LGC gets an insight into a typical week for Cheltenham BC’s executive director for people and change, Darren Knight
2015-2018 Head of customer service & communications, East Suffolk Councils
2014-2015 Interim assistant director of customer service, Severn Vale Housing
2010-2014 Customer service manager, Severn Vale Housing
2006-2010 Customer service team leader, Gloucestershire CC
Although my seven-year-old son Adam would tell you that ‘Daddy writes lists for the council’ for a living, I am actually the director client lead for three commissioned services including One Legal shared services; the Cheltenham Trust which is the council’s leisure and cultural assets; and Publica, a council owned service delivery company. Publica delivers shared services for Cotswold, West Oxfordshire and Forest of Dean DCs and Cheltenham BC as well as the Cheltenham Trust, Cheltenham Borough Homes and Ubico, the environmental services company we own with Cotswold.
I moved to Cheltenham in October to start this job, which was a promotion for me. I started as a revenue and customs officer at Forest of Dean and worked my way up. It’s been hard going. But it shows that if you are determined and willing to learn from others and have drive and determination, you can progress.
Cheltenham, like many authorities, is facing financial challenges and we are looking to overcome that through development of a commercial approach. On Monday, we welcomed our commercial trainer in to look at commercial opportunities for us, the idea being that we have a lot of ideas and he helps us work out the ones which have the most business potential.
Later, the whole council met and approved our corporate plan, which we have been working on for a number of months. It sets priorities for the next three years, including creating a national cyber park for Cheltenham.
On Tuesday, we had a meeting between council directors and our ALMO, Cheltenham Borough Homes. The focus is really on whether we are increasing the supply of affordable homes enough at the moment. We have agreed in our corporate plan to spend £100m on more affordable homes.
More than just a racecourse
The racecourse is massive – but there is far more to Cheltenham than just that, and we’re always trying to get that across to people. It’s a challenge for us to make people aware of Cheltenham’s other strengths, like the huge number of festivals that happen throughout the year. I recommend the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Both John Lewis and Next have recently opened shops on our high street because Cheltenham has strong footfall. On Thursday, I had a meeting with the cultural board for Cheltenham for all cultural organisations in the borough. We have agreed that we will develop a joint cultural strategy for Cheltenham.
This week, I managed to convince our finance director to go on Twitter! I use Twitter a lot for work (@Dk1Knight). For me it’s important to showcase all the different roles that councils play. Networking for me is particularly important. It’s also about looking at what other people are doing, and getting ideas. I’ve never experienced any sort of backlash on Twitter. To be outward looking, modern organisations need to engage on social media.
On Thursday I also had a catch up with our HR department about smart working, which we are rolling out. More of us are working in a more open plan way, and we are rolling out laptops to staff for more flexibility in how they work. It should lead to more collaboration in the organisation, and means that people can work from more flexible locations, including working from home. We have shared buying power through Publica so when we buy things like laptops, it’s greater economies of scale.
Now we have a dedicated programme to focus on corporate modernisation whereas in the past, it’s only been done in pockets. We have set up a technical design authority to make sure all of IT investment decisions have to right people in the room looking at them. To launch the modernisation programme, we have created a ‘Postcard from the Future’ which all staff and members have received. This is to help articulate the vision for the future and the difference modernisation will have made.
When I want to concentrate on something, or just unwind, I go hotdesking in the agile area of our office. I pop my headphones on and listen to Britpop - that’s my quirky thing. For me, it’s really important to be visible in the organisation, no matter how senior you are. People know they can approach me with their ideas and suggestions. The thing about my job that I dislike the most would have to be report writing – I always struggle to find the time to sit down concentrate and write reports. But the council’s smart working has made this much easier for me. I can be at home listening to Spotify and properly concentrate on report writing. I currently write my best reports while listening to The Airborne Toxic Event, Pulp, Imagine Dragons and Arcade Fire!
As told to Jessica Hill