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Council leaders would benefit from military-style training

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Councils would benefit for a military-style approach to leadership training, according to a former British Army major general turned local authority chief.

John Henderson, who joined Staffordshire CC in May, told LGC in an interview this week that he had also been struck by a difference in the way people perceived local government compared with the military.

Despite councils being seen as performing worse than the army, he said the “reality” was the reverse.

“The narrative in the public about [performance in] the military is really high,” Mr Henderson added. “It wouldn’t be possible for ‘our boys’ to be as good as the public [think they are],” he said.

“If you asked people what do you think of local government, most people would have a lower view but the reality inside local government is higher.”

After switching from a 30-year career from the army to one in local government, Mr Henderson said he had also been struck by a comparative lack of leadership training in the sector.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my military career I’ve done numerous leadership development courses and training,” he added.

“Through your military career you’re guided in it and you’re trained and given a leadership appointment and then assessed and if you’re good you move on to the next level and so it goes on. We don’t have that in LG, we don’t have a leadership development programme.

“People talk a lot about leadership in local government but what there isn’t is any formal training or development of leaders.”

Before joining Staffordshire, Mr Henderson was a major general, working with the British Armed Forces in Germany.

His previous role included responsibility for the provision of local authority-style services, such as social care, for the 21,500 troops and their families living on the base, which is now due to close.

Mr Henderson’s first few months will focus on appointing to a number of senior posts and establishing a plan for the next three to five years.

Other chief aims include putting the council on track to become self-funding by 2020 and improving the way it commissions services.

Asked about the authority’s ambition to form a combined authority or seek devolved powers, he described the picture as “complicated”.

He added that different parts of the county were looking to different economic centres, including Birmingham, Manchester, Derbyshire and the county’s own core city Stoke-on-Trent.

Writing in LGC last week, Tamworth DC deputy leader Rob Pritchard (Con) called for Staffordshire to follow join them in a “West Midlands powerhouse”.

Mr Henderson said Cllr Prichard’s view as not “universally held”.

He added: “I think sometimes devolution is simplistically presented as a binary choice.

“Are you in the West Midlands or are you not? Well yes we are but we’re saying we’re also close to Manchester; we are also close to Derbyshire… Cheshire.

He added: “I think conversations have got a long way to go.”


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