Your background is in the financial industry – what was it that attracted you to trading standards?
I was a career banker for 35 years – during that time I’ve been through an immense experience of change, both from a personal and organisational perspective.
I was really looking for a role that gave job satisfaction. It links to my desire to help people and organisations, and impart some of the knowledge that I’ve gained during my career under the guises of operational management, human resources and strategic communications.
The biggest part though was a desire to lead people through change and get the best out of them. I’m a keen youth football coach in my spare time, and I suppose that’s part and parcel of the same thing – I have a real passion for helping people to develop and achieve.
CTSI were looking for someone who would complement all of their experience from an operations perspective, but also from a commercial viewpoint.
I’ve learnt a lot from some excellent managers and leaders through the years, and I wanted to take the opportunity to pass that on.
What are your key priorities in the role?
I’ve always approached managing businesses through people, so I started by spending time with the various managers and their teams in informal sessions to ensure that they saw me as someone they can engage and open up with. What that told me was that we’ve got some fantastic people doing a great job, but in difficult circumstances.
From an operational process perspective, we’re over-reliant on some people’s knowledge and experience, so our processes are running some risks around that. Also, when you look at whether you can repeat those processes and scale them up, those processes aren’t robust enough.
The second thing I did was to look at the purpose of the Institute across the profession. There are so many influences on how we operate – central and local government, the members, the Council and the Board. I’m focusing on engagement, both from an internal staffing and an external key stakeholder perspective. The two need to go hand-in-hand so we can have a more robust operational model that can be agile enough to meet business needs and the needs of those within the profession.
What are the main challenges facing the profession – and how do you think they should best be addressed?
People don’t always see the benefit of trading standards, and in a period of austerity less money goes towards it. We have to cover around 257 laws from a trading standards perspective, and the attention tends to go towards whatever ends up in the political or media arena around things like health and safety, and food standards – obviously they’re important, and they’re the things that people immediately recognise, whereas trading standards is far, far more than that.
The profession hasn’t kept pace with external organisations or the economic agenda that we’re working in. To use a real, practical example: we know that there are quite a number of garages that manipulate their petrol pump gauges. If we automated all of that, and we could monitor it centrally, that closes a gap – but you need to think differently. When I’ve raised that sort of question with some people in trading standards they’ve said ‘no, you really need to go on site for these things’. I think there is a cultural issue around how businesses function now, and how trading standards meets their needs compared to how it was previously done.
Do you think there’s a greater need to share knowledge and expertise between different areas of trading standards that have been traditionally treated as separate, but which are actually quite closely related?
Yes – in terms of collaborations between all the different stakeholders, where you end up with central government dispersing funds to different local authorities, some local authorities will fund what they see as the priorities, and be unable to allocate resources to meet all the trading standards risks on their patch, so they may look to us to help them. It depends on the view of the local authority – some would want to work with us, but some would see us as a threat to their income streams and how they utilise their funds. So that’s a relationship that can be quite fractious.
Once you overlay that with the political agenda of central government – Brexit being an example – we’ve got to ensure that what we do is in line with our own policy, and isn’t manipulated by the political agenda.
There’s a real opportunity to align some of our relationships so that we’re working more collaboratively – we need to create more reciprocal relationships.
So how do you go about changing people’s mindsets around these issues?
Change management is very close to my heart. Because I don’t have a background in trading standards, I can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. I can help lead change within CTSI, in the local authorities and different branches, and help them articulate what their vision for the future is like and start to lead that strategic roadmap to get there.
It’s also necessary to engage with people from a hearts-and-minds perspective so that I can help them acknowledge that change is required – and that could be a real stumbling block in a profession that’s steeped with history and tradition.
Internally we need to automate more of our processes – we’re not a large organisation that can drive big transformational programmes from a technology point of view, so it’s got to be agile and cost-effective. However, that can then start to lead us towards culturally moving into a different space, even in how we engage with our members. Once you become more technology-focused internally, you open up the opportunity to think externally about how technology can help everyone. It’s a cultural journey again, but it’s one that we need to go on.