We recently invited Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council, Rob Huntington, Assistant Chief Executive at St Helens Borough Council and Rebecca Peck, Assistant Chief Executive at West Northamptonshire Council to join us for Transitions 2021.

Matt Skinner (MS): Thanks for rejoining us, I hope you've been able to top up your tea and coffee and maybe even grab a biscuit. Over the next 15 minutes or so, we've invited three fantastic public sector leaders to share some of their stories of leading change. They'll talk about place and leadership, collaboration and how they're taking a networked approach to creating public value in their places.

I'm joined this morning by our first counsellor, Georgia Gould, who is the leader of Camden Council and also the chair of London counsellors. Georgia, I'm going to hand it over to you.

Georgia Gould (GG): Good morning everyone, I’m really pleased to be here to discuss such an important topic. The last year and a half or so has been as difficult as we can imagine, for everyone, for our places and for our communities. But I think it's also shown the power of local leadership and local government. Where we've tried to implement new centralised solutions as a country, they've often floundered, being slow and struggling to take root in communities. Whether it's the national testing system, or if people remember, at the beginning of a pandemic, there was an attempt at national food distribution.

But on the other side, we've seen local places step up almost overnight, in really extraordinary ways. And we now see Test and Trace increasingly coming down to local government. We’ve seen local places develop our own food distribution, our own new services, in a matter of days. I think the reason we were able to do that was because we had the convening power, the strength of local relationships and understanding of need that enabled us to act really quickly to bring people together. It looked very different in different places, but where we do trust local places we see extraordinary things come out of that. And I hope that really is one of the learnings from the pandemic, the need to really trust local leadership and local places and to enable innovation to happen.

Where we do trust local places we see extraordinary things come out of that. And I hope that really is one of the learnings from the pandemic, the need to really trust local leadership and local places and to enable innovation to happen.

Georgia Gould

Leader of Camden Council

Another real positive from a very dark and difficult time has been the way that we've learned from each other. I feel like a magpie in local government at the moment, always looking at what other people are doing and adapting and learning from the way they're leading change. I think that kind of collective learning has been really powerful.

So I wanted to start just by giving a few reflections on leading change during the pandemic; what I've taken away and learned from COVID-19.

I think the first and most important thing is that the pandemic has just exposed the depth of inequality in our communities. We knew about it, and many of us were working to address it. But we have seen starkly the cost of living with high levels of social and economic inequality. Whether it's the impact of overcrowding, on spreading the disease, the disproportionate impact on Black Asian and Minority communities. The way that existing health inequalities have deepened and the conversation has been had about inequality has been powerful.

We can't lose that impetus for change as we go forward. But when it comes to addressing things in place, I think the first and most important part is having a strong local purpose and knowing what we want to collectively achieve together. I remember, at the start of the pandemic, in Camden, we could see COVID coming, we could see the risks and we spent quite a bit of time thinking what our response would be. What were the commitments we wanted to make to our community?

The first commitment we made was that no one would go hungry as a result of the pandemic.

Then, no one would lose their life. No one would lose their home as a result of the pandemic. And that we would stay compassionate, listening to our communities through a difficult time. We knew we couldn't completely prevent what was coming, but we had a promise that we would retain our humanity and make sure that we treated every life as valuable.

Very early on we came together with our main strategic partners, our voluntary sector, our businesses, FutureGov who are hosting today we're part of that conversation, and we asked the question: how do we prevent people from going hungry?

We pulled teams together from across our council and community to rapidly look at how we could work together differently and build on what was already there. A lot of work came out of that, which we knew had to be nimble. So we quite quickly, as we dealt with some services that we couldn't run in the same way - libraries, leisure centres, etc - we redeployed those staff to wraparound community settings; recognising where there were trusted relationships.

We also realised quite quickly that we didn't have the level of data and understanding of need in our community beyond those who we already worked with. We were really worried about missing people off or people getting left behind. So we worked quite hard to bring together something we call Beacon which was a tool that allowed us to map needs across our borough to understand what individuals really needed. Often the data side sounds quite technocratic, but actually, it was deeply important for all of our services to be able to check in on people to understand what was happening. Long-term, this has really transformed how we work as a council.

The second thing that was really important and remained important throughout the pandemic was listening to our community and having structured ways to be there and to hear what was happening. I remember quite early on in our community, particularly our Somali community, you were saying to us that COVID-19 was having a disproportionate impact on them, that more people from their families were going into hospital and that they were scared about what was happening. And that was well before any data was showing that. If everyone remembers at the start of the pandemic, we, unfortunately, had very little data around ethnicity, hospitalisation and people losing their lives. We trusted what the community was telling us and we worked with the community to ensure public health messages were getting out to the community in ways that people could hear that we were offering extra support for people to self-isolate and that we were bringing together our resources around those needs. From the start of the pandemic, we’ve had a group looking at disproportionality and inequality, working with different community groups, which has carried on throughout the last year and a half and ended up in over 100 recommendations for long-term transformation. So I think that listening was crucial.

We trusted what the community was telling us and we worked with the community to ensure public health messages were getting out to the community in ways that people could hear that we were offering extra support for people to self-isolate and that we were bringing together our resources around those needs.

Georgia Gould

Leader of Camden Council

And I think keeping that flexibility and an ability to pivot. Talking about food distribution, as it became clearer and clearer that we would need more capacity around public health more broadly we moved from council-led food distribution to something that was led by a voluntary sector. And that allowed us to create in-house lateral flow, to have staff who were able to lead on vaccination outreach to keep that flexibility to respond. I think that's something about the power of, of local places.

Another thing that I think came out really, throughout the pandemic and I suppose leadership in general, but I think we really saw it during the pandemic is the importance of collaboration, and how ego and kind of hero leadership gets in the way of that. Bringing people together and ensuring that there are structures to really iron out differences, especially when people are working remotely, and to ensure that no one voice is able to dominate, I think was very critical.

I think we really saw during the pandemic the importance of collaboration, and how ego and hero leadership gets in the way of that. Bringing people together and ensuring that there are structures to really iron out differences, especially when people are working remotely, and to ensure that no one voice is able to dominate, I think was very critical.

Georgia Gould

Leader of Camden Council

And then the final thing I wanted to say in terms of a pandemic is the importance of in house capacity, especially around innovation. Our own staff were able to lead that innovation and work with communities. The couple of times that we decided to commission that work, it just didn't work. As we go forward, we’re really building up the ability of our own staff to lead communities.

And none of this happened in a vacuum. It happened because of years of investment in community leadership. I think we saw some of the innovations happening before the pandemic. In Camden, we've invested heavily in citizens assemblies. We saw that the community power, the power of mutual aid, was able to quickly pivot to supporting the council because we had those relationships, we were able to work as equals.

Moving forward, as we look to the future, we're really clear that we shouldn't just be looking at recovery, we need to look at renewal. Because of what we saw before, we weren't really transforming those social inequalities. We're doing good work, but we weren't leading transformation. We have to draw on the kind of power of a conversation we've had about inequality and the new partnerships that we've developed throughout the pandemic in a way that really works in our communities to create systemic change. In Camden, we were doing that through missions, which I can talk about in the broader conversation, but we believe having clear missions that bring the community together are a way to mobilise change across different sectors. I look forward to hearing what the others have to say and then having a conversation about that local leadership. Thank you.

We have to draw on the kind of power of a conversation we've had about inequality and the new partnerships that we've developed throughout the pandemic in a way that really works in our communities to create systemic change.

Georgia Gould

Leader of Camden Council

(MS): Thanks so much, Georgia. We’ll definitely pick up on that point in the discussion shortly. Next up, I’m delighted to welcome Rob Huntington, who is the Assistant Chief Executive at St. Helens Borough Council who will talk about leading changes in St. Helens.

Rob Huntington (RH): Thanks, Matt. Good morning, everybody. I’d just like to share for the next ten minutes my experience of leading change in St. Helens. And I suppose reflect back on one of the opening statements that Matt discussed at the beginning of the session around looking forward and not taking account of this elastic force that might bring you back to how we used to work. I really want to talk about how we St. Helens have made the best of organisational transformation and also started to address some of the wider borough transformation that we need to see to address all of the things that have been talked about already this morning.

The interesting dynamic for me is that I actually started in St. Helens, in March of last year during the lockdown, and haven't physically been into the borough for a while. It's been an interesting dynamic leading change whilst working remotely.

A little about St. Helens - we are one of the six local authorities that is part of the Liverpool City region, which gives our sort of place leadership and our local leadership a little bit of a different dynamic, because we are part of that arrangement, as well as obviously our local arrangement. That has been reflected in both our local response to the pandemic and now our whole emergency planning approach.

We've got quite a strong industrial heritage, which has led to some of the challenges actually that we face currently. We have a mining and a glass heritage quite a strong sporting heritage - obviously, we've got St. Helens Rugby League who are prominent in the borough - and also quite a high percentage of elderly people. So all of those give us specific challenges in a sort of medium size borough in the northwest.

Interestingly, just before the pandemic, we were classed as being traditional and resistant to change as part of the Local Government Association peer challenge that happened just towards the end of 2019. Which isn't a great starting point for dealing with a pandemic and how you deliver services in a very different way as a result, but also some challenges in terms of how we modernise and how we become very different. But I always like a challenge and that was something to start on and to work on.

We also had some of the same ongoing challenges as part of our COVID chronology and journey. In Merseyside, we were one of the first regions actually to introduce tiers. Which again, impacted how we did things but was also a real catalyst for change.

One of the things we did at St. Helens at the very start and then in the first lockdown was really to start thinking around: what do we want to be? What do we want to look like? There were a few thought pieces being circulated that really resonated with me around: whose responsibility is transformation? Where should the leadership actually be? Is it central government, or is it local government?

We also had some of the same ongoing challenges as part of our COVID chronology and journey. In Merseyside, we were one of the first regions actually to introduce tiers. Which again, impacted how we did things but was also a real catalyst for change.

Rob Huntington

Assistant Chief Executive at St Helens Borough Council

We adopted a civic renewal approach to use the learnings from our response to embed new ways of working, engage residents in decision-making and actually develop and form those partnerships. Some we already had because we've got a strong health and social care integration approach in St. Helens, but also starting to build better partnerships with the VCS and our communities to drive that locally-driven change. The alternative is that we just raced back to normal and how it was, which goes back to the elastic force point.

Very early on, we set our stall out in terms of this is the catalyst, this is the opportunity for us to change and do something completely different around how we deliver services and how we engage with our communities.

Another model that was being socialised last year was something from the RSA, which we used as a little bit of a principle to start thinking about how we might do things differently. We’ve been trying out new things and different ways to engage our communities. And we’ve been nudging people to behave in a very different way and we’ve started working remotely. So let's amplify those changes and let's actually make sure they can support us in our transformation journey. We've also stopped quite a few things. So where we have stopped them, and we no longer need to do them because they're unfit for purpose, then that's fine. I think using this as a very simple sort of guide, courtesy of the RSA that helps us with our thinking and our mindset around what the future could look like.

Very early on, we set our stall out in terms of this is the catalyst, this is the opportunity for us to change and do something completely different around how we deliver services and how we engage with our communities.

Rob Huntington

Assistant Chief Executive at St Helens Borough Council

Going back to my point around the peer challenge comments, we were quite a traditional council and our pre-COVID ways of working for our workforce, we had designed an organisation that was about individual contribution, and a workspace that was about individual contribution rather than collaboration. We had flexible working but it was inflexible because it was restricted by core hours. We had presenteeism and a middle manager workforce that thought management was by seeing people rather than delivery of outcomes. I think probably similar to other local authorities we started thinking about agile and home working but hadn't really commenced that or moved it forward.

What actually happened was, as with lots of other local authorities, remote working and working from home became the norm. But we made it part of our culture and part of the way that we will be doing things. So now in terms of our ways of working, the way our workforce operates and the way that we operate as a local authority we have a wholly hybrid workforce. All our HR policies and everything associated with the way that we work has been amended and changed. We've removed core hours and you’re contracted to work 37 hours a week, wherever you wish to work.

Since May of last year that has also culminated in some pretty significant change. We've got five of the six members of the executive leadership team, including myself, that were onboarded during the pandemic. We've taken a whole scale organisational approach to redesign in the organisation looking at it from a business architecture and capabilities perspective. We’ve consulted and produced our new borough strategy with some new priorities influenced by COVID. We engaged the LGA to help us with a recovery renewal panel. We've established a huge cultural transformation programme, including ways of working, rationalised our office's estate, we developed a locality delivery model. And we’re continuing our health and social care integration, which is obviously place-based and we're embarking on some significant borough transformation around economic recovery, growth and regeneration.

This all supports our roadmap to recovery, which is in three phases from now until spring and is around managing lockdown restrictions and the reopening spring into summer, which is bringing everything back to life for our borough. And autumn into winter, which is sustaining that recovery and renewal and managing any risks of resurgence.

Our focus going forwards is based on some key themes. Firstly our organisational reset, which is everything that I've talked through in terms of continuing that real modernisation of how we operate as a local authority. Our economic recovery, as has been said by other colleagues today, is what we're calling Well St. Helens. Which is really about addressing the wider health inequalities that now exist across the borough, and we've actually established an inequalities commission called Mind the Gap, which also focuses on mental health ensuring that our education recovery and our educated St. Helens plan is robust.

Focusing on our community reset is really embracing our St. Helens together approach, what the next generation neighbourhoods might be and delivering against our strategy priorities that we've recently published. And that's helping us win some awards and be recognised for what we're doing. We recently won three awards, based on our ways of working programme and also the approach that we've had around our volunteers working with the voluntary sector.

To finish there’s five lessons I’d like to share. The first one is understanding the conditions that actually enable us to collaborate and to change. What we've done in St. Helens is seize this opportunity to really change, transform and do things completely differently. The pandemic has absolutely been a catalyst for that. Our response has been the response as per every area, but actually, the catalyst for change is pretty significant in terms of what it's done for us.

The lesson is to retain the positive changes we have seen to population behaviour. There's less reliance on state intervention, quite a lot of communities and residents have taken a lot more personal responsibility to deal with particular issues. Which I believe, we need to look at and retain some of that behaviour so there's less of a dependency on the state.

The lesson is to retain the positive changes we have seen to population behaviour. There's less reliance on state intervention, quite a lot of communities and residents have taken a lot more personal responsibility to deal with particular issues.

Rob Huntington

Assistant Chief Executive at St Helens Borough Council

Clarity of purpose has actually led us to rapid decision making. So, this whole let's be clear around what we're here to achieve, let's cut through the bureaucracy, let's make decisions in a very agile way has been the key to success. As I've talked about in terms of our ways of working, focus on people, not buildings and silo working multidisciplinary teams have been able to get together at the click of a mouse and not have to gather in buildings.

The final point really is to nurture that relationship or those relationships that have emerged with wider partners. And really align partners and the voluntary sector to the strengths that they can give you in order to deliver some of the changes required.

They’re my reflections and obviously happy to answer any questions in the panel. And thanks for your time.

(MS): Thank you, Rob. I was really delighted to present one of those awards at the recent Network ceremony too. I can see a couple of questions now coming into the speaker view here, but please do continue to submit those.

Our final panellist this morning in this session is Rebecca Peck. Rebecca is the Assistant Chief Executive at the new unitary Council, West Northamptonshire.

Rebecca Peck (RP): Thanks, Matt. It's great to have the opportunity to share some reflections from our change journey in West Northants after our first few weeks as a new council.

Reflecting back on the scale of the challenge that we've faced here in recent times I’d like to set out some of those key challenges. So leading the financial recovery of Northamptonshire County Council from its high profile bankruptcy in the context of MHCLG intervention, leading improvement to our children's services which were rated as inadequate and establishing a new Children's Trust. Disbanding the seven district and borough councils in our area and the county council creating two new unitary councils, bringing all of our support services back inhouse, and all whilst at the same time as responding to COVID.

I think if we'd have been given this as a business continuity exercise, we probably would have said, ‘Oh, this is a bit far fetched, we wouldn't be dealing with all of these things at once’. But this has been our reality. It would be impossible to overstate just how challenging some of those relationships were at the start of this process, given some of the high profile failings that had taken place.

So really, our focus has been on rebuilding those relationships and building trust amongst all of our 5,000 staff and over 300 counsellors. And we've seen some really fantastic examples of excellent local leadership from our counsellors who have led this process through tasks and finish groups. And from our colleagues who've, through a distributed leadership approach taken a leading role in different aspects of the programme. And that's really helped to make sure that everyone's had a stake in success, and set the foundations for our two new councils to build a bright culture for the future.

As a new council, it is a really exciting time for us. And we've got a unique opportunity to really refocus on our purpose and what it is that we're here for, and codesign that with our communities. We're determined to be ambitious for our future and really to use that unique opportunity to think quite differently about how we're delivering services in our communities.

As a new council, it is a really exciting time for us. And we've got a unique opportunity to really refocus on our purpose and what it is that we're here for, and codesign that with our communities.

Rebecca Peck

Assistant Chief Executive at West Northamptonshire Council

We're increasingly operating in a really uncertain context so leading through values is something that's really important to us and something that we've focused on from the outset. Developing our new thrive values with our counsellors and colleagues has really helped us to make sure that whilst we might not always have all of the answers about the future and what that might look like. What we do know is that we're building a culture where we have confidence in the way that we work and the way that we could collaborate with others in our community, so that we can really be sure that we're making a difference and setting the right foundations for our future.

With our Children's Trust, we've got a really exciting opportunity. This is a new trust, which launched in November 2020 and we're really committed to making sure that we improve our services for families. And that actually, we make the benefits of having an independent trust but that we don't lose that closeness between the new councils and the trust, ensuring people are working together effectively as one team.

Like many organisations, we've really seen a step-change in our use of technology as a result of COVID-19. That's something that we're determined to take with us into our future, and we’re really taking that opportunity as a new council to think differently about the way we work and how we deliver together.

One of the things we've done together with our colleagues in North Northants is to develop a set of new staff networks, which we're really proud of and we've had a really fantastic response from our colleagues. One of the things that's been really fantastic through this process is the number of people who've got in touch to say, ‘in my 30 years of working in local government, I've really never had the opportunity to have my voice heard and get involved like this’. I'm sure many of you already have really active networks in your organisations. It's National Staff Networks Day on the 12th of May, we'll be using that as a really important platform to raise the profile around our networks. And I'd really encourage you all to do the same if you're not already.

To finish off that, in terms of reflections over some of our learnings through this journey, I think the first one which I mentioned right at the start is around relationships. It really is important. I think all the more so during COVID, when we've not been able to see each other face to face in the way that we ordinarily might, to make time for those relationships to really think about how we communicate. Email is not always the most effective way of getting in touch, and we can all be guilty of relying upon it too much at times.

Making the time for those relationships is really critical when you're moving on to change and transformation because we're asking people to be brave and think differently about the way that they work, it's really important to have that trust and that confidence in each other to do that successfully.

I wanted to raise a point around assumptions as well, in that I think it's really important that we keep our own assumptions in check and be open with our colleagues and the people that we're working with about what our objectives are, and what we're trying to achieve. We can often all be guilty of assuming that we know what someone's agenda might be or what their problem might be. We've seen that, particularly in the context of, going from eight councils to two. They all have their own different cultures and histories and ways of working. So trying to be really open about those assumptions and challenge your own as well as those of others is really important.

I wanted to take a moment as well to reflect upon appreciative inquiry. One of the things that we've been really keen to do throughout our change journey, and again, as a new council, is to really celebrate successes and to raise the profile of and give colleagues the confidence to do that as well. We really want to shout about it when they can see someone doing something great.

One of the things that we’ve done is launch our Rose of Northamptonshire Awards, which are for anyone in our community who's done something brilliant. Either during COVID, or it could be absolutely anything. We've seen some fantastic nominations and fantastic stories of things that are really making a difference. It’s so important to give a platform to those people.

I wanted to take a moment as well to reflect upon resilience. It's difficult for us as leaders to take care of anyone if we're not taking care of ourselves. I think particularly during COVID, we've all been guilty sometimes of not taking leave, or just thinking ‘I'll deal with that later, maybe when we're out of lockdown’. And then things have continued and we've ended up in a situation where we've maybe got time built up, we've been in the office over a prolonged period of time working really hard. It's important that we take some time out for ourselves just to reflect on that space really. Speaking personally, having had last week off after not having any time off since October, you definitely notice the difference.

Many of us have been kept away from the people that we love during COVID and it can be easier to be a bit shorter and not quite ourselves if we're working under pressure all of that time. So it’s important to make time for yourselves, but also to encourage colleagues to do that and make that space.

Lastly, I wanted to conclude really by saying that in West Northants, we've had a really positive response from our colleagues in the broader sector. Through the LGA, through Solace and through working with organisations like FutureGov, to really make sure that we learn from the best of what's already happening out there in the sector and beyond. And that we share that good practice.

I just really encourage everyone to think that if you’ve got a real challenge or you're finding something really difficult or equally if you've got a great idea remember that you're not alone. We're all navigating a lot of these similar challenges together. We can be really brilliant as a sector when we share that experience and build that incremental improvement based on what really works.

That was everything that I wanted to cover in the slides. Thank you.

(MS): Thank you, Rebecca. And thank you to all of our panellists.

Question & Answer

(MS): There's so many questions that I've got for all of you. And we've only got 15 minutes to get through them all. But I'll give it our best shot and there's some more questions coming in from the audience. So please keep submitting those and I'll try and try and get through a couple of them as well.

Georgia, maybe just to start with you because you mentioned the impact of having a really strong sense of purpose and that being really important for a shared mission for place. Do you want to tell us just a little bit more about that?

(GG): Yeah, sure. We've been working in tandem with Mariana Mazzucato, The Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose and their mission framework. Mariana often talks about having some kind of bold, long term mission that brings together stakeholders across place.

We're trying to take that approach to Camden’s renewal and we have some areas where we want to see real transformation. For example, one of our missions is to end food poverty. So every family in Camden has access to free healthy and sustainable meals each day. But actually achieving that requires us to work across the private sector to address some of the root causes of poverty, because we know that food poverty is really just about poverty. It's people not having the money to spend on food, and we need to look at what the wraparound support is, looking at employment.

Submissions that speak to public need cause us to work very differently. I often think about our role as a council is, we actually have some levers but many we don't. Our biggest power is our power of convening, and we kind of stepped into places even where no one wants us.

There's lots of times where education is a really good example, we have a very strong sense of why the education system should be rooted in communities and supporting our young people. But there was a big drive for customisation. We set up something called Camden Learning which is a company owned by all the Camden schools and staying with the local authority but also driving innovation. So stepping into a space where we weren't necessarily wanted, but where we wanted to show community leadership. And we see the missions as a way to do that and to really drive renewal.

(MS): Those are really practical examples that are really important to share. One of the questions that's come in is around trust and that feels like a really important theme here today.

As leaders in your organisations are there more of those kinds of practical examples of how you've approached some of this in your areas? Rebecca coming to you given you've got a bit of a blank slate in some respects in West Northants, to shape and find that purpose and to build that trust. What are some of your reflections on that?

(RP): The single most effective thing that we can do in building trust is leading by example. That's the most powerful way of showing everyone in our communities that we can be trusted. When we deliver in that consistent way when we do the things that we say that we're going to do. Treat people with respect, that goes a huge way to building trust.

Particularly in our context in Northamptonshire, where that public trust and confidence was completely destroyed. It really, really is important to consistently make sure that residents know that when they get in touch with us they're going to get a clear response that people are going to be honest, people are going to be supportive. And as colleagues, we work in that way together. I think that that's really, really key.

(MS): Georgia, you said that you've got something on trust that you'd definitely like to say.

(GG): I think one of the things we've really seen over the last few years is real erosion and trust in government and politics. And that is a real threat to our democratic institutions. So one of the areas we're really focused on in Camden is, how do we rebuild that trust in the democratic process.

One kind of tool we've used a lot is citizens assemblies and in a borough like mine where there's deep inequalities, huge diversity and people have very different experiences sometimes the council in the middle of that can kind of feel like people are coming in and saying, ‘we want you listening to our direct interest’. Having a space where you really invest in citizens to negotiate some of these differences together to understand people's different perspectives and to be part of the democratic process is essential.

We've seen it is really transformative. We did the country's first citizens assembly on the climate crisis, and we had people in that space who thought we should ban all cars. Then we had people who thought we persecuted car users. And rather than just being two groups having a dialogue with the council, people had a dialogue as a community. We came up with 17 recommendations that we're taking forward, but it also changed people's own view of what it meant to be part of a democracy.

I would love to see that. They're not cheap but I'd love to see that as something that we have like a national kind of jury service or a national kind of civic entitlement that we can pull in as local places. We've seen that really change the way people feel about their local democracy.

(MS): Thanks, Georgia. Yeah, I'd love to see that as well. And I think Camden’s a great example of demonstrating how some of these kinds of new models for organising communities can be a really kind of great force for bringing people together and collaborating in really different ways.

Thank you for sharing that. Rob. Same question to you about trust. St. Helens is going through quite a lot of change over the last few months. What are your reflections on some of the practical examples of how you've approached that in different areas?

(RH): There's a number of different lenses around trust isn't there really, because one of the things that we faced internally as an organisation is how do you build the trust in terms of a completely different way of working for the workforce when you're moving to a very different model and a very different organisation?

When you've got a culture of, as I outlined earlier, presenteeism and a middle manager cohort that don't trust the staff to work remotely there's that sort of lens, which has been a real challenge for us. But then I think from a place perspective, and a borough-wide perspective, we’ve still got a budget challenge. Quite a significant budget challenge and the pandemic has impacted the availability of resources. How does that then reflect on trust between local authority services and what residents need? And it actually means that we've really got to, linking back to what Georgia was saying, we've got to really understand our communities in a completely different way. What does that then need to look like to build that level of trust?

We've been talking this morning about the widening of inequalities and the fact that our communities are very different to what they were potentially, before the pandemic. The fact that some of them may have a different perception of how they've been supported than others. I think we just need to understand that and one of the things I want us to focus on in St. Helens is what does it look like? Because we really need to understand the problems, the challenges and we need to understand where the vulnerabilities are. And we also need to understand where the level of trust is, in terms of local authority services and partners being able to deliver a new world and new vision, whatever that might be.

I really like the approach in Camden around the missions. It's all about inclusivity and really understanding what inclusive growth or inclusive renewal needs to look like. Trust is a key component in all of that.

(MS): I really liked the idea of amplifying new ways of working in the framework that you produce. I wondered, actually if that’s been something that you've been able to use to change some of the relationships of your partners and the wider community?

(RB): It has. One of the strengths in St. Helens, as I outlined earlier is that we've got quite a mature health and social care integration, which has really helped us in terms of our response. Quite a lot of the new ways of working or different approaches that we've taken on board within that integrated approach have helped us. I kept referring to it when we were talking about transformation, because there was a real, in my mind, a red flag circulating that if people could just go back to how they used to do things, they would.

That was something that kept being brought up in terms of ways of working. We're having the same argument now around remote meetings. It's working and it could actually improve democratic engagement, why would we revert back to face to face meetings all the time? So it was socialise with partners, it was socialised with those that we were collaborating with as a principle. I do know the RSA have actually got a huge framework that sits behind that, which they’re using as part of the toolkit. I use it as a bit of thought leadership to help with our thinking.

(MS): Great. Thank you. There's a really, really good question that's come through here about how our panellists are guarding against a fallback, given that many people in their positions of authority built the platform for those constituents as were, rather than as are, and as they need to be.

Thinking on holding the new, where it’s better and accelerating it. How are you stopping some of the old ways of working coming back in?

(RP): Yeah, I think that's a really good question. For us, one of the things that we're doing is trying to make sure that we learn from what's working really well at the moment, and then use that as a kind of basis to really prove to those colleagues who might be a bit more traditional or a bit more sceptical about using digital or working differently. Showing them what that impact actually can be.

We're in quite a unique situation as a new council in that we've always worked in this way. So what we're trying to do is be really clear that it doesn't matter what might have previously happened at the county council or at Daventry, or at North Hampton, or at South Northants. We're a new authority now. And it's for us to decide how things work in the future.

It feels to me that some of those learnings are so well established. Now, things are so different, it will be impossible to roll back to some of those more traditional ‘everybody must be in the office from nine to five’ type of ways of working. But that's not to say that there's not sometimes a place for people to meet and work face-to-face.

For us, it's about really celebrating what works, and building on that. That in itself helps to challenge some of those people who might be more inclined to roll things back where they are given an opportunity.

(MS): I can imagine, it's pretty refreshing to be able to say ‘we’re new and we've drawn a line under that we're doing something different’. Georgia, same question for you. From the community perspective and the way that you've been working in place, how do we stop ourselves from the elastic force pulling us back?

(GG): We're in a place in Camden where we've been on a three-year journey. In 2017 we made a set of commitments about how we would turn the council almost inside out and work differently with our communities.

We've been testing and learning a lot of different approaches as we go. COVID accelerated those changes. It's partly about working in a relational strength-based way in every part of the organisation. It's deepening, embedding and scaling. I'm not worried will go backwards, but it's how we make that a way of working so that frontline staff really feel that they’re owning that and able to go and support communities in a relational way.

I'm starting to see things come up all the time in how we're changing the way we develop. We’ve been working with those who’ve had children taken away by social care to change that system in a completely powerful and passionate way. We’re having the really difficult and deep conversations, and maturity to have that as an organisation. It requires us to have a risk appetite because when you open up to the community, you lose control and you don't know where that's going to go. There's a kind of courage to it as an organisation. I think now if I disappeared, all of that would continue to happen because there's ownership of it.

(MS): That kind of local leadership around being bold and aspirational, that's huge. You can feel that in Camden. There’s a real passion and a commitment to doing this in a really different way going forwards, which is super telling.

To put the same question to you, Rob. Well, How do we protect ourselves from that elastic force, what do we do when we need to stop going backwards?

(RH): Keep your foot on the pedal and be clear around where we're going. Very early last year, we were very clear around our direction of travel as an organisation. We were very clear around the two themes of organisational transformation and borough transformation.

We didn't deviate from that, the whole approach which I call the great experiment. We'll iterate, we'll try new things. But we'll only go back to something or how we used to do something when there’s no other way.

Going back to the point around amplifying, it was let's really reflect on what we are doing very differently. We did quite a huge piece of work during the first bit of the crisis, where we captured everything that we were doing very differently in order to identify it and say, right, well, we currently will carry on with this and be very clear around the benefit. We badged it as an experiment, as iteration and identifying what difference it’s making.

One of the other things as well as we also were very active in terms of our ways of working. We cleared out all the offices, so there was no return back to an office. Including the pictures on the desk, the coffee, the rich tea biscuits in the drawer and everything else. That was sort of mothballed, we're no longer there anymore so there was no return to how that might be from an organisational perspective. So that helped.

(MS): We're coming to the end of our time for this session. I wanted to do a huge virtual round of applause to our guests. Thank you so much for participating in this discussion and for sharing so candidly your thoughts and experiences.

There's so many more questions that we could have asked, I'm sorry we haven't been able to spend more time.

We could probably talk about these things for the rest of the day. All of your organisations have delivered some really incredible achievements over the last year and despite the really difficult context. It's been really incredible to hear some of that today. Thank you very much.

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