Everyone has a favourite festive story, but surely one of the most celebrated and captivating has to be ‘A Christmas Carol’, by Charles Dickens. It’s so well told, even the Muppets’ version became an instant classic!

When Ebenezer Scrooge wakes on Christmas morning from his ghostly ordeal the night before, his transformation is complete. Suddenly, the mean-spirited old miser realises that what matters most in life isn’t his own selfish greed, but the universal happiness and wellbeing of his fellow human beings.

Dickens’ timeless morality tale tells us plainly that the drive to accumulate money is no guarantee of contentment, or even of prosperity if it’s simply hoarded, but that individuals and communities truly thrive when wealth is shared.

Now this may seem a tenuous allegory to introduce the main theme of this article – which happens to be about the Council’s success in securing new sources of funding – and I really don’t want to overdo the analogies either – but since my role as Chief Executive entails thinking a great deal about what the Council does with its finances, Scrooge’s revelation about serving the greater good chimes loudly.

For it has become increasingly clear that we face some quite serious economic challenges as a council (as a country, for that matter), and that we will need to work even harder and more imaginatively to increase our revenue. Not merely for its own sake – like old Scrooge – but in order to deliver the services and develop the projects that can improve the lives of people in the Borough.

Against a backdrop of significant and ongoing government cuts, increasing our income in other, more business-like, ways becomes less an exercise in Scrooge-like self-aggrandisement (not that it ever was), but simply the path we have to take if we are to continue to safeguard essential services over the coming years.

And, I’m delighted to say, we’ve been making significant progress in rising to this challenge – not least by attracting substantial amounts of external funding for services and schemes that make a positive difference in the community.

In some cases we’ve achieved success on our own; sometimes by working in partnership. Whatever the approach, in each case the funding we’ve secured helps to increase our chances of outrunning austerity and provide better protection for those essential front-line services that residents rightly expect and deserve.

One of the largest single sources of funding secured in 2017, for example, was for an exciting – and quite literally ground-breaking – carbon-saving initiative in north Colchester, which will see £3.5m invested in the development and construction of a sustainable district heating system using natural heat from groundwater to warm local homes and businesses.

Our project is one of only nine district heating systems to be financed by the Government, and provides a fantastic boost to the Council’s efforts to cut carbon emissions. As well as providing a single source of sustainable energy – saving around 850 tonnes of CO2 per annum compared to conventional heating solutions – the Northern Gateway Heat Network is also expected to generate income for the Council once the project completes in 2020. A brilliant example, I’d say, of our leading commitment to new forms of green technology.

Working with our partners Essex County Council, Braintree District Council and Tendring District Council, we were able to secure £700k last year and a further £700k this year to develop the North Essex Garden Communities project, which will help meet local housing need for decades to come. This huge vote of confidence by the Government will enable new, infrastructure-first garden communities to be developed in sustainable ways that won’t burden the existing infrastructure and services that underpin the quality of life residents already enjoy. By planning these developments ‘holistically’, you might say, we have a real opportunity to explore new ways of delivering services, from waste collections, to rapid transport and social care, before a single home is built in earnest.

Only last month another flagship project boosted by new funding drew international plaudits, when the Council won the European Commission’s prestigious EU Broadband Award for its ultra-fast broadband – financed in-part by the South Eastern Local Enterprise Partnership. What would have cost £6m to deliver via a new fibre-optic network was achieved for less than £500k using our pre-existing CCTV cable network. Ingenious! It was this novel method of significantly reducing build costs, by using existing assets and infrastructure, which was key to gaining the award.

That’s not the only tech-solution I’m excited about… Over the next few months, the Council is set to bid for additional funds to begin the deployment of prototype 5G technology and expand the reach of the ultra-fast fibre network to urban and rural parts of the Borough – a strategy I revealed at a networking event attended by businesses from across the town only last month.

If we can entice the Government to put money into Colchester becoming a 5G pilot town, we will be able to attract even more businesses to invest in our community, which in turn will enable us to build further economic resilience, protect public services and improve the quality of life for everyone in the Borough.

And when I say ‘everyone’, I do mean ‘everyone. It goes without saying that, however rocky the road ahead, we simply have to continue to support and improve the prospects for the most vulnerable members of our community. And one of the ways we will be able to do this is by securing additional external funding sources aimed at tackling particular social problems.

So, for example, a successful funding application last year, submitted in partnership with Tendring District Council, will see £240,000 awarded by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) used to increase support for rough sleepers over the next two years .

Another successful joint bid led by Colchester Borough Council earlier this year, but this time in partnership with Tendring DC, Braintree DC, Maldon DC and Colchester & Tendring Women’s Refuge, secured £263k from the DCLG to help vulnerable victims of domestic abuse and their children access specialist refuge provision, particularly those living in hard-to-reach communities.

And the ‘Help for Single Homeless’ project, which benefited from funding secured by Colchester Borough Council, Tendring District Council and Ipswich Borough Council in 2016, aims to provide early intervention for prison-leavers in ways that will reduce the chances of them reoffending.

In October 2017, a joint Colchester Borough Council/Essex County Council project, aimed at encouraging young people to talk about their everyday life and wellbeing, was awarded £20,000 in funding from two leading health charities. Over the course of the pilot, Colchester Council’s No Filter team will contribute valuable project evaluation and community engagement expertise, backed by its own Startwell Campaign which promotes healthy-living messages and supports residents to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

And only two weeks ago, on 5 December, Sport England announced a major new funding stream (£130m to be spent nationally, in 12 pilot areas) to promote physical activity and wellbeing in Colchester – following a successful joint-bid with Essex County Council, Basildon Council, Tendring Council and Active Essex to explore ways for communities to become more active. Programmes developed within the Colchester pilot, will promote increased levels of activity among vulnerable young families and older people living in circumstances of deprivation.

Now, it’s well known that Charles Dickens was a man of the theatre, who loved all the life and vitality of London’s theatre scene, both on stage and off. He once even delivered a public reading of his work to a packed audience at Colchester’s Theatre Royal, on the site of the disused Queen Street Bus Depot, don’t you know?!

I’m pretty certain, therefore, that Dickens would have endorsed the Council’s participation in the Mercury Rising project, which is going to transform front-of-house facilities at the Mercury Theatre and provide a new production block for the benefit of up and coming theatre-makers. Today, as I write (19 December 2017), it has been announced that our joint bid to Arts Council England has been successful, and Mercury Rising is going to receive a whopping £3.5m of additional funding. What a great Christmas present!

It’s invariably the case that Arts funding declines during periods of austerity. That’s why it’s been so important, in recent years, to step up our efforts to secure external funding to invest in popular attractions such as Castle Museum.

Back in June, Arts Council England awarded almost £800,000 to Colchester & Ipswich Museums Service – funding that will bring more major exhibitions and a better experience for children and young people. The grant coincided with news that the museums service had won its bid for coveted National Portfolio Organisation status, opening the door to a further £200,000 boost every year from 2018 to 2022. A real feather in our cap, considering the fierce competition we were up against.

Add to this the three-year £666k Training Museums grant, £84k over two years for the Happening on the High Street project – both funded by the Arts Council – and £797k of Heritage Lottery funding for the four-year Skills for the Future programme, to help new talent sustain a long-term heritage sector, and you can really begin to see how successful our efforts have been to ensure Colchester remains one of the country’s leading destinations and a place worth caring about.

I could go on – but with the clock counting down to the festive period and presents still waiting to be wrapped, I’ll sign off for now by wishing you all a very happy Christmas and all good things for 2018.


Planning for a major incident

Emergency Plan © Nick Youngson

Following the Grenfell Tower fire and its tragic aftermath, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about Colchester Borough Council’s own emergency planning procedures.

Whilst I am delighted to be able to explain our plans for dealing with a major incident, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to make any comment on how the situation has been handled in Kensington and Chelsea.

As a local authority, our role invariably starts as support to the emergency blue-light services. They are there to save life, limb and – wherever possible – property. So we may be required to set up a rest centre, for example, where people who are displaced by a major incident can stay for a short period. We did just that, back in February, when Storm Doris unleashed gale-force winds and a tidal surge across our region and coast.

Our role as a council comes more to the fore when events begin to move into the ‘recovery’ stage. This is when we can begin to help support the community to return to as ‘normal’ a life as possible.

A few words of advice: It’s absolutely vital that people consider taking out appropriate insurance to cover the possibility of a major incident causing damage to their property or business. However, I’d say that it’s even more important to give thought at all times to our own safety, and never allow ourselves to become complacent about potential risks – such as, for example, when we stay in a hotel or visit public buildings. It won’t do us any harm (will help ensure the opposite, in fact) to make ourselves aware of fire exits and what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency. As Confucius once said: “It’s wise to always expect the unexpected.” After all, it’s for a very good reason that someone will always run through housekeeping rules ahead of a public meeting, so the audience knows, if the fire alarm rings, that it isn’t a drill. It’s not a matter of ‘health and safety gone mad’; it’s simply plain common sense and about taking responsibility for our own and everyone else’s wellbeing.

I’m keen that we continue to encourage other organisations in the Borough – both large and small – to think about their business continuity plan, too, and the way it will help them cope in the aftermath of a major incident or disaster – be it natural like a fire or flood, or premeditated like a cyber-attack.

Developing a comprehensive business continuity plan allows businesses to get ahead of the curve in identifying the potential impacts that could threaten their organisation and impact their customers. A business continuity plan, such as the one we have, provides a framework for building resilience and effective responses to all kinds of incidents, meets legislative requirements, and protects the organisation’s reputation. We know that ‘building-in’ business continuity, making it part of the way our organisation is run, is going to help us to recover more effectively after an incident and get us back to working normally again in the quickest possible time. An effective and tested plan, like ours, enables us to manage the unexpected and so reassure our residents, customers and staff that effective contingency plans are in place.

Some disasters, like the Grenfell Tower Fire, happen suddenly and without warning, of course, while others allow some time to plan. A tidal surge, for example, may be forecast hours or sometimes even days in advance. We need to be prepared at all times for both.

When facing an immediate emergency, there are a number of responses we need to consider simultaneously. These can be categorised as follows:

Information: This is often unknown, still emerging or just patchy. So just what is the scale of the emergency and what response is needed? The sooner we know, the sooner we can act.

Co-ordination: If we can establish what needs to be done – and, as I say, that is difficult, especially as the situation evolves and perhaps the situation begins to deteriorate – then co-ordinating the responses between a host of statutory agencies, volunteers and Third Sector bodies can sometimes be difficult, initially.

Communications and social media: From the moment a major incident happens, a mass of information pours in from numerous sources, some of which is helpful, some of which is misleading, some of which is plainly wrong. Separating the wheat from the chaff is critical, if our Communications Team and our various information channels, including our website and social media platforms, are to be able to update residents and local businesses with timely and accurate information.

We follow well-defined and well-rehearsed protocols to ensure that our Communications Team remains in close contact with the council’s First Call Officer, our heads of service, the emergency services, government agencies and other public bodies countywide, including Essex County Council, the precise moment a major incident is declared. This also includes providing regular updates to councillors and myself about the incident or emergency as it develops and when it is eventually resolved. The importance of maintaining clear and open channels of communication between all of the relevant authorities, throughout the duration of a major incident, cannot be over-estimated. That is why our Communications Team is on call 24-hours a day, 365-days a year, ready to respond to any media enquiries and share information with other agencies and the public.

Resources: We will usually have a presence on the ground, at the scene, but with all the blue-light services doing their job too, we cannot get in their way. We need to plan to use our resources efficiently, since they might be needed over a longer period of time. It can only be counter-productive to throw everything we have into an emergency, to only then find we have nothing left for tomorrow, the next day, the next week, etc.

The immediate versus long term responses: Obviously we have to consider, as a matter of priority, our immediate response providing help and support to those caught up in an emergency situation. But we also have to think about what we must do, practically speaking, after the emergency has passed. For example, there may be a sudden need to re-home hundreds of people, even though the housing list already has 4000 people waiting on it. And, in the longer term, we will invariably have to consider all of the complex issues, both material and psychological, that are necessary to help the community to ‘return to normal’.

Learning: There are bound to be urgent lessons regarding the incident itself which need to be understood and actioned without delay – but we will also need to examine how the emergency was handled and what could work better in the future.

Compassion: It is important that we understand and relate to every single one of the human stories that emerge after a major tragedy, because every catastrophic event will have a devastating impact on individuals and families.

I am pleased to be able to reassure residents that we routinely practise our emergency planning response to incidents, and that seven of our senior managers take it in turns to be our First Call Officer a month at a time. And we usually deal with a number of ‘incidents’ each and every month.

As I alluded to earlier, I didn’t write this blogpost to pass judgement on what did or did not happen in London recently. I hope you will have found it informative and have a better understanding of the issues and responses a local authority like Colchester Borough Council needs to consider in the event of a major incident or emergency.

If, heaven forbid, a event of the order seen recently in Manchester and London were to happen in Colchester, I would like to think my colleagues and I would get more decisions right than hindsight would show had been wrong – simply because we are confident that we constantly plan and practise for it.

Finally, I would just like to reassure residents that we have no high rise buildings in our housing stock – only two- and three-storey blocks – all of which have been inspected to ensure they do not have the same cladding as that used on Grenfell Tower.

It pays to recycle


I was reading some interesting facts the other day about the origins of certain products and was astounded to learn about the lifecycle of the humble fizzy drink can.

Apparently, it takes around 330ml of crude oil to produce a 330ml can of fizzy drink. That’s an awful lot of energy, when you consider that just one teaspoon of oil packs enough power to lift a medium-sized family car as high as the Eiffel Tower!

A staggering amount of effort goes into producing a single can of fizzy drink, it transpires. Beginning with the energy used to mine bauxite in some remote part of Australia or the Amazon Basin, the ore eventually reaches a smelting plant where it’s heated to extract aluminium. From there, the now-sheet metal is shipped to factories across the globe where it’s formed into cans. Then it’s on to the canning factory, to be filled with fizzy drink – which also requires an additional energy-stream to produce.

I know, I need to get out more!

Next, yet more energy is used to transport the final product to the retailer, who uses still more storing it in a chill-cabinet and lighting and heating their premises – until you, the consumer, uses even more energy to travel to the shop to buy the product. But that’s not quite the end of it: on the consumption-side of the equation, you then have to factor in the energy used on the trip home, the energy used to cool the drink in your fridge, the energy required to… but I’m sure you get my drift by now?

That whole process, from opencast mine to waste bin, uses around 330ml of oil-equivalent energy per can of fizzy drink. And every day, worldwide, tens of millions of cans are produced. In fact, 24 million tonnes of aluminium is produced around the world annually, of which 51,000 tonnes is used as packaging in the UK.

But here’s the rub – £36m of aluminium ends up in landfill each year in the UK, even though an aluminium can could be recycled and ready to use again in as little as six weeks, and requires 20 times less energy to manufacture than one made from scratch.

See, now I’m getting out more!

So why have I chosen to start this blogpost with the lifecycle of a typical drinks can? Well, firstly, because I think it’s becoming increasingly apparent that our ‘take, make and throw away’ society cannot continue to treat our planet as if it was simply a limitless source of resources at one end of a production-line and some sort of free dustbin at the other.

Secondly, because I think it’s sometimes easy to ignore the wider picture and to begin to take for granted the highly organised efforts that go into producing the everyday items that we consume – which, in turn, can blind us to the consequences of what happens to them after we’ve thrown them away.

And, lastly, because I thought the lifecycle of the ubiquitous aluminium can seemed an appropriate way to introduce the subject I really want to talk about, which is the Council’s decision to change the way it disposes of the Borough’s household waste…

Last December, the council decided to introduce a new Waste and Recycling Strategy from June 2017. It follows a huge amount of work by my staff to find ways to decrease the amount we send to landfill and increase rates of recycling in the Borough.

Since this is an issue that involves everyone and affects everyone, we’ve been careful to listen to what residents said should happen, with over half who took part in last year’s consultation in agreement that some change is necessary in the way their waste and recycling is collected.

But while the survey told us that there are high levels of satisfaction with our waste and recycling service, we also know that we need to make changes and improvements in the way we deal with our waste in future, if we are ever going to meet our targets and fulfil our broader environmental obligations.

That challenge – to do business and deliver services as sustainably as possible – goes well beyond reducing the amount of household waste the Borough generates, however. It also means, for example, reducing by 40% the Council’s carbon footprint by 2020, generating solar energy on our buildings and revolutionising the way staff uses IT to virtually eradicate paper-use across the organisation.

Our Environmental Sustainability Strategy is an award-winning example in the community and is helping us to become even more resilient to the challenges we face from climate change. Did I just say ‘award-winning’? Indeed, I did, because I’m delighted to say Colchester Borough Council recently won the Environmental Awareness Category at the Countywide Essex Business Awards! You can find out more about how we’re leading the field with our environmental policies, here:

The new Waste and Recycling Strategy is one component of our wider sustainability agenda, addressing as it does a number of vital issues which we believe will drive efficiencies, improve our recycling performance and enable us to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill.

It surely cannot be right for the Borough to continue to send in excess of 35,000 tonnes of waste to landfill each year, incurring a considerable financial cost at a time when the Council is facing significant budget cuts?!

While it’s encouraging to know that we currently earn £350,000 each year from the recyclable materials collected in the Borough, just think how much more income we could generate and money we might save if we all did more to increase the amount we recycle and send less waste to landfill. Just as important: think how boosting recycling will reduce our overall impact on the environment, and imagine how much energy could be saved if fewer aluminium cans and bottles needed to be made from scratch.

You can find lots more information about the planned changes to the waste and recycling service by visiting, but in short the main proposals include:

  • Introducing fortnightly collections for general rubbish
  • A limit of three black sacks per household, equivalent to the same capacity as the wheeled bins proposed for some areas within the Borough
  • An optional second free green box to separate glass and cans
  • White garden sacks will be free and residents will continue to get free clear sacks, but won’t receive free black sacks
  • Residents will continue to use their existing recycling containers for paper, plastics, cans, glass, textiles, food and green waste, and,
  • Continued weekly collection of food waste.

I am one of the first to recognise that our plans haven’t been received positively in all quarters and that some residents are opposed to some of the detail of the new Waste Strategy – particularly around the limits and frequency of residual waste collection and the use of wheelie-bins in certain areas. However, we have listened carefully to the views of ward councillors and the voices of the residents they represent, and that is why we won’t be imposing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ service where it isn’t wanted in the Borough.

Instead, we’ll be introducing what you might call a ‘hybrid service’: one which is appropriate for local circumstances – for instance, where buildings or the local terrain make it impossible to use wheelie-bins – and which also provides exemptions for householders who generate more residual waste by necessity, such as those with very young children or with a long-term medical condition.

If you have any questions or concerns about how the changes might affect you, please continue to check our website for information and guidance between now and when the new Waste Strategy is introduced in June. We’ll be publishing more details, in late spring, but until that time I would encourage you to recycle as much as you can. Just a few extra items recycled by each of our 77,000 households would make a massive difference.

I’d like to end, if I may, with a line by the poet and naturalist Henry David Thoreau: “What’s the use of a house,” he said, “if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

I think those words will resonate with everyone who places a concern for the environment high on their personal agenda, as I do. But they also chime with the determination we have as a Council to provide a waste and recycling service which is both sustainable and fit for the environmental challenges of the 21st Century. We all want a decent quality of life and to protect our environment. Addressing the amount of waste we produce is one way to guarantee it, as our town continues to develop and grow in the decades to come.

Please recycle a bit more, for the benefit of your children and your grandchildren, so they can live in a cleaner and healthier environment.

Christmas Greetings

I wanted to post a blog to wish you all a very Merry Christmas in a few days’ time.

I also hope that, for most of our 183,000 residents, you will have not really noticed the services we have provided consistently on a daily or weekly basis. This is because, unless you specifically have to contact the Council for something, you really should not have to think about whether your rubbish is being collected or that the Environmental Health team is doing food hygiene spot checks to help keep you safe this Christmas.

But for those of you who have contacted the Council for a particular purpose or for help with a specific problem, I do hope you feel we have treated you properly, professionally and with respect.

I do accept that on occasions (I would say, very rare occasions) we do not get it completely right – but for the millions of people we do see (Colchester Leisure World alone serves a million customers a year), I believe we do get it right the vast majority of times.

I am also delighted to see so many of you contacting us using the technology we all have at our disposal. So many more people are going on-line to do their business with the Council. This is so much more cost effective for us, allowing us to target our reduced resources to those who need our face-to-face help with complex problems, and allowing you to interact when it is convenient for you to do so at a time and in a place that suits you.

Anyway, I do hope you have no need to contact us this Christmas and that you will be enjoying the seasonal festivities in the way you have planned.

Many of our staff will be providing services to you during the Christmas break, and the rest of us will be back in January to continue to serve you, our residents and our communities to the best of our ability.

Have a super but safe New Year, and I wish you a peaceful and trouble-free 2017.



At your (Express Zone) service…

As Chief Executive, I get to meet hundreds of people in the course of a year. I’ll wager you that I don’t hold the staff-record for the greatest number of face-to-face encounters, however. That accolade – I wouldn’t be at all surprised – may well go to Luke Daley and Charlie Beattie.

The reason I say this – and who the aforementioned are – will become apparent further down the page, but, by way of an introduction, Luke and Charlie work in Customer Services, within the Express Zone, at the Community Hub, in Colchester’s Central Library, where their time is mostly spent meeting, advising and supporting people to access the many services we provide. It might even be said that, for the thousands of residents and customers who use the Community Hub each year, Luke and Charlie characterise the familiar human face of the Council.

The achievements of an organisation are the results of the combined effort of each individual, and I’d like my blog to increasingly reflect that truth. Which is why I’ve asked Luke and Charlie if they’d both like to shine a light on what it’s like to work in the Community Hub, so that we might better appreciate the outstanding customer service that they, along with many other Council employees, deliver all year round.

Luke and Charlie, it’s over to you…

Luke and Charlie

Luke and Charlie

Hi, I’m Luke Daley and I’m an apprentice working in the Customer Support Team, based in the Colchester Library and Community Hub. As an apprentice, I have to spend at least three hours each week completing my NVQ, writing reflective accounts which culminates in a meeting, once a month, with the assessor who monitors my progress. Mostly, though, I work in the Express Zone.

The Express Zone is where we help residents find speedy solutions to benefits, Council Tax, housing and many other Council-related enquiries. Or, if their needs are more complicated and require additional work to resolve, we refer them to specialists on the First Floor for more in-depth advice. It is also where we provide one-to-one help and support to some of our most vulnerable residents who may need assistance using a range of online tools to self-serve, such as how to quick-scan personal information and provide evidence to access particular Council services.

A lot has changed, since I first started working at the Community Hub. Nowadays, as a result of the recent work to transform the service to encourage people to self-serve as much as possible, increasing numbers of customers are using Express Zone services to self-scan and interact online with the Council.

So that’s a bit of context, but what does my typical working day look like? Not that there is ever really a ‘typical’ day, mind. Well, I’ll try my best to do justice to it, but it usually goes something like this…

8:45am – We set up the self-serve equipment and make sure everything is fully charged and connected to the internet. We then have our morning briefing, to discuss any business updates and anticipate challenges that may arise over the coming day.

9am – The Morning Rush begins. I must say, we’re always well-prepared for this, as the technology in the Express Zone helps us to work really well together as an efficient and effective team, answering people’s questions and concerns. The Community Hub is an incredibly busy and dynamic place to work, not least because it brings together a variety of partners such as Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Colchester Community Voluntary Services, Essex County Council and Colchester Borough Homes. This enables residents to access a range of services in a joined-up way.


Luke shows a customer how to use the Quick-Scan machine

1pm – Another customary busy period ends. I take my lunch-break upstairs, managing to find a few moments to chat with some Community Hub colleagues from Essex County Council.

2pm – After lunch, I usually undertake some study time for my NVQ coursework. I find this time incredibly useful, as I really don’t want to get behind with my work!

I feel very fortunate to be able to support some of the most vulnerable residents of Colchester. Though my job can sometimes mean assisting people who may find themselves in a very difficult place, coping with the troubling issues they face, it really is a great feeling to know I’ve played some part in helping people overcome obstacles in their life.


Charlie Beattie – “Welcome to the Express Zone.”

Hello, my name is Charlie. Since graduating from University two years ago, I’ve been working for Colchester Borough Council.

Allow me to proudly welcome you to the Express Zone. The Express Zone helps residents in need of advice and guidance, focusing predominately on shorter enquiries and helping them to interact with our brand new technological services!

We strive to ensure that all residents receive clear, professional advice and help needed to improve confidence with our technology. We promote not only self-sufficiency through the use of ‘self-serve’, but we also take great pride in being able to recognise the most vulnerable customers who come to us, who may need further assistance to use our systems. We are incredibly passionate about the work we do and about the customers we support.

Luke has already hinted at the schedule we follow as a team each morning, before the day begins in earnest, but I think it’s worth reiterating because, without that early morning team effort, we wouldn’t be properly prepared to hit the ground running the moment the doors open to the public.

So, at around 8:30am, to ensure that all of the technology is up and running and the systems are operational for our busy day ahead, we charge all of the equipment and make sure it’s working and ready for public use. I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to ensure that we’re able to provide a full and continuous service throughout the day. We then have our team meeting at 8:45am, which helps give an insight into what to expect during the course of the day and any other important issues we should be aware of.

9am – The Express Zone opens and we begin to welcome our customers. The Customer Support Officers on the First Floor are ready to support those with complex Benefits, Council Tax issues or housing needs.

We’re here to support each and every customer, especially those who are vulnerable, and we have become extremely adept at determining whether or not someone requires wider support. Since we work closely with many other specialist organisations, it is essential that we keep up-to-date with the range of services they provide, so that we can give the very best service and support to our residents – whether that be in the form of help to overcome a current housing problem, Welfare Benefits Advice, or simply supporting those who lack confidence using the latest technology. Any one of these factors may contribute to a reluctance in some people to approach us with their concerns. And, of course, whenever it’s appropriate, we also actively promote the ‘Go Online’ initiative, so customers with the confidence to use IT can complete their applications or engage with the Council outside of normal business hours if they want to.


“…We’re here to support each and every customer…”

1pm – We usually rotate the lunch-time breaks to suit the daily plan, making sure the customers we are supporting are dealt with before we leave. You have to be flexible, in this role, because of the unpredictable nature of certain queries. Luke, myself and the others are each able to determine if someone requires much more time to resolve an in-depth query, and we will often rotate and juggle our times around if necessary.

We are incredibly enthusiastic about the Express Zone, and this energy transfers to the customers who are also very happy with our transformation!

5pm – Work ends and I have a chance to reflect on my achievements during the day. Oh, before I go, I must tell you about our monthly whole team meetings: these are quite different, in that we don’t just listen to our managers! What I mean is that, each month, a different internal or external partner talks with us to make us aware of their work or what their organisation delivers. This helps us to connect with and understand the wider support which is on offer in the community, and we can join all this up in our conversations with customers. Luke and I have almost become walking and talking support directories!

(Adrian): Thanks Luke and Charlie for your thoughts and insights. I think it’s fair to say the ground-breaking Community Hub has become, in a relatively short space of time, a hugely busy and vibrant community space, with a reputation for supportive and innovative customer service. It truly is an impressive example of how organisations can work together to deliver a range of frontline and other speciality services under one roof.

I know from the feedback we’ve received from our customers that residents have welcomed the one-stop shop approach and have embraced the idea of assisted self-serve remarkably well.

As I reported in an earlier Blogpost, we’ve worked very hard as a Council to encourage behaviour-change, enabling residents and customers to understand that they do not need to see a specialist adviser for transactions that can be carried out online. The effect has been to reduce in-person contact significantly.

But as Luke and Charlie describe so well: there’ll always be a need for the ‘human touch’ if we’re to be able to continue to provide the best possible service to everyone in our community.

Heads in The Cloud

Hello and welcome to my new-look blog. Regular readers will notice a new name and a fresh focus for this and future blogposts. Never fear – while I’ll still be musing on issues relating to my role as Chief Executive, you’ll also find me dedicating many more column inches to showcasing the services Colchester Borough Council provides, as well as the work of the remarkable and dedicated staff who deliver those services on behalf of residents and customers. So expect my new blog to convey more of an ‘unplugged’ feel from now on – and look out too for the occasional guest spot where a colleague steps in with a behind-the-scenes look at their typical working day.

Niceties out of the way, I’d like to kick off the new blog not with a ‘day in the life’ story as such, but by talking about something which is set to revolutionise the working day of all Council staff – yours truly included. It’s a strategy we’re calling the Digital Challenge, and it is set to transform the way the Council uses information and communications technology over the coming years.

Digital Challenge Logo

While mulling over what to write for this blogpost, the thought crossed my mind about just how rapidly the progress in digital technology has transformed our everyday lives. It took the help of Google (born 1998) to be reminded when the ubiquitous smartphone first appeared, because it seems smartphones have been around… well… forever. Believe it or not, the first iPhone hit the shelves a mere nine years ago! The first tablet device, in April 2010! It’s hard to think of a time when these gadgets didn’t exist and most of us hadn’t developed some degree of dependency upon them.

The pace of change has been quite simply astonishing. Which somewhat goes to the heart of why I believe our Digital Challenge is tremendously important and necessary. In large part, it’s about recognising that change is here to stay and that we need to mobilise for that change with the best digital tools available to continue to deliver quality services as efficiently and effectively as we can.

So how are we planning to achieve this? You may remember my Brave New Digital World blogpost last December, in which I talked about the ways we’re pushing ahead with our ICT Strategy using internet-based solutions to improve our customer experience – including encouraging residents to create an online account to pay bills and self-serve in a host of other ways – and how this has already generated savings of more than £300,000. Well, the Digital Challenge represents a further leap forward that will transform the digital tools staff have at their disposal, delivering unprecedented levels of autonomy to share information in The Cloud, an internet-based computer network. No umbrellas required!

I guess if I had to pick one word to describe what the Digital Challenge will deliver, I’d have to say ‘flexibility’…

Imagine having access to digital technology in the workplace that not only matches but in some cases exceeds the power and versatility of the technology you’re using at home. Imagine this technology supplanting old legacy IT systems – those rooted firmly in the office workplace – with new digital platforms that (to borrow an advertising slogan from Martini) enables you to work any time, any place, anywhere in The Cloud via an array of desktop and mobile devices.

I’m talking about a system flexible enough to offer Operational staff the same freedom to share information, collaborate with colleagues and engage with residents and customers as office-based staff. So, for example, whether someone works in Leisure World or is a Zone Warden engaging with residents on the streets, a Planning Enforcement or Environmental Health officer visiting locations and premises throughout the Borough, or a Waste and Recycling operative helping to keep our streets clean, the Digital Challenge will provide them all with the same means and opportunities to work remotely and stay connected through The Cloud. Indoors or outdoors, it won’t matter which device brand or type they use – be it Apple or Android, laptop, phone or tablet – because the beauty of cloud-based technology is that it is ‘device agnostic’, as the digital literati like to say.

Ultimately, in time, the Digital Challenge will equip Council staff with the means to share information and collaborate across the organisation – both with each other and with customers – in ways that are smarter, not harder, and which make the most of the time and resources they have at their disposal.

The advantages do not end there, by any means: they’ll be little if any need to use paper, for one; and then there’s the guarantee of gold-standard security, since all of the data and information we generate will be stored remotely in The Cloud, not locally. The capacity and ease with which the technology is able to keep pace with the latest digital advances will also enable us to side-step the need to upgrade and replace outdated office-based systems every few years at considerable expense and disruption to the organisation – because the system and applications we’ve chosen will always be current, by default, as developers continue to refine and update their functionality remotely, within The Cloud.

These, then, are some of the key objectives and benefits that lay at the heart of our Digital Challenge, which together represent a paradigm shift in the way our staff will deliver the Council’s services well into the future.

That shift has already begun, in fact: trials of Microsoft Office 365, the cloud-based platform we’ve chosen to spearhead the Digital Challenge, continue to roll out ahead of full implementation in two years’ time. Yes, we’re going to need that much time to transition fully to a cloud-based way of working, because we have to be absolutely certain that when the switch-over happens the new system delivers everything we want it to with the maximum of flexibility. And also because our most important asset, our staff, will also need some time to attain the necessary skills to work with a brand-new digital toolkit.

I guess the logic and pace is akin to the measured approach Abraham Lincoln took to arboriculture: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree,” he said, “and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The Digital Challenge is a huge step forward and we need to get it right first time.

I’m really excited by the changes we’ve planned and how, by working with our heads in The Cloud, we will be able to deliver our services in much smarter ways in the future.


Ups and Downs

There can be few things more exhilarating than winning an award or plunging down a water slide. Winning an award while plunging down a water slide might qualify, but what are the chances of that?!

I am, of course, referring to the recent success of this here blog at the Essex Digital Awards, scooping Bronze in the ‘Blog: Entertainment’ category, and the SlideRider event I’ll be joining, on May Bank Holiday Monday, to help raise funds for Cancer Research UK and the Mayor’s charities.

First off, I was absolutely delighted Pritchard’s Point of View made it to the finals of the Essex Digital Awards, and even more thrilled to scoop a prize. It really is heartening to know that the judges recognised the way the blog connects with its audience – locally, nationally and internationally – and is helping, in some small way, to raise the profile of the borough, the work of the Council, and the hard work and dedication of all my staff. Of course, the most important judges are you, loyal readers, who I hope will continue to take an interest in my musings and find something to inform and entertain you along the way.


That’s the ‘up’ part – now for the ‘down’. The ‘down’ being a huge 250-metre water slide running the length of North Hill, along which I shall soon be hurtling headfirst at 20mph for two well-deserved charities. I have to confess, I’m not looking forward to it, believing my days of getting wet and cold whizzing down water slides to be well and truly behind me. But it is for charity! And should the adrenaline-fuelled euphoria of the descent eventually take hold of me… who knows? I might even wonder why I didn’t elect to have another go.

Slide Rider 2

If you’d like to sponsor my slippery descent, please visit my JustGiving page and pledge what you can. Do it for the reward of knowing your money will be go to some great causes, or simply because you thrive on schadenfreude and the glee of knowing the terror I may experience on the way down. Whatever your motive, please donate something.


PS: You could be forgiven for thinking I’m a glutton for punishment, if you watch my previous escapade abseiling down Colchester Town Hall. Check out the video here.