NEXT week Paul Medd takes up the reins as Fenland District Council’s new Chief Executive. How does he view the challenges ahead?
Paul Medd has come a long way since 1994. Then he had just started work as a lifeguard at a council swimming pool in Scarborough. Now he is about to embark on the biggest challenge of his life.
Next week he takes over from Sandra Claxton as Fenland District Council’s new Chief Executive. His appointment comes at a crucial time, when local government is facing what he describes as an “unprecedented” financial squeeze.
Now aged 40, Paul’s career has included jobs in both the public and private sectors as well as a three-year stint with a charitable trust working with adults with learning disabilities. He joined FDC in 2006 and has contributed to the major transformation of the council that has taken place over the past eight years. So how does he view his new responsibilities?
“As Chief Executive I believe you have to lead by example and show strong, supportive and decisive leadership across the organisation,” he says. “I see my role mainly as carrying on the excellent work that Sandra and Tim [Pilsbury] have done – continuing to provide effective leadership and supporting the council in tackling future challenges. You also need to understand the issues that are most important to local people and our staff.
“It’s easy to talk about my role but it’s not really about me. It’s about the elected Members, the staff and, most importantly, the people of Fenland. I recognise the tremendous passion and pride that Fenland people have for their communities and I share that passion.
“Our residents deserve top-quality services and that’s what we have provided through our strong, ‘one-team’ culture and collective approach with Members. As a result, we have been recognised nationally as one of the best councils in the country.”
Paul is determined to maintain that culture, which he insists is “unique”. “It was something that convinced me to come here and something I want to protect in the future,” he says. “It has defined Fenland and created the basis for us to punch well above our weight as a district council.
“We have a couple of mantras – ‘One Team’ and ‘100 % People Driven’. ‘One Team’ is about everyone working together – Members and officers. It’s about the chief executive, and indeed all staff, not being carried away by their status, about learning not blaming, about humility and about an openness and transparency in the way the council operates.
“What ‘100% People Driven’ says is that everything elected Members aspire to - and everything we as officers do to support them – has to revolve around Fenland residents and trying to improve their quality of life.”
This customer-centred focus stands the council in good stead to deal with all the pressures that local government is now under, he says. “We’re continuing to change for the better despite this last year of cuts, which really have been unprecedented in all the time I’ve been working in local government. I mean, 30 per cent out of our grant over two years – that’s really significant.”
He sees three main challenges ahead. “The first is that clearly there’s more work to be done on efficiency savings. The world of local government finance is changing and one key challenge is continuing to have a financially well run authority, as we have in the past.
“We’ve done a really good job to deliver the efficiency savings we’ve had to make and in doing so the council has sought to protect front-line services that are so important to local people. When you consider where we were in June last year, that’s a remarkable achievement, given the resources that have been taken away from us. It’s a credit to strong political leadership and decisive officer support.
“A second big challenge – and it’s a key aspiration for Members – is achieving sustainable growth. What I mean by that is that growth brings along with it appropriate infrastructure developments and better jobs created for local people. That links in with improving people’s quality of life through better educational attainment, improved skills, higher wages, good access to services, reduced health inequalities and a cleaner, safer environment.
“The third is to continue to deliver excellent council services to residents. Because we’ve done them so well up to now, it’s sometimes easy to forget about how important they are. But we mustn’t ever overlook the value that good services bring to people’s lives. Those things really matter to local people.”
Paul is also committed to maintaining the close and effective working relationships that currently exist between officers and elected Members. “I’m fortunate in that I’ve got a very good relationship with the Leader, Alan Melton, the Cabinet and Members in general. Continuing to build that relationship is incredibly important because you read some real horror stories about other councils where the Member-officer relationship has broken down and effectively derailed the organisation in terms of delivery.
“Essentially, we’re all here – Members and officers alike - to do our best for the people of Fenland. That’s not easy and it’s not always easy to keep everyone happy. But what matters is delivering for local people and doing all we can to improve their quality of life. We must never – and will never - lose sight of that.”