Merton Council is responsible for over 210,000 residents in south-west London, providing a variety of services and support including education, housing, social services, local planning and arts and leisure services. Kate has worked for the Borough as Head of Policy, Strategy and Partnerships since 2010 and leads on policy development for the council, strengthening relationships with the local voluntary and community sector, and working with organisations such as the police, NHS, housing associations and voluntary groups.
"I was looking to progress in my career and so in 2005 I moved to Merton Council, an outer London unitary council, as Scrutiny Manager, to reform their scrutiny function to support the development of their good governance arrangements. I worked with councillors and senior managers to review the service, iron out problem areas and introduce best practice, including greater involvement of local people in challenging the way local public services are run. I am really proud of this work, which put in place a strong system that was valued by the councillors, and recognised nationally as best practice. In 2009/10 an independent evaluation carried out by Professor Steve Leach of De Montfort University, found the Merton scrutiny function to be 'among the best in the country'. I became Head of Stronger Communities in 2008 which added responsibility for leading on the community cohesion, equalities and community engagement agendas to my portfolio. In 2010 I was appointed as Head of Policy, Strategy and Partnerships, which means I lead on policy development, our work with the local voluntary and community sector, working in partnership with organisations such as the police, NHS, housing associations, fire, business plus, and policy on community cohesion and equalities.
I loved working at the European Parliament but wanted to work more at a local level where I could see the impact of what I did. Working in local government offers the potential to make a real and lasting impact on the lives of local people – some of those I talk to on the phone or by email I also bump into in the street. I think local government has an old fashioned reputation for being dull, with most people’s knowledge of what local authorities do being limited to knowing who collects their bins. However, the range of policy areas you can work on is vast, from where people live and what type of housing they live in, how they get to and from work, their choices for educating their children, how vulnerable people are supported to live their lives, etc. Councils have always had to be innovative to ensure that the public money that funds their work goes as far as it can. The financial crisis has meant that professionals in local government have had to draw on these skills more and more. It’s a privilege to be part of responding to these huge challenges.
I am about to lead a project to work with local people and partners to identify Merton’s local priorities for the next 10 years. We’ll be looking at the longer term vision for the Borough and making sure it is locally driven. As our resources dwindle we have to make really tough decisions about what services we can deliver and in what way. These decisions need to reflect what local people want and need. We also want to increase volunteering in Merton, particularly as a means of supporting people back into work. I’m also organising a national conference in the autumn to showcase innovation in Merton as a result of partnership working."