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Solace blog

18th December 2015

The past year in local government

There are lots of things you could write about working in a leadership position in public service at the moment (many of them not printable), but one thing is for sure – it’s never dull!

Over the last twelve months, we have seen huge changes at global, national and local levels which have impacted on the communities we serve and our roles as leaders in Local Government and wider public service.

Globally, we have seen increasing instability, with the Syrian crisis and the horrific events in Paris, and the consequential concerns about community cohesion and security.

On another front, the UN Climate Change Conference highlighted again the importance of environmental sustainability. The recent impact of floods in the north of the country demonstrated the huge impact at a local level and that plans based on “once in a hundred years” storms will have to be re-thought.

Nationally, the election of a Conservative Government brought with it further reductions in public spending, devolution and re-thinking of public services. We need to understand the interdependencies of all these changes and how they will impact in different localities with different needs.

At the same time, we have seen a growing mistrust of those in public office with a narrative in many parts of the media that often seems to devalue public services, combined with the revolution in social media which provides a fast-moving forum (for good and ill) for public opinion.

Given all this, it might feel hard to be optimistic as we approach 2016. And yet…I think we have to be optimists, or more specifically realistic optimists. “Optimists” because (I believe) it’s part of our role to be positive about the places we serve and the importance of public service. People want live, visit and invest in great places and, as leaders, we have to find ways – notwithstanding the challenges – to bring people together and find new ways of delivering on a leadership of place agenda. And, whilst I understand the sceptics of devolution, I think we have an opportunity to take a place-based approach and to determine, through engagement with local citizens and appropriate governance, what will have the biggest impact in improving outcomes, as well as ensuring Government delivers on the rhetoric!

Of course, all of this is tough and isn’t going to get any easier (that’s the “realistic” bit!). As a Society, I believe Solace needs to support Chief Executives and senior leaders in public services to deal with these challenges and to do so with the rigour, professionalism, and values that hopefully will remind people, both in leadership positions and those aspiring to them, the important roles we have and the difference we can make.

Happy 2016!

By Jane Robinson, Chief Executive of Gateshead Council and Solace Group Chair