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FEATURES - HERE TODAY, GONG TOMORROW

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Knighthoods, promotions, Downing Street . . . Every year LGC Award winners have gone on to even greater heights. Jo...
Knighthoods, promotions, Downing Street . . . Every year LGC Award winners have gone on to even greater heights. Jon Hanlon looks at just a few of the LGC Awards alumni. Of course, we're not claiming all the credit . . .

Marina Pirotta

Winner Hackney LBC won Communications Team of the Year in1999, Brent LBC won Communications Team of the Year in 2001

Before winning LGC award Head of Hackney's press office

After winning LGC award Director of her own private public relations company recently sold for almost £3m

One of local government's few millionaires, Marina Pirotta has rapidly acquired a reputation as one of the country's smartest public sector PR operators.

She began her career as a newspaper reporter, but moved to local government after deciding she was not cut out for stalking celebrities for The Daily Express - Ms Pirotta soon found her forte working in council communications. Far from being the easy option, she said she was shocked at the pressures staff faced from the media.

She worked at Islington and Newham LBCs before joining Hackney LBC during a particularly troubled period in its history. Her team's innovative PR campaigns included a Safer Streets campaign which led to a 22% reduction in street robbery.

Ms Pirotta then moved to Brent where her reputation as more than just a PR fire-fighter was really forged. By working with the police and the local community, she created the Not Another Drop campaign - a hard-hitting campaign launched with a poster featuring a young black man lying in a pool of blood which confronted the borough's serious gun problems.

The campaign galvanised the community into action and gun crime in Harlesden fell by 25%.

By then the move into PR consultancy work was all but inevitable - Ms Pirotta had seen a gap in the market and a client base clamouring for her skills. Just 16 months after setting up MPC Communications, Ms Pirotta sold her company to Tribal GWT for £2.75m.

Committed to stay with Tribal for three ye ars, Ms Pirotta is now working on communications strategies for councils in the 'excellent' category. She says: 'Working in 'excellent' councils is just as much of a challenge as you are pushing at new frontiers and finding new ways of communicating.'

Wendy Thomson

Winner Newham LBC won Management Team of the Year in 1999 and Council of the Year in 2000

Before winning LGC award Chief executive of Newham LBC

After winning LGC award Adviser to Tony Blair

Former colleague of Sir Robin Wales, Dr Thomson has steadily risen up the ranks to become a major figure in public service reform.

Following her appointment as chief executive at Newham LBC in 1996, Dr Thomson worked with Sir Robin on an ambitious programme - to turn the poorest borough in Britain into a place where people actually wanted to move to.

Together they implemented a cultural change programme and rigorous performance management regime which forced senior staff to account for service failures.

She also became known for holding 'listening days' during which the council's top team met and spoke directly with residents.

The uncompromising approach paid off and Dr Thomson saw her reputation soar. She was soon appointed to the government's Urban Taskforce, followed in 1999 by her move to the Audit Commission's Best Value Inspectorate.

While many in the sector were bemused by her decision to leave the cut and thrust of front-line services for a box-checking role, those in the know suspected she had her eye on a bigger prize, as a possible successor to then commission controller Sir Andrew Foster.

During her time there, ministers successfully convinced her to remain at the commission instead of running for chief executive of the Greater London Authority.

Then in 2001, Dr Thomson became the prime minister's chief adviser on civil service and local government reform when she was invited to head up the Office of Public Services Reform.

Mel Usher

Winner South Somerset DC won Council of the Year

in 1997

Before winning LGC award Chief executive of South Somerset DC

After winning LGC award Founder of the Improvement

& Development Agency, awarded OBE

When he retired as executive director of the Improvement & Development Agency earlier this year, Mr Usher was widely regarded as the most innovative figure in local government.

As well as eight years at South Somerset DC, Mr Usher's career illustrates his life-long commitment to local government; having worked at Blackburn with Darwen BC, Islington and Tower Hamlets LBCs, Wigan MBC and West Lancashire DC.

But he is best known for his role as founder of IDeA, an agency which in just three and a half years has established itself as the major force for driving up standards in local government.

As testament to Mr Usher's own zeal, IDeA has launched a vast array of services and initiatives, including training programmes for councillors, a consultancy service and the best practice-sharing website, IDeA Knowledge. But the agency is probably best known for its pioneering programme of peer reviews.

Local government grandees lined up to praise Mr Usher's work at the agency on hearing of his retirement. Lewisham LBC chief executive Barry Quirk said: 'Local government has many civic entrepreneurs - people with the vision and drive to make radical changes that improve the public value of what we do. Mel personifies the civic entrepreneur for the whole of local government. His passion for creative innovation combined with a deep commitment to the values of local government have placed the agency at the heart of public service reform.'

Lin Homer

Winner Suffolk CC won Council of the Year in 2001

Before winning LGC award Chief executive of Suffolk CC

After winning LGC award Chief executive of Birmingham City Council

Ms Homer currently holds local government's biggest job as chief executive of Birmingham City Council. With around 50,000 staff and an annual budget of £2.5bn, the task more than justifies her £ 165,000 salary - one of the highest in the sector.

Ms Homer faces significant challenges as the

chief executive of Birmingham City Council, but her experience during three years at Suffolk CC and before that 15 years at Hertfordshire CC, will stand her in good stead.

She now faces the problems of an inner-city borough with high levels of deprivation and a council embarking on a huge programme of devolving services to the control of local areas. She is also overseeing strategies to ensure the suburbs are not left behind by the extraordinary renaissance of the city centre.

Ms Homer has an impressive track record. She

helped Suffolk CC win a string of awards, including beacon status from the government for five of its service areas. Her appointment to Birmingham restored calm

to a council still reeling from a failed attempt to appoint Valerie Lemmie, the city manager of Dayton, Ohio, to the job.

Ms Homer says: 'If you want to be a great local authority you have to be visionary and work really hard at delivering good quality services day after day.'

Sir Robin Wales

Winner Newham LBC won Council of the Year in 2000

Before winning LGC award Leader of Newham and plain old Mr Wales

Since winning LGC award Now called 'Sir Robin', chair of the Association of London Government and mayor of Newham

During his time as leader at Newham, Sir Robin helped raise the council's profile as a centre of excellence.

His focus on high quality customer-oriented services has seen Newham improve its performance and achieve significant results, leading to local and national recognition.

Originally from Kilmarnock in Scotland, Sir Robin's rise to the top of local government follows a long career with BT where he developed credit and fraud management systems.

In May 2002, Sir Robin became one of only 11 directly elected mayors in the country following a landslide victory in his adopted borough.

An Improvement & Development Agency peer review praised Newham for the quality and dynamis m of its leadership and for leading the way in the management of change.

An outspoken Labour Party figure, Sir Robin is also chair of the Association of London Government. Recently he took offence at pop star Madonna's comments on the capital's council housing, saying: 'If local authorities had Madonna's housing budget to spend on every tenant, council homes could look very different.'

Sir Robin was awarded a knighthood in 2000 for his services to local government.

Steve Bundred

Winner Camden LBC won Council of the Year in 2002

Before winning LGC award Chief executive of Camden LBC

After winning LGC award Executive director of the Improvement & Development Agency and then chief executive of the Audit Commission

Four months after his whirlwind appointment, Steve Bundred is now settled into his post as Audit Commission chief executive, taking over from Sir Andrew Foster after his 10-year rein.

The surprise move came just weeks after replacing Mel Usher as executive director of the Improvement & Development Agency. His qualifications for both of these key posts are undeniable. As chief executive of Camden LBC, Mr Bundred was central to turning the borough round from one with abysmal services and chaotic finances to one of the best-managed councils in the country. In the process he gave the lie to the idea that excellent services cannot be provided in ethnically diverse and deprived areas. Famed for his robust

management style and no-nonsense approach, he has now taken his focused thinking and blunt delivery to the Audit Commission.

Sir Michael Lyons

Winner Birmingham City Council won Council of the Year in 1998

Before winning LGC award Chief executive of Birmingham City Council and plain old Mr Lyons

After winning LGC award Director of the Institute of Local Government Studies, leading review of civil service for chancellor Gordon Brown and now called 'Sir Michael'

Known as one of local government's blue-skies thinkers, Sir Michael is dire ctor of the Institute of Local Government Studies and professor of public policy at the University of Birmingham.

His front-line experience has seen him in the role of chief executive for three councils - from Wolverhampton BC in 1985, to Nottinghamshire CC in 1990 and Birmingham City Council in 1994, where he remained until 2001.

He is also the non-executive chairman of the English Cities Fund, which promotes institutional investment in urban regeneration.

Of his role in Inlogov, Sir Michael claims he was hired by default - no one else could be found. But given that he worked as an academic earlier in his career, and has a reputation as an intellectual heavyweight, he was always going to be a frontrunner for the post.

Sir Michael was knighted in January 2000 for services to local government.

He describes the year Birmingham won LGC Council of the year - 1998 - as the best of his time in the city. When world leaders gathered there for the G8 Summit, their first sight on entering the convention centre was a display about why the city had won the LGC award.

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