September 23, 2021

Newyddion Cymru Ar-Lein : Wales News Online

Newyddion Lleol a Chenedlaethol Cymru – Local and National News for Wales

Cricketing CEO says he’s more than just a ‘safe pair of hands’

The new cricket-mad chief executive of Denbighshire council maintains he’s not just a “safe pair of hands” after being elevated up the batting order into the top job.

Graham Boase was recently installed in the county’s top public administration role and he spoke exclusively to the Local Democracy Reporting Service about what direction he thinks the council should move in post-Covid.

His rise from Rhuddlan borough council’s senior planner to heading up the 3,500-strong local authority has taken 27 years of graft, so he’s not riding in with a plan to radically change the organisation.

However fractured relationships between the former chief executive and elected members and the need for a council to redefine how staff work after unprecedented lockdown mean he’s got his work cut out.

Some councillors described him as a safe pair of hands, a suitable epithet if you’re a cricketer, but is it how he would describe himself?

He said: “As the local, loyal person, in that regard, it’s a safe pair of hands because you know what you are getting, unless I have a complete character change.

“But the type of character I am I will challenge myself and my leadership team to make progress and make improvements.”

The team ethic runs deeply through the conversation which is unsurprising as his first love outside work, aside obviously from his family, is cricket.

He’s a qualified coach, played locally for a number of years (winning the North Wales Premier League with Llandudno) and still has the occasional knock for Conwy at the respectable age of 56.

When it’s suggested the title of the profile should be “27 not-out” he quipped: “That would be my top score for a few years – I will take that.”

Mr Boase says if Denbighshire’s public is to get the services he feels they deserve, it will only come if there’s a “one organisation” approach to what the council does.

He says he wants to see an end to “silo” working, where departments only concern themselves with their own issues, and wants everyone to realise they work as part of the same organisation with the same goal – providing services to the public.

His predecessor Judith Greenhalgh left in April, leaving behind accusations there was a disconnect between senior management and elected members.

Mr Boase, as a corporate director, was a part of that management team so it was fair to ask if he felt “frustrated” during her tenure.

“I don’t think frustration is the word,” he said. “You don’t always necessarily agree and you see some issues that could be done differently.

“You put that into the ring and some people have to make decisions and you respect that don’t you – even if sometimes it goes a different way.

“I wouldn’t say I was frustrated about that because I was part of the team.”

His parents moved from the Wirral to run a hotel in Llandudno when he was five and he passed his A-levels at Ysgol John Bright in the town.

After graduating geography at Liverpool University he was drawn to London – “there wasn’t many jobs round here in the 80s” – where he got a job with Waltham Forest local authority as a trainee planner.

From there he moved to the Borough of Havering, Essex, became a qualified planner and moved to a job as senior planner with Rhuddlan borough council in 1994 – despite there being a local government reorganisation in the pipeline.

He said: “It was a chance to come home and I wasn’t sure I would ever get the chance again at that level.”

He got a more senior post when Denbighshire council was formed in 1996 and in 2003 was made head of planning a public protection.

He was then elevated into a corporate director role in 2017 and saw chief executives come and go, from Ian Miller who resigned amid accusations of poor leadership, to Mohammed Mehmet and then Judith Greehalgh.

He thought long and hard about taking on the role because of the scrutiny and public facing nature of the job.

However he said he didn’t want someone else to come in “who couldn’t do the job as well as I could”  and was happy for the selection panel to make that decision on whether they agreed.

He added: “I can front up, I can do the job – I’ve fronted up in every single job I’ve done in my life.

“I will front up if I can make a contribution but if people don’t think that then that’s fair enough.

“But I know what the job entails and I’m prepared to take that on.”

Mr Boase says there are five principles he wants to instil in the organisation during his tenure.

He wants the culture to be right in the organisation, built on unity, respect, integrity and pride, with “respect for the people who work for us and respect for the public”.

He wants to work more closely with the community, while also challenging the public to have leadership too.

He said: “Yes we have social services but what will the community do to help?”

He said an example was the work done by volunteers bolstering care services and doing community work throughout the pandemic.

Another of the principles was being clear about what the public can expect from its council and making sure it performs to the levels expected.

“We need to be really clear about how they can judge us,” he explained.

He also said accepted part of that was speaking in a language the public recognise and making information more accessible.

Supporting the staff “family” and making sure they get the development they need is another milestone of his.

He said: “We have to speak to management and staff about the new normal.

“I know what it isn’t – it’s not what we had before the start of the pandemic and it’s not what we have currently got.

“There’s some hybrid in the middle, maximising the good things.”

Finally officer and elected member relationships need to be “strong”.

He said: “There might be disagreements but things work much smoother and better where those relationships are strong.

“I’m not saying these things are broken but I think my role is make sure we take on these five principles.”

He said the public generally “don’t care” as long as services are provided as they should but getting things right and acting as one organisation behind the scenes will ensure that happens.

There’s no doubt Mr Boase is relishing the role and he’s proud to be leading the authority and he made it clear he understands his responsibility to the public and his staff.

He said: “It’s a privilege to do this role isn’t it? I’m excited about the responsibility and the chance to make Denbighshire a better place.”

For his legacy he would like people to think he was “clear, strong and fair” and he’d left the council with a “strong management team which is working together”.

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