November 11, 2016

My book of the month is ‘The Wake’ by Per Petterson. I discovered this excellent Norwegian writer when I was looking for something different to read during a few days break. If you like the atmosphere of those BBC4 series from Sweden and Denmark then you’ll enjoy these books. Unfortunately only three of his books have been translated into English.

Sometimes at work, before we start a training course or a large meeting, we have to explain the safety procedures in case the alarm goes off. During half term we had a few days away and in our hotel room there was a safety note on the wall. It said that in the event of a fire we should wet the towels and place them under the door and then go out onto the balcony and sing! I wondered how many times I’ve made similar mistakes trying to speak Welsh. Of course it didn’t really matter that there was a mistake in the note. We knew what it meant and that’s the point about learning a new language – you need to be able to have a laugh at your mistakes and keep trying.

We have had the local government financial settlement for 2017/18. For Denbighshire the position is an increase of 0.5%, which is challenging because our budget needs to increase by nearly 3% in order to fund increasing pressures like pay, energy, increasing numbers in schools and growing demand for social care. However, the settlement is better than we’d feared and planned for. I’m really pleased that we have been able to cover this gap through effective management of resources, efficiencies and modernisation so that there is no need to consider deep cuts to valued services next year. No one in local government knows what the financial challenges for councils will be after 2018/19 because in Wales local government is only given budget information one year at a time, but we do know that Denbighshire will be in a strong position to respond to new challenges.

November 9, 2016

My book of the month is ‘High Dive’ by Jonathan Lee. This novel is a re-imagining of the Brighton bombing. The book isn’t about the bombing itself or about politics but it’s about a young IRA explosives expert, the deputy hotel manager and his teenage daughter and now they are affected by the events. Very cleverly done.

We went to see ‘No Mans Land’ by Harold Pinter at the the Wyndhams Theatre. Ian McKellen and Patrick Steward were superb.

We didn’t have swimming classes when I was in primary school in Cyprus so I learned to swim by watching others swim in the sea. Over the years I’ve ‘refined’ my ‘technique’ but I’ve always known that I wasn’t particularly good and could do with some formal learning. Finally, this September, I decided to attend proper classes with Denbighshire Leisure Services to improve my technique. The first class was beyond embarrassing; I wouldn’t have blamed the coach if she’d asked me to quietly leave! Basically, I was doing everything wrong. But the coach was excellent and she kept encouraging me and I’m now improving. Like all bad habits, it’s still easier to do it wrong than to do it right but I’m determined to go through this phase.

The council has started its planning for the five years following the local elections next May. Key to this is our ‘county conversations’, which are designed to engage both the public and our staff about future priorities. I am playing my full part in this process and I have written a paper called ‘Shaping the Future’, setting out how I see the future and I have been presenting this to groups of managers and elected members. This is my contribution to the ‘county conversation’. I have recently received an update on how these conversations are progressing and was really pleased with some of the innovative ideas from the public and staff. I am expecting the council to have a pretty good idea of its next set of priorities by May next year so that the newly elected members may be presented with clear choices very early in order to save months working out the new council’s priorities.