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Tales from a winner

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

LG Challenge15th October 2013

When Glen visited the LGA conference this year he was lucky enough to interview the finalists for the LG Challenge 2013 (listen again to episode 9 here). As the search for LG Challenge 2014 competitors kicks off last year's winner Lana Fisher has generously drafted a guest post for us. If you are interested is taking part in LG Challenge 2014 check out the official site here but not before you've read this post.

‘PROFIT is not a dirty word’. - That was the feedback that I got following the second challenge on the Local Government (LG) Challenge 2013 and it has become a bit of a mantra for me ever since. Run by the Local Government Association, the LG Challenge is designed to find the ‘best and brightest local government officers’ by pitting 10 candidates against each other in an apprentice-style competition. Split into teams, we faced real life challenges in host local authorities and had to come up with solutions within 24 hours.

The challenges varied from the strategic, such as looking at ways to manage change in a period of significant uncertainty in Bournemouth, to the practical, such as working with the London Fire Brigade to reduce accidental fires in the home for vulnerable people. We even took part in a training exercise run by Breckland Training Services that involved playing the part of a fictional management team of two merging councils.

Common themes came up in all the challenges such as partnerships, investing to save and challenging ourselves to innovate and meet needs differently. We worked really hard during each of the challenges with both teams often seen burning the midnight oil, huddled round a flip chart trying to come up with genuine solutions which would make a real, practical difference to the host authority.

Throughout all of the challenges, we were shadowed by people from the LGA and the local authority hosting the challenge (think Karen and Nick from The Apprentice.) They were continuously assessing us on range of skills from communication and leadership to business acumen and problem solving. Although initially daunting, it was a great opportunity to showcase our skills as team players and individuals. We were then given personal feedback following each challenge, which was incredibly valuable.

The feedback that I received about not shying away from the importance of profit in the public sector particularly struck a chord with me. In fact, all of this year’s challenges taught me how important business acumen is in local government leadership. It got me thinking about how easy it’s been for me, in the areas I’ve worked, to focus on my slightly clichéd desire to help people, while letting someone else worry about where the money and resources were coming from.

But in today’s world of increasing demands, decreasing resources and a shrinking public sector, that’s just not good enough. With my proposal for the Bruce Lockhart Scholarship, the prize for the winner of the LG Challenge, I took the opportunity to move out of my comfort zone and engage with a whole new world of businesses, partnerships and yes, profits.

My project is called Corporate Social Responsibility Plus (CSR+). It involves looking at local government's role in promoting localised corporate social responsibility. The 'plus' part focuses on the frameworks and networks that need to be in place to enable businesses, communities and local government to link effectively to ensure the CSR activity is sustainable in the long-term and really focused to the needs and aspirations of specific local communities. 

As one of three finalists, I was given a stall at the Local Government Association Annual Conference to get delegates to vote for my idea. It was a great opportunity to meet many influential people in local government and to test and refine my idea before the big presentation. We had already submitted a written proposal before delivering a presentation to a judging panel of five with three observers. I was surprisingly calm during the presentation and confident in my proposal. In fact, I was so used to talking about it that I would even go so far as to say that I enjoyed the question and answer session that followed.

However, the level of nerves cranked up as we sat in the main conference hall waiting for the name of the winner to be announced at the close of the conference. I will never forget the feeling of delight mixed with disbelief as the Secretary of State for Health, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP called out my name.

Even better, I now get to carry out my project. With the £10,000 Bruce Lockhart Scholarship money, I will be visiting companies in the UK, USA and Europe to learn from international best practice in CSR. Next March I will be attending a four-day course at Harvard Business School, things I could not have dreamed of doing without the scholarship.

 

To find out more, check out the Local Government Challenge website and watch our ‘episodes’ to see what we got up to last year. I couldn’t recommend applying to the LG Challenge any more strongly. It is a learning and development opportunity that money can’t buy and has been truly career-changing for me. 

Visit http://www.local.gov.uk/lgchallenge to watch the films and find out more - and if that whets your appetite, follow the link through to the application form. Go on; You know you want to!

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