So, here’s the challenge. Move to a completely new place. Once there, become the leader for around 7,000 staff, some of whom feel deeply upset and destabilised by the biggest structural changes in their place of work for generations.
You need to do this while the pandemic continues, and at a time when expenditure needs to be reduced, and more money raised from the community. Your country’s major breadwinner, financial services, is also under increasing regulatory pressure and international scrutiny. Diversification remains, so far, a dream.
Getting sufficient quality staff is a major issue, and Brexit continues to bring cost, uncertainty and complexity. Our nearest neighbour, the French, don’t like us. It’s about fish.
In a few weeks’ time a planning inspector will rule on the biggest ever capital project undertaken by your country, and one which will push up our debt into the billions.
Oh, and by the way, your predecessor bar one, left under a very dark cloud following a scandal over a second job – that’s what led to you being here.
Did we mention there is a General Election in the offing – the first with completely new electoral boundaries and multiple political parties - so literally all the Ministers you might have met so far, and agreed to work for, could change?
That wasn’t the job description for the new Government of Jersey CEO. But it IS the position facing the successful candidate, Suzanne Wylie, who takes up the biggest job in Jersey today.
I have worked for the public service in Belfast for nearly 34 years. I started as an Environmental Health Officer, which was an excellent grounding for my future roles as it opened my eyes to societal challenges and inequalities, helped me to understand the balance between development and protecting the environment and the built and natural heritage, and also gave me an insight into various business sectors and the support they need to flourish.
I’ve also worked in health promotion, urban regeneration, policy development, and I’ve managed front line customer services, all in the community where I grew up. This has always driven me to innovate, improve services and work collaboratively across sectors to achieve the best outcomes for local people.
In the last eight years I have been the CEO of Belfast City Council.
Pictured: Suzanne Wylie is coming to Jersey from Belfast City Council. (Belfast City Council)
I have led the organisation through a major reform programme which resulted in the local authority leading a long-term multi-agency plan for the City, investing in community and economic assets, rolling out significant regeneration schemes, raising the city’s international profile and developing programmes to address skills shortages, health and educational inequalities.
I passionately believe in the transformational role that excellent public services have in supporting the quality of people’s everyday lives and also the shape and sustainability of the place (be that a city, a town or an island), its economy, environment and communities well into the future. I also believe that public service is a vocation and requires full commitment, empathy, integrity, determination, ability to listen and act to address people’s problems and to identify and go after the right opportunities.
It has been a privilege for me to have been trusted to lead in a public service environment for so many years. I am an advocate for the need for openness and transparency, particularly with how public money is spent and whether it is having the optimal impact. I have always felt motivated by finding solutions to the multifaceted challenges which public sector leaders have to address, and by seeing aspirations followed through into delivery.
Not only did the scale, and breadth, of the role appeal to me, but also the fact that Jersey is a unique place with a real pride in its culture, way of life, and wonderful heritage. The fact that the island is really in charge of its own destiny, given its financial and legislative independence, also has huge appeal as the community has the ability to determine and shape its own future.
It was also clear that there are significant opportunities ahead for Jersey with its economic success, its international reach, its beauty, its geographic position, etc, and this appealed to my passion for capitalising on opportunity for a place and creating a positive narrative and pathway to do this.
I also appreciate that there are many challenges ahead for the island and its government, such as recovering from covid impacts, cost of living, delivering a new hospital and care model, addressing a severe housing supply and affordability issue, the impacts of Brexit, climate change, skills shortages and civil service modernisation.
Pictured: "I appreciate that there are many challenges ahead for the island and its government."
A key part of the role will be to support the government in addressing these challenges and deliver the policies, programmes and changes needed to ensure that the island and the community have the facilities, infrastructure and services they need for a good quality of life both now and in the future, and that this is done in a way which enhances the qualities of the island. I have always been driven to find solutions to complex issues like these, it’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings and keeps me awake at night.
There are actually many similarities.
Northern Ireland has a very distinct identity which is hugely important to its people. Its geography also leads to skills and labour shortages in key sectors, and issues with talent retention of young people. It has a significant financial services industry and is uniquely impacted by Brexit. Belfast punches well above its weight internationally in terms of investment and partnerships and has to navigate across various jurisdictions (Dublin, London, Brussels, US etc.) regularly to protect and enhance its position.
Northern Ireland also has a distinct system of multi-party governance. The CEO role is one which operates at the interface of the Island’s political governance and public service delivery. This is an environment that I thrive in, having delivered significant improvements in services and large-scale projects for a local authority with multiple political parties.
Like Jersey, local community issues are just as important as strategic policy and there is a high level of scrutiny and accountability to local people. Political decisions are achieved through consensus, given the number of parties involved in the power sharing coalition, and this often takes more time and skill than in a majority-led government.
Lastly, I would say that I see a similarity in the spirit of the people and what they hold dear - community, family, way of life, identity, heritage, environment - and all of these need to be understood for good policy making.
I believe that my substantial experience of working in a unique political environment will be essential in developing good relationships with States Assembly Members and in achieving as much consensus as possible on key priorities, investment and delivery timeframes. My experience of working across various jurisdictions will, I am sure, be called upon as we work through the consequences of Brexit for the Island, build our international standing and relationships with our close neighbours.
I have a track record of working with communities, helping them to solve problems and shape their local areas. I love nothing more than seeing an opportunity and breaking down the barriers to realise that opportunity.
Pictured: "I have a track record of working with communities."
In terms of organisational transformation, I have long term experience of delivering change, with the people in the organisation who know their jobs best. This takes time and patience and empathy and I hope I can bring all of those attributes to the public sector change programmes.
I am very hard working. I bring passion to what I do every day and I hope that I instil that passion and sense of purpose in all of those who work with me. I always focus on the impact of what we are doing, testing myself and others as to whether we are making a difference and achieving the outcomes needed. I fundamentally believe in democracy and the primacy of political decision making and direction which means my role is to ensure my teams provide the best advice and that we have the capability and capacity to deliver the government plan.
I pride myself on working in a very collaborative way across sectors and agencies and I will be out engaging regularly with many stakeholders and with communities to make sure we, as a civil service, are listening and also utilising the talent and capability which exists outside government, as well as within it, to achieve our collective goals.
I will start by taking views from politicians and from colleagues at all levels. I believe it would be really beneficial to obtain a fresh view from all, and especially from islanders. The goal posts have moved somewhat in the last two years with the pandemic, and other global challenges including economic shifts, geopolitical changes and a climate emergency.
Progress has been made in some areas, however, I am mindful of the need to build staff morale and reset the modernisation programme to meet today’s challenges and to support colleagues with the day-to-day pressures they face, and also help to clarify expectations and direction of travel.
Pictured: "I am mindful of the need to build staff morale and reset the modernisation programme."
Change of scale does not happen overnight and needs consistent oversight, adjustment, and determination to see it through.
One of the first things I will do in the role is to hear from colleagues through different means, for instance through on-site visits and webinars, as the scale of the public sector is vast and only a minority have desk jobs in Broad Street. I want to hear about their aspirations, their frustrations and concerns, their ideas, and to do this on an ongoing basis.
I, of course, want to thank them for their commitment, compassion and hard work before, during, and after the pandemic, and I appreciate that this crisis has had an impact on their personal lives. I am incredibly excited about joining them, particularly at this time of significant external change as it allows us to collectively reset how we do things. I understand that colleagues may feel uncertain and I want to assure them that while change is needed, we will work collectively to achieve this in a very collaborative and supportive way.
I am a people-centric leader, I do things in collaboration, I listen, I engage, I test things out. I do have high expectations of myself and others, but my desire is that this comes from a collective sense of purpose, and a line of sight on what is being achieved.
I do focus on both the near term and also, crucially, on the longer-term outcomes and political aspirations and I will drive forward both in parallel. I believe that does help people see the overall sense of purpose and motivates them in the key roles they play, particularly in working with others, both in and outside government, to get things done.
I think I am approachable and very open as a leader. I won’t have all the answers, but the experts and experienced people across the organisation will, and once we put our heads together, I am certain we can find the right solutions for our organisational challenges and for delivering our programmes.
I have had experience of a number of elections in my previous authority, including in the period leading up to an election and making the adjustments once a new administration is created.
My focus is always on delivering for local people and supporting any new political administration with their planning and priority-setting, and getting on and delivering those priorities.
There is much to be done and the challenges and opportunities themselves will not change: we need to deliver excellent, efficient and modern services, reset our approaches coming out of the pandemic, deal with escalating costs of living, housing and skills shortages, and deal with the Brexit-related issues. Of course, there will be changes to how we approach and resource these, but I know the organisation will rise to that challenge.
This article appears in this month's edition of Connect Magazine.
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