Posts Tagged ‘your council’

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.

Senior Manager’s Conference, and a thank you to the Emergency Duty Team

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Continuing with my theme of renewal and energy in 2019, I was enormously grateful for the enthusiasm and engagement that our leadership demonstrated at this week’s Senior Managers’ Conference at Yarnfield.  The central theme was raising our eyes from the here and now and looking to where we want to go.  To use a motoring analogy, we’ve spent a lot of time under the bonnet in the past year, and now we need to get back into the driving seat and get moving. 

One of the highlights for me in 2018, which was one of the busiest years that I’ve ever experienced, was the increased engagement of the Wider Leadership Team in our thinking and planning.  We have created a level of understanding and knowledge across the organisation that allows us to become much more than a sum of the parts – we wouldn’t have achieved the results which we did in terms of the MTFS, the strategy, and the People Strategy to name but three, if we hadn’t had that engagement.  The Peer Challenge in September found great strengths in the knowledge levels and capability of our Members and Officers, and highlighted the WLT as a particular strength.  I want now to extend that into the Operational Management Team, the level below.  In simple terms, the WLT take the strategic idea from Cabinet and SLT and convert it into the tactical plans required for delivery – the OMT then deliver on those plans for the benefit of Staffordshire’s residents.  Thursday’s conference took a slightly novel form with much more conversation and feedback on 2019’s themes than in previous events, and heralds the first of a regular series of these events involving the OMT in landing our delivery plans.   I predict that this will have a similarly transformative effect.

And finally, I wanted to say a big ‘thank you’ to our Emergency Duty Service (EDS) team.  As you will have no doubt seen on the news, last Wednesday a lorry found to be harbouring 27 migrants was picked up by police on the M6.  Amongst the 27 were four children, so our Emergency Duty Service had to work quickly in tough circumstances to ensure we had everything in place to support these children.  Our EDS team do very difficult job, and this incident was particularly trying.  I wanted to say thanks for their professionalism and the speed in which they worked to ensure these children were getting the right support.

Happy New Year

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Firstly, can I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

I hope that you had an opportunity for some downtime with family and friends, and have returned refreshed.  I would also like to thank those of you who were on duty during the holiday period.  The nature of the services that we provide to the people of Staffordshire is such that we operate around the clock and through holidays.  I know that for some of our services, there is a paradox over Christmas that demand rises rather than falls; the weather can cause more problems on the roads, and for some families and individuals, the festive period can exacerbate the stresses of the rest of the year leading to problems in which we must become engaged.

Looking forward to the New Year, I’d like to share a thought with you that I have found useful in the past.  As we enter the New Year, cast your mind back to when you arrived in your present job, and remember the energy and enthusiasm that you had at that point.  Also, remind yourself of the objectives that you set yourself, and run a checklist on whether you have achieved them.  If you can, try to summon up some of that initial energy, and bring it to your efforts in 2019.

Valuing our ex servicemen and women

Monday, November 5th, 2018

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, in which the greatest number of British service personnel died in any of our wars and conflicts, it is fitting that we focus on those who did not come back. But I would like in this blog entry to ask you to think a little about those who came home from this, and other conflicts, and how they integrated back into society.

Staffordshire has a proud military heritage, and we should remember that our predecessors in 1918 spoke of making a country fit for heroes to live in. Just as we do now, they worked on building houses and providing jobs for the men and women who returned. I believe that this effort is as relevant today as it was in 1918; we must encourage young men and women to serve in our armed services, and, as importantly, make every effort to integrate them back into civilian society at the end of their service.

There is something about military service that brings people from all backgrounds together, and that is especially true of people who have experienced service in war and conflict. I am always surprised when I meet ex-service men and women who have been out of uniform for up to 70 years, at how they focus on their military service as one of the most important periods of their lives. There are a small proportion who are physically or mentally damaged by their service, but most of us emerge more confident and capable, ready to serve wider society just as we did in uniform.

With many of us now enjoying more than one career in our life time, I would encourage all employers to consider the huge rewards that having a ex-service person on their side and in their team could have.

The Local Government Challenge, and Destination Innovation

Monday, October 8th, 2018

We had two teams in the West Midlands Employers (WME) Local Government Challenge last week, and they both did very well indeed.  This is an exercise in which teams are given a series of tasks simulated to represent the normal working of a local authority, albeit with a year’s worth of activities crammed into one day!  It’s a significant effort to put on such an exercise, as there is the writing to ensure that participants are given realistic and challenging tasks, but also from the number of people who are required to act as the external contacts for the teams to work with.  WME do it very well, and everybody always gets a great deal from the day.  As we did last year, the teams were made up of volunteers rather than selected individuals, and I think that they were the more effective for it.  Staffordshire Team 2 were in the top 3 as a team and for their presentation, but the honours of the evening belong to Kerrie Morris, who won the Best Chief Executive award.  Mark Lucas, our other team leader, was in the top 3, so overall it was a great night for Staffordshire County Council.

There’s an exciting event happening in reception on Tuesday October 9–Destination Innovation.  As the world around us changes at pace, it is more important than ever that colleagues are empowered to collaborate, connect and contribute to driving forward new ideas and innovation. A group of our colleagues from across the organisation are launching an exciting opportunity to focus on your personal development and organisational networks while helping solve some of the key challenges faced by the public sector in Staffordshire.  Destination Innovation is an ambitious development programme that gives everyone the opportunity to work together to solve some of the biggest issues facing our organisation.

If you want to know more about this exciting opportunity there is a drop-in session taking place on the 9th October in the Foyer of SP1, as well as information on GO , and a workshop on the morning of 19th November.

If you want to develop, unlock your creativity, learn more about our organisation and be involved in shaping innovative solutions, then register your interest via GO today.