Hitting the ground running before lockdown
Meet Mannie Ketley. She gets the promotion to the top job at Rugby Borough Council on the 9th March – after working her way up over fifteen years and six jobs – then a few weeks later the Country is in lockdown. West Midlands Employers caught up with her to find out what it’s been like stepping up at this time and what life post Covid 19 might be like for councils – dubbed the “new normal”.
What’s it been like getting promoted into the top job at the same time as the pandemic?
It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions; the initial excitement of being offered the role, but real apprehension having seen what was happening around the world. It’s been really sobering with the reality of the tragic stories that we are hearing in our own Country and an overriding sense of making sure that we focus on doing what we need to do to keep our resident and business communities and our employees safe.
I’ve been sharing the leadership with the current postholder; there was always going to be a three-month handover and there’s so much to do, and enough to share. We are working well together.
What’s the strength of local government at this time?
Our role is to meet the needs of the public – we have always been here for people. But usually the large majority of services we provide take place in the background and therefore people don’t often notice what we do. Also, many people never need to use our services directly – that’s all changed with lockdown.
With the instruction to work from home, people started to see what we do beyond sending out the bills and picking up the bins. They saw us distributing food parcels to people, they saw us getting out the grants to our businesses, we became much more visible to people.
The windows of the Town Hall are full of messages of thanks from members of the public, particularly for our refuse team; it’s a level of gratitude we’ve not experienced before and we’re all really touched by it.
How have the team responded at Rugby?
They have been amazing! Everyone has made a key contribution, those who remained in the substantive roles have really pulled the stops out, those who have been redeployed to new roles have risen to the challenge. Without such dedication, success would just not be possible. I’m hugely grateful and so proud of everyone.
For many it’s been a brilliant reminder of why we do what we do – to make a difference. It’s really reinvigorated people and their sense of purpose. Staff have been on the end of the phone lines directly with residents, many of whom are usually back office and have never had that connection with the customer. We’ve been used to getting feedback when we get it wrong – like complaints – but now it’s all compliments. It’s been a real eye opener especially for our trainees and apprenticeships because they’ve seen more value in this sector.
And what about the money – will you get it back from the Government?
We will continue to provide the evidence to Government showing the impact the pandemic has had on us. That’s both the cost of dealing with the pandemic but also the loss of income we are experiencing across many of our services. This impact has hit us at a time when we were already working on our financial strategies in readiness for the fair funding review, the changes to business rates and new homes so this has just amplified the problem.
What do you think the recovery will look like – ‘the new normal’ as some are calling it?
We will never go back to how it was. Most organisations will be a different shape and size. Home working is certainly here to stay, we’ve proved we can be productive at home. And digital is too – people can and will access services online.
Let’s also keep our flexibility. I became the section 151 officer (i.e. in charge of the money) at the same time as having my child – that was five years ago. I still really appreciate being able to fit my job around my family, as do many of our staff. Has the pandemic taught us more about work life balance? I think so, even though we are probably more available than ever before – 9-5 really doesn’t exist.
I want to keep all the community spirit that’s been so much more evident at this time. And the sense of local we’ve all experienced in the lockdown too – like spending in our very local shops. We need to rebuild our local economies so keeping that spend local will be crucial.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
When I was a trainee accountant my manager was all about sharing her knowledge and being really open with everything. It’s made me trust people to get on and deliver, we can’t and don’t want to micromanage people. I’ve worked up the ranks as my managers have allowed me the freedoms and I try and work with everyone like that now.
What do you do to relax?
I’m all about the family time we have together. I’m really lucky that my husband has been able to take on the home schooling role to our five year old. I love that we can have our mealtimes together. When we go out as a family to walk our dog, that’s my really precious time. I’ve actually enjoyed aspects of the lockdown and being local. It’s made me appreciate what I have.