Meet Falkirk Council’s new chief executive

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As a young boy Kenneth Lawrie remembers going with his father to visit the graves of relatives in Camelon Cemetery.

Now he is responsible for that cemetery and most other services which are vital to communities across Falkirk district.

As the new chief executive of Falkirk Council he replaces Mary Pitcaithly who retired in June after 20 years in the post.

Although he is new to the area, he has a vast experience in local government having joined in 1994, firstly holding various posts at Dartford Borough Council in Kent and Scottish Borders Council before being appointed chief executive of Midlothian Council in September 2009.

Arriving in Falkirk’s Municipal Buildings at the start of last month, one of the first decisions he saw elected members make was to locate a new civic and arts centre in the heart of the town. Now it will be the task of Mr Lawrie’s officers to bring the project to fruition.

He admits to joining Falkirk Council in “challenging times” but says that is no different from any other local authority in Scotland.

The spectre of further budget cuts is never far away, however, Mr Lawrie points out: “We maybe face making £60 million of cuts but we will still be spending £300 million on services.

“What will happen and needs to happen is changes in the way we deliver these services. It’s a big challenge and going to get more challenging but we need to be imaginative and open to change.

“We will be looking at how we work and how we can work in partnership with other organisations to deliver services.

“We are going to be a very different organisation in five years time.”

However, he admits for now he is spending time getting to know the area, the council’s workforce and its partners.

But one message he wants to make clear to the local authority’s 7000 employees is “whether you are front-line or back office you serve the people of Falkirk district – and we have to be fit for purpose to do that”.

While he admits that every council has its unique characteristics, he says Falkirk Council is not radically different from any other local authority in the country.

But what did attract him to the job was the fact that it has a growing population and is a location which offers great opportunities for those living and working in the area.

He added: “There are significant opportunities for growth and we need to ensure this includes employment for our young people.

“The council has an important role to play and there are lots of enthusiastic people within this organisation to help deliver. But to do that we have to transform ourselves as a council.

“Falkirk economically is in a really interesting position: a growing council located between the country’s two major cities.

“We have the economic powerhouse of Grangemouth and as a council what we have to do is use the economic strength and opportunities this provides, particularly to benefit our young people.

“We need to aim high, expect people to have aspirations and not to accept second best.

“However, there needs to be absolute realism that it will also bring change.”

Mr Lawrie said that there needs to be an open relationship with people and an honesty about the difficulties and challenges. He added the best way to achieve this is through dialogue which is why in coming weeks the council will once again be consulting with communities to ask about their priorities over service provision in coming years.

“Communities need to do more and there needs to be better partnership working,” said the chief executive. “There are people out there who will be able to do things better than us and some things will be better if they are run by their community

He also said staff would see a difference with less offices, employees hot desking and far more digital working.

“If we can encourage those who are able to go online and contact us that way, then that free us up to deal with those people who are unable to make use of this facility.”

He may only be a few weeks in the role and the new chief executive admits that he is still has much to learn about the area, but already he exudes a quiet determination to achieve results – which he intends will benefit all those living in the Falkirk Council area.