We interviewed Chief Executive of Hutt City Council Jo Miller who has recently moved to Lower Hutt from Yorkshire in England where she was the Chief Executive of the Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council since 2012 - one of the most high profile government jobs in the UK. Jo has spent over 20 years working in local and regional government organisations and has experience working locally, regionally and nationally in the UK, in the public, private and voluntary sectors.
In 2017 the Local Government Chronicle named her the third most influential person in local government in the UK. She has an Honours degree in Law and worked as a solicitor earlier in her career.
Find out all about Jo’s inspiring vision for ‘the Hutt’, what she enjoys most about working in local government and much more:
Tell us about your career – what do you do prior to being CE at Hutt City Council?
I’ve had a career spanning over 25 years. I qualified as a lawyer and have predominately worked in the public sector though I had a stint in the private sector as a partner in a legal firm. I started in legal roles, moved up and gradually been given more responsibility. The reason I do what I do, my purpose, is to make people and places the best they can be by joining up services and systems, and placing people at the heart of the planning.
What differences have you noticed so far between local government in NZ compared to the UK?
Yes - massive differences – there’s a big difference in function – in the UK I ran an authority that had social services functions around children and adults which we don’t have here. The other difference is that I actually have a lot more freedom as a CE here than I would have done in the UK as the employer of all staff responsible for all the operations of the council.
What are your priorities for the role?
It’s election time which in some ways is a great time to start and look at where we’re at. The Hutt is growing and it’s really important that all of its people benefit from that growth. My observation is that it’s time for the new Long Term Plan to focus on what really needs to shift to engage communities, working alongside businesses, communities and other organisations. There is great opportunity to settle shared ambitions and co-produce future plans.
There’s some work to do around culture, and some work around strategic planning frameworks to make sure we have clear priorities, resources in place, and can show the impact of what we’re doing. It’s also time to digitise services and of course respond to the climate change challenge.
One challenge will be to look at the nature of change over the next 10 years, and what that means for our financial plan, and the future of service provision.
Why are professional organisations like SOLGM important for the sector?
I was a member of SOLACE which is the equivalent membership organisation in the UK.
I think membership organisations are invaluable for sharing learning, investing in us as professionals around our own leadership function and muscle so that we can train that muscle and flex it. It’s a great place to share and learn - I’m all for it.
One of the first jobs as a leader is to grow other leaders, and organisations such as SOLGM can really help with that task. I was delighted to be a day one member of SOLGM. I brought a set of skills from the UK and I’m looking forward to growing alongside other new chief executives as I go through my own learning journey here.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing local government at the moment?
I think that there are forces at play in the world around nationalism, populism and protectionism.
I think we’ve really got to look at our communities, in particular things like the housing crisis, technological change, and ecological change in terms of climate. We need look at what our places need to be like in the future and how we best engage all the players around the table in meeting those plans. I think that way of working and resonating with others will be really important.
Working with central government is important. So we can’t say some things are the responsibility of central government and some things are us in local government. We’ve got to look at how we will work together to ensure our places are the best they can be. How can we say that homelessness is a central government issue? They are our people. We have to work together to find solutions.
What do you enjoy most about working in local government?
I might be a CE, but I am a public servant first and that’s very much part of my ethos.
It’s an enormous privilege to be able to work to make places and people the best they can be. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also a huge privilege.
Personally, I get a huge buzz out of seeing talent thrive.
When I see organisations become more diverse, increase in their equity and see individuals get on with it, it’s just the best buzz ever!
What do you think of the Hutt so far?
I have been enormously grateful and overwhelmed by the sense of welcome I’ve had. Literally from the moment I stepped off the plane I’ve felt welcomed home and that’s very special.
There’s lots to build on here and I think people are ready for that change and I’m really excited about that and about getting on with it. In the meantime, I’ve been a one-woman economic boom as I go about furnishing a new rental and getting all the things I need to get a house up and running in a new continent!
Want to hear more from Jo Miller?
Jo will be speaking at our upcoming SOLGM Summit in Napier on 26 and 27 September on the role of collaborative leadership and importance of community cohesion, a key issue for local authorities in the UK. As former Chief Executive at Doncaster she brought exceptional growth and optimism to a previously depressed town described by The Local Government Chronicle as having "been dragged up from the depths of despair to something to be proud of."
Find out more about the SOLGM Summit at solgm.org.nz/Summit19