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Congratulations Nadira Hussain! Two years as Socitm’s Chief Executive and thirty years working in local government

The word 'congratulations; surrounded by party poppers and ribbons.

Nadira Hussain reflects on a couple of milestones reached in spring 2024

Celebrating successes. Nadira thinks we don’t do it often enough

So, time to celebrate in my books. My personal journey in the public sector has reached two significant milestones worthy of note in 2024:

  1. Two years at Socitm as Chief Executive this April, and
  2. Thirty years working in, and with local government, in May this year!

I’m not sure I would have ever imagined writing about these achievements, but it is a reality.

As I mark the occasions, it’s a time to review and reflect on the last three decades of the changes (or not) that I have experienced.  

Driving change at Socitm

At Socitm, we’ve been on an evolutionary journey ourselves. I was determined when I took up the role as Chief, that we would use the opportunity to reposition the society as a ‘force for the public good’ through being a values-driven organisation.

I was also keen to ensure some of the historic perceptions of what the society is, or isn’t, were challenged. With a view to making it more modern, accessible and responsive.

Most importantly, I wanted to remove the stereotypical views that were associated with the network of it being ‘closed’ and exclusive. I genuinely hope we are delivering demonstrable changes to meet these revised aims and aspirations. It’s critical that as a charitable membership organisation we remain current, relevant and can offer value to our members, councils, the wider public sector and the communities we serve.

We must respond to the common issues and challenges being experienced by our members through being able to clearly demonstrate the benefits at all times.

Since becoming Chief Executive

It’s fair to say that in the last two years we have dedicated huge efforts to: 

  • Engage better with our communities of interest to ensure we’re listening effectively and responding well.
    Seeking better traction with wider business functions, such as social care, the wider public sector including health, academia and across the devolved nations. 
  • Create opportunities to collaborate and join-up where possible, to de-duplicate effort and to be the single voice for the professional and practitioner community. 
  • Strengthen our relationship with key partners and stakeholders (including the LGA, Solace, LOTI, DLUHC, and so on) to further enhance how we represent the needs of the sector locally, centrally, nationally and internationally.
  • Establish the Socitm Institute as a ‘one-stop’ shop to enable access to policy-related work, research, more comprehensive learning and development interventions, a data platform (Place Insight), actionable insights and an AI focussed resource hub.
    All these practical services should facilitate an improved sectorial response. They are encouraging information exchange, sharing best-practice, enhancing skills and capabilities and bolstering the talent pipeline through the creation of authentic and contemporary leaders. 
  • Promote the benefits of using digital, data and technology (DDaT) capabilities to help deliver improved outcomes for people, communities and places.
    Our emphasis on place-making and place-shaping has been captured through Socitm’s ‘ethical, digital place-making’ model. The model reinforces the importance of secure, connected and sustainable places with a specific focus on devolution too.
  • Facilitate a better understanding of how transformative technologies, such as AI, have the potential to revolutionise local public service provision. Both in the way local government interacts with residents, and how the public workforce addresses today’s challenges. And as such, how we equip ourselves to respond accordingly. 

It has been a turbulent couple of years post-Covid. Not only have we survived, but we’re also thriving as our community continues to grow through sharing, learning and collaborating. It has been a totally uplifting and personally satisfying experience to continue to iterate, refine what we do, improve our visibility and offer tangible benefits.

The demand for our time, resources and expertise at Socitm is at an incredible all-time high. 

We have also recently acquired charity status

This is the cherry on the cake! An endorsement of our continued intention to do public good. And, therefore, the impetus to further pursue our ambitions of facilitating greater collaboration, standardisation and change across the sector.

We intend to spend the next two years securing targeted funding to support these key activities. 

Personal observations of local government

In terms of local government more broadly, what a ride it’s been! It’s really difficult to condense my personal commentary of 30 years’ experience in this limited blog post, but there are some highlights worth noting: 

  1. Austerity and the height of the financial crisis is here for the foreseeable.
    The need more than ever to:
    • engender innovative cultures in our places and organisations
    • encourage creativity
    • invest in a workforce that is skilled and competent to deliver 21st century public services
    • attract talent into the sector
    • exploit DDaT capabilities better
      is going to be fundamental if we’re going to be remotely serious in overcoming the current existential challenges of the growing demand on public services.
  2. We continue to experience repetitious initiatives to enhance performance and effectiveness that haven’t taken us much further forward.
    Remember these?! Best Value indicators via the ODPM; Gershon efficiencies; e-government; t-government. And now, the most recent development of monitoring improvements through OfLOG? The list will continue to evolve and grow. But will we be any further forward in delivering efficient local public services that serve All, unless we do something significantly different? 
  3. The central-local government disconnect continues.
    Collective efforts to lobby, represent our requirements and tackle the inadequacies will persist, unless there are fundamental changes to the current operating models and funding mechanisms for local government.  
  4. Local government needs to fundamentally review its business model.
    The re-invention of the wheel across the UK is unnecessary and wasteful. This is a very hot topic with views shared by several leading figureheads as to what a potential solution and a way forward may be. Standardisation where possible as an approach, with a focus on local nuances, must be discussed as a way forward.  
  5. Serious about diversity and inclusion.
    Diverse and inclusive behaviours, approaches and policies will need to be a given, not a bolt-on extra, if we’re serious about tackling inequalities. We have lots more work to do here. 

What does this all mean?

From my point of view, I remain optimistic that we can instil real change. Although it can be difficult to keep motivated at times given the huge turbulence we currently face.

There are opportunities to continue to make a tangible difference for the people that really matter in our places, through:

  • being more innovative,
  • being more inclusive,
  • understanding local public needs through improved community engagement,
  • focusing on fixing the issues,
  • adopting standardised approaches as necessary,
  • collaborating and sharing more openly.

We must also ensure senior leaders are comfortable and confident promoting the use of DDaT capabilities to affect change; being the advocates and champions we need them to be. It is paramount that they ‘lead from the front’ and work with our community to challenge the status quo and embrace revised working practices. 

No mean feat, but together we can.  

You might also like to read Nadira Hussain’s blog post Women in Science: Bringing your culture to work

Photo by olia danilevich.