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Partners across Scotland are being encouraged to embrace cultural change to help deliver public health, with effective leadership playing a central role. In the coming months this shift will bring new ways of working, extended partnerships and a new national organisation to the fore. Sally Loudon, COSLA Chief Executive says the time is right to make a change…

“As we move closer to April 2020 and the creation of Public Health Scotland (PHS), momentum is building and the shape of the new body is coming into sharper focus. In the next few days interviews will be held for PHS’ first Chief Executive and I’m thoughtful about the role and the expectations that will sit on the shoulders of the successful candidate. I expect to see collaborative leadership at the heart of Public Health Scotland, reflecting the collaboration that we’ve worked hard on, through the reform programme, to get us to this place.

Bold leadership and a long-term strategic commitment

I read with interest the recent Kings Fund report on the ‘Wigan Deal’ where over a period of six years, public services in Wigan went through a major process of transformation, based on the idea of building a different relationship with local people. In reading and reflecting on this work, I could relate to the leadership required to see this transformational change and was struck by the success achieved.

It made perfect sense to me and I started to think, what do we need to do, as public service leaders, to achieve the aspirations of public health reform and what can we learn and apply to our new public health body?

Going forward, the Scottish Leadership Forum, which involves senior leaders across the public and third sector, is looking at the leadership required to deliver on the National Performance Framework. There is a clear acceptance that cross agency, long-term and bold leadership is needed – bringing leaders together in a spirit of what can we do collectively.

Public Health Scotland

Public Health Scotland will bring together public health expertise from across Scotland and work alongside national and local government, NHS bodies and communities to tackle Scotland’s significant public health challenges. 

In our invitation to applicants, Malcom Wright (Chief Executive of NHS Scotland) and I set out our expectations of the successful candidate; the need to provide inspiring executive leadership and day-to-day management of the organisation. There are expectations to deliver a dynamic, effective and innovative strategic approach to the planning, management and provision of a range of national, regional and local services to partners - no mean feat!

As a new organisation, the leadership challenge to create a sense of belonging and collective vision cannot be underestimated. Enabling the workforce to understand and tackle both collective and individual challenges will be critical in building an organisation where power and responsibility can be distributed throughout.

Leadership across public services is mainly about listening - it may seem simple but in much of the engagement taken forward in developing PHS what we’ve heard is a need for public health to listen, contribute and enhance. Being ready to respond with agility, flexibility and connection to the issues we see and hear from across the system will be critical.

People and relationships

To conclude, I want to consider people and relationships. In the Wigan Deal the theme of ‘working with’ and ‘not doing to’ in relation to the delivery of public services was fundamental. For Public Health Scotland, the nature of our public health challenges and their complexity will require leadership beyond boundaries.  

What so much of this is about, and what my days as Chief Executive of COSLA are filled with, is developing relationships. Clichéd as it is, these relationships – based on openness, trust and challenge – have enabled the reform of public health to embody collective and collaborative leadership across Local and National Government."

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