taking part in the Minister for Children and Families Roundtable in London.  Nadhim Zahawi MP chairs a group of civil servants and local authority chief executives who advise him on the best options for Government policy towards children’s services. 

I consider myself very fortunate to be include in this grouping, given that I do not have a professional background in the area, but I have been more vocal than previously in my view that very often the narrative around children’s services is negative. This not only impacts on team morale, but also on recruitment and retention.  We are fortunate in Staffordshire that as an authority, our teams are well supported both by their senior leaders and political leaders. Across the country this is not always the case. 

We talked for much of the session about Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). The Children’s and Families’ Act of 2014 set out an aspiration to consider education, health and care needs in a joined-up way, but many local authorities have struggled to make the theory work in practice. 

This is exacerbated by the way support for children with special educational needs and disabilities in schools is funded and recognised as part of the school inspection regime. Currently, head teachers fund the first £6000 towards the cost of supporting a child with special educational needs and disabilities from their school budget. OFSTED inspections focus heavily on attainment, not inclusion or progress as a measure of success. This means that when school budgets are tight, they face difficult decisions with regards to the balance of support they provide to pupils with and without additional needs.

If our societal aim is to support people with special educational needs and disabilities to enjoy fulfilling and independent lives, we need people to recognise the positive contribution they make to our schools, communities and workplaces, as well as understand the challenges they face. For example, GCHQ has recognised that people with autism are very effective in the complex role of code-breaking, and actively recruit them.  But for this to work well, they need colleagues and bosses who are familiar with the attributes of people on the autistic spectrum. Some of this can come from formal training, but the foundation of this kind of understanding comes from breaking down barriers and children with mixed abilities growing up and learning together at school.  The Minister recognises this, and is currently reviewing the OFSTED inspection regime to ensure that inclusion and progress are as much a measure of success as overall attainment and exam results. Overall, it was a fascinating afternoon with people who really want to make a difference.    

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 Stoke and Staffordshire LEP Annual Conference

Monday, January 21st, 2019

This week saw the annual conference of the Stoke and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, a combination of public and private sector leaders whose role it is to steer the Staffordshire economy.  Although there is much focus on the LEP Review and whether the current overlapping membership of our 4 southern districts with Birmingham will continue, the real task at hand is writing the Local Industrial Strategy.  This vital piece of work will dictate the level and direction of future central government funding that will replace European funding when we leave the EU – probably as importantly, and more so, is making our economy fit to face the challenges of the coming decade.  It is therefore worth taking some time to make sure that we get it right. 

As the famous American baseball player, Yogi Berra, stated, “Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future”.  The challenge therefore is to get it more right than wrong, as making no predictions, or assuming that current industries and businesses will continue as they are today, is not an option.  The economy of Staffordshire will inevitably change, and the pace of change is accelerating.  The world of work is changing – jobs which exist now will either cease to be, or will require people to adapt, and there will be jobs which we can only guess at now.  The dominant theme would appear to be digital, and speech by Alun Rogers, Vice Chair of the LEP, drove home that message.   We are probably on the right track in our work on Smart Staffordshire, with its focus on enabling people to operate effectively in the future digital world, whether at work, while learning or at leisure, but we certainly can’t afford to be complacent.