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Working within an outdated system can be challenging. Suzanne Simmons-Lewis speaks to Jim Milne, who decided a job ...
Working within an outdated system can be challenging. Suzanne Simmons-Lewis speaks to Jim Milne, who decided a job in coroners' services was for him after seeing an advert in LGC

Jim Milne

Head of registration and coroners' services, Cambridge CC

Advertised October 2005

Started work February 2006

Reports to Director of customer services


Mathematics degree


Business manager, transport policy and strategy, Cambridgeshire CC

General manager, Travel Line East Anglia

IT manager, BP

European IT shared services manager, Amoco

Best bits of the job

'Personal satisfaction, successfully facilitating change and seeing the benefit for customers and staff.'

Biggest challenge

'Operating within an archaic legal framework and the change management that comes from the reform of both services, which are subject to a modernisation agenda. The task is to take the service from the 19th century into the 21st century, without disrupting service delivery during this period of change.'

When Jim Milne started work as head of registration and coroners' services at Cambridgeshire CC, not only did he take his career in a completely new direction, he also took on the huge task of modernising services still governed by Victorian legislation.

He explains: 'The registration service first became statutory in 1837, and the rules haven't changed very much since. In Cambridgeshire there are four different registration districts, so effectively that means they are separate as far as the law is concerned. I manage the delivery of registration services in Cambridgeshire, bringing these four districts together, and make sure there are standard processes.

'We have two coroners and each has a number of officers around the county. The service provides support to the coroner and coroners' officers including accommodation, funding post mortems, arranging and funding the transportation of bodies around the country. We provide administrative and IT support and we cover the cost of inquests.'

He adds: 'There is a lot of variety in the role. I can be involved in anything from working on potential improvements to the organisation, working on business processes, getting involved in managing IT projects, marketing for non-statutory services (such as naming ceremonies) and financial management.

'I am not a practitioner, although I am the head of service, I do not have a background in either registration or coroners' services. I rely on the expert professional staff. My job is to make sure the staff, the premises and all the facilities IT, business processes are in place so the organisation can deliver an excellent public service.'

But the role becomes even more complex because of the outdated legislation governing the delivery of these services.

To name just one example of complexity the archaic legislation throws up, Mr Milne says: 'Senior registration staff are statutory officers which means that although the council pays them they do not have an employer, which may seem very bizarre. They do report to the principal officers, but legally they are individually accountable to the registrar general who works with the Office for National Statistics which is part of the Treasury. The council is not formally accountable for the delivery of the service although we pay the staff.' Confused?

Mr Milne explains: 'The registration and coroners' services are organisationally complex and unusual. Registration is nationally part of the Office for National Statistics and coroners are part of the Treasury, which means for even some relatively minor changes, we sometimes have to get approval from the registrar general and ministerial approval from the chancellor of the exchequer.'

The good news is that a recent government consultation Registration modernisation which proposes that councils become accountable for service delivery instead of individuals, with registration staff becoming its staff, has been given the green light. A similar consultation process is underway for coroners' services.

And high on Mr Milne's agenda is the reform of both services. 'The central challenge is one of change management,' he says. 'The task is to take the service from the 19th century into the 21st century, without disrupting service delivery.'

Mr Milne is fairly new to local government having spent most of his career in IT management working for international oil company Amoco which later merged with BP. He joined the county council three years ago as business manager, transport policy and strategy, and in February made the switch to his current role, relying heavily on his transferable skills.

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