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Chief executive's blog - March 2013

When I sit down to write the blog at the end of each month I always start with the same thought, not much happened in that month. Then you look back and see how much was done. It feels like a feature of local government at the moment. People just get on with things. They get stuck into their work and don't recognise how much they've done.

We started with the feedback from our Peer Review. It was a strange week. At the end of day one the team leader came into see about 7.30pm and said;

"I'm a bit worried, David."


"Everyone we've met today has been very positive and optimistic that Surrey County Council will do well over the next few years."

"I'm confused, why is that a problem?"

"We think they don't understand the scale of the challenges facing you."

Each day for the next four days we had a similar conversation. They were worried we were a bunch of Pollyannas who didn't know the storm local government was in. In the end I said – we were a bunch of mountaineers, good mountaineers. Nobody is in any doubt that Everest is a high mountain but good mountaineers know they can tackle it. I guess the weakness in that metaphor is that in the mountaineering world there isn't somebody who keeps adding extra bits to the top of Everest, which is what we're facing.

My favourite bit of the feedback was when the lead assessor said;

"About a year ago David and David, I heard you talking to a panel of judges about being the most improved council and I thought 'Bloody cheek', now I realise you totally undersold yourselves and what Surrey has done."

The full written report will be out in May and I hope people read it.

I attended a very good workshop on Domestic Abuse on 8 March. Later in the month I attended another workshop of partners redrafting the strategy to tackle Domestic Abuse. I'm frustrated we are not making quicker progress on this and I'm determined to do more on it during the next 12 months.

The Leader and I met with the Leader and Chief Executive of Elmbridge to look at further opportunities for partnership approaches. We also visited Surrey Heath for a similar conversation and visited some of our teams in the area. We were particularly impressed with the work at the Hillside Resource centre and a training programme they were using.

We've been working hard to improve our induction for new staff. I did two induction events this month, a general one with about 60 people and smaller one with 20 people who've transferred to us from Serco. I met with a small group of staff at Quadrant Court in Woking to hear their views and ideas. I met with a large group of managers from Adult Social Care and was impressed with the scale of what they've achieved over the last 12 months.

We hosted a series of workshops for 300 plus colleagues from across the South East to share ideas from the SE7 workstreams. Eric Pickles was the star turn of the event. It was interesting watching the audience's reaction to him. Those who hadn't experienced him before looked like they'd been slapped round the face by a wet fish. I believe there are people who pay good money for that, but I never went to Eton. We also had a meeting of SE7 leaders who signed off the next phase of work.

I had my regular termly meeting with the headteacher representatives from each of the phase councils. We are working very well with our schools and it is encouraging to see the extent to which our schools are still working hard to keep improving.

We lost one of our very good managers to a role in central government. It's interesting to note the slow realisation that the talents people have developed in local government are desperately needed in central government. We had a full County Council meeting and a Cabinet meeting. You can see the webcast of each on the website. The agenda for Cabinet was eye watering in its scale and I had a sore shoulder for a week after lugging the papers around.

I had meetings with the Leaders of the two Opposition groups. I met the Chief Constable for one of our regular catch ups. The joint working between our organisations is still very good and we have ideas for building on that.

I enjoyed an evening at the Nork Residents Association AGM. They were a very lively bunch and the Q&A after my talk ran well over time.

I attended an excellent conference organised for our Home School Links Workers and Outreach Team. The quality of the speakers was outstanding and I've been reflecting a lot on what I heard about attachment and loss in children and how that drives their behaviour.

I was briefed on the latest improvements in our Surrey-i website. It is remarkable tool and much easier to use now. I'm mentoring a small group from across SE7 who are working on a leadership project and I had some teleconferences on that.

We had several sessions looking at our workforce planning/workforce development strategy. In particular we're keen to grow our own talent and we're developing the right programmes to make sure that happens. We are getting ready for a Peer Review on planning and I had some sessions looking at that.

I had several appraisals and performance conversations. Meeting every 3 months or so for a focussed conversation with a Head of Service is a really useful way for me to move stuff on if it's getting stuck.

I'm still doing work on the run up to election each week. Fingers crossed it's all on track at the moment.

I met separately with two former High Sheriffs who have some very interesting ideas about how to change the ways we work with charities. We had a really good evening meeting with a range of organisations to see if there is a consensus about how we can secure a good future for Epsom hospital. I was very encouraged by the ideas that came out and the agreement over them. I'm still working away on the approach to Waste and how we get better value for councils.

I attended the MJ Future Forum and heard some scary stuff about the financial challenges we're facing. Again, it was interesting to see the quiet determination from colleagues that we can get through this.

I'm not taking it personally but I was asked to be the regional lead Chief Executive on the Children's Improvement Board and a few hours later the government announced it was no longer funding it. Interesting decision. The work has been really good and it's just starting to have an impact so obviously we'll stop it.

I'm not going to mention the LGC awards where "we wuz robbed" of top place.

I chaired a meeting of University of Surrey Audit Committee – I keep reassuring them that challenge and support are the same thing, hence my approach. I think they're starting to enjoy it.

On the personal level I had my phone stolen in Manchester. Except I'm not allowed to report it as a theft because I can't describe the thief. I shall look at Greater Manchester's crime figures with a degree of scepticism from now on. We went to see Arbitrage. A classic. I counted 100 clichés in the first 15 minutes and it accelerated from there. So bad, it's good. We also saw In The House – a brilliant French art-house film. Ishbel and I take it in turns to choose which film we go. I'll leave you to decide who choose which one.

We managed to get to a couple of plays as well. We saw Old Times – a very funny Pinter play and Hamlet at Stratford. Great version of Hamlet but what a lousy ending. If only he could write decent endings this Shakespeare might have a future.

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  • Updated: 01 Dec 2014


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