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REGULARS - IN THE DIRECTOR'S CHAIR

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A day in the life of Amanda Skelton ...
A day in the life of Amanda Skelton

Here in South Tyneside we are busy transforming the borough and the council.

The borough has an extraordinary past. Once home of the Venerable Bede, it later became a proud and prosperous industrial heartland. But since the decline of shipbuilding and mining the area has never recovered economically and now has some of the most concentrated deprivation in the country.

The council has an ambitious plan to transform the borough from ordinary to extraordinary and create a better future for 150,000 people.

I am one of the new brooms brought in to sweep the borough clean. Neighbourhood services is a new directorate which brings together everything connected with the environment into one big team - 2,500 of us to be precise.

You name it, we do it - planning, environmental health, housing, construction, streetscape design and waste management.

I knew from the start the job would be anything but ordinary - but it has been an extraordinary first year.

The comprehensive performance assessment inspectors arrived within my first three weeks and gave us a 'fair' rating, so at least we know the base line and how far we needed to travel - until the goal posts move again. Since then we have been modernising like mad.

Last week I decided it was time we brought the team together to have a chat about the future. This was no mean feat - just finding a venue big enough was a challenge as we do not have a football stadium in South Tyneside. We settled on our local theatre, the Customs House - where former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell recently performed - and met in intimate groups of 400. It took two days, but it was worth it.

For the majority of staff it was a brand new experience, meeting their managers and talking about the future. We have only just started to change the culture of this organisation and have a long way to go. There is so much potential to unleash.

Just before Christmas the council decided to set up an arm's-length management org anisation which will raise£46m for housing investment.

I have a housing background so this challenge holds no fear, but it will require a lot of work over the coming year. We are still at the planning stage at the moment so I am spending some quality thinking time away from the office with key team members.

Despite my love of fast cars, I am really committed to saving our planet and am very proud of the work we have done in the last year to improve public awareness and participation on environmental issues. We held our first environmental summit in October.

We see environmental industries as a fantastic opportunity for regeneration in the borough. Kerbside recycling has been welcomed with enthusiasm by local people who are smashing all performance projections. We are planning high-profile events for international environment week in June to encourage further public engagement.

Perhaps our most highly visible and symbolic project is Blitz-it - our new seamless approach to street cleaning. We have reorganised, rebranded and relaunched our operation as a truly generic and proactive team-based service and are receiving rave reviews.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the scale of this job and the enormity of our transformational plans, but I cannot think of anything more worthwhile and satisfying, and feel full of optimism for the future. We may not have an extraordinary place yet but we have some extraordinary people who are going to get us there.

Amanda Skelton,

Executive director, neighbourhood services,

South Tyneside MBC

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