Who’d be a chief executive in these troubled times for local government?

We’ve already tackled a series of spending cuts and radical policy shifts against a backdrop of recession; but there’s much, much more to come. Poor growth projections and bleak prospects for future funding means the tide has truly gone out for local government as we know it – so what lies ahead?

Seismic changes in our landscape call for radical new approaches to the way we do business as leaders. While we’ve all had conversations about the importance of place shaping over the past few years, it’s never been as important to grasp this concept and start to make a fundamental shift in the way we help shape our places. Creating prosperous, sustainable and liveable places is the key and, I believe, the only answer to the massive financial policy and societal challenges we’re now facing.

That means understanding what really makes our communities tick – not just getting a feel for what residents are thinking and saying about us, but using sophisticated research and insight to build up robust evidence about how it really is in our streets and neighbourhoods.

Only then can we build the platform of trust we need (but in many places still don’t have) to begin to shift the pressures of demands for our services through behavioural change.

So how do we get there? This is no time to be timid about change. In Coventry we’re developing a bold and radical vision for redefining what a local authority is, what it stands for and how we reshape our relationship with the people we serve and every individual and organisation that has an interest and stake in our city.

This is not easy for any of us, but it’s a crucial first step in changing our relationship with residents. If we’re brave enough to let go, we empower others. If we’re not always the direct provider of services we become catalysts for change. If we don’t pretend to have all the answers all the time we energise people to come up with some of the answers for themselves.

Above all this calls for humility in leadership, and that’s a big challenge to the many hardworking professionals in local government, some of whom in the past have been able to use the comfort blanket of structures, processes and governance to avoid taking risks or leaps into the unknown.

The challenge is as massive for managers, staff and councillors as it is for chief executives; but it’s chief executives that need to lead this organisational change, inspire staff and convince elected members that radical shift is the only way ahead. Maintaining the status quo in this climate is not going to lead to standstill – it will lead to regression at a time when we must not allow that to happen.

SOLACE will be debating and making sense of these complex issues at its perfectly timed Summit in October in Coventry. This will be no talking shop (although there will be plenty of challenging conversations!), but a forum for us all to get into the heart of this necessary, but difficult debate as we begin to make the radical shift towards this new model of place leadership.

Who’d be a chief executive? As challenging and uncertain as it is; I cannot think of a better time to be a chief executive in local government.

Martin Reeves

SOLACE Senior Vice President

Chief Executive, Coventry City Council

This article first appeared in the LGC on 13th September 2012.

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Filed under Coventry, Leadership, Learning and development, SOLACE Summit

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