There’s an election ….. Pt 2

This afternoon we had a small get together in the Canmore Room in Forfar to say thank you and farewell to current councillors not seeking re-election on 4th May.

The council term is nearly over and like me you are probably asking where did those 5 years go?

Officers and members work closely together and in many ways running the council is a truly a team effort. This is far more the case than most members of the public realise.

In my experience council officers have great respect for those who put their heads above the parapet to stand for election and then commit to a role as an elected member – often on top of a busy family or working life – often both.

As the council term comes to an end it’s only right that the service given to our community by departing councillors is recognised. That’s why we organised the event this afternoon, in particular so that senior officers and colleagues in Committee Services, who work closely with councillors, could say thank you to members for their very real assistance and support over the last 5 years.

The last term has been one of the toughest I have known in my almost 40 year career. And there have also been personal losses for us all to come to terms with.

In particular I am thinking of the death of Provost Oswald last year. Helen gave so much to our communities in Angus and to this council that it is hard to quantify. The numbers attending her funeral service were a clear testament to the high esteem in which she was held. I was so pleased that her husband Ed was able to join us in at the event.

For the last 2 council terms we have provided departing councillors with a certificate recording their service to the community. It’s always seemed slightly wrong to me that those who give so much to our community walk away with not even so much as a piece of paper that confirms that yes, they were once part of something, and made a difference.

In ascending order of years served those leaving Angus Council and not seeking re-election are –

Cllr Martyn Geddes           5 years of service

Cllr Jim Houston                  5 years of service

Cllr Ewan Smith                  5 years of service

Cllr Mairi Evans MSP           10 years of service

Cllr David May                    10 years of service

Cllr Margaret Thomson      10 years of service

Cllr Paul Valentine             10 years of service

Cllr Iain Gaul                        14 years of service

Cllr Rob Murray                    22 years of service

My thanks, those of my colleagues, and of the people of Angus go to them all.




Change …. someone else’s job…?

Our Exec Team meeting this morning was given over, as it is once a month, to scrutinising the progress of our transformation programme. Lots of talk of “pipelines”, “idea summaries”, “benefits realisation” and the like.

In the course of the meeting there was also some conversation about change in general and how well the organisation is embracing it. The issue was the extent to which the business as usual focus of our managers and their teams is preventing them from applying the resources needed to deliver on the change agenda. Service redesign make big demands on any organisation’s resources, and we do have to maintain service delivery. That goes without saying. So what is the answer?

I fully accept the idea that change is the new normal. In public services the way we do what we do is, in a nutshell, unsustainable. Current service formats are by and large unaffordable into the future. We have to identify and implement delivery approaches which safeguard services and access to them in forms which are not only affordable but which also match the aspirations of individuals and communities. We have to accept that the expectations of service users in relation to public services are increasingly shaped by the 24/7 self-service availability of the all the other things we all do in our lives. At the council we just have to get with the programme….

Which brings me to the question of the extent to which a corporate transformation programme is a straightjacket constraining innovation in the organisation rather than supporting it.

My response to that is that it’s certainly not our intention to constraint and require conformity, but some things have to be corporate. And somethings are in fact better done at scale across the whole organisation. But in the new normal every team needs to get on and do what it can to innovate and improve. The questions we have to ask ourselves before we act at team level are “how will what I plan to do now impact on others? Does it complement the big picture or contradict it?” What I am saying is get on with it, but be mindful….


It’s rubbish….


The Scottish household waste data for 2015 was published recently. And it’s good to see that Angus Council is good with rubbish. Read below and you will see what I mean….full details at –

In 2015 Angus collected 57,609 tonnes of household waste of which 34,102  were recycled – ie 59.2%. The average household waste recycling rate was only 44.3% across the country as a whole. At 59.2% Angus has the highest recycling rate in Scotland.

I think this achievement – which has been accumulating over the last few years – is the product of two things in particular.

The first is the growing willingness of Angus residents to take the trouble to recycle. To say yes, I will rinse that can or bottle and put it in the grey bin and not just drop it into the purple one. And more and more of us are doing that each year.

The second factor is the council’s waste team. They have worked long and hard to design, roll out and then deliver week by week a waste scheme that is straightforward to use, making it easy to see recycling in Angus really take off.

To all those involved – a big thank you!

The EU Referendum in Angus…..

Well, we got a result. It opens up a whole lot of questions, but we got a result. Angus 55% stay, 45% leave.

As Counting Officer for Angus I would like to publically thank our elections team for their work on the day across the many Angus polling stations, or supporting the count process at Arbroath overnight.

I don’t think that many in the community appreciate the scale of challenge the delivery of an election or a referendum represents. Hundreds of polling stations, hundreds of staff and a major logistics and administrative process supporting voter registration through to the poll itself.

Against that background it’s vital that council staff come forward to assist with elections, our small Elections Team simply couldn’t do it without you. Council staff are supplemented by a considerable number of people who come forward from our community to work as occasional members of the elections team on polling days.

In Angus we had a largely trouble free polling day, and declaring the result shortly after 2am was very welcome after the “hard day’s night” at the Scottish Parliament elections just a short while ago in May when we counted two seats and the sun was well up before bed time.

In addition I would like to add thanks to the Angus Alive team at the Saltire Centre in Arbroath for looking after the count team so well, and to the Police Scotland team who supported us at the count with security and safety for all involved.

Until next time……

Behind the scenes….


Tomorrow, as you may have noticed, there is an election for the Scottish Parliament.

The administration and management of an election is delivered by the council’s elections team within Legal and Democratic Services, with the help, let it be said, of a few hundred others in the polling stations (about 160 locations  this time) and overnight at the count in Arbroath.
Running an election is a massive exercise in terms of planning, staffing and logistics. And these days there is a fair amount of technology involved too,  for example in confirming a postal voters right to have their ballot paper included at the count. Next year’s council elections will see an e-counting system being used, so even more technology deployed. But having the right people in sufficient numbers is essential.
An election is probably one of the biggest “behind the scenes” occasional tasks that a local authority undertakes. At the moment it seems we have at least one election of one sort or another every year. In 2016 with the EU referendum in June we have two electoral events quite close together.
In my dual role as Chief Executive and Returning Officer I’d like to put on record a big thank you to all those from the council’s staff and those from outside the organisation who are assisting the elections team to deliver democracy to Angus this May.
That may sound a bit grand, but that’s what you are doing, and we couldn’t do it without you.

Handling eggs….


I was impressed by a comment from one of our councillors at the end of last week.

He told me about what he thinks is an African saying about power. It runs something like “hold power like an egg. Hold it too tightly it breaks. Too loosely and it falls and breaks”.

That got me thinking about the relationship between a council and its community. Our organisation has so much power to make lives better. And to impact on everyday life in a negative way.

If we apply the proverb about the egg to our developing plans for different service patterns – more from less – does the proverb tell us anything about how we might engage?

If we push too hard we fail? If we try to engage in the right ways we succeed. If we avoid the leadership role we will also fail?

And it’s not a bad mantra for anyone who has a position of power or authority either.



​I did something this week I have never done before. A first. I started a MOOC.

A MOOC is a “massive open online course”. As Wikipedia says  they are  “aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive user forums to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants . MOOCs are a recent and widely researched development in distance education which were first introduced in 2008 and emerged as a popular mode of learning in 2012″.

It’s e-learning on a global scale.

So how did I get into this commitment of 30 hours study over the next 4 weeks? I spotted an ad for the MOOC in question in the alumni newsletter of the university I did a post graduate course at about 20 years ago – Reading University Business School. So I thought I would have a look.

Reading and many other universities are delivering MOOCs in all sorts of disciplines through FutureLearn  – an arm of the Open University who are probably, I suspect, the world leader in distance learning.

Although the course I have joined is one that relates to a key business challenge at Angus Council the range of materials and programmes available through FutureLearn is both large and diverse. It’s worth a look –

And it’s free…..there is no fee.