We have been running a short series of posts from councillors around the country about different aspects of the role. Some talk about the daily details of what being an elected member entails for them; others have written about a specific cause or issue that being on the council has allowed them to champion. All the contributions add up to a snapshot of the busy and varied job of councillor. A big thank you to all those who have taken time to contribute.
Councillor Warren Whyte is Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Buckinghamshire County Council. In this post he talks about getting to grips with a new portfolio.
Following the elections in May, I was appointed as the new cabinet member for children’s services, having previously been cabinet member for planning and environment. My new responsibilities cover a broad range of services including Children Safeguarding, Children in Care and Early Help services, but not education. Having never been closely involved in any of these services previously, it has been an extremely steep learning curve and I am not sure where my summer has gone!
The last few weeks have been particularly busy but also rewarding; from being involved in the recruitment process for our new Director of Children’s Services, to presenting awards in a room full of 70 excited children at our Children in Care Celebration Event. The event was put together on a small budget by council officers who clearly put their heart and soul into a wonderful afternoon for the children and their carers. The experience of helping to celebrate and acknowledge some of the achievements, many in circumstances most of us will never have to endure, was quite humbling for me.
As well as celebrating, I have also undertaken several “front-line” tours of our many services to better understand what our staff do on a daily basis and to put some context to the often dry and acronym-filled reports that cross my desk. I have found it enlightening and informative to meet many of our teams, and I find that our staff appreciate it when councillors take the time to understand their challenges.
A recent visit to one of our Early Help services was really interesting; the service is under a major consultation to develop a new model and become more efficient and better value, and I met parents, children and staff to hear the positives and negatives of the existing system. Some of the stories I heard from parents who overcame their personal difficulties with our input was inspirational. My challenge over the coming weeks will be the debate about the role of Children’s Centres in the Early Help model, and my team have put forward a model of outreach and targeting families that currently don’t benefit from early intervention. To be able to provide an effective and affordable service, we have to move away from a bricks-and-mortar led-model to a much more proactive, intervention led service, making use of a much broader range of community locations. After hearing very personal and difficult stories from some of our residents, I am convinced that early targeted intervention can help so many more families in difficulty.
Being so involved with my cabinet role means I have to work hard to make time to ensure the residents in my electoral division are well represented too! I thoroughly enjoy helping residents solve their challenges with “the system” by helping to signpost to the right service or agency, prodding officers to respond to letters or complaints, or to help find new ways of doing things; from local anti-social behaviour problems to how to make Buckingham a more vibrant and successful pace to live, work and play in.