Monday, June 29, 2009

Follow me on Twitter

In an probably doomed attempt to be modern (I am forty next month, so forgive this), I have signed up to Twitter and will be `Twittering' at appropriate intervals/ events henceforth.

The format (at 140 characters) is designed to challenge the verbose, such as I, but I am hoping it will force brevity, concision and better writing.

I hope therefore not the be the man who put Twit into Twitter and if you want to follow my ID is




Saturday, June 27, 2009

A World of Change

Whoever wins the next general election, it is now clear that from next year onwards, we are facing the fiscal equivalent of the battle of the Somme. A defining challenge will confront the UK's public managers: they will need to be more efficient with public money while not undermining the effectiveness the population now expects of public services.

Yes, it seems a tall order. But while many predict a 1990s-style meltdown in public services, I, for one, don't believe this will happen. In fact, I think there are reasons for optimism.

First, this is because in future there simply won't be the resources to fund the cycles of structural changes in public sector organisations that have marked the past decade. Beyond a painful early adjustment to the new financial reality - in which many public managers will, unfortunately, lose their jobs - I predict we will see a period of enforced stability, which will enable public managers to cast their gaze outwards, on the needs of the public and the improvement of services.

Second, command-and-control is in retreat in the public sector. Centralised models of management are well known to be inimical to individual initiative and organisational effectiveness, even in organisations that are accountable to politicians and the public. Public managers need the power to manage and this could lead, in time, to a decline in the back-covering, "wading-through-treacle" side of public management.

Third, the coming crisis will invite massive levels of individual creativity from public managers. Crisis begets invention and the "mavericks", who think and do things differently, will be in high demand. The state sector could become a far better place for "public entrepreneurs" with a talent for piecing together new approaches, rather than people exclusively skilled in working the bureaucracy. Such mavericks are already plentiful in the public sector, but have often been marginalised or forced to leave to work in other sectors where their talent is valued.

So what will the successful public manager of 2020 be like? She will be outward-looking and deliver clear results, attested to by users, communities and partner agencies as much as by her own bosses. She will be able to work the politicians and defend herself, but she will be judged on her results. She will be able to do clever stuff with resources, marrying public money with other resources, and she will build first-class relationships, while keeping her own staff "people-facing".

The successful public servant of 2020 will not be a lifetime public servant. She will bring a world view, skills and experience from other sectors and take learning back there. The career civil servant will be virtually gone.

This is a world away. We could regress, but I don't think we will. People expect world-class public services, even though the levels of public investment of 2003-10 may never occur again. We have to find a way to bridge that gap through empowerment, creativity and entrepreneurialism during a very difficult time.

Friday, June 19, 2009

1000 Rabbits

I did my run later than usual last night, a magnficent Suffolk evening. Young corn stood green and upright in the fields, fully formed but hard and waxy. It was 8.30pm by the time I got out and just before 9.30pm when I ran into the park next to my house on the final stretch. The gates had been locked. All the cars and people had gone and I snuck in via a small, little-used gate.

As I emerged from a wooded area into open grassland, I came across what looked like a thousand rabbits, all seemingly aware of the `all clear' that dogs and people were no longer allowed and had come to feed on the lush grass in the meadow.

The arrival on scene, therefore, of myself and Terrier-Dog caused a mass scattering. Like Watership Down, a riot of rabbits fled for cover as the Terrier pulled on his extended lead to do what 100 years of breeding had made him for.

These gentle and nervous creatures looked up, zigzagged for cover, some fast, some slow. The babies taking their time, but all moving quickly to the nettles under which they could dive into the safety of the warren.

Within seconds, the carpeted meadow was, again rabbit-free, as the massed ranks waited, safely burrowed, for the second all-clear of the evening.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back to Reality

It has been a bit of a fortnight. An unexpected election. An MBE. A major development at work to steer through. How do I feel? Dazed, if I am honest. And daunted by the weight of what I have taken on.

I have spent some of the last week - the bit in which I wasn't working furiously - starting to re-order my life so that I can not only be an effective CEO, father, husband and Trustee but also a first-class County Councillor.

This has meant talking to my colleagues and trustees who, bless them, are incredibly supportive, my family, from whom I will be asking for further ladle-fulls of forebearance and one or two Councillor colleagues who will, I have no doubt, be wondering why I don't spend all my time on council business.

Because since being elected I have found that hardly anyone elected as a County Councillor has a job. Unless it is being a District Councillor, or "twin tracker" as they are called. Added together, this makes full time local politics a viable way of life for many people who stand for election, particularly those with existing pensions.

Not for me of course, or many people under the age of 50. I have to do everything for the Council in, on average about 12-15 hours per week. This means I have to prioritize. It also signals I can't get over-involved in the politics of the county council. Which, from what I have seen, might be a good thing.

For what I have noticed (perhaps these things are clearer when you are new) is that many aspects of the Council's modus-operandi are fairly anachronistic when you look at what we know about what makes for organisational success. Take diversity as an example. Its members (elected Councillors) are drawn almost exclusively from the over 50s. Most are male, most middle-class and white. Young people under 30 are invisible as are black people. While a cross section of part of Suffolk, the full chamber in no way reflects its diversity.

Related to this is the old-fashionedness of much of its political life. The Council is,I think most people would find, over-politicised. Even fairly pragmatic issues can end up dividing along party lines. A kind of mini-Westminster feeling. While, of course, we need clear parties and programmes, we also need a sense of reality too. This is not Government and we are not, thank-goodness, MPs.

Indeed it was the whipping system in the Council which brought about the policy of closing our middle school system, the unpopular policy against which contributed to mt election by people who normally vote Tory. For despite about 90% opposition locally, our former Tory Councillor voted for closure and paid, ultimately, with his seat. People just didn't get it. Their Councillor was there for them - wasn't he? Well no, he was there for his party.

I say this not to make a political shot - I expect the same from whichever party is in power (though again `in power' over-states the real situation). It is to say that, locally and probably nationally too, we need a politics that goes beyond party. Elected people need, as in the US, to be locally accountable as well as answerable to their party. People who vote for us need to know we will, in the final analysis, put them first.

Now that I am elected, my mission is to be a first class Councillor, not a local politician focused on the machinations of the council. I aim to be seen on the streets of Hardwick more than in the steel-and-glass of Endevour House, the council's glamorous HQ. People's faith in our system and our elected representatives is at an all-time low. If I can do anything at the small-time level at which I operate, to restore people's belief in the system, I will consider myself a success.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Yesterday I attended my induction as a new Councillor.

It all took place at theglass-and-metal `Endevour House', the gleaming HQ of Suffolk County Council. Though the place felt more like RBS or Goldmans than a local authority, I prefer the open-plan, corporate feel than the fustiness of most LA bases.

The induction itself was performed with extreme efficiency. It felt like I imagine a Club Class flight would do. Smiling, attentive, highly proficient staff ensuring you are taken care of the whole time, not able to do enough for you. For a while I almost forgot I was in the public sector, not five star hotel!

The piece-de-resistace is the Members' area which is a bit like a cross between the RSA and the British Library. Here you can snuggle down with the latest copy of the New Scientist or that day's East Anglian Daily Times, check the web and pop in to see your political colleagues in a neighbouring room.

One thing that jumped out at me as a third-sector person is how big a factor IT is in the way life works inside the Council. It is simply first class. And as new Councillor I was given a laptop, Blackberry and all the kit I needed on day one to be fully-functioning citizen on the Council's e-world.

So, at the end of a long day, I walked,badged and IT'd out into the street. The door was opened for me and I was helped with my stuff to the special spaces for Councillors in the car park.

The experience seems designed to illuminate who the real bosses are - the elected representatives. But I also sensed that it is also about assimilation. Bringing you into the corporate bosom to be part of the family. A seduction of sorts.

Lovely though it is, I am deliberately stepping back a little from this. I want my time to be spent on the streets of Hardwick not the corridors of Endevour House.

And my loyalties in the correspondingly right places.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lib Dem Gain - Hardwick

In the midst of the `Tory Tide' of local government success, there were odd little eddies and swirls in other directions.

One of these was Bury St Edmunds where, with the support of my team, I turned over a ten percent Tory advantage to win, a Green came from nowhere to beat Labour and an Indepdendent took another seat leaving just one of four in the hands of the Tories.

The day of the results was bizzare. I awoke with a clear and calm sense that I hadn't won. The three polling stations had been busy (44% turnout) which I felt meant a Tory win. I arrived at the count with my Green colleague Mark Ereira-Guyer in `end of term' mood not really expecting a lot.

Then the excitement. My pile of votes was growing at a much faster rate than those of either of my opponents, one of whom was pacing the floor and biting his nails.

All of a sudden, I was being told I had won and then it was announced.

For more info go to

Immediately a very nice young man approached me from Suffolk County Council came up, shook my hand and gave me a big booklet full of all sorts of helpful advice about what is to come. Then I went to talk to the local press, again two very nice, polite young men.

For the next three hours I felt in shock. Dazed a bit confused. Katy came and met me and we drove into town, me texting and emailing, but not really there.

By teatime, it had sunk in. I had won the election and am now County Councillor Craig Dearden-Phillips. My elation had turned into anxiety. How was I going to do this on top of everything else? Then I saw my kids and started to feel upset. Was this going to be at their expense?

In the evening, we took out both sets of parents to celebrate, though the feeling of apprehension hadn't entirely left me. Thankfully, as the night progressed, that sense of possibility had restored itself and I managed to enjoy myself.

A night's sleep and a meeting today with the 11 other Lib Dems who now formed the Official Opposition, after the decimation of the Labour Party. This meeting put me right. Our Group Leader told me to look after my job, my wife, my kids and the community before worrying about Shire Hall stuff. I felt pacified.

So a big two days and not the ones I was expecting. But, if you play to win, as I did, I guess it is better to expect to do so every so often.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Awaiting the People's Verdict

Today the voters of Hardwick Division go to the polls. Win, lose or draw this has been a worthwhile experience for me. This election is difficult to call as the cross-winds of local and national issues collide and confuse the picture. It feels a bit like being on the X Factor and waiting for the calls to come in. Nervy, elated, a bit helpless.

Our campaign has been really strong - three leaflets and every door knocked on (3500 in all). The only hiccup has been our clash with another candidate who has wrung as much advantage as he can from an early and very promptly and professionally-dealt with problem in our campaign information. When problems are sorted quickly and apologies offered you expect people to accept this and move on, not milk it for all it is worth.

I guess that is politics. However,I refuse to play that particular game. My rule number one upon deciding to do this was to be myself, not get pulled out of shape. To do so is stressful and self-defeating. And it doesn't make you look good.

Today I have lots of people out as Tellers, Drivers and Callers. We have well over a thousand people to ensure turn out for us. I have been touched by the levels of support I have received, meaning that I have not had to deliver a single leaflet or do anything that is not voter-facing. My team of 15 volunteers does all of it for me, leaving me to talk to people. There has been a great atmosphere in the camp, and, as I may have said before, the spirit in the campaign reminds me of the early days of Speaking Up.

Better run, I have to run round the Polling Stations now and show my face. Win, lose or draw, this has been great fun. I recommend it to anyone.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Fork in the Road (Goodbye Jonathan - and well done)

News came through last week of the departure of Jonathan Bland, CEO of Social Enterprise Coalition these last ten years.

First things first, it needs to be acknowledged by more people that he has done a fantastic job of building the profile of social enterprise in this country. While we can all argue the toss about how he has gone about it, there is no doubt in my mind that he deserves huge credit for getting us where we are, particularly in Government circles.

Here, on relatively low resources, he has helped develop awareness that, most recently, produced the commitment to 25,000 new social enterprise jobs. Whatever your views of his vision for social enterprise (and we all have our views on this) he has been a tenacious, passionate and effective advocate of social business and I think he sometimes doesn't get enough credit.

Personally, I believe Jonathan should feel deeply satisfied with his contribution down the years and I wish him the very best in his new life in Finland.

So what next for SEC and for the sector in general? It feels we are possibly at a fork in the road. Broadly speaking we divide into two camps, one that prefers close definition of social business, linking it with particular ownership and reward structures, as an `alternative model' to regular business and another camp which prefers a looser approach which looks as much at the social outcomes of any given organisation, regardless of its structure or ownership.

To date, the strategy of SEC, from what I can see, has been more towards definition. And, in a sense I can see why. Government in particular needs to be able to differentiate social enterprise from wider business if it is to treat it as a clearly distinct entity. Likewise, the public, human-nature even, seems to clamour for definition.

Part of this quite understandable. In a cynical age, many are keen for a label that santifies what might otherwise be quite ordinary profit-maximising businesses. Ownership represents a clear shorthand for what otherwise might not be a particularly verifiable concept.

The downside is that definition has been, for a long time now, the dominant discussion, rather than outcomes. Like a boomerang, it seems to return, no matter how hard you think you have thrown it.

Definition also has the more risky downside of sectioning-off social enterprise to the tiny minority of organisations with appropriate legal structures. So even a fast-growing sector will only ever, at its peak, perhaps encompass a relatively small number of businesses.

So strategically, the arguments rage. On the one hand, you have some saying that social business will never get out of the blocks unless it drops its fixation with definition and others saying that without definition, social business will become so amorphous as to risk becoming little more than high-octane CSR.

Where am I on this? Being the liberal-schniberal I am, I see merit on both sides of the debate as I understand it. I am worried about a world in which we cannot say who we are and what makes us different. Equally, I want us to be able to talk to the Shell's and Unilever's of this world about how they too might be able to become social businesses in the sense of achieving a better balance between profit, people and planet - plus, and this is CRUCIAL, giving transparency on this.

Can we square this particular circle? Well, any sector is, remember, full of, and indeed defined by diversity. And I am not just talking about political parties or movements. The CBI, TUC and Federation of Small Businesses all have different `wings' with varying aspirations while still managing, just about, to be cohesive and effective forces.

I see social business as similar. We need to embrace everyone who is committed to social reporting and a better balance between profit and other types of outcome. Personally I err towards definition along outcome-lines than structure lines, but this doesn't mean we cannot all stand together.

I think SEC, going forward needs to both acknowledge, publicly, that social enterprise as a number of `faces' (just as mainstream business does), support the varying needs of the sector in an even-handed way but, and this is perhaps the departure needed from current strategy, reach out to suitable private corporations to bring them into the fold. A bigger tent in other words.

Yes there are risks. Yes some people will jump up and down and form break-aways. And yes we should support them to do so. Any church worth its salt is a broad church.

We should not fear this. A broader `movement' will be a stronger one,in my view because the fundamentals of anyone who is part of it will be similar - business for multiple purposes, not just profit. For me, colours on mast at last, is what defines social business to me more than anything else.

And this is where SEC now needs to go while also keeping everyone we already have `on the bus'.