Opportunities Not Challenges


December is upon us again and Christmas will soon be here, although it arrived in the shops some time ago. 2016 has been an eventful year. We have seen the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme which had such a devastating impact on our area and which puts into perspective the problems and challenges we face today. We have also seen unexpected developments such as the success of the Brexit campaign and, over the pond, the election of Donald Trump. While some win, others lose and none more so than the opinion pollsters who managed to call everything wrong! At least we can take comfort from knowing that both here and in the US, ballots can go against the ‘establishment’ and the result not be known until after the count – giving confidence that they are free and fair.

Now, as we look towards 2017, there are some things we know and some things we don’t know. We do know that public finances will remain tight and that this will necessarily have an impact on the services which can be provided. We also know that finding new and innovative ways of providing services and of helping communities to help themselves will be of increasing importance. We don’t know the answer to the ‘what-if’ questions – what if this had happened or what if that had been done differently? What if the grass was greener etc?

Another thing we have learnt from 2016 is that there is a level of dissatisfaction with the business as usual approach, that institutional inertia which usually means doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Local government is not immune and those of us who have worked in the private sector often feel frustrated by the process-driven approach whereby following the ‘correct procedure’ is seen as more important than the outcome.

When in 1916 our forefathers looked forward to the coming year they could not have imagined that the further horrors of Passchendaele and the Third Battle of Ypres lay ahead. Although they might have started to wonder if doing things the way they had always been done was actually the best way forward. Thankfully and despite the best efforts of some doom-mongers in the media, we know that we do not face the same existential threats. Some challenges will arise, and not even opinion pollsters could fail to predict that, but so will opportunities. The important thing is to seize those opportunities and make the most of them but please, let us have no more “…but we have always done it this way….” as an excuse for inaction. In the meantime, if the grass does look greener it is probably because we are not cutting it as often!

First published in the Barnsley Chronicle - Penistone Living - December 2016