Posts Tagged ‘your council’

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!

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.