When I told my friends and colleagues in London that I would be moving up here, I braced myself for a “why would you leave the centre of the universe?” sort of reaction. What I discovered instead is that an awful lot of people I know have a personal connection to Brum – and still feel very connected to this city. I was told over and over again how special this place is and how much I will love living here.
I’ve now been here a month and they were right. That’s very much down to how gracious and kind everyone has been since I arrived. So many people have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and point me to the best coffee shops, galleries, theatres, parks, etc. That speaks volumes about the spirit of this city. So before I go on, let me say a heartfelt thank you…and please keep the tips coming!
I’m starting to get out and about, but it will take me a bit of time to get around to meeting colleagues in all the different teams all across the city. To give you a better sense of who I am, here are a few key facts over and above what is in my bio:
- I’m a true believer in local government. I moved to the UK from Canada specifically to work for local government because of a lot of the ground-breaking work happening across English cities in tackling homelessness, poverty and deprivation.
- I am probably the only Canadian you will ever meet who is, at best, ambivalent about Canada. By contrast, I am absolutely besotted with the UK.
- I speak fluent French but feel like my fluency is eroding with every passing day. If any of you might like to meet for an occasional tête-à-tête en français or even start a French conversational group, I’d be up for that.
- I am a shameless and obsessive fan of Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Some of you are no doubt now wondering what kind of person has been brought on board as Assistant Chief Executive. Possibly more of you are wondering what exactly an Assistant Chief Executive does. There is no pithy answer to that question. In the simplest of terms, my role is to help the Chief Executive oversee all aspects of council business. I am utterly in awe of Mark’s visibility and reach, but he can’t be everywhere at once. As clichéd as it might sound, everything we do as a council matters. My role is largely about helping to make sure that everything we do as a council fits together to have a positive impact on the lives of our residents and the wider city.
That is not my job alone, of course. Our whole Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) takes this responsibility to heart. But because I don’t have responsibility for a specific service area as well, I bring some extra capacity to focus on making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Some of the highlights of my first month here include:
- The discussion at the Future Think Talk in January. Dominic Campbell from Future Gov spoke with his usual aplomb about innovation in public services, but what really blew me away was the passion and vision that colleagues in the room demonstrated.
- Speaking at the Tomorrow’s Talent event aimed at encouraging young people to consider a career in local government. Students from local schools had an opportunity to take part in mock job interviews and team working exercises. I was delighted to learn that at least one student secured an apprenticeship with an external provider very soon after the event.
- My first West Midlands Combined Authority meeting. I’ve spent the last seven years campaigning for devolution to local government and the last two advising councils on how to form combined authorities. To now have a chance to play a part in all of that on the ground is a dream come true for me.
- Attending the People Directorate’s budget consultation in Harborne. I was really struck by how many residents are coming to terms with the council’s new financial reality and the scope there is to engage them more on the redesign of services.
- Discussions with external partners who tell me how much they value the role the council plays within the city and how keen they are to work with us.
- The invaluable support I have received from the team back at “home base” in the Council House, including Dawn Wale, Helen Nicholas, Jagtar Mankoo, Nicola Ellis, Mireia Mangual and Cat Orchard. I’m not sure that I have completely found my feet yet, but I’m getting there much more quickly than I otherwise would thanks to their efforts.
From what I’ve seen so far, there is leadership and professionalism at every level in this organisation that does this city credit. I feel incredibly privileged to be working with you and have great faith in our future.
As I write this blog just three weeks into my new role I am feeling energised and optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead. Whilst there are undoubtedly many challenges and hurdles to cross as we navigate our way through a period of significant change, I feel privileged to be able to have the opportunity to further contribute to the strategic direction of the city and remain committed to directing transformational change across the city.
Whilst I am very much focused on our future priorities, it’s important not to forget the considerable success that we’ve had of late. The opening of New Street Station and Grand Central, and the work that is underway on the long-talked about Paradise scheme are just a few of the high profile achievements we have seen in the city centre.
A little further afield in Longbridge, we are also seeing the results of one of the UK’s largest regeneration projects, with a huge new M&S store at the heart of the development, creating a regional centre south-west of the city. The Hydraforce development at the Advanced Manufacturing Hub in Aston has also secured significant Foreign Investment from the US owned hydraulics valves company who have moved into a new 120,000 sq ft facility which opened last year and will create 200 jobs by 2018.
We also plan to build on the success of the £150 million Resorts World development which recently opened at the NEC by exploring further development opportunities through the NEC masterplan.
All of these successes and the plans we have for the future means that we are now looking at a period of growth not seen since the early 20th century.
I am more eager than ever to seize the future growth opportunities and whilst we are making massive strides, we need to be more ambitious still. With responsibility for planning, regeneration, housing, business development, skills and transportation I am genuinely excited about the prospect of bringing these interconnected priorities together, as it is only by building sufficient homes, creating a skilled workforce and delivering an effective transport system, supported by a clear vision for the future, that we will maximise opportunities for the city and the wider region to drive forward economic growth.
The Leader has been clear that a priority has to be the provision of homes for this growing city. By 2031, Birmingham’s population is projected to grow by an additional 150,000 people, which means we need to provide an additional 80,000 homes. Effective partnership working is going to be key to meeting this challenge as this is an issue that needs to be addressed across housing market areas rather than confined to local authority administrative boundaries. The Combined Authority in particular provides us with a new opportunity to tackle this issue strategically as a region.
As a result of our focus over the last few years on investing in infrastructure, we are in a really strong position to capitalise on plans for HS2. Government has really got behind our ambitions for HS2 with £4.4bn committed to maximise the opportunities around Curzon station and extend the Metro through East Birmingham. Providing this link to UK Central will be a significant catalyst for growth through the Eastern corridor of Birmingham.
We have also taken forward our vision for delivering a step change in public transport in the city. As well as delivering improvements to the Metro through Birmingham City Centre the first of our SPRINT Bus Rapid Transit routes will be operational within the next few years. And in attempting to find the most efficient and sustainable ways to move people through the city we have invested £60m on enhanced infrastructure, connecting up key destinations in the city.
All of this investment has created a major resurgence in the city’s economic performance, and in turn the city has become an attractive place to invest and do business. We can see evidence of this in the decision by HSBC to relocate its head office to Arena Central. We usually get a major investment like this every ten years, but this is the third recently after Deutsche Bank and the High Speed 2 head office. These three deals demonstrate a commitment to over 4,000 jobs in the city.
Looking ahead to the future, as the second city for Europe’s most successful economy, we need to be brave and think big, but I am confident that we are now well positioned to unlock the potential that will allow us to deliver the next phase of transformation.
Being Birmingham born and bred I am immensely passionate about the city, and I am proud to be able to serve and represent the interests of the residents, communities and local businesses of Birmingham. I am genuinely excited about the possibilities ahead of us and I believe that by working together that we can achieve great things for this city.
I can’t claim to be the new one in the team, but being in Birmingham and working across the services in People constantly challenges me in new ways. There’s always more to explore and find out in this fascinating city, so I hope this short piece about me will also have some surprises!
I decided to become a social worker, when as a young volunteer I saw some really bad social work being done with a family I was working with. (The social worker was sat on a sofa moving to turn up the TV whilst mother and son fought like Tom and Jerry!) I wanted social work to make a difference to the lives of children.
Whilst studying for my social work qualification, I moulded my fascination for history and people with a dissertation around a closing County Asylum for the Mentally Infirm. I met women who had spent a life institutionalised for having a pregnancy as a teenager. I walked long Victorian corridors that smelt of disinfectant. I was convinced that there had to be modern ways of caring in community settings.
These two driving passions remain at the centre of what we do, creating the best opportunities for children at the start of life and making sure we deliver as much care at home or close to home. We don’t live our lives in boxes marked out as service. In recent years, the emphasis of working on a network of partners and with greater choice and control in the hands of citizens have been some of the massive changes that we are bringing into how we achieve these aims.
Having started young, I specialised in children’s social work, then a management career and became a director for social care in 1997 in North East Lincolnshire. Somewhere on the way I spent five years studying management with the Open University, and really getting the best from learning with public and private sector colleagues. I also learnt how hard the part time study route is!
I came to Birmingham in 2003, and with our family’s three young people we enjoy living, working and being educated here. Family life revolves around our friends and large family network, a love of rugby, music, theatre and I even get to play tennis. I aim to be the next Andy Murray for the over 50’s!
My work roles over my time here have constantly evolved: from social services, through adult care, then adding in housing needs and public health and now into the People Directorate. We have achieved some things that are truly class leading (our network of extra care villages as one example); we have much more to do particularly in the improvements for children, but I believe everything is possible. Birmingham also supported me to take on some national work and in 2011/12 I was President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. I had a tumultuous year with care reform, the collapse of Southern Cross and the introduction and then pausing of the NHS changes, all adding to the experience.
My work and life has taught me many lessons. I am passionate that public services are about us and not ” others” ; demography and advances in healthcare mean that none of us know if we will need social care in later life. My children are very much part of growing up and going to school in this city. We are all participants in our services, not spectators or commentators. As such I expect everything we do to value and promote the dignity of each and every one of us. Those values, and my original motivations for my career remain to the fore in the challenge that faces us ahead.