Spotlight on…

Ruth Dennis, Assistant Chief Executive (Governance) and Monitoring Officer, Ashfield District Council

In each edition of ConsortEM, we shine a light on a member to show the variety of roles within the consortium. This month, Ruth provides an insight into working as Assistant Chief Executive (Governance) and Monitoring Officer.

How long have you been with Ashfield District Council?

I have been with Ashfield since December 2000. I started off as an assistant solicitor and have had various roles before becoming Assistant Chief Executive (Governance) and Monitoring Officer in 2010.

What does your role entail?

In addition to my corporate governance and statutory monitoring officer role, I am responsible for democratic services, scrutiny, elections and the shared legal service in partnership with Mansfield District Council.

To whom do you report? What is the structure of your team?

I report to the Chief Executive and am part of a corporate leadership team of seven people.

Ashfield has hosted the shared legal service since 2012. The legal team is made up of 21 people providing both councils with the full range of legal services. The shared service ensures that the two councils can retain an affordable, effective, in-house legal provision.

What are the most pressing issues for you at the moment?

Earlier this year the council decided to terminate the management agreement with its arm’s-length management organisation and return to a directly delivered housing function. I am leading the legal and governance aspects of the project which is challenging because of the tight timeframe we have been set and the multitude of issues that need to be dealt with. The council sees the return of the housing function as an exciting opportunity which will generate savings and efficiencies without reducing the level of service to tenants.

What regulatory issues are on the horizon?

Brexit! The legal consequences and legislative changes which will be needed as a result of exiting the European Union are going to keep lawyers across all sectors very busy for a considerable time to come.

How does Ashfield District Council compare with other places you have worked?

I trained in private practice before taking the leap into the public sector. I worked at Oadby and Wigston Borough Council (OWBC) for two years before moving to Ashfield. OWBC was a great place to learn about being a local authority lawyer. It is a small council and, as part of a legal team of two, I had to do a wide variety of legal, governance and elections work. I learnt a huge amount in a short space of time which has served me well.

Ashfield has had its challenges and working here has never been dull. We are in the early stages of a really exciting phase with a new CEO and the housing function coming back in-house, so I cannot see my job becoming dull or unchallenging any time soon.

What law would you like to see changed?

Only one?

The process relating to nominations for Assets of Community Value. Ashfield has had a relatively large number of nominations recently and I carry out reviews and compensation claims. In my opinion the public was led to believe that this legislation would save their community assets, the clue being in the title: Community Right to Buy. However, in reality, the vast majority of community groups are unable to fund the purchase and running of the facilities. In my experience, what often happens is a redevelopment or sale is delayed to the annoyance of the owner, the community still loses the asset. The council, and therefore ultimately the public, is responsible for any consequential compensation payments. There appears to be a lot of effort for very little public gain most of the time.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

I have a tendency to want everything to be perfect so, in an attempt to reduce my stress levels and to get me to see things in perspective, I was encouraged to ask myself: ‘Is it good enough?’ It was not intended to mean that slapdash work is ok, it was intended to make me realise that perfection in everything, all of the time, is not always necessary. You need to be satisfied that each job has been done properly to an acceptable standard and is therefore ‘good enough’, and accept that you may not be able to make it perfect and some things need to be closer to perfect than others.

Finally, two truths and one lie in any order.

I once performed in a dance show to Beyonce’s Crazy in Love.

Derby County Football Club will be promoted to the Premier League (disclaimer: the year of promotion cannot be guaranteed).

My husband has appeared in the TV programmes Doctors and Dalziel and Pascoe.

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