[prev] …as their next port of call. ‘Part of my job is to convince them that we’re a great council, that we’re going to account manage them, meet their needs and get what they need. You’ve got to show that you care about things, because if you show that you care people will believe you’ll do things.’
This caring approach to business goes right down to the way complaints are handled. Should you have reason to complain to the council and should that complaint remain unresolved, you may well find yourself face to face with the Chief Executive. ‘I take complaints seriously and will have someone in to personally apologise if necessary. An apology is a fairly straightforward thing and for a lot of people that’s all they want – they just want to be acknowledged.’
WHAT LEADERSHIP QUALITIES DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
“I admire people who have a very strong sense of what they are trying to achieve and articulate that; so somebody who is absolutely passionate and inspires others to really believe in that too. A good leader will also allow the creativity of others to contribute.”
WORKING WITH COUNCILLORS
With well over a decade as Chief Executive under her belt Gillian has seen many councilors come and go. Around a quarter of her time is spent working with them to generate the policies on which the council runs. There are 57 councillors in total and Gillian knows every single one: ‘I’m proud of that because I take the time to talk to them and find out their backgrounds. I have some new councilors to get to know after the last election. I want to get to know what they’re interested in and what drives them politically – and that makes all of us better at serving them. ‘You build relationships with them and then at election time we inevitably lose some. And I respect them for that – they put themselves out there and say ‘people, elect me’. Then one day they can be a councillor and the next they’re rejected. ‘Of course, that respect is a two-way thing. The council can’t work without there being a good relationship between its officers and its members. The 57 members are all very different but they come from the same perspective in that they want to serve their communities.’
Respect goes a long way in helping to smooth different points of view in what, by its nature, is a highly political body. Strained relationships are an inevitable hazard of the job; the trick is to minimize this. ‘There’s always conflict and challenge here – but it is done with some honesty and respect,’ says Gillian. ‘That’s better than when you get bitterness and accusations flying about because that’s when people fall out. We’ve got people out there to serve and I don’t want to be wasting my time in a load of conflict.’ Getting to know the councillors allows her to manage the situation and avoid strained relationships. ‘I try to make sure we don’t get to that head-to-head point. But you can’t always do that. I don’t think there’s ever a time I’ve not predicted that something’s going to cause a problem.
‘There’s always going to be a political difference. My attitude is that political difference is at the heart of our democracy. What I’m trying to do is get that political difference played out in a dynamic way. To a degree conflict is good because it shows people are debating the issues of the day.’
HOW DO YOU UNWIND AT THE END OF A LONG DAY?
“I’m really good at switching off. I finish work most evenings between seven and ten o’clock and then I go for a walk or swim. After that I’ll go home and listen to some music or read a book, or go out with friends.”
The Government’s local authority funding cuts are having a major impact across the country. PCC loses £12M in central funding this year, while pressures in its adult social care and children’s services have contributed to an overall funding gap of £20M. Trying to find that level of saving for the fourth year in a row is challenging to say the least.
‘You can’t do it on efficiency alone,’ warns Gillian ‘We’ve actually been doing efficiency for 10 years now, so we’re pretty lean. We’ve business processed most of our services but there is more work to be done. For example, there’s the shared services agenda with other councils. Another is income generation. But it’s going to be a tough year.
‘It’s different to a normal business: we’ve got more statutory duties and more need. Most businesses finding themselves with less income would consolidate. We can’t do that; we still have to carry out the same functions and do the same things but with considerably less money and greater need from communities. I’m not moaning, because I see it as a major challenge we’ve got to meet, but there are going to be some difficult and probably very unpopular decisions to be made within the next year.’ Savings have been achieved by outsourcing some services to the private sector: Amey runs the refuse collection and grounds maintenance services, Vivacity has taken charge of arts and culture, while SERCO manages the council’s back office and transactional services. Viridor are in the process of building a waste-to-energy plant. ‘We’ve been taking cost out of the business to reinvest in frontline services because our frontline services are for the most vulnerable people in the city.’
Nevertheless, the cuts are driving forward a necessary cultural shift. ‘Just like the NHS, we need to reduce dependency. That means, for example, keeping elderly people fit and healthy in their own homes and not in hospital, or preventing children from coming into care by supporting families. The preventative agenda is important.
‘As a society the only way we’re going to manage the financial envelopes available to us is to stop people getting ill and using our services. And that’s a big shift in society because over the years we’ve got used to accessing services like these,’ she adds.
WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT PETERBOROUGH FOR YOU?
“We’ve got a great city centre, some beautiful parks and lovely neighbourhoods. My mum is a Londoner and when she comes here she always beams on arrival and says ‘you’ve got a lovely city’. But a city isn’t just about places and buildings – I just love the people here too.”
The position of Chief Executive of PCC demands an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the city, its communities, societies and people. ‘In my first year in the role I discovered organizations I… [cont]