One of the, very pleasant, things that surprised me about winning LGC ‘Council of the Year’ is just how highly regarded the award is, which has been reflected by how many people have come up to congratulate me over the course of the year. It is a huge accolade; there is real kudos to winning this award. I’ve had many chief executives from other local authorities across the country contact me who recognise the importance of what we achieved.
More from: LGC Awards 2013 - Winners Supplement
Our local media and businesses, too, have seen it as a boost to Southend as a whole, not just something to do with the council. It has brought into focus in a really positive way the infrastructure, image and reputation of Southend. For a start, there is a whopping great sign on the way into the town! It’s also resonated within the local community – it was splashed across the front page of The Echo; even the guy stacking crisps in Tesco stopped to congratulate me.
Internally, the award has reinforced the journey we have made. It has provided a fillip to staff at a difficult time; it has made people sit up and realise how proud they should be of what they have achieved, and are continuing to achieve; it has crystallised and shown people what our vision is and what our aspirations are for the community.
So where have we gone from here? Is there life after winning ‘Council of the Year’? I’d answer definitely yes!
The award has helped to frame our profile and opened doors; it is has given us real credibility. Our delivery of initiatives such as Southend Airport, our Better Southend programme and the Southend Swimming and Diving Centre in Garon Park – all key elements of our entry – has given us a very strong reputation. For example, we are the only small city in the south-east LEP, the country’s largest outside of London, to be invited as one of the 20 second-wave City Deal areas. We’ve also created a Business Improvement District with one of the biggest business votes in the country.
Since the awards we’ve led the drive to revitalise the world’s longest pier with a state of the art cultural centre, a mile out into the estuary. Southend Pier, opened last summer and has been a great boost for the town; we have agreed a partnership with Anglia Ruskin University to develop an innovative medical technology business park; we’ve had Jamie Oliver here – and his series of Jamie’s Food Fight returns this autumn from the end of Southend Pier – and we still have the Team GB diving team and Tom Daly training at the swimming and diving centre. This September we will also open, in partnership with the University of Essex and South Essex College, the first fully integrated higher education public library in the country, which will encompass a cutting edge digital arts gallery.
Of course, there are tough decisions ahead. We have taken the difficult decision to put up council tax to ensure we can safeguard services. There are also major consultations on our public libraries and children’s centres. But, just as we managed to find savings of £16m in 2011/12 without shutting any services, a combination of new delivery models, a continuing focus on efficiency and a carefully managed approach means we will not be making arbitrary cuts.
I will be a judge on this year’s awards and I truly urge councils to put in a submission. It’s easy to think you’re too busy or not ready or there’s something coming on the horizon you need to wait for – but just the process of submission makes you much more self-aware of what it is you are doing and what you have achieved. Sharing knowledge and celebrating success is so important at a time when so many people – including, it has to be said, many in government – are only too willing to knock local government.
Rob Tinlin, chief executive, Southend-on-Sea BC
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