Many people experience working life across multiple organisations before finally settling down in a position where they know they will spend the rest of their career.
Angela Andrews bucked this trend, and from her very first day working as a cashier at City of Lincoln Council when she was 18, she never considered leaving – now she is running the show as Chief Executive.
Angela always wanted to progress through life and never stand still. She did everything she could in order to better both herself and her career. When the opportunity arose for her to obtain professional training through the organisation, she snatched it with both hands, qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1993 through Nottingham Business School.
“I’m a ‘lifer’ as they’re called. I’m a career local government officer,” Angela said with pride. “I’ve had a variety of jobs since. I’ve never really been in the same job more than three years.
“In an organisation this big, you can move around and do different things, so I have been very, very lucky and grasped every opportunity to push myself forward and do things that scared me at times.”
Angela took up the role of Director of Resources around nine years ago, where she was responsible for professional services and the finance of the organisation. She made big changes to benefit both the council and the taxpayers, convincing the council to part with £13 million in order to buy the building they are currently based in on Beaumont Fee, Lincoln.
“I was really proud of it and it was the right thing to do. We had this building on something like a hundred year lease when it came up for sale. We had a really quick turnaround and I, with a few colleagues, had to persuade our full council to part with £13 million very quickly to buy this building because it was the right thing to do for the taxpayer.
“We’d save over £100 million over X amount of years. Now, we have turned this building into a public sector hub. We are actually turning it into a place where, as a customer, it’s the only place you need to come.
“That would have been very, very difficult to do if we were still renting this place. I think that’s probably my proudest thing.”
It was unfortunate circumstances that brought Angela her first taste of leadership. She took on the temporary position when the former Chief Executive Andrew Taylor fell seriously ill in September 2014. However, with her background as a chartered accountant, and the announcement of the recent budget cuts, she seemed like a logical choice to take on the ongoing challenges that faced the financially stricken council.
“It was under very sad circumstances [that I took on the role], but in some ways it gave a little bit of an opportunity for me to actually think ‘what’s been missing over the last few months and years and what can I bring to the table?’
“Some of what was missing was around our organisational development. We’ve got significantly less people and money over the last 10 years than we’ve had for the last 30 years. So it was around how we make the most of the talent that we’ve got.
“I did start a development programme for the staff. We’ve done lots of focus groups, we’ve done lots of ‘What’s wrong?’, ‘What’s right?’, ‘How can we do things better?’ and I did all of that before I was appointed. I had a clear picture then of what we needed to do. It was a good dry run.”
With a good feel for how the role would suit her career and her personal life, Angela applied for the full time role with success.
“Being head girl is very different from being a prefect,” Angela laughed. “So I was very conscious that whatever I did the first few months had to be well thought through, it had to be a plan. Fortunately, because I did have a dry run, I did have a plan.”
In December 2015, it was announced that City of Lincoln Council would have the fourth most extreme reduction in spending power nationally, with a 99% drop in central government grants over four years. Angela’s job now is not only to make sure that the office runs smoothly, but also to find ways in which she can meet that target in time.
In 2015/16, the city council received government grants of £2.585 million, however by 2019/20 this will be reduced to £22,350. Already, Angela has taken actions to reduce the council’s outgoings but it was a devastating shock to the system.
“We’d been planning for it but it’s been the speed of those cuts that we hadn’t quite planned for, we thought that we had longer to be able to deliver them. We’ve still got quite a bit of work to do over the next two years in order to actually meet the severe drop that we’re going to have, but we’re nearly there.”
The stresses and strains that come with the role of chief executive could well make anyone rethink taking up the job offer. With many responsibilities that fall upon her shoulders, which command significant decisions, Angela makes sure to address everything and take things one step at a time. She has made some tough decisions, including not replacing her previous role and taking on the responsibilities within her close team.
However, through a well oiled team Angela is positive that she can overcome any challenges that are thrown at her.
“We’ve had to make savings of £8 million over the last six or seven years, so the organisation has to be different, it has to function differently and that’s what we’re planning and it’s just about to come into fruition.”
Working towards a better future
Angela is Lincoln’s key in the Greater Lincolnshire Devolution lock. The deal, which will see the county receive an extra £15 million for the county’s economy is something that she is keen to move forward on as soon as possible.
As one of 10 chief executives from across the Greater Lincolnshire area, she has been working with the combined authorities to prepare the legal documents as well as help negotiate and develop some of the proposals.
“An amazing amount of work is going on behind the scenes. But the consultation with the public is important. The work that I’m concentrating on at the moment, because I’m the lead on the financials, is looking at setting up all the financial arrangements, how we’re going to pay for things and keeping things to a minimum, because we don’t want to be paying too much over what we have currently got in our budgets.”
With local decisions currently being made by central government, Angela feels that devolution can only be a good thing, allowing local councils to combine and make those decisions for themselves.
“Greater Lincolnshire isn’t the same as London. It isn’t the same as Manchester. We’re all very different, we’ve all got very different needs. A key example is around skills. We’ve got all these national programmes on training people in particular skills, but Greater Lincolnshire knows where our skills gaps are, what sort of jobs we’ve got available, what sort of jobs we need in the future.
“With all the energy investment that’s going into the south of the Humber, we need people trained to actually do that. So to actually make those decisions locally will be a real positive thing.”
In addition, Angela is leading the project for Lincoln’s new £30 million Transport Hub, a project of which she is very proud of despite many delays beyond her control. With £11 million of the funding coming from the Department of Transport, some of the project is purely in their hands.
“It’s a passion of mine to make sure that we get a new bus station. I’m sure every resident in this city would agree that a new bus station would certainly change the lives of some of the commuters and shoppers. That, plus a new multi-storey car park within the city centre on Sincil Street, will transform that area of the city, regenerate it. That’s something that we’re putting a lot of money and a lot of energy into with our partners to make sure that we can make that happen.”
A driving force of success
Angela has a strong motto that she lives by in both her personal life and her career – ‘It’s better to try and fail than to fail to try.’
“I always think, ‘Well what’s the next thing?’ I want to try and do something a little bit differently. I think I’ve been really lucky to have some really good strong mentors. I have worked alongside some excellent people over the years who have basically said, ‘You can do it’ and they have supported me through it. I think some of it is luck, being in the right place at the right time.”
Having officially been in the position for less than a year, Angela is still learning the ropes and realising the full potential of what she can achieve. So far, she has already succeeded in not taking any backwards steps and only moving forward, despite everything that has been thrown at the organisation.
“I’m still learning, and when I’m still learning I’m happy. I still have a lot of years ahead of me doing this. We’ve got devolution, we’ve got all the changes that are happening in local government. It will keep me on my toes for the next few years. My plan is to stay.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 83 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.