Ruling the kingdom
For Grimmond, taking on the top job at Scotland’s third largest local authority is an opportunity to build on the work which has previously been done to make the region a great place in which to live and work. With a mix of industry, history and culture, the Kingdom of Fife is a diverse and interesting place, however, it also has its share of problems and Grimmond is aware that the road ahead will not be smooth.
“I recognise the sense of responsibility that comes with leading and managing the third biggest council in Scotland,” he tells Holyrood as he prepares to take on the chief executive role this week. “We deliver over 900 different services to over 360,000 people in Fife, it is a billion-pound business but they are a range of services which we deliver well and our customer feedback is very high for the council as a whole.”
Grimmond, who was previously executive director of environment, enterprise and communities, has been with the organisation since 2005, when he joined as head of community services before being promoted to executive director, housing and communities.Previously he has held posts at Dundee City and Aberdeenshire Councils.
Fife Council leader Alex Rowley said: “I’m delighted to announce Steve Grimmond’s appointment and we look forward to working with him to deliver the best possible services for the people of Fife. This is an extremely important appointment to head up the management of such a large and complex organisation, at a time when we face unprecedented levels of change and financial challenge.” Grimmond said he was “incredibly proud” to have the opportunity to lead Fife Council.
He added: “Fife has a quiet confidence, an ambition and an optimism and I share those feelings in coming into the job and the role. I am optimistic about what we can achieve in the future and I’m quietly confident that I can make a positive contribution to that.
“The richness and diversity is the key factor which attracts me to Fife and attracts lots of people to Fife. It is a richness and diversity both in terms of its people, economy and its heritage. Fife now is not so secret a tourist destination, we’re probably the most popular destination for coastal, countryside and natural tourism. We’ve seen a growth in tourism of about 14 per cent in the past couple of years in Fife.
“Fife has a heritage of being the ancient home of the kings, then you have Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy, the homes of Carnegie and Adam Smith, and some of the most beautiful countryside and coastline. This all provides a real sense of diversity and richness. The other fascinating thing about Fife is the diversity of our economy and a sense we’ve been revitalising and re-establishing the economic focus in Fife over a period of time from heavy manufacturing, ship building and mining to a continuing focus on manufacturing in relation to energy and renewables. We are refocusing those traditional skills in a way which can be deployed in new and different ways but alongside that, we are seeing a rise in high tech, R&D and financial services and a sense that we are trying to build on Fife’s strengths going forward.”
In terms of challenges, Grimmond believes tackling inequalities is one of the council’s biggest tasks. He said this is a “significant and profound challenge” in parts of Fife. He added: “There’s an almost 10-year difference in life expectation depending on where you stay in parts of the region. In some of our communities, 60 per cent of children are living in income poverty so there’s a significant issue to address. There’s a strong focus both in our community plan and our council plan in looking to galvanise the resources of the entire authority and our public sector partners to focus on how we can make a difference to that and recognising that it’s a huge challenge, not just in Fife but nationally. It’s important that we look at how we spend every pound in a way which can make a bigger difference, whether that’s through a greater focus on early years intervention or education.”
Grimmond also said that growing Fife’s economy is key to tackling inequality.
“Following the financial collapse in 2008, we lost a significant number of jobs and that needs to be a particular area of focus – building the local economy, ensuring that our young people have the skills and expertise to take advantage of those opportunities, whether it’s in renewables or other areas of the economy.
“There’s a third challenge for me which is around the importance of place and local communities across Fife and how we as a local authority, working with our local partners, increasingly focus on those local communities and look to see how we can better support and nurture their growth. We’re looking at helping local communities to help themselves as we move forward,” he says. As with most of the public sector right now, Fife is very much focused on partnership working. Grimmond says looking closely at how Fife can better integrate provision across the public sector partners, how the region can join up planning in relation to service delivery is going to be key to successfully providing services and meeting the growing needs of its communities at a time when there is a reducing level of resource.
He added: “Health and social care integration is the most evident opportunity to look at reinventing how we deliver a range of services to better support people in our communities and as an exemplar of how we deliver this more efficiently, more effectively and within an available level of resource.
“We’re developing work around local community planning which is a real attempt to work more locally. In Fife there are seven area committees and the focus for me is trying to establish what are the real priorities within these local communities, what are the things that people living in these communities see as important. Whether that’s in relation to developing town centres, or about the nature of local services which are delivered and whether they’re delivered at a quality and frequency which is meeting people’s needs. We do need a genuine dialogue with local communities about what is the nature and purpose of local government, what are the things we should be delivering at a time when we are going to need to prioritise within the resources we’ve got. It’s important we are prioritising the things that the people we serve see as important.
“There’s also an opportunity to move from a paternalism in local government provision to one where we’re working more directly in partnership with local communities and they are informing and directing the nature of their services.”
Grimmond is confident Fife can manage the challenges that lie ahead. He said: “There’s no doubt that the challenge ahead is going to be tougher, in Fife we estimate that we’re going to have to reduce our expenditure by about £1 million in the next four years, however, we’ll still be investing something in the order of three-quarters of a billion pounds a year, even after that reduction and I think the challenge is actually to be more ambitious in our thinking, going forward, so we can both reform the way in which services are delivered within that financial envelope, meet the priorities which people see as important locally and at the same time, reduce those costs reasonably rapidly. By being ambitious, creative and confident about how we embark upon that, we can succeed.”