No Magic at Suffolk County Council

If we were awarding prizes for Councils hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons then Suffolk County Council would be a strong contender for the first prize.

In June, 2010 it was revealed that the Conservative controlled Council had engaged a spin doctor on £182,000 a year who would 'involve a pro-active approach to communications, particularly in media management, including campaigns, media public relations, marketing events, branding and web'. They had also hired a teletubbies expert to speak at a motivational event for staff. Chief Executive, Andrea Hill, agreed to spending £14,000 on coaching sessions, £6,000 on team building sessions for senior staff that included chocolate making sessions and banging drums and nearly £1,500 on PR shots for herself and other staff.

Hill also approved £400,000 of training sessions for 400 staff using neurolinguistic programming whilst also presiding over £500,000 handouts to ensure that former employees would not become whistle-blowers. Hill also accepted free trips to the U.S. paid for her by BT to explore 'Business thinking'.

The Ipswich Spy

The Ipswich Spy (Who runs Suffolk Council. Andrea Hill, Jeremy Pembroke or BT?) adds a little more to the Mainstream Media reports. It writes:

Suffolk's 'transformation' programme (which means making Suffolk County Council employees redundant and giving their work to third parties such as non-existent Social Enterprises and the very existent BT) is being run by BT employee, Max Wide'.

According to Linkedlin 'Max Wide is Director, Strategic Development at BT Government and Director of Organisational Change, Suffolk County Council where he is responsible for a major change programme called the New Strategic Direction'.

The Big Society Suffolk Blog reported that 'The New Strategic Direction involves outsourcing everything the Council does, such as libraries, social services or building control, to outside suppliers. In total there are 113 services identified as example local government services which could be outsourced(or divested as the council prefers to call this)'.

The Ipswich spy says that it believes that the close relationship between BT and Andrea Smith needs careful and critical examination.

Andrea Hill & Jeremy Pembroke (former leader)

The Common Purpose Effect

At the beginning of April, Jeremy Pembroke (leader) announced his departure, followed swiftly by news of the suspected suicide of the acting Head of the Council's Legal Department. The Lawyer reported that the Council had launched a staff welfare inquiry following his death. Shortly after Mark Bee, the replacement Council leader, started reversing some of the Chief Executive's 'New Strategic Direction' it was announced that Ms. Hill had gone on extended leave for personal reasons.

This unfolding story has the classic smell of secret meetings, backroom deals and cronyism that a number of discerning UK Column readers felt might lead back to Common Purpose.

On 5th March, 2011 the Daily Mail published a news article (The £220,000 council chief who has spent £14,000 of taxpayers' money on her own coach). This article told us that 'Mrs. Hill, chief executive of Suffolk Council, has had 23 sessions with a local government 'professional coach' who offers to teach skills in 'leading on the edge of chaos'. The lessons with Sol Davidson, who claims to teach public sector officials how to 'reinterpret many of their experiences', were disclosed as the council makes deep cuts to services'.

The major emphasis of the Mail article was simply directed towards the squandering of £14,000 of council taxpayers money. Let's quickly look at the description of Sol Davidson. 'After working for the UN and as a consultant to the Australian Government, Mr. Davidson became an 'executive coach'...He first encountered Mrs. Hill before she began working at Suffolk Council'.

The article also told us that 'The pair appeared at a local government 'leadership event' at Newmarket in February 2008 when she was chief executive of Bedfordshire council'.

A document in the possession of the UK Column provides us with critical information that was omitted.  This tells us that the leadership event in question took place on 8th February 2008 at Newmarket racecourse. Andrea Hill, then Chief Executive, Bedfordshire Council and Building Capacity East's Chief Executive sponsor for Leadership & Management gave the opening address. According to the event programme 'Julia Middleton, Chief Executive and founder Common Purpose, gave a presentation on the subject of 'Leading and Influencing outside your organisation' and 'Gaining leadership legitimacy in community, place-shaping and partnership context'.

In the afternoon sessions Sol Davidson provided one to one coaching sessions to (Senior Politicians, Chief Executives, and Directors of Children's Services)

At the Public Service Leadership First Annual Conference 'Collaborate to Innovate' held on 4th November 2009 at the National School of Government, we discovered Andrea Hill, listed alongside others, discussing "What is distinctive and unique about the public service?", "What do we mean by public service leadership?", and, "What role can leadership academies play in delivering improved public service outcomes?". In the afternoon sessions we can reveal that Workshop 8: ' Leading in Partnership and Beyond Authority' was facilitated by none other than Julia Middleton, Chief Executive, Common Purpose.

Andy Yacoub

Another senior player at Suffolk County Council was Andreas (Andy) Yacoub. He was Head of Strategic Planning and External Funding (April 2008 - December 2010). Linkedln describes his specialisms as 'Leadership, motivations, diversity, change and programme management, consultation, training, facilitating, communication, negotiation, mediation, mentoring, coaching, community cohesion, equality impact assessment & strategic and corporate planning'. Yacoub's profile emphasises that 'his extensive leadership skills [have been] sharpened through practice and participation in NLP based and Common Purpose development programmes'. Yacoub has since moved on to his new job at Essex County Council which is based in the Council's Adults, Health and Community Wellbeing Directorate.

A Kind Of Magic

Common Purpose trained NLP practitioner Yacoub appears on the quotes and credits page of the website of Alex McAleer. 'As I said last night you were a 'wow' factor with the audience, seriously impressed with you and your act'. (Andy Yacoub - Suffolk County Council). MacAleer has performed his mind reading and psychological magic across the UK and abroad for numerous corporations and private individuals including the BBC, Princes Trust and.........Suffolk County Council.

There is nothing magical about the behaviour of this particular Council. The re-labelling of Service outsourcing as 'The New Strategic Direction' is nothing less than illusionary newspeak. It cannot possibly disguise the fact that council taxpayer money might find itself transferred into corporate pockets. Neither can they hide from the public the presence and influence of Common Purpose.