Member Services – A new start

The caveats: This blog entry is a personal reflection on my new job role it is not representative of any official council policy position. I take full responsibility for the content. 

I’m genuinely excited about going to work tomorrow. Tomorrow is my first official day as Head of Member Services at Buckinghamshire County Council. Since Christmas I’ve been working to set-up the service with the support of the new team. It has been a busy period—recruiting new staff; developing the vision and priorities for the new service; stopping legacy work that’s no longer a priority; working out the detail of the new roles; reviewing the Constitution and building a new single team (as well as securing some desks for us to work from). For me personally, and I know the existing teams, we have all juggled the old and the new responsibilities to get us to this point and I’ve been impressed with the commitment and professionalism that the team has shown in this transition.

I don’t expect anyone externally to notice that there is a new service and I don’t really think anyone should, as what’s far more important is the opportunity this creates for us to deliver some real changes that matter—nothing earthshattering but small, gradual and relentless steps forward. Steps to promote and champion the role of County Councillors; promote good governance and public involvement in decision-making.

To really make a difference in improving organisational governance we need to be pro-actively engaging with officers across the Council—providing advice, guidance, training and support. We need to make it easier for the public to find out about decisions—providing information in plain English. We need to design new systems and processes to help County Councillors find information at their fingertips so they can help the residents they represent get resolutions on local issues.

We have this amazing opportunity to do all of these things, and I know we can deliver all of these new priorities above within our resources by working differently. For example, from day 1 we will make better use of the team’s time by having one officer providing policy & procedural advice to a Select Committee rather than two separate officers (this new approach is based on the parliamentary model which I in my experience was very effective and valued by MPs). This will be an immediate significant saving in officer time (which means for example an additional staff member being free to deliver a training course to officers on decision-making or conducting research for a Select Committee rather than observing a meeting).

I know some people will be sceptical about changes and ‘efficiencies’ (and as an experienced policy adviser I too have expressed such scepticism upon occasions!). My experience and view is that there are times when the efficiencies are real, ethical and actually essential for focusing efforts on the delivery of outcomes rather than processes. I’m confident that we have the right foundations for a successful service, building upon the successes of the existing two teams—scrutiny and democratic services. I’m looking forward to the new challenges, opportuntiies to work with new people and the anticipation of the year ahead.

If you are interested in following the progress of the new Member Services team please follow our new twitter account @Bucksdemocracy