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Solace blog

1st June 2017

Reflecting on two years at Solace

It’s been two years since I started working for Solace. I began working here in those heady months after General Election 2015 when David Cameron had just won a surprise majority, and Jeremy Corbyn becoming Leader of the Labour Party seemed only a bit more unlikely than Britain actually leaving the European Union. Asking ‘so what’s changed since then?’ seems like a fairly obvious question in this light.

But let me take you through my own journey. I came into the role having worked for around 6 years for local councillors, latterly supporting the Leader of a London Borough. So I was an officer myself, but a political one, which is quite different. What this job has illuminated to me is how both sides of that ‘divide’ all have different things to contribute; they really can complement each other, but understanding the full expertise and experience Solace’s membership holds has been enlightening and inspiring – (at times it’s also given me huge imposter syndrome in trying to represent it!) – though we do have more work to do in harnessing that potential.

A key example that I often use that stands out to me about the different kind of expertise Solace members can bring is sitting in a room with a whole conference table full of DfE civil servants lined up against the formidable ‘two Phils’ – Norrey and Simpkins – as they went through the (then) compulsory ‘academisation’ proposals line by line. It was incredibly clear to me that they were pointing out things that no-one in that room had even begun to consider – what would happen to business rates, to pension costs, to deficits, to the legal costs of transfer, to school transport
infrastructure, etc. etc.? It was that level of knowledge and detail about the bones of how something would really work that only Solace could offer.

Working with the what works, what doesn’t and why approach to policy – slightly detached from the politicking of the day but no less human and passionate for it – as a former LSE Social Policy student who likes to dissect things and pragmatically fix them, suits me fine.

Policy-wise, for a while in Winter to Spring 15/16 it seemed like devolution would consume us all. Many meetings I went to with fellow sector bodies would be opened with them asking if Solace knew anything about what was happening where. The process seemed both fraught and slapdash. It was certainly keeping you all busy though, and it was often interesting to overhear grumbles between Chief Executives snatched at the annual conference or other events, swapping notes about mutual frustrations.

Some things never change though. Though I’ve worked closely with three marvellous policy spokespeople now (Jo Farrar, Joanne Roney and now Paul Najsarek), we still do not a have a long term solution to the crisis in social care.

There have been some good gains though. We’ve worked more closely than ever with the LGA and others in the sector to push the message home, and I think the concessions in recent budgets can be credited to the hard fight fought. We also secured a meeting with the responsible Minister, David Mowat, and conveyed how Solace is willing to be part of the solution and not simply another body knocking down his door for money alone – and we will reinforce that with the Government to come.

Over in children’s services, our relationship with Ofsted has built-in strength and there is a real sense they’ve taken our feedback on board – and additionally, it’s been great to help some of you ‘buddy’ up around your SIF inspections.

We’re beginning to develop thinking with the LGA and others about how to tackle some of the systemic issues in this sector, and the appetite for genuine innovation and real sector-led improvement seems, at last, to be growing.

Finance – gosh, let’s not talk about finance. Our digital leadership work has gone from strength to strength and it’s something I’ve fully enjoyed getting my teeth stuck into. Collaborative, cross-sector working across all these areas work has really flourished.

I’ve been lucky enough to work under two fabulous Presidents, in Mark Rogers and Jo Miller. I spent my first few months going into rooms trying to make a good impression and being asked: “Didn’t Mark Rogers just say our job should be scrapped [/Insert something else enigmatic and radical]?”…. Me: “Ummm…..” And it’s been a pleasure to get to know Jo over the last few months too, to imbibe her ‘crack on’ spirit (it’s impossible not to), and in particular to realise we’re very much on the same page when it comes to fighting for fair and balanced diversity and representation
in our sector.

Which leads me to one of the things I’m most proud of doing at Solace – starting the women’s leadership network. It’s been such a pleasure to feel so supported to begin to get to grips with and start to try to tackle an issue I really care passionately about, with the excellent support and leadership of Deborah Cadman and Becky Shaw, amongst a raft of other fabulous women (and some men).

With the next General Election looming, I await whatever the future holds for us all in the Solace community – though I know for sure I’m very much looking forward to welcoming our new Head of Policy Piali Das Gupta into the company.

I’ll end on a plea: I really like to get out and meet as many members as possible on their home turf. To help represent you I have to get to know you, but I know you’re extremely busy people. If you think you can invite me for a chat, a tour, or a day of shadowing, please do get in touch on

By Helen Reeves, Senior Policy Officer, Solace