Those of you who’ve seen or heard my musings about gender equality might be surprised by the title of my latest LGC offering, and probably one of the most personal I’ve ever written. You shouldn’t be.
As many of you have attended the LGC Awards this week, celebrating the best of local government, I wanted to reflect on one of the most impressive chief executive/ council leader partnerships I have seen. No surprises that this leadership partnership hails from Greater Manchester – but it’s not the one that you might immediately name.
I’m talking about two blokes from Tameside MBC: chief executive Steven Pleasant and leader of the council, Kieran Quinn (Lab) who died very unexpectedly on the Christmas Day just gone. I’ve wanted to write about Kieran and Steven since hearing of Kieran’s early and tragic death, and it’s entirely fitting to be able to do so to tie in with the LGC Awards. Tameside won the LGC Council of the Year accolade in 2016, which was a very proud moment for Kieran and all the Tameside team.
I’ve judged many things over the years and in all that time Tameside was the place that left the largest impression on me. Why? Because these two blokes were the epitome of brave, bold leadership without ego, serving people and place with humility and well. This was leadership that delivered and continues to deliver remarkable results. It was place leadership at its finest. Kieran is missed dreadfully in Tameside and beyond. I know that his legacy – and the brand of leadership this duo exemplified will endure.
Though Tameside has a history stretching back 10,000 years, it is in some ways an unremarkable place. This collection of small towns at the furthest edge of the Greater Manchester conurbation is typified by three-quarters of its residential properties being in bands A and B. The area has been deindustrialised by the demise of the cotton spinning industry and, as metropolitan boroughs go, it’s very much on the smaller side.
By rights Tameside should be high in the danger zone in the ‘unlikely to weather austerity well’ stakes. That it is surviving and thriving is testament to the extraordinary leadership partnership of these two blokes.
Together they took a long, hard look at what actions over 20 years might produce economic growth. They radically rethought and delivered new ways of delivering sustainable public services, and looked beyond their council’s borders to the Greater Manchester family for greater influence, control and new ideas. Throughout this time these two blokes ensured Tameside held its collective nerve as it drove through austerity, shed half its staff, and kept the organisation solvent and staff motivated whilst delivering real transformation.
So Tameside is remarkable, extraordinarily so – and not because of awesome architecture, location or infrastructure. Tameside is remarkable in its great leadership that recognises and serves the relationship between the people who live, work and grow there and the place itself. When presenting itself as a worthy winner of Council of the Year, Tameside showed us the importance of “purpose”, that sense of what it is about and what binds its residents in common, connecting with the stories people tell about the place and their lives in it.
Great places are not ‘made’ by good administration, they are served by it. Judging alongside LGC’s own Nick Golding, it was a privilege to witness the workings of this leader and chief executive duo who got the best from their organisation and partnership. These two visionary, hard-working, generous blokes from Tameside cracked on and did stuff. Really remarkable stuff.
Jo Miller, president, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers; chief executive, Doncaster MBC.