New leader: A practical checklist

An incoming council leader requires carefully planned support to be put in place at the start of their leadership and it is worth reviewing your plans, given the different context of the pandemic this year. 

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An incoming council leader requires carefully planned support to be put in place at the start of their leadership and it is worth reviewing your plans, given the different context of the pandemic this year. Preparations outlined below will help the council to prepare and deliver this support.

Issues related to the coronavirus pandemic are of course live and new leaders will be taking up their roles part-way through the Government’s road map to recovery, so understanding the immediate implications for council business as restrictions are lifted will be a top priority. The new leader will need to be both fully briefed on the latest position in your area, both in terms of epidemiology, vaccination levels but also on wider response and recovery arrangements and be part of governance arrangements in place to ensure that key decisions can be taken effectively.

Alongside the pandemic response, other business as usual activities will need to be factored in to your induction plan as a new leader may wish to review the budget commitments and plans, understand the corporate risks, and have a clear line of sight for key decisions that are scheduled in the forward plan.

Leaders will also want to be visible and strengthen links with communities across the council area, scheduling in visits where possible. Given the difficulties about meeting residents in person, you may wish to consider a leader’s communications strategy which for example could include Q+A sessions, articles in the local press and radio, open evenings, online briefings, etc.

Leaders will also want to build and foster new relationships and partnerships. These have been widened and enhanced during the COVID-19 pandemic so it is worth reviewing your plans.

Internally, there will be work to do to build a cohesive and effective cabinet, appointments to committees and outside bodies, and an induction plan for all new councillors. Please contact your principal adviser if you would like some support.

Below is a helpful checklist for you:

Political

  • Familiarise yourself with any contenders to be the new leader; understand their manifesto commitments and how they differ eg strengths, development areas etc
     
  • Anticipate a cabinet reshuffle new cabinet to be presented at the next council. 
    Leader will need to meet urgently with his/her group plus existing/new cabinet members.
     
  • In a no overall control situation, the leader will want to consider a more inclusive cross-party working style and mechanisms to facilitate closer working.

Senior management team/staff

  • Immediate priority must be to build a strong and positive relationship with the new leader. Priority meeting with chief executive as soon as possible after announcement and daily meetings/catch ups. Understand the latest coronavirus position, funding implications, and priorities of new leader.
     
  • Need to ascertain priorities (beyond manifesto commitments) and identify any quick wins to signal to new world, plus changes to strategic/business plans. Budget will have been set in February but might want an immediate review.
     
  • Meetings with other senior teams scheduled – priority to depend on the leader’s own stated priorities. Important to build trust and positive relationships from the start. On a practical note – structure these meetings according to how the leader works – find out their preferred style and be aware of Zoom fatigue.

Staff

  • Message to all staff from leader on the intranet. With staff working remotely, consider the opportunities for connecting with staff utilising other mechanisms such as Zoom/Facebook Live.

Support arrangements

  • Clarify immediately how the leader intends to work (eg balance between council and other outside commitments); how they prefer to communicate and use of virtual tools etc; what support arrangements are needed especially as preferences may have changed over the last year.
     
  • Ensure the priorities of the new leader(s) are understood consider ways of helping them deliver these. Offer to meet members of the group or groups in the new administration. It can be an opportunity to bring them up to speed on the key issues and provide advice.
     
  • Support to co-ordinate group leader and council leader roles/arrangements to avoid fragmentation and rebuild group.
     
  • Allocate top Executive Assistant (EA) to organise everything and be first point of contact plus a PA/diary manager.
     
  • Schedule a short meeting with EA every morning and evening plus others as the leader requires. Involve PA.
     
  • Make sure all the basics are in place diary set up, headed paper, email signatures, business cards. Have all possible templates ready to go. 
     
  • Prepare an information pack in advance: have information and guidance on hand as soon as it is needed, such as details of the early decisions members will have to take, the cabinet or committee structure and appointments to external organisations.
     
  • Regularly review how things are working: particularly in terms of how effectively senior officers, group leaders are communicating with each other. Are the current systems adopted throughout the pandemic working well or is there a need to modify them, for example as things change throughout the course of the pandemic recovery and people are able to work in the council building.

Other relationships

  • Priority briefings with local/national media (LGA Comms can support) and ongoing media relationships.
     
  • Priority meetings. Consider Robert Jenrick phone call. LGA group leader.
     
  • Build relationships with other regional councils and key partners, particularly if in the Combined authority area, and colleagues in the NHS, as well as business organisations and charities.

External support

  • In-house and external LGA training – consider how external support can complement that which is delivered by the council.
     
  • LGA will put in immediate 1:1 support mentor(s) allocated will depend on who is the new leader.
     
  • Change of control support – LGA can provide up to five days of free member peer support for all councils undergoing a change of control.
     
  • Consider the benefits of LGA support for leader including appropriate programmes such as the Leadership Academy. Development support for new cabinet members including our Leadership Essentials programmes including: being an effective cabinet member; finance; audit committee; and getting your message across.
     
  • Communications team (via LGA David Holdstock and team) to arrange early media training.
     
  • The LGA can also support the development and delivery of a structured longer term top team development programme – using both remote and on-site activity depending on the timeframes. A facilitated planning event can be arranged to share individual and collective ideas for the development programme. This may include a combination of:
  1. Facilitated member workshops/away days to build relationships;
     
  2. Undertaking an exercise to gain a broad understanding of the current levels of knowledge/confidence around key skills areas within the Political Skills Framework
  • And confidential 1:1 interviews to identify training and development needs of cabinet members.

Other issues

  • Anything relevant to your council which requires immediate attention e.g. local plan, devolution deal, levelling up funding.