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News & Updates

25/07/16
Alpine’s aim is to leave clients better equipped through intelligent resourcing. This month, we are celebrating 11 years of helping public sector organisations to manage change. Over the next 11 weeks, we will post a series of thought leadership and opinion pieces on the workforce issues that matter to you. These have been put together by in consultation with public sector leaders. The first is a topical piece from Alpine’s newest member of staff, Ruby Dixon, who leads on local government practice.

Recently the government announced plans to create a ‘powerhouse in the north’ by granting permission for a city region elected mayor in Greater Manchester.

The ‘Boris-ization’ of Manchester and its surrounding areas follows a worldwide trend that: big cities need big elected mayors.

It is interesting that Greater Manchester is the testbed for greater local governance, not least because officially Birmingham is England’s second city and one might have thought that was the obvious choice.

Of course leadership is about more than size alone. Greater Manchester is a hotbed of innovative regional networks and partnerships. Decades ago, the ten local councils in the area formed the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) – which also includes police and fire and rescue services.

AGMA has collaborated to achieve many successes, including the expansion of Manchester International Airport as a global gateway for tourism, trade and industry in the 1980s. Since then, the 10 councils have collectively transformed the city region, establishing a sub-regional infrastructure for transport, technology, property and housing, and skills. Nowhere is the concept of councils as the voice of a whole community or ‘place shapers’ (Lyons Review 2006) more evident.

Yet local leadership is more than the creation and management of physical assets of a ‘place’. It is also about people – be that through a council’s statutory duty to protect and safeguard its most vulnerable groups – or creating a sense of belonging and civic pride.

During the recession, like most local authorities, AGMA (often reliant on government grants) has implemented enormous budgetary cuts. But regardless of how much is now in the public purse, councils retain responsibility for the heightened social, economic and environmental challenges they now face. This is where local leadership comes to the fore. This is something AGMA has always demonstrated by building political consensus for change.

This type of visionary and pragmatic local leadership is known as the ‘Manchester way’. It typifies a fearless (not reckless) approach to innovation through action learning.

Greater Manchester is involved in a wide range of front-line initiatives, delivering transformative services to, and better outcomes for people, such as: the open data Manchester Synchronisation Project; Multi-Agency Support Hubs (MASH) for vulnerable families; and public health informatics – to name but a few. Such activities have earned the area a deserved reputation for proactive public sector reform.

These councils are reinventing themselves as leading-edge, agile, accessible organisations, with leaders who constantly scan and adapt to external drivers – including the rapid pace of technological change – and developing the skills of the workforce.

Recent studies (Grant Thornton 2013; 2014; PWC 2013) indicate that many councils have focused on delivering efficiencies through back office and staffing changes, but are now worried about the impact of cuts on the quality of frontline services (PWC 2013).

AGMA understands that a ‘local rethink’ to re-imagine public services is required to be both efficient and effective.

Such adaptive leadership means an organisation is attuned to its ever-changing environment, as well as understanding the impact on residents and customers across a range of inter-related services that people value, such as health and adult social care. It allows for clear direction, visible leadership (where different chief executives have responsibility for specific policy/initiatives), and engagement from the bottom-up. This reduces rigid hierarchy and posturing – which can jeopardise innovation – and also creates policy informed from the customer’s front-line experience. AGMA leaders listen – and it speaks volumes.

So in a sector where the pace of innovation is generally perceived as slow these public servants are leading, collaborating and involving others to ensure savings are made across the board for more effective outcomes.

It is not just councils that carry the baton of bold leadership in the area. Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue is funding an innovation pilot to bring blue light services together to train, work and respond collaboratively on emergency call outs. The Community Risk Intervention Teams (CRITs) could potentially save the tax payer millions of pounds and giving staff more flexibility and challenge on the frontline (http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/watch-greater-manchester-trial-fourth-7961686). Steve McGuirk, the chief fire officer tells me: ‘I honestly believe this is a very exciting opportunity and will be ground-breaking for our emergency services.’

AGMA’s use of technology and social media goes beyond communication and consultation. IT is harnessed for transparency, collaborative policy and practice, informatics, and knowledge management (the iNetwork dedicated to influence, improvement and innovation has hundreds of members) to enhance workforce effectiveness, and to increase e-democracy and participation amongst citizens.

While technology is an enabler for transformation, it is not a panacea. AGMA leaders such as Wigan chief executive Donna Hall, place a lot of emphasis on staff coaching – because the new work place demands flatter structures, collaborative teams, and individuals who are enabled to lead.

Removing some of the legislative and infrastructure barriers to innovation through the creation of a city region elected mayor may help to create a power house in the north but ultimately it is the powerful cocktail of bold ambition, adaptive leadership, and pragmatism that will deliver power to the people.

Ruby Dixon recently joined Alpine and heads its local government practice. She has over 25 years experience in the sector, and led best practice and innovation programmes for the IDeA and LGA Group. She is a Strategic Advisor to organisations in change across public, private and voluntary sectors. Ruby has a Director’s List MBA (Manchester Business School) and is a graduate of the advanced Executive Leadership Programme (Ashridge Business School). She is a former recipient of The Guardian Women in Management national Award.

You can contact her at: rdixon@alpine.eu.com or on 02034 781345

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