On the field, AFC Telford United has been remarkably successful. In seven seasons since rising from the ashes of the former club as a supporters-owned club, they have achieved promotion three times and turned in an operating profit each year. Of equal importance is a widespread commitment to, and pride in, the extensive and valuable work the club does in the community.
A peer review commissioned by the club helped identify what was required to continue the club’s successes, both on and off the field, The motivation for the review was threefold
- preparing for promotion to the Conference Premier Division, achieved last month. The former club was relegated three divisions by the FA seven years ago when it went into ‘administration’ as a result of the collapse of the previous owner’s business empire
- assessing the club’s capacity and readiness to establish a Community Sports Trust for young people based on the Brentford FC model, prompted by the cuts to public services and their consequences for young people
- assessing the benefits and consequences of taking over selected council services such as sports development in line with the Big Society concept. This was given further impetus on 5 May by the return of a Labour administration at Telford and Wrekin Council with a ‘co-operative’ agenda.
The benchmark comprised four key themes: leadership and governance; engagement with supporters, communities and partners; resources and performance management; organisation and people.
The peer team met and listened to the whole club community and included a survey of more than 300 supporters and volunteers; a self-assessment by the board; interviews with more than 100 people; and focus groups with fans, partners, players and volunteers.
Chairman Lee Carter told us: “The review has been a timely and valuable experience for the club. It has bought the whole club community together to focus on what we can do better”.
The club deserves credit for its decision to subject itself to this process. As in every organisation, there is room for improvement. The review team made 17 specific recommendations which include: a review of governance arrangements funded by the Co-op Bank; further steps to harness volunteers; an initiative to develop the club’s fan base and income; creation of an operations manager post; and a variety of proposals in relation to financial management.
The club has published the report on its website prior to a workshop with directors and trustees, facilitated by the peer review team to produce an improvement plan to take the club forward - on and off the field.
- The peer review team was comprised entirely of volunteers and led by Michael Frater, former chief executive at Telford and Wrekin. Its members were: Tom Hall, director of policy at Supporters Direct; Vinny Thompson, promotions officer at FC United of Manchester; Steve Wellings, council finance director in 2004 and later chief executive at Telford; Mark Berry, a vicar with a brief for younger people; and Pete Jackson, formerly head of community at the council also with the benefit of 12 months secondment to the IDeA/LGID.
Chelsea have sacked their manager Carlo Ancelotti after a trophy-less season, citing their high levels of ambition and the lower than expected performances over their campaign. So how does this in any way relate to local government? In effect, he was the Chief Executive of a local authority; in charge of an organisation worth several million pounds and trying to achieve the goals set out before him by those who pay the bills. Chief executives and senior managers need to be given time to plan, implement and evaluate the impact of their long term strategic plans. There is a huge difference between the long term plans developed by much of local government which may not play out and bear fruit for five or ten years, and sometimes even longer. This is totally at odds with the much more frequent turnaround of local councillors and politicians, who come and go several times over the course of such a plan and impact upon it in various ways. Sometimes this is a positive impact, but it can also be negative, and can drag a plan a long way from its intended goals and outcomes. The more often the churn of senior staff, the more the wheel is reinvented and progress is reset. Stability and clarity of vision go a long way, both in football and local government.