I was quite clear with myself that I wasn’t going to put anything on social media or in this blog about Jo Cox MP. A tragedy is a tragedy and I feel that sometimes the media fest that ensues takes away from the meaning of an event. A personal view and perhaps no more than the reality of 24 hour rolling news. There always has to be news and something to say.
People who put themselves in the public eye know they are opening themselves and their families up to the world in a way that few of us who lead more normal lives fully appreciate. But what occurred yesterday – a murder – drives home the vulnerability that those who seek to serve our communities can experience.
I know nothing about Jo Cox other than what I have read, heard or seen in the last 24 hours. But what resonates with me are comments about her genuine commitment to serve those who elected her, and those whose vote went elsewhere. Her passion for causes that many of us would have sympathy for. The thing is I see those attributes quite frequently in the politicians who serve us here in Angus, across the spectrum of the political tribes. We are governed by people who in the main, and most of the time, truly want to make a positive difference.
I am not saying Jo Cox was not a special person. On the basis of the reports I have seen and heard I think she maybe was. Certainly a hard working and passionate politician, a loving mother and life partner. Yesterday’s event was indeed a tragedy. Spare a though for her family and friends.
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.
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.
A recurring theme in this blog is recognition of the achievements of the Angus Council team. Next week we are running an internal “Space for Success” event over two days at The Reid Hall in Forfar to communicate our transformation journey in a more tangible way.
Space for Success (SfS) has been created by a cross council team to showcase the major strands of our Transforming Angus programme and to share the stories of transformational change that are going on in all of our services. It’s been prompted by a staff survey last year, which highlighted that many of our people knew little but wanted to know more about the change programme.
We all need to better understand why these huge organisational changes are necessary. The cuts we are facing are real. The increasing demands on our services are real. Change is not a choice, but how willing and able are we to do it? Our Space for Success is just one part of the engagement we need to ensure our staff team is informed and part of the fundamental changes to the council in the coming years.
The event is running from 8am to 6pm on day one and from 8am until noon on day 2 to enable access outside the standard working day. In just one hour people will be able to check out a speaker, take in a movie at Cinema SfS (showcasing particular projects or initiatives), pop into Martha’s House (a social care themed exhibit) and still have time for coffee & cake at the Agile Angus Café. There will be Wi-Fi – so coffee and work looks like an option for me some of the time… We hope to be streaming some live content on our council You Tube channel. We haven’t tried this before so fingers crossed it works but if not, we’ll learn from the failure. Our long service awards and commendations scheme recognition event will take place on the afternoon of day two. We have also made meeting rooms at the Reid Hall available for team/group meetings.
Our Space for Success isn’t a shiny promotional space – it is intended as an open and honest engagement with staff about the why, what and how of the story so far. It starts with an “Ask me anything!” session with me and the executive management team in the spotlight. That could be interesting! And, so you know, financial support from our partners and suppliers has made the event possible.
I am writing this in Angus House looking out on a bright sunny winter morning towards the snow topped Angus hills. What a change a day can bring!
The last week or so has been a time of unprecedented rain in our county, and for much of the Scotland and the UK, and this has brought real challenge to individuals, families and businesses in the county who have been impacted by flooding or its consequences. Through the week I have been impressed by the effectiveness of council and interagency planning and delivery to mitigate the effects of the weather, and to support those in need in our community in a variety of ways. We had a plan and it worked.
But a plan is just paper. It’s the people that count. Many council and partner agency staff have been hard at work, beyond the usual call in many cases, over the last week. For some it’s not over and work will continue over the weekend for some colleagues for sure. For many the pressure has lifted.
As we move from response to recovery new pressures emerge, and I was reminded this morning that it’s only the start of January. Winter may have more for us later! End on an upbeat note they say don’t they?! So I had better add another thought.
Whatever the science it’s likely our community and public agencies like the local council will need to give a lot more thought to the management of weather related issues into the future that much seems clear. It can’t just be about being super fit in the emergency response game when the flood, snow or wind come – no sign of locusts in NE Scotland so far…. It needs to be a more comprehensive shift in thinking around “resilience” and what that means perhaps?
Christmas time and the start of a New Year are regarded by most as a time of reflection. Looking back and looking forward. A family time and a time when often our thoughts go to those no longer with us, and to those in need. In my family Christmas was always a modest thing. The shadow of my brother’s death when I was 12, he was 8, remained throughout my parent’s lives I think. It was only in later years when I had children of my own that the full meaning of things became apparent to me, and I will certainly spare a thought for friends and colleagues whose lives have been similarly challenged this year.
Looking back over the last 12 months or so I see things that have tested my organisation hard – personally, in particular teams and as a whole council, but our resilience and capability shine through in the main. 2015 has been a tough year for many. And as the contraction of public services across the UK continues to develop we have not escaped the implications of that process. The demands on us and our services are at least steady and in many cases rising, but we are doing ok.
One or two things stand out showing the council team at it’s best. Foremost for me is the work done to support the most needy in our community, and indeed those from further afield. The coming together of a cross council team to help place Syrian refugees in their new home in Angus makes me particularly proud alongside the best of what we do to serve our own folk. I think that any successes we have are due to the commitment and hard work of council staff right across the spectrum. 2016 will bring new challenges and also new opportunities. We will face both of those as though they are the same.
As the end of the year approaches I’d like to thank all of Angus Council’s team for their efforts in 2015 – we have achieved a lot and served our community well. And a special mention for those in the council team whose role will see them at work when most of us are not. When your break comes – enjoy it. Merry Christmas and a Happy new Year!
And here is a link to a painting I like – Angus in Winter done in 1935. It’s from the Tate’s collection – hope you like it too…
Angus in Winter
In the last few years I have come to appreciate that in the role of CEO I sometimes need to think more than do. There is a standing expectation that a CEO, director or similar, will be totally energised. Always on. Be the ultimate doer, solver of problems and all round super woman/man. The problem is that in the storm of frantic activity the actions can become disconnected from purpose? Have a plan as they say, and deliver it.
In my schedule now is a recurring opportunity to be away from it all, in fact be in a place with no IT/digital access to distract, to spend time with someone who can lead a conversation and initiate thought processes without creating conclusions or delivering ready made solutions. I suppose you might ask “can’t you create that space and time yourself?” and I suppose I could. The real question is would I, in sufficient quantity and quality to be of real value?
Feeding a plant tends to deliver a better crop than just leaving it to its own devices and hoping for the best.