Interviews

20.12.16

Solace president mandate: Champion diversity and celebrate great public services

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 17

Jo Miller, the recently-elected president of Solace, talks to PSE about the need for championing great public services and ensuring inclusion at every level.

Public services and public leadership, done well, helps places and people thrive, and we need to celebrate, not denigrate that, Solace’s new president has told PSE. 

Speaking just after her election victory, Jo Miller said that local government should be passionate and proud about great public services, “about doing the right thing for our residents, about building resilience in communities – both things that can only be done locally”. 

She added that the debate should be ‘how do we live better, and live better together’, ensuring that the country’s vibrant communities thrive, especially at a time “when we as local government have some, but not all of the answers, and where we need to operate as leaders at the centre of a jigsaw puzzle”. 

Discussing the financial challenge faced by councils, Miller, who is also the CEO of Doncaster Council, said: “No-one’s job is the same, but certainly in places like this one, we have seen massive change to the funding regime. This is change that we have managed very well and we have innovated our way through some of it. 

“However, there comes a point when it is very hard, in fact it is nigh on impossible, to carry on doing that, and I think in a post-Brexit world we have a quite fractured world with a fair number of people left behind.” 

She added that “inevitably” there would be service reductions across the country and much rationing. 

“We still face a dichotomy in this country that people want Scandinavian public services for American taxes,” said Miller. “At a national level we have people that aren’t telling the truth about the size of the state we can afford, and what that means to people. Nobody is telling the truth about that. Not at a national level.” 

Championing women and diversity 

As the first female president of Solace, Miller stated that during her presidency she will champion women in local government and diversity. “It will be inclusion on every level, including gender,” she said. “I started as a scale 1 employee in local government, and don’t think I ever intended to end up as CEO – but here I am. 

“It is not about where people start, it is about where we can take them. If I take local government, women make up most of the workforce but they don’t necessarily hold a leadership position. 

“At Solace, on my watch, we won’t be having all-male panels or all-male approaches to things. We will be diverse and we will reflect the diversity of our workforce and communities.” 

Influencing policy and making devolution ‘more real’ 

Miller expressed that Solace can and must work with government “to influence and advise and challenge them”, alongside others, because “we know and understand the practical ramifications of policy”.  

The Solace president added that she would like to see devolution in England get a “bit more real”, and be more comparable to some of the other devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. 

Miller argued: “I think it [devolution] was an opportunity for local government to act as a first amongst equals to bring public services together, to make sure that the totality of money spent in local places is spent in the best way possible to deliver for local people.” 

She stated that “at times it sometimes feels like decentralised administration rather than people producing real solutions to real local problems”. 

But we have a chance as Solace, explained Miller, to lead and influence the debate, to contribute to devolution policy outside of our geography and ensure it is just that – “good decision-making as close to communities as possible, not decentralised administration from Whitehall”.

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