- What do you do and where do you come from?
I’m originally from the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, but moved to Derbyshire in December 2012.
I have 25 years experience in local government, having started as an apprentice in the Chief Executive’s Office of Lancashire County Council on 2 September 1991.
I’m Derby City Council’s most senior legal officer and it’s my responsibility to ensure that the decisions that the authority takes are legal, constitutional and transparent.
As Director of Governance, I’m directly responsible for a wide range of service areas from Legal and Democratic Services to Elections, Internal Audit and Human Resources. I’m also the Returning Officer for any elections that are held in the city.
But my role is also very corporate in its outlook too – I’m often required to provide advice to officers across all service areas to ensure principles of good governance are upheld.
- How did you end up in your current role?
I started out as an apprentice in Committee Services at the age of 18, and then took a Higher National Diploma in public administration before training as a legal executive and ultimately qualified as a solicitor in 2003.
I gained all my legal qualifications through distance and part-time learning at what is now the University of Central Lancashire, while working full-time for the County Council. Although it was really hard work balancing my studies and working life, it was a great way to learn about how local government works.
I was transferred to Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council before it gained unitary status in 1997, where I eventually became the Head of Legal Services. I joined Derby City Council in January 2013 as the Director of Legal and Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, before taking up my current role as Director of Governance three years later.
- What was your legal specialism?
I specialised in very complex child protection and social care cases, which could be emotionally challenging although also very worthwhile work.
Protecting vulnerable children and adults is, in my view, one of the most important services the Council provides; but to many people the work carried out every day by hugely skilled and dedicated social workers and legal officers goes largely unnoticed. It was very rewarding to be involved in that process.
- What’s the best thing about your job?
It sounds clichéd, but the best thing about my job is the people I work with. In all the services I’m responsible for, there is a great sense of camaraderie and team spirit, despite the challenging times we’re in. It makes it easy to come to work in the mornings.
What is more, I have a great support network around me from the Chief Executive and other Senior Officers, so I know that no matter what the situation, there’s always someone around to provide advice.
I also think we are very lucky to work in a building like the Council House. It’s a fantastic, modern space that really improves the way we work together. It’s a huge improvement on some of the Council offices I’ve worked in previously.
- And what’s the most challenging aspect of your role?
I can be busy from 8am through to a meeting of Council that might not finish until 10pm, so that can be exhausting. Some days, events are unfolding quicker than you have a chance to respond, so the work quickly builds up.
- What’s it like being responsible for delivering an election?
It’s a huge challenge, but exciting at the same time as | am at the very centre of the democratic process and that requires an enormous amount of coordination.
I’m the Returning Officer for three Parliamentary constituencies and have previously acted as the Police Area Returning Officer for Derbyshire, which comes with a lot of responsibility.
For a few weeks almost every year, people from across different services drop what they’re doing and switch to election mode. It takes a vast amount of organisation and I have a great team pulling it all together.
At the General Election in 2015, we employed more than 1200 staff to deliver the election in Derby, from presiding officers at polling stations across the three constituencies, to count assistants working throughout the night.
In Derby North, the two candidates were separated by just 41 votes making it the second most marginal seat in the country. We had three recounts on the night, so when there is so much riding on the outcome that can be a really tense situation.
- What items can’t you live without?
My colleagues know that I’m never far from my notebook and pencil – I think it’s my legal training that means I’m always taking notes. If I’m in meetings all day, they help me to keep on top of everything when I do get a moment to catch up.
- How do you spend your free time?
I am an outdoors person and spend my free time either getting to know Derbyshire, gardening, baking or going to the gym. When I was younger I always said I wanted to be a Home Economics Teacher, so how I ended up doing what I do now is beyond me!
- What message would you give to a young apprentice starting with the Council today?
I’d like to be able to show people that with hard work anything is possible. I started out as an 18 year old apprentice myself and gained all my qualifications while working full time in local government. I want those starting their careers to make the most of the opportunities available to them.
We’re a big organisation that provides a diverse range of services so there’s a role here to suit everyone. I want to help people working in the Governance Directorate achieve the very best they can and be proud of their contribution.