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Reflecting on the local government family
Andrew Donaldson, Head of Strategic Policy and Partnerships, Staffordshire County Council , 14 July, 2017

We’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘you only get back what you put in’, and this old adage was most certainly true of the first Innovation Exchange organised for the membership of NLGN. The event brought together leaders from across local government to talk about how we can transform public services in the future with citizens as equals rather than just ‘customers’.

In the spirit of giving and getting, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and reflections as we enter what feels like a new era of public service leadership.

As I travelled down to Southwark preparing for the session, my mind kept returning to the simple notion of family. Spending a day with members of the local government family; reflecting on the recent tragic events around the country that have impacted on families; and an early start which meant I couldn’t have breakfast with my own.

The day felt like a typical, modern family coming together for a special occasion with some familiar faces and some new. We were drawn from all four branches of the local government family tree, from Districts and London Boroughs, to Mets and Counties.

Adam was the head of the family who we all looked to set the tone and the agenda. He kept us on track and ensured we were all on our best behaviour (which we were…for the most part). Much like any other family, we didn’t always agree. We had some heated conversations, but we were always respectful and we most certainly didn’t ‘wash our dirty linen in public’.

It was a safe space where we could be open, honest and say what was on our minds without fear of criticism or judgment – just like the best families. The overwhelming mood was one of humility and optimism, with a sense that we are genuinely all in this together.

Most importantly, I personally learned a great deal. I am always impressed by the calibre and commitment of my local government colleagues and, at a time when public service leadership is (understandably) in the spotlight, it’s important that we support and learn from each other as we grapple with an increasingly complex agenda.

The family-feel of the day was complete with the young daughter of a colleague being with us in the room. As children so often do, she grounded us and kept our focus on what really matters – people. She also introduced her own version of a performance league table, passing out gold stars for our contributions. Her Mum was the winner (we are all appealing the decision…).

It is often said, ‘you can’t choose your family’. As I approach my 28th year in the local government family, I wouldn’t want to choose another.

The overwhelming feeling I took with me from the day was that the answers to public service leadership challenges will be found within the family. Strong and supportive families, living within connected communities who can see a bright future for the next generation. As I sit with my young son and my own family, it is clear to me that this is what we all must strive for as both citizens and professionals.