The role of a DSO can be very varied and the same can be said when it comes to individual career paths working in the democracy world.
We will be sharing career profiles, from a number of ADSO members who have had an interesting career to date. If you would like to share your career path and inspire others to see that what we do is far more than administration, please get in contact with Joanna.firstname.lastname@example.org
Our first member is Emma Tombs, here is what she has to say:
I’m one of the many, I suspect, who was not laying awake as a child dreaming of working in Democratic Services! Having now got here, via a combination of choice and circumstance, I can definitely say that I’d recommend it to anyone considering a public service career.
I left school following A’Levels, where a turn as one of Macbeth’s witches was my Theatre Studies highlight, and worked for several years in a large financial services company across a number of roles. These included customer services, which was a baptism by fire, and computing. A subsequent stint at a logistics company confirmed what I’d already started to realise; work had to be about more than just making money for other people. I decided to look at public service roles, focussing on positions where a clear link to helping the community could be seen, and subsequently joined the National Probation Service.
Alongside a team of Probation Officers, my role there was to co-ordinate the service provided to victims of sexual and violent offences, ensuring that they were kept up to date with the progression of offenders’ sentences and were able to make representations if they chose to as release dates approached. This was rewarding and interesting work, that helped me to develop respect for other peoples’ views and personal resilience, whilst working in a highly process-led and structured environment (sounds familiar!).
Working at the Probation Service developed my interest in the criminal justice system, and my next role was with the Ministry of Justice, at the Youth Justice Board. I was located within the Secure Training Centre at Medway, which housed young people and children from the age of 12 upwards who were serving custodial sentences. The operation of the STC had been sub-contracted to a private operator and my role, as Deputy Performance Manager, was to ensure that the educational, rehabilitation and health services provided to the children were in line with those specified in the contract. This was challenging work in a difficult physical environment and I learnt a lot about relationship management and trusting my own judgement.
A change in my partner’s job then brought me back to Essex and, having facilitated a range of meetings in my previous role, I joined Basildon Council as a Meetings Manager. Working at Basildon offered a really good range of experience, including a secondment to the then Fire Authority, and in working within both the Leader and Cabinet and Committee system models of governance. Following a number of restructure-related changes of job titles and a promotion, I was working as a Senior Governance Officer when my Manager went on maternity leave. I successfully applied to cover her role, which represented my first experience of direct line management. Clearly the planets were aligned as just as this placement ended my current role, Democratic Services Manager, was advertised at Essex County Council.
I’ve now been at ECC for almost two and a half years, and really enjoy (generally..!) the variety of tasks that I’m involved with and working alongside my fabulous team and colleagues. Seeing how people have responded to the challenges presented first by remote working and subsequently the shift back to meetings rooms with the complications still presented by the pandemic has been really inspiring. I am now a regional representative for ADSO and last year completed a degree with the Open University focussing on social sciences. A career in Democratic Services is a great fit for proactive, resilient people who are interested in the world around them and who want to help improve outcomes for their community.
Heather Girling, a DSO at Crawley Borough Council explains her path to Democratic Services here:
I started at Crawley Borough Council in 1997 as Temporary Clerical Trainee in the Borough Treasurer’s Department. It’s a post that probably would now be termed an Apprentice but back then they didn’t really exist. My main duties were to provide admin and clerical support to the Business Consultancy Team within the Review and Assurance Division (who dealt with projects, CCT, shortly followed by Best Value, and what would now be seen as transformation work. I had to achieve level 3 NVQ in Business Administration but subsequently achieved level 4 also. In my personal life, I studied through distance learning so have been used to completing qualifications and project based work.
In 1999 I took up a new post as Compliance Officer in the same division – with responsibility for carrying out a programme of compliance checks that cover the Council’s major financial and performance procedures.
Following a restructure, I moved into Community Services Division and Directorate as Admin Manager in 2002. My main duties were:
– to provide administrative support to the Head of Community Services.
– to manage the Administrative Team within the Division.
– to assist in developing quality systems and processes across the various service areas.
– to monitor and compile the quarterly and monthly statistics and relevant analysis where appropriate.
– managed the admin for regular hires for community centres, 3G pitches.
– processed finances/invoices for the division.
– divisional IT guide and Contact Centre liaison rep.
As part of this role I regularly arranged meetings, agendas, took minutes and liaised with a range of stakeholders (internal and external customers, contractors, councillors, partner organisations etc) across different media.
In 2014, following another restructure I moved in Democratic Services in Chief Executives. I believed I had the necessary skills following my years in Community Services to fulfil and develop the role. My main responsibility is Overview and Scrutiny Commission and Scrutiny Panels. This involves project and research work which I enjoy and I have responsibility for the corporate management team agendas whilst also assisting with Cabinet Briefing, Cabinet and Full Council (and have also looked after Planning in the past). The reports coming through to OSC, Panels and Cabinet contain a broad range of topics throughout the council and also involve a mixture of project/research based work. I’m also IT guide and first contact for councillors IT.
Our Director for Finance, John Lynch has written his career summary, you can read it here:
Like most people I started in local government entirely by accident. I had failed my A levels and was doing retakes and needed to find a job while I decided what I was going to do. I was told about a clerical assistant job in my local planning dept which was only 10 minute walk from where I lived. I got the job and was surprised when they told me they would send me on day release to do some qualifications whilst still paying me. After a short while I got a job as the admin officer in the planning department pulling together the various reports from officers that were going to the Planning Committee each month. As far as I was concerned I had done all the work in pulling them together and the Committee team in the Town Hall just put a front sheet on them and sent them out! I also dealt with sending out all the decision notices after the meeting as well as putting all the delegated decisions that the Chief Planner would take into a large register. This all had to be done by hand and as neatly as possible. No computers around in my early days.
Although I enjoyed my job and the planning team, I had already got to the top of my grade as an admin officer and there wasn’t any career progression available until I saw a job as a trainee Committee Clerk in the Town Hall which was the only non professional job I could see that offered any career progression. So having dealt with Planning Agendas I thought how hard can this be. I got the job and then found out what really went on in the Town Hall and the centre of decision making within the council. I learnt quickly and dealt with a range of issues. This was at the time of the Brixton Riots, Rate Capping and Cllrs trying to set illegal budgets and being surcharged and disqualified.
I was lucky that I was still working my way through various qualifications, either by day release or evening classes and there were plenty of jobs available at that time to move around and gain experience. I moved to Camden and then Richmond upon Thames Councils where I got some management experience. I had been doing the ICSA qualification but decided to switch to a more generalist management qualification which was the best thing I could have done. I went on to do both the Certificate and Diploma in Management Studies. I found both these much more practical and useful than the ICSA course, plus I was mixing with learners from the private sector, charities etc. and got a much more rounded view of management.
This inspired me to go onto to do the CIPFA Advanced Diploma in Business and Financial Management. I knew if I wanted to move further into management then having a good understanding of business and financial management would be key.
I was lucky enough when I moved to a Head of Service job in Islington that this gave me the opportunity to not only develop my management skills but venture out into other areas. I was always willing to have a go at anything and got involved in lots of corporate wide projects. Some of the memorable ones were being involved in organising the civic celebrations when Arsenal FC won either the League or FA Cup. I organised four of them over my time and this was the biggest event outside of the Notting Hill Carnival in terms of numbers lining the route so this involved road closures, transport diversions, dealing with local residents and business as well as organising stewards and barriers to name but a few; I was also part of the Chief Executives team that was on call in London’s Police Headquarters when the Stockwell shooting took place as well as the London Bombings.
I took over responsibility for the Elections Team and Registrars Teams and eventually ran some of those services for other boroughs as part of our income generating activity. I also put in an invest to save bid to run the Islington Assembly Hall which had recently been renovated after laying empty for 25 years. It had in the past been used for a variety of functions. I decided we could make money by using it as a live music venue. I knew nothing about running such venues but knew plenty of people that did. Luckily they were happy for me to give it a go and today it is a thriving venue and one of the things I’m proud of doing at Islington.
Democratic Services puts you right a the centre of what is going on within a council and gives you an excellent grounding into a variety of disciplines and gives you the opportunities to branch out into any of the services that takes your interest. However, you need to take control of your destiny and take the opportunities that are either presented to you or that you make for yourself.
Thank you to everyone who has provided career profiles, it is really interesting to hear about how people first joined the world of Democratic Services and the range of tasks and duties they have.