The county of North Lincolnshire and my home town of Hull are virtually neighbours. Just 5 miles of the A63 through the East Riding of Yorkshire and a mile or so of the Humber Bridge separate them.
North Lincolnshire Council has been awarded Beacon Council status. Following a damning Audit Commission report, Kingston Upon Hull City Council is under serious threat of some form of central government intervention unless, by December 2002, it can show demonstrable progress against its remedial Action Plan.
Why such different scenarios for two local authorities geographically so close?
Nothing symbolises the differences between the two councils more than the critical field of Education.
For it is its strategies in Education that have seen North Lincolnshire achieving Beacon status in two consecutive years. (Although the Beacon award was specifically for Education, to achieve the award, the Council per se has to be perceived as a high-performing local authority.) By comparison Hull has been bottom of the GCSE league tables for 4 years out of the past 5; the year it wasn’t bottom, it ws next to bottom.
There are those in Hull who look enviously at the semi-affluent farming communities around Scunthorpe. They proclaim that, if only Hull could take in those semi-affluent, middle-class dominated villages of the East Riding on the city borders – Cottingham, Willerby, Anlaby – then the increased weight of more gifted pupils with more supportive parents would put Hull on more of an equal footing. Gleefully, they point out that Thomas Sumpter in urban Scunthorpe is just as troubled a school as Andrew Marvell, David Lister or Sir Henry Cooper in Hull. However, Fredrick Gough in urban Scunthorpe is a fairly-successful school in spite of its difficulties – just as Malet Lambert in Hull is. Demographics obviously do play a part; but they don’t provide a complete explanation.
Let me throw a slightly-different light on this. North Lincolnshire has more varied groupings of population types than Hull, requiring a wider range of strategies. Perhaps the Leadership and the Senior Management at North Lincolnshire are better at understanding the varying needs of their constitutents?
I recently conducted a Spiral Dynamics Organisation Culture Survey within the Community Investment Team at North Lincolnshire. (Click here to view the case study resulting from that project.) The BLUE procedural thinking one usually expects to find in councils was, of course, there in abundance. However, I was totally taken aback by the sheer amount of YELLOW (systemic, integral, flexible) thinking ascribed by members of the CIT to the Leadership of the Council.
As strong as YELLOW was, RED demagogusih/power-god thinking was perceived as very low. RED is often rampant in local authorities, particularly among elected representatives – and the bullying culture and financial short-sightedness Hull is accused of are symptomatic of excessive RED.
Of course, the Spiral Dynamics survey in North Lincolnshire was carried out on a very small sample and may not be truly representative. Nevertheless, middle management of a key department considering their local authority to be led by a high degree of systemic, integral thinking at a time that authority is awarded Beacon status does invite a cause & effect analysis.
And what of Hull…?
Hull, of course, has a new council. After decades of Labour rule, the people of Hull threw them out in May 2002 and a new Liberal Democrat-led Council somewhat nervously took its place in the Guildhall’s corridors of power.
New Council Leader Simone Butterworth has told me that she appreciates the criticality of having a values-based approach (such as that required for a MeshWORK). And there does seem to be something going on at the Council in terms of a values shift, reflected in the appointment of Jim Brooks – with the private sector-sounding title of ‘Managing Director’. Previously his position carried the more traditional title of ‘Chief Executive’.
In the media – and especially over Education – Councillor Butterworth has made a number of statements to the effect that parts of the Council need to take a more private sector goal-oriented approach. Is Simone attempting to move the Council away from RED power games and beyond BLUE bureaucracy to a more ORANGE achievement-oriented culture?
Elsewhere some of the signs are not so good. The media reports of enraged parents and pupils protesting at the gates against the proposed closure of Kinloss Primary School in the Bransholme estate look like a replay of the debacle last year at nearby Coleford Primary. (This time let’s hope the Deputy Director of Learning doesn’t run a protesting teenager’s foot over while trying to escape the mob!)
Have they learned nothing?
Of course, Hull Council has to reduce the number of surplus school desks – just as it has to do something about surplus housing stock. These are pre-conditions to avoiding central government intervention in 2003. It may be that closing Kinloss really is the least harmful option.
But how the Council goes about persuading its disgruntled constituents of the need for action is a different matter. It would appear that little or nothing has been learned from Coleford or, for that matter, the protests over the closure of the Orchard Park estate’s Shaw Park Primary last Summer.
The ‘so far-so good’ merger of the Danepark and Court Park primaries on Orchard Park – where Spiral Dynamics was used to look at how to meet all the stakeholder needs and expectations – shows that rationalisation processes need not always be that painful. (Click here to view a case study of the merger.)
So, while the change in administration at the Guildhall seems to hold out the promise of some new ideas, in at least one key area little seems to have changed.
The Real Challenge…
Of course, just how much YELLOW-level leadership there really is at North Lincolnshire is highly debatable. That there is perceived to be any, though is quite remarkable.
Spiral Dynamics co-developers Don Beck and Chris Cowan have each expressed concern at the serious lack of YELLOW/2nd Tier leadership amongst our politicians. (And it was this concern that led Don to stage the October 2002 Integral Leadership Conference in London.)
If Simone Butterworth and Jim Brooks really want the Council to take the lead in breaking Hull out of its descent into deprivation, under-attainment, under-performance and general disillusionment, then they have to recognise that developing an ORANGE achievement culture in the Council itself is only part of the picture.
They have to develop the capacity to understand all levels and their needs and to create strategies which take into account the needs at all levels yet serve the good of the whole. Only a MeshWORK approach – whether that particular appellation is used or not – can do that.
The effective disgracing of the previous administration and the pressure from central government for reform gives Butterworth and Brooks a unique opportunity to tear away those Council strategies and units which don’t work – on the basis that they are so bad they can’t be salvaged – and to bring in new ideas and new constructs. The opportunity is there to break the mould and become a truly radical, transforming, whole system local authority.
Let’s hope they use this opportunity this way. Otherwise Hull is likely to spend many more years bumping along the bottom.