A couple of things – a New Chief at Angus Council and Agile working….

Many congratulations to Margo Williamson on her appointment as the next Chief Executive of Angus Council. Margo, currently our Strategic Director for Children and Learning, will take over in the council’s 21st year as its fourth Chief Executive when I step down in May. And what a time to take charge. I suppose at any time in history those responsible for leading or managing almost anything will have proclaimed that it’s never been as challenging. This time for us in local government it may well be the case.

But there is good news for Angus. We have a brilliant team of people in management roles right across our organisation from the Exec team out to every part of the council, and there is a new Chief Executive coming into post at the end of May who over the last few years has shown the drive, passion and creativity any council planning to weather the storm will need. But no council is a one person show. Never was. Never will be.

I know that Margo is already engaging with the issues and the people to shape her plan for the next stage of our council’s development, and we will be working together on more than a few things over the next three months. Watch this space as they say. Colleagues inside the council should have a look at Margo’s new Blog on the intranet home page.

And now to Agile….as of last week I and the council’s Exec Support team are formally into the council’s Agile programme, although in reality we have been working in that way for quite some time. I was “well impressed” by our Agile protocols document published a short while back. It’s a readable, accessible guide to agile working. Why can’t all council communications be like that one? Well perhaps some just can’t, but many could be a lot more readable than they are. Like everyone else on the agile journey at first it all seems a bit odd, but we have the right tools and my own feeling is that productivity is up and stress is down. Being confident that it’s ok to work away from base or at home, and that work really is a thing we do and not a place we go, is the key that unlocks agile.

By the way, I have just been told that if Angus has had three Chiefs in its first 21 years that makes the average tenure 7 years – so far so good! – so when I go after 6 and a bit years that makes me a slightly below average Chief Exec….nice to have friends!

The digital world – doing good things well…

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I read a short item on LinkedIn today that was essentially saying that big businesses are afraid of the digital world. I think there is something to think about in this as far as local authorities are concerned.

In the main councils are quite large and complex organisations. They are traditionally organised into service based silos, although in most councils this has changed a lot in the last ten years or so. And they are characterised by risk aversion, certainly in comparison to most private sector organisations, large or small.

Councils are, in principle by their nature, likely to be nervous about change, especially the kind of fundamental change in working practices or service shape and delivery that a move to digital might entail. Except of course councils aren’t autonomous beings. They are inanimate organisations but populated by human beings. So it’s the attitudes and aversions of each and every one of us that will determine whether our council, or at last our bit of if, is fearful of the digital world, or willing to embrace it.

I recall my first encounter with a computer in the 1970s revealed a room full of fridge/freezer sized machines with reels of tape circulating on the front like something from an early James Bond movie. The logo of ICL (remember them) was proudly attached to each one. You communicated with it by means of coding delivered through holes punched in cards. Technology and me…well, we’ve come on a bit since then. And so has the potential of things digital to do good things well.

 

Five evil giants …

Just now I am reading the first part of Alan Johnson’s biography “This Boy”. It tells the story of his upbringing in a deprived part of London in the 1950s and early 1960s. This is Alan Johnson MP, the former Labour Cabinet Minister, dubbed by some “the best Labour Prime minister we never had.” I have previously read part 2 about his years as a postie and thought I would like to read the story from the start.

It’s a truly moving account of a poverty stricken childhood in a family deserted by the father, with a mother afflicted by a terminal illness and the upbringing of a small boy the responsibility of his older sister. That may not sell it to you as bed time reading, but it is a great read. His district of London, now fashionable, was in the 50s typified by run down indeed unfit houses and flats with the ravages of the Blitz still apparent, even 10 or 15 years after the end of the war.
A reflection he offers more than once in the book is on the position he and his mother and sister would have been in had they been living in the decade before the welfare state came into being in the late 1940s, rather than in the decade after. The NHS in particular plays a central role in his story.
At one point the book makes reference to the Beveridge Report that gave rise to the NHS, the benefits system and so on. Published in 1944, before the end of the war, the report published under the name of William Beveridge, a Liberal politician and academic, established the modern welfare state. This was in response to the need to tackle what Beveridge called the five “giant evils”. Squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. Squalor relates to housing, ignorance to poor education, want to financial wellbeing and need, idleness to unemployment and disease to sickness and ill health.
All of these giants impacted on substantial sections of society in the UK, afflicting the lives of millions and well documented in Alan Johnson’s personal story.
This reference to Beveridge started me thinking about modern Britain and the extent to which we have managed to rid ourselves of the five giants through 60 years of endeavour.
In a country troubled by poor but expensive accommodation in short supply, with too many folk reliant on food banks and a changing benefits system, and in which the prospects of our young people seem limited, perhaps our world, although greatly improved in so many ways, has its own version of the post war challenges?

What makes change work?

It’s all about change at the moment. New thinking, new models and more. The MJ tells me that the LGA in England are looking at setting up a new insurance mutual. My former employer in North Lincolnshire has established a trading company to sell its services. Aberdeen City Council has gone for a bond issue to fund investment in infrastructure. All big and positive changes. There are many more examples, and some from Angus too.

But this morning’s Leadership Forum at Angus Council (our top 100+ managers meeting) reinforced for me that fundamental to successful change in local government are some more simple things. I have in mind –

  • Acknowledging that the customer/citizen experience should be the principal driver of service re-shaping
  • Accepting that change can lead to good things – and usually does
  • Coming to terms with the fact that there are some things we just won’t do anymore
  • Knowing that while hard times may lead us to dig in and defend our bit in fact we need to do the opposite and work as one council supporting each other
  • Grasping that we don’t know as much about our business and its customers as we think we do, or as much as we should
  • Understanding that people can be frightened by change and what it means for them
  • Communicating better, and more often, to help alleviate those fears wherever we can

Big K…

coal

I was both captured and moved by a TV programme last night. It was “The Last Miners” on BBC1. This was a 2 part documentary looking at the last year of the very last deep coal mine in the UK – “Big K” at Kellingley in North Yorkshire.

I know the area well and have cast my eyes towards Big K many times from the M62 on journeys to and from home, especially when I was working in Leeds.

From an industry that employed hundreds of thousands just 30 or 40 years ago deep coal mining in Britain was down to the last 400 or so when Kellingley Colliery closed in December 2015.

In the second programme the show followed four miners in particular, two well in their 50s, one perhaps a little younger and one much younger man. Emotions, both in terms of the personal challenge of losing a job but also from being the very last of a proud industry, were always near the surface. The camaraderie of tough and dangerous work underground was brought home to the viewer. The first episode had one scene covering the relocation of the memorial to those killed underground at Kellingley to a nearby mining museum.

The imperative for the men underground was to keep cutting coal in the last month of the pit’s life in order to pay their own redundancy money.

In many ways the programme captured the challenges of modernisation in all walks of life and industry. The human side of things is always very telling for those caught up in change, as we all are at one time or another, or in one way or another. Although the continuing need for coal, now all imported, to fuel our remaining coal fired power stations for the next 10 years was commented on there seemed to be no malice towards management, local management at the colliery at least. One item of graffiti proclaimed “Scargill was right!”

The good news – of the four they followed three had got new jobs by March 2016, and the fourth had started working for himself as a handyman having enjoyed doing some DIY for his son in the first few months after redundancy.

It’s worth seeking out if you missed it – BBC iPlayer will oblige.

 

Run…Hide…Tell

A comment on my recent blog “On the rails…” mentioned how the blog piece had given an example of one of the many things that a council is involved with that the wider public just aren’t aware of.

Yesterday (10 November) provided another example. The Tayside Local Resilience Partnership staged an event at the Marryat Hall in Dundee to discuss multi-agency plans in response to a terrorist incident. That might seem to be a little off the track for your local council, but it certainly isn’t. The need to be aware and engaged with this issue has become essential for organisations of all types.

In the room were NHS Tayside, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Scottish Ambulance Service, the 3 Tayside councils, SEPA, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Army, the RAF and the Royal Navy, the Scottish Government, Network Rail, ScotRail and the British Transport Police. That gives a picture of the comprehensive nature of the event and the extent of engagement from public bodes that would be required to deal with an event and to recover from it.

I really want to emphasise there is no information suggesting any kind of imminent incident in the Tayside area – this event was part of a planned learning and development programme – but we must remember that the threat level in the UK from terrorism remains unchanged and advice to all of our communities is to remain vigilant and to be alert, but not to be alarmed.

If you want to think about your organisation’s readiness there is guidance and advice on security on the GOV.UK website and in particular have a look at the ‘Run – Hide – Tell’ Stay Safe video at

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/stay-safe-film

On the rails…..

infographic2On Tuesday 1st November I attended an event at the Scottish Parliament to promote the work of the East Coast Mainline Authorities consortium (EMCA).

The event was sponsored by Iain Gray MSP and the main speaker was Humza Yousaf MSP, demonstrating the cross party support ECMA needs.

ECMA is a perhaps unique alliance of 41 councils (including Angus Council), combined authorities and Regional Transport Partnerships which has come together to promote the need for investment in the east coast mainline (ECML) railway, working with both the Scottish and UK governments and the rail industry.

The ECML, which of course runs through Angus, is a vital economic and social artery, but for too long it has been the victim of underinvestment in comparison to other routes. The consequence this has been problems with running times and route capacity, limiting the potential for economic growth and reducing the experience of rail travel for passengers.

ECMA funded research has demonstrated the national and UK wide importance of this historic 580 mile long route running from London to the north east of Scotland. ECMA estimates that the £3 billion of investment the route needs would produce a return of at least £9 billion in terms of the economic growth and development unlocked.  Not just a train service.

If you want to know more have a look at this –

http://www.investineastcoast.co.uk/