Leading a Council: insights from Warwickshire

Izzi Seccombe

May 2nd 2013 was a greatly significant day. Not only was I appointed leader of Warwickshire County Council, but, as the first female leader, I felt incredibly proud and honoured to be steering our county borough into the future.

Being leader of such a wide-ranging organisation as Warwickshire County Council is both a privilege and a challenge. On assuming position in May 2013 I quickly learned the importance of co-operation and conversation with both opposition leaders and the district councils, not least because we are an administration that lacks overall control.

Underpinning this administration’s vision are two key pillars; a desire to ensure integrity of services within a constrained budget and an aspiration to drive forward Warwickshire as a centre of economic excellence.

The first pillar is perhaps the trickiest. As leader of an administration which holds no absolute control, careful consideration has to be made into the effects and impacts of key decisions that have ‘domino effects’ for external organisations and the populations we serve as elected members. It is with this in mind that the ‘shaping the future’ programme was born. Engaging with communities is vital and I hope that as many people as possible will participate in this conversation. These are our services and it is vital our values are in line with those of the communities we represent.

As already mentioned, the task of delivering our services for the most vulnerable within a constrained budget is a great one. The transformation of services should involve the integration of the ‘3rd sector’ into traditional approaches, simultaneously maintaining our services and bringing communities closer together. In doing so, we provide an answer to the great demands placed on health and social care (for example) by demographic changes in society.

The second pillar of our administration focuses on economic development and growth. Creating and maintaining valuable jobs is vital in enhancing our economic capabilities. Jaguar Land Rover is but one example where innovation and investment enhance our economy and our outlook for the future. Linked to this, the procurement of skills of our young people within a changing labour market is also an important asset in ensuring economic development. Apprenticeships are increasing; engaging members of society with their local economies, equipping them with valuable skills needed to succeed.

One of the key elements of developing a strong, stable economy is the confidence it gives to our population that they will have jobs that will be sustainable. The role the county needs to play here is in matching the skills of our young people to the job needs within Warwickshire. The Warwickshire economy, has, by and large faired reasonably well through this difficult period. We are now poised to develop a thriving economy for the future.

It is essential for the wellbeing of generations ahead that Warwickshire plays the pivotal part now in shaping our future in this area.


Councillor Izzi Seccombe became the first female leader of Warwickshire County Council in May 2013. She was elected as Councillor for Stour and the Vale in 2001, and prior to becoming leader was Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families from 2005 to 2010.

The managerial-political interface: strong relationships prosper in difficult times

Andrew Muter

The Chief Executive’s leadership position in Local Government operates in a different context to simple hierarchies. We all manage at the political interface – what some have termed a grey area between the hurly-burly of big P Politics and the general management of the organization. And the relationship at the core is that between the Leader and Chief Executive.

Much has been written and said about these relationships over the years. In particular, Simon Baddeley’s research has provided a fascinating insight into the way that Leaders and Chief Executives describe the way they work together. One of the recurring themes is the way that strong leadership relationships are under-pinned by shared reflections about the way the partnership works. It’s the ability to describe, express and check-back on what is happening that helps to define the relationship and build trust.

The Leader / Chief Executive relationship can come under the greatest of strain even in the best of times. Where trust hasn’t been built, or is undermined, the consequences are huge. So you might have expected that the impact of the harsh financial climate for local government over the last five years would have placed an increasing strain on that crucial interface between politics and the organization.

I doubt that the answer is so simple. In fact, it’s perhaps more likely that strong relationships will prosper in difficult times. The pressures of shrinking resources, transformational change and spiraling demand call for leaders to raise their games. This is a test for the relationship but it’s also an opportunity for synergistic co-leadership.

In our pre-recession world, the managerial-political interface was sometimes illustrated through the development of policies. The dividing line was that although the development and discussion of policies engaged senior managers and politicians, it was the politicians who decided. In today’s world, this may be no less true. But choices have narrowed and the pace and direction of change is relentless and unforgiving. Political and managerial careers may not have been planned around this destination, but we are where we are.

That relationship between Leaders and Chief Executives has been tested in this grave new world. Local government’s performance in handling the reductions in finance, showing that we are fleet of foot in comparison with almost every other area of public service, suggests that we might be optimistic about the resilience of our political and managerial leaders.

In a recent meeting I watched a Leader and Chief Executive of another council explaining how they were planning to deal with the challenges ahead. Their explanation was clear, compelling and seamless. The tone and content of their sentences melded with one another into a seamless narrative. They had not rehearsed their approach – they had lived it, breathed it.

In time, we may have a new academic analysis which sheds light on the stresses and strains of leadership during the austerity years. Here’s hoping it shines a light on strong and successful leadership relationships forged in the heat of battle.


Andrew Muter is the Chief Executive of Newark and Sherwood District Council.