A Day in the Life: COSLA Chief Executive


Image: COSLA

In the latest instalment in our Day In The Life series, Sally Loudon, Chief Executive at COSLA, takes us through the ins and outs of one of her workdays.

Like all Chief Executive jobs there is no typical day or week; it’s the variety of challenges and opportunities that makes my job interesting and invigorating. I’ve been working in local government for a long time, yet I still never fail to be struck by the sheer diversity of the incredible services that councils deliver every day.

I start my day between 6 and 6.30 by walking our elderly collie/Alsatian cross dog. We used to run together, but he’s too old now (at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). We live in the Scottish Borders so a walk in the countryside wakes me up with a clear head.

After breakfast, it’s an hour-long commute to COSLA. The train journey can be entertaining depending on who’s travelling – talking shop with colleagues from some of our public sector partners, bumping into friends, or chatting with the myriad of different people whose use the bustling Borders line. It’s also a chance to reply to emails, and to get an idea of what’s been happening through the @COSLA Twitter feed, and the LGIU Scotland Daily News service.

COSLA is a membership organisation so I spend a fair bit of time on the phone, in meetings, or out seeing Councils – it’s really important to be close to our members and focused on the support they need. It’s also crucial that we have good relationships with a wide variety of organisations; the UK and Scottish Governments and Parliaments, our sister local government associations across the UK and Europe, as well as business, third sector, professional associations, academics…the list goes on.

Most days are therefore a balance between internal meetings and getting out and about and meeting stakeholders.  The vast majority of our staff are based in our Edinburgh HQ at Verity House, but we also have staff in both Glasgow and Brussels.  So I’ll also regularly check in with our Chief Officers to get an update.  BREXIT is a massive issue for COSLA so the Brussels office is getting more of my time these days.

COSLA recently completed a major internal review, and so a big part of our internal activity has been working with our member councils to refresh COSLA’s approach and priorities, and to ensure we have systems and processes in place to support our staff to deliver them. Change is a constant in local government, and no less so during this process, during which we’ve navigated the local government elections, got a new presidential and spokesperson team up and running, developed a common vision for local government, and signed off a strategic COSLA Plan.  Above all, I’m delighted that COSLA can now speak with one voice on behalf of all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

When it comes to our external work, the COSLA staff and I will certainly always be ready to champion councils’ vital work and secure the resources and powers they need. What’s important is that our approach is always led by our members; our political governance structures really are the life blood of the organisation.  At any point in time, we’ll be working with the Scottish Government and others on a range of policies, legislation, reviews and projects, not to mention the day to day national shared services we provide to councils and their partners. As a key part of the governance of Scotland, we’re also driving forward priorities such as public sector reform, strengthening local democracy and empowering communities, and the forthcoming Spending Review.

That means that no two days are the same; this week I’ve been to COSLA’s national Trading Standards Scotland unit, visited Renfrewshire and Scottish Borders Councils, helped plan the COSLA and Improvement Service Annual Conference, attended induction training for our new political leadership team, met civil servants on local government reform, education and Brexit, and participated in a national development workshop for Council Chief Executives.

What’s great about that diversity is that it constantly shows me the tremendous impact that local government has in our communities, and the real difference that councils make to people’s lives and their future potential every day.   It’s certainly not without its challenges, but working for Scotland’s local government association gives me a real opportunity to make that count.