Category Archives: Leadership Team

Reflections, learning and relationships

Strategic Director for Integrated Support Services and Change Angela Probert takes stock after a busy start to her life at Birmingham City Council.

beach rulesAfter a busy few months I’m taking a break in Portugal in a small, unspoilt village near Lagos, taking every opportunity to sample the local fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. Why do tomatoes from supermarkets at home not taste like this? I’m also becoming a fan of locally-produced (and very inexpensive) wine, alongside improving my knowledge and experience of different brands of gin, courtesy of daughter and friends. It’s probably good I’m only here for a week!

Life is good, and having space gives me the opportunity to unwind and re-balance with family and friends. My early morning walk on a deserted beach this morning has prompted this blog – as always, walking helps me reflect and put things into perspective. It’s been a challenging few months at Birmingham, culminating in a long night last Thursday and the outcome of the EU referendum, which made me reflect on why some people feel so disaffected and feel no benefit in being part of the EU (leaving aside the propaganda over the last few weeks).

The launch of the West Midlands Combined Authority this week in Birmingham was a key milestone, and I get a sense through social media that the audience really felt Mark’s passion for the leadership role we need to take to realise the opportunity this brings. My ask of Martin, Mark and other colleagues is that we learn from the EU referendum. The WMCA, and the potential positive impact this will have are enormous, no one would disagree. But what we need to do is ensure we keep asking the questions: How will citizens of the region benefit? How will the CA work and connect with staff in partner organisations? So that designing the future is not passed down, but evolves through involvement and shared purpose. People will then feel connected and understand how they will contribute to future public service across the West Midlands, rather than deliver an outcome they had no involvement in forming.

When I started in January people were keen to give me their advice and guidance on working at BCC. Some I took, and some I left on one side.  It’s good not to be insular, and to listen to an external perspective – being on a peer review for a London Borough in early June I did just this. But sometimes you have to trust your own intuition and judgement based on what you see and feel, using experience and learning from many years of working, and, indeed, living! In essence, I have just tried to be ‘me’. My dad gave me the drive and outlook to believe that anything is achievable, and it is only down to hard work, teamwork and belief that it will happen. I’ve learnt in my personal and working life that that not everyone feels this, and while I set high expectations of myself, I am mindful I balance this for others. Hopefully I am doing just that, and colleagues feel that the contribution I make is rooted in my desire for the best for the citizens of Birmingham and the staff who work at BCC.

Successful organisations are able to withstand churn and instability by having a common and uniting purpose. Team work is key, and the England v Iceland football result on Monday night demonstrated this: being the ‘best’ individually and assuming that the result you expect will be delivered will not guarantee a positive outcome. It’s how you operate as a team, having a shared belief and purpose, alongside understanding roles and individual strengths, that brings results. I believe we’re getting there as a senior team at BCC, and we need to work hard to withstand the constant challenges that are being thrown at us on a weekly basis. Being successful (not necessarily ‘winning’) is euphoric and infectious, as the celebrations in Portugal last night demonstrated! As leaders at BCC we have to build the confidence and positivity of our teams in the belief that together we WILL win through the challenges we are facing. We are not alone in this but somehow, at BCC, some of us have stopped believing.

I also believe I am holding to the resolutions I made and shared in the New Year. I’ve worked hard to build a strong and positive relationship with my colleagues, members, team and partner organisations. They’ll tell you whether I’m succeeding! But relationships aren’t a one-off event and require support, commitment and respect to make them work and thrive. The culture we need to embrace is set out in our values, and I’ve agreed with Corporate Leadership Team colleagues and my Directorate management team how I will personally live by BCC’s values in order to: put citizens first, be true to my word, act courageously, and achieve excellence.

Life in Birmingham is exciting, as we play on an international, national and regional stage, all with a key purpose to make a positive difference to people’s lives. Hopefully I’m starting to make an impact through how I do my job on a day-to-day basis; a relentless focus on the golden thread that links our vision, purpose and day-to-day activity; keeping an eye on the small but significant changes that need to be made; and building a talented team to give capacity and confidence as we move into the next phase of the Future Council programme.

What will I miss from my week in Portugal?

  • Beach walks, long lazy lunches and wearing no shoes.

What I am looking forward to when I get back to Birmingham?

  • Now that I live in Birmingham I want to get to know better a European City that celebrates diversity and difference.
  •  Taking on a mentoring role as a Corporate Parent.
  • Getting to know and learn from my ‘reserve mentor’.
  • Getting on with the job I feel privileged to hold.

Now back to my hedonistic lifestyle for a few days longer.

Whatever you do over the summer… Divirtam-se! (Enjoy yourselves).

Introducing Paul Dransfield

This is my first ever attempt at a blog.  Depending on how it goes it may be my last!

I am Paul Dransfield. I’ve been at Birmingham City Council since 2007, starting as the Council’s Finance Director under the title of Strategic Director of Resources which also extended into managing a number of corporate services and latterly being Deputy Chief Executive which included a managerial role over the Council’s economic function.

During that time I have had an interest in the delivery of major projects and have had the pleasure and sometimes the pain of being involved in some really big projects.

I have recently taken up a role which involves working on major projects full time. Birmingham, and more widely the West Midlands Region has a series of big projects to deliver and we felt it was time to have a more dedicated role working on those rather than having to do them on top of the day job, either badly or where the day job suffers.

Ironically, that opportunity for me has been made even more pleasing that it has created opportunities for others. I am particularly pleased that both Jon Warlow and Waheed Nazir have been given a place in the Corporate Management Team. Both worked with and for me, although often I felt I worked for them! There is no greater feeling than to see your own staff move alongside and even overtake you in my view. I am taking great pleasure from that.

I am also really pleased to see my change in role provide an opportunity for us to recruit Angela Probert as the Strategic Director for Change from nearby Nottingham Council. She has only been here a few weeks but I can see the difference she is making in the management team, she brings a really positive outlook on things. I am hoping she will be able to sort out all the corporate niggles people have that I didn’t quite achieve.

What this does mean for me is that I have to sing for my supper. The budget for my salary has gone towards funding the above posts and others across the organisation so I now have to earn my salary through the work I do across a number of projects. This means the projects are going to have to need my skills and often I am going to have to deliver efficiencies in the projects to fund my costs.

Another part of being a Programme and Project Director is that I am not intending to build an empire of people working for me in a traditional hierarchical way. I aim to gather expertise from around the Council, from other Councils and partners to work with me on the key projects. I will however, retain the line management of our Property Services Director, Peter Jones, whose team will also have a significant role in major programmes and project delivery.

So what do I think I will be doing over the next months or years?

My initial work programme looks something like this….

  • Delivery Director for the £4.4bn HS2 Growth Strategy Programme over the next 10 years which will see the Curzon Street and Digbeth area transformed, create a new business, entertainment and living area around the Solihull Interchange Station, transform the East of Birmingham through a new metro link and improve transport connectivity across the West Midlands.
  • Continuing to work as a Senior Director for the £600m Paradise Circus redevelopment scheme which is underway.
  • Completing the New Street Gateway Project where I chaired the Project Board for 7 years!
  • Managing the relocation of the Wholesale Markets and then delivering the transformation of the Smithfield area into a new exciting quarter for the City focussed on family leisure and entertainment.
  • Deliver a new Life Sciences campus in Selly Oak.
  • Support the Library of Birmingham to have a sustainable future, starting off with the relocation of the Brasshouse Language Centre into the library.
  • Supporting a new sustainable approach to funding culture and the arts.
  • Continuing as a Director of Birmingham Airport to make sure the airport continues to grow and be a key part to the City and the Regions’ economy.
  • Act as a Director on the Board of a joint venture with the Canals and Rivers Trust to deliver a large scale housing and regeneration project at Icknield Port Loop.
  • Oversee the coordination of a significant programme of Public Realm works in the City Centre.
  • And of course whatever else my chief executive asks me to do!

One thing I do want to point out is that whilst a lot of the projects are exciting and lead to shiny new buildings which are transforming the skyline of the city, that isn’t what they are about to me. These projects are about creating sustainable economic growth and jobs which then directly leads to Birmingham and the wider region being more economically successful. This in turn creates opportunities for all our citizens to prosper and ultimately reduces their call on public expenditure.

Good blogs I am led to believe should have some pictures to break up the words. I have provided the pictures and if they are there I hope you enjoy them, if they are not then I’ve bust the memory limit! Somebody says I need to set up a Pinterest account to post all the photos. I would if I knew what it was!

My final words are to thank all the people that I have had the pleasure of working with in my previous role and to reassure those who might think I might not play my full strategic role in the Corporate Management Team going forward, I will be! I don’t know where to charge my time for that to yet though! Better go and ask the Finance Director!

Introducing Jon Warlow

When I joined Birmingham as an interim in 2008 I clearly did not plan on being at the Council beyond the short term.  As many colleagues have also experienced, the challenge (and excitement!) of working at Birmingham City Council led to me successfully applying for the Director of Corporate Finance post in 2009 and similarly for my current position, Strategic Director – Finance & Legal from the start of 2016.

For me, what makes me want to go to work is to be able to make a difference and make things happen – I know I share this with colleagues and Birmingham provides (in my opinion) the biggest and best opportunity in local government  to do this.

The reduction in central government grant funding over the last five years has affected Birmingham far more than most Councils, and  it has been extremely testing time us.  As you know, these funding reductions are forecast to continue on to 2019/20 and it is a considerable achievement for us to be putting forward a Business Plan 2016+ which includes service and financial plans to take us through to what we project to be a financially sustainable  Future Council 2020.  This is going to require a complex, managed transition from where we are now – already a much changed organisation – to the Future Council we are working to define.  I will be working with Members, Mark Rogers, Angela Probert and with other CLT colleagues to help deliver this. While we have much experience in managing a large savings agenda, the initiatives required over the next few years are more of a transformational nature and will require greater management and commitment than ever before. So its going to be about delivery, delivery, delivery and a strong emphasis on accountability and responsibility.

In saying this, I very much recognise that the Council’s plans involve substantial further reductions in the number of employees – unfortunately unavoidable due to reducing budgets – and I and my colleagues in Finance & Legal will be working very closely with Angela and HR to ensure that this is achieved  in the most acceptable way. The  Legal Services Department since Christmas has been led by Kat Charlton and Stuart Evans as joint Acting City Solicitors and it is great to see the confidence that they are demonstrating in this role.

These employee reductions will be felt across the Council and of course include support services, and this is element is being overseen  via the Integrated Support Services (ISS) programme  which is jointly chaired by Angela and myself. This is looking to ensure that the impact of support services staffing reductions on departments and services is mitigated, as best as we can, by process  simplification,  investment in systems such as work flow, better joined up working  and increasing managers self-reliance.

Apart from the money, we have also had to wrestle with the improvement challenges laid out in the Kerslake report, the other reports of external inspectors and the Government Improvement Panel. While we are not  at the end of these journeys yet, I think we should be proud of the positive and not defensive way that we have responded. Under Mark Roger’s leadership and with a number of new senior officers at the top of the organisation I definitely feel the “new broom effect”, and a different culture starting to take root. I have always thought that as  a Council we achieve a phenomenal amount. You only have to look at our Cabinet and other agendas, or look at what is physically going on around us in the development of the City, to see evidence of this. We are now improving the speed of decision making and change, and are finding new ways of working with communities and partners. This ranges from the work of members on how they  engage differently  with local communities and their  leaders,  to the creation of a new West Midlands Combined Authority with a planned programme of £8bn! Lots going as you would expect from an organisation whose motto is “Forward”!