Change is coming to local government near you. This week Angie Ridgwell took over the new top job at County Hall. FIONA FINCH met her and asked what next for the county council?
Angie Ridgwell has been in her new job just days and the clock is already ticking.
She knows she has just 12 months to set Lancashire County Council on a new course and prepare the ground for her successor.
As interim chief executive and director of resources she is in uncharted territory. Hers is a brand new role, combining both executive and financial watchdog duties.
The 53-year-old accountant arrives at a council in turmoil. She is part of a controversial management restructure at an authority which has seen sustained job cuts, has major financial problems, and where council leader Coun Geoff Driver is currently on bail in connection with an investigation into the former One Connect partnership between the county council and BT.
Former chief executive Jo Turton left last month.
Angie’s job may be to focus on the future, not the past, on what Lancashire could become and how its major council can lead the way.
But she inherits the same old problem facing local government across the country – dwindling resources and rising social care costs.
The council is forecasting a funding gap of £157.8m in 2021/22 and fears a £60 m shortfall in 2018/19 .In addition the county’s children’s services are undergoing rejuvenation after being judged inadequate by Ofsted inspectors.
She knows she will need stamina and has a secret weapon. The triathlon competitor says keeping fit is an essential way of ensuring she is able to cope with the demands of the job and has already marked out the regenerated area round Preston docks as good for running.
She said: “I hope to do some training. I think that’s a really important way of managing my resilience in what is quite a challenging role.”
Angie acknowledges she was head- hunted for the new role, being invited to consider applying, replacing her top civil service Government job to move north. She stresses she then had to go through a competitive interview process.
The reward was a near £200,000 fixed-term year-long post. She is adamant she will not be looking to stay long-term. She said: “For me the biggest challenge for Lancashire County
Council primarily operates around the budget and the financial constraints which Lancashire County Council and all public services are facing at the moment.”
It will, she says, mean working with staff and councillors to plan for services to be sustainable in the future and balance the books.
“We need to be open to all sorts of models to ensure we’re delivering the best possible services to the people of Lancashire at the best possible cost – there’s a balance there. At the same time we can’t afford to pay top prices for everything.”
Options range from providing services in-house to a fully outsourced model and will be decided “on a case by case basis to decide which is the best model.” Another focus will be to build economic resilience, helping secure more jobs and more training for residents:”It’s about making sure it’s an economically prosperous county.”
What she does have is knowledge of how to “navigate Whitehall” having walked those corridors of power for the past four years. She said: “It’s not always easy to have access into Government.”
She arrives direct from overseeing the merger of two Government departments to form the BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) where she was director general of finance and corporate services. Previously she had several interim council roles lasting from three months to two years.
Opposition councillors demanded the ruling Tory group take a begging bowl to Government for more funding. Angie has other ideas: “It’s not necessarily a case of just going to Government and saying give us more money.”
Instead she advises pointing to a track record of what you are doing to tackle problems and saying “help us maximise these opportunities.”
• Angie Ridgwell worked at Bristol City Council, Thurrock Council, Coventry City Council and Bridgnorth City Council.
• She has also worked as an associate with accountants KPMG and was an executive director of the London Development Agency advising the Board and Mayor of London on regeneration and economic development strategies.
• She has her own consultancy firm, Angie Ridgwell Associates Ltd, which she says is “dormant” at the moment.