Solace Blog

New Horizons, New Opportunities- a newcomers perspective on local government

By Joe Kinsella, Transformation Officer, Transformation, Calderdale MBC

It seems like a lifetime ago now, after spending the nine months in local government, trying to follow each acronym I came across. But 12 months ago, as a fresh faced graduate, I had arrived at a daunting stage of my life: a career. What would I do, where would I end up? I was applying for a plethora of roles in different organisations; local government, central government and third sector organisations. What attracted me to all those jobs? The opportunity to work in an environment that was at times political, challenging and exciting, but gave me the opportunity to influence and make a positive difference to other people’s lives, which, after eventually realising that I wasn’t going to be a professional footballer, is all I can remember wanting to do.

I was successful in getting an interview at Calderdale Council for the role of Policy and Research Intern working in the Chief Executive’s Office. Preparing and researching for my interview, I was amazed to see that councils could play such a key role in the regeneration of place, as Calderdale Council had with Halifax town centre; so it wasn’t just care, bins and roads! The ambition of the Council really struck a chord with me. 

I also prepared an ice breaker. Which went along the lines of; ‘as I was born in Hull - East Yorkshire, resided in rural North Yorkshire and studied in Sheffield - South Yorkshire, it seemed only natural to begin my career in West Yorkshire’.

While this joke did well to break the ice, settle my nerves and gave the interview panel a laugh, it actually sheds light as to why I was so attracted to local government. I love people, I am a gregarious soul - but what’s more, I love people’s identities and how they are shaped by the place that surrounds them. Nothing fills me with more comfort than hearing the Hull accent, notwithstanding the dialect’s no-nonsense realism. I spent many an hour keenly discussing Sheffield’s cultural offer with service users and colleagues whilst volunteering for a local homelessness charity – I understood why people were proud to live and work in Sheffield.

And with this understanding and interest in people and place, of course local government appeals to me in a way that central government just couldn’t, and doesn’t. It gave me the opportunity to serve people within a locality – helping to shape their futures for the better.

The ice breaker must have worked a treat, as I was successful in my interview, and embarked into my nine month internship with a healthy mixture of nerves and enthusiasm.

To be quite honest, I had no idea what to expect. I was once more amazed at the variety and mass of work local authorities undertake - it is staggering and equally impressive. I had no idea what a Chief Executive of a Council was or did, or that they would be so busy. Neither did I realise what a unique experience I was living; appearing in arenas in which local leaders operate and being party to the conversations that they held.

I’ve been inspired by the way those same leaders spoke of opportunities when facing challenges which superficially seem foreboding. This positive approach helps to give people a sense of direction and meaning - something crucial when facing the unknown or an unsettling future. Having worked on Calderdale’s Vision for 2024, a vision for place which marks Calderdale Council’s 50th anniversary, I have not only fulfilled my ambition of helping to shape people’s futures, but I now understand why it is crucial for leaders to set a positive vision for place. We are facing tough times and the future might be precarious, we should not ignore that, but this doesn’t mean that we cannot lead and plan for a better future for local people. It is in essence, from my own experience, what makes local government so special, by leading in a place, bringing people and organisations together on a journey to a brighter future.

After an eye opening and inspiring nine months, I have now moved on, thankfully not very far! Just across Halifax town centre to the Transformation Team. Given the financial restraints that local government is under, one could see transformation as an undesirable consequence; however, taking learning from my previous encounters, I see it as an opportunity. Looking into the future, we need to deliver for the people of Calderdale and welcome change, ensuring they receive quality public services – embracing behavioural insight, digitalisation, and collaboration to look after the public purse. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better next step, and in true Calderdale spirit, I can’t wait to get stuck in.

Who knows what the future holds in the public sector, what breakthroughs we may make, or further pressures may come our way. But when I think of this uncertain future, at least in my head, I am there – positively taking on challenges, on a journey into the unknown.