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‘This is a great place to live and work’
8:00am Monday 16th December 2013 in News
CHESHIRE East Council’s new chief executive spoke to the Guardian about his aims and ambitions for the borough.
Mike Suarez joined Cheshire East in August after leaving as finance director at Lambeth Council in London.
His background is in local authorities but he’s also held non-executive director roles in education, an insurance mutual and has a non-executive director role for a UK agency Chadderton Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.
This week he spoke to the Guardian about his vision for the authority.
What was it about this role and about Cheshire that attracted you?
It is a fantastic role. This is the 12th largest unitary authority in the country and it’s got great ambition. It’s made a real connection with the idea that it’s about the economy and making sure that it is successful.
We know Cheshire is a great place to live and work. It’s a great place to live because it’s beautiful – but it’s also about great amenities like great schools and education.
As a workplace we have a predominance of business here and that was very attractive to me, to be part of a large organisation that has a strong vision and understands the importance of the economy and wants to see success here.
Part of what I bring to the role is delivering that vision.
What is your vision for Cheshire East?
The vision comes from the administration and the leader Michael Jones. They are the elected representatives of the community, so my job as chief executive is to make sure that we deliver the vision of the administration and to make sure there’s a focus around delivery.
There’s a focus around making sure that we are a resident-led organisation and are in tune with what residents value and would like and that we’re also doing that for business. It is important to have successful businesses.
We also have a growing visitor economy. We know we have some beautiful places in Cheshire East but we have great retail too. Very often, at weekends, people want to have that whole experience of visiting somewhere and shopping and we’ve got that in our community.
One of the other visions is that it’s important to get it right first time. It is important to me and our members that we’re serving our community and reducing lines of bureaucracy. Also that we’re an open and transparent organisation that is publically accountable to our residents and business.
It’s also important that we offer value for money to our residents n What do you think Cheshire East does well?
In terms of the economy it’s important we work with business, our community, health, education, and our ability and desire to work in partnership has been really impressive. There is an understanding that we’re not an island and that we need to work with our sub-regional contacts in Merseyside, Birmingham and London.
The other really impressive thing about Cheshire East and the north west is the economy.
I’m really proud that we’re making a positive contribution to the UK economy overall and that we have more capacity to be a place that can help the UK be successful. We’ve got a great skills mix here as we look at some of the wonderful businesses we have.
We have some high value areas – centres of fantastic work such as Bentley – that’s really attractive. The organisation and the leadership understand that we have to make sure we’re more sustainable and need to look at prevention rather than just dealing with the causes of issues. That’s very compelling.
My role as chief executive is to make sure we deliver that and make sure we reach the ambitions we want for our community – so that we’re a very successful economy and people are attracted here, stay here, have their education and business success here and make a positive contribution to the community.
Are there any areas which you think need improving?
We need to make sure through a commissioning council that we have a stronger understanding of commissioning for outcomes.
When we commission for outcomes, what that allows us to do is think about innovation, and one of the things that I’m working with the leadership to do is to make sure we’re encouraging innovation and new ideas coming forward.
One of the things I was very pleased to see is ideas coming from staff and the communities that we can run with to improve value for money.
It’s also about being resident and business-led, which means we need to understand our communities and get that data from communities both north and south of the borough, and understand that different communities have different needs and that we’re targeting our resources to make a difference.
I also think there’s something about getting it right first time.
We need to make sure that we improve how our community access us and access information, using things like social media which people are becoming more used to.
That’s not true of all our population, but we have seen that this is more interesting to a number of our residents who want to transact and communicate with us in different ways.
There has been a lot of frustration from Guardian readers about the Local Plan – what are your thoughts?
The local plan, or the core strategy, is a very important document for us because we need to make sure we’re meeting the needs of our community.
Our community is successful and growing and that means our community have need for housing.
We want to make sure that we see sustainable development in those areas that can sustain those populations and see that successfully happen, and to make sure we have the right infrastructure to support that.
We know this is a very beautiful place that attracts people to live and work, and we also need to make sure we get the balance right with other areas that perhaps won’t sustain that development.
We want to make sure we continue to be a very attractive place for inward investment so people can live very successful lives. We also have a maturing population so as an organisation we need to be agile and flexible.
We need to make sure our services can change with the changing population.
One of our success stories is that we’re all living longer and it is important that we, as an organisation, and all of our partner agencies are orientating their public service offer to deal with a maturing population.
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