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Solace blog

7th October 2015

President’s Address at the Solace Summit 2015 – Reclaiming Public Leadership

Welcome everyone and thank you all for joining us at the Solace Annual Summit on ‘Reclaiming Public Leadership’ in sunny Bournemouth. Thank you to all our sponsors, exhibitors and exhibitionists – without whom this event would not be what it is. Thank you to all of you, including our international delegates: this is the best-attended summit in years!

Thank you also goes to Bournemouth – to Tony Williams for having us and for the Mayoral reception later this evening. And most of all, thank you to our Springboarders: they are our bright future. All stand!

So, sod ‘Reclaiming Public Leadership’ – the news on the television tells me this is the year of the asymmetrical collar – all hail the fashionistas! I hereby rename the summit: ‘Reclaiming Public Fashion Sense’! I can’t quite match Theresa May, but I am wearing a nearly new and partly-ironed M&S Autograph shirt today. Also, who came up with the Summit title – I thought I’d been duped into attending a waste conference. Either that or some kind of Frankenstein convention where we assemble the leaders of the future from the assorted body parts of former colleagues. Anyway…

Some (un)wise words

As we look out nationally and see moves both to the left and right in the so-called political mainstream, we will also be wondering what that means for us locally – in terms of both how the national policy agenda affects us, but also how our members react to the changes in their own parties. In Birmingham I don’t quite understand these stirrings yet – but I know they are occurring and that there will be implications. Just consider the Corbyn-induced scepticism about devolution, portrayed by his supporters as a smokescreen for further swingeing austerity. And compare and contrast
with yesterday’s announcement by the Chancellor about full business rates retention as a radical flip to localism.

Whatever our own private political orientation, it’s clear that the tectonic plates of Westminster are on the move.

Another exciting year ahead.

So, what should we be thinking about then as we enter a period of political re-definition – with left and right potentially meaning something again? Three things, I suggest:

1. As my mother still says – make yourself useful

2. Formulate a new psychological contract – which she’s never said to me

3. Re-assert our values-based leadership – which I go on about all the time

Making ourselves useful

Our policy board, which met earlier today, is starting to get some real momentum and bite to it. We’ve already made representations to the government about the spending review and shared our views on local government finance and sustainability. Colleagues are working hard on a housing position statement; we continue to make our views to known to DfE and Ofsted about children’s matters; we are working with the LGA and others on the refugee crisis, and there’s much, much more. As an independent, apolitical voice for the sector, we need to build further on this great start to the new policy season and, unlike the England rugby team, keep our home advantage!

Formulating a new psychological contract

Many of us will be devo-ed out. Regrettably, I’m probably returning to Birmingham at some point during these three days to flagellate myself further. But devolution for me is about far more than the mechanics of the equivalent of modern-day tooth extraction. It’s actually about developing a new modus operandi with government. One in which we reduce the reliance on negotiation and work on a joint commitment to co-production. Whilst the LGA rebuked me for suggesting a “bulk buy” deal with government on devolution, if you look at the emerging deals – and the leaked ones – you’ll see a familiar pattern. We should not continue to expend time and energy on inefficient negotiation when we could achieve considerably more through co-productive behaviours.

Re-asserting our values-based leadership

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – this is our USP. We are a leadership organisation and great leadership is always underpinned by great values. Our responsibility is to conduct a continuous debate amongst ourselves and others about what good values are and what they look like in practice. As simple as that. And the development since the last Summit of a Code of Ethics reflects a hardening of our position on values – we don’t just want to espouse them; we want an edge to them.

By Mark Rogers, Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council and President of Solace