Association for Public Service Excellence
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Meet the Commission Board

APSE, in collaboration with De Montfort University’s Local Government Unit, has set up the APSE Local Government Commission 2030 to explore the core issues that will impact on local government in the coming decades.

Membership of the Commission includes experts and representatives of those who have run, protected and championed local government frontline services alongside academic experts and research professionals.


  • Elma Murray OBE 

    Chief Executive of North Ayrshire Council, 2009 - 2018

    Elma Murray was Chief Executive of North Ayrshire Council from 2009 to 2018 and has a local government career of over 35 years.

    On the 1st August 2019 she was appointed Deputy Chair of the Accounts Commission for Scotland and she joins SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) on the 1st September 2019 as a Board Member.

    She is the Chair of Young Scot (Scotland’s youth information and citizenship charity) and became the inaugural Chair of the Scottish Obesity Alliance in December 2018 which advocates for a healthy weight for everyone.

    Elma is passionate about the vital role of public sector services to support local people and the most vulnerable in our communities.  She has a specific focus on transformation, children’s services, wellbeing and inclusive growth.

    Over her career she has held several senior positions including Chair of SOLACE (Scotland), Directors of the Improvement Service and of Irvine Bay Urban Regeneration Company, Depute Director of Finance and Head of Service Reform at Glasgow City Council, Head of IT Services at North Ayrshire and at Strathclyde Police. 

    Between 2016 and 2018 Elma sat on the National Developing Young Workforce (DYW) Board and the DYW Delivery Group, working with Rob Woodward, to support and oversee the development and implementation of regional Employer-led DYW Groups to create more opportunities for young people to get into employment.

    Elma was awarded an OBE for Services to Local Government, Education and the Economy in the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List.


  • Neil Schneider 

    Chief Executive of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, 2008 - 2019

    Neil was born and educated in Middlesbrough and began his career as an Apprentice Housing Manager before qualifying and becoming a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing.

    He has held a variety of roles in local government spanning 37 years, during which time he has led major regeneration projects - recently helping Stockton win the Rising Star award in the 2016 High Street of the Year awards that led Bill Grimsey to describe him as a maverick and a visionary. He helped establish one of the country’s first housing ALMOs and a thriving leisure trust.

    Neil was Chief Executive at Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council for 11 years where his commitment to people development and customer service assisted the Council in being shortlisted for APSE Council of the Year for 10 years consecutively, winning it in 2010. He retired in May 2019 and is now delivering leadership programmes in the public sector and is a non-executive Director of a local NHS Trust.

  • Heather Wakefield 

    Head of Local Government at Unison, 2001 - 2018

    Heather Wakefield was Head of UNISON's Local Government, Police and Justice section for 16 years until she retired in August 2018. Prior to that she worked for the union as a researcher for the National Union of Public Employees and as a Regional official in the  Greater London Region. While at UNISON, she was a member of the Low Pay Commission and the Fawcett/LGIU Commission on Women in Local Government. She is a regular commentator and writer on local government issues and recently wrote 'Triple Whammy - Women and the Cuts in Local Government' for the Women's Budget Group.

    Before joining UNISON, she was the Women's Rights Officer at NCCL (now

    Liberty) after working for a number of years on the Lewisham Women's Employment Project - investigating women's employment and training needs in London's Docklands. Prior to that she was a social worker and policy officer in the London Borough of Newham.

    Heather has two grown up  sons, Barney and Myer, is a keen gardener and Scrabble player, loves theatre, cinema and reading and is a season ticket holder at Chelsea Football Club.

  • Gary Porter, Lord Porter of Spalding CBE  

    Chair of the LGA, 2015 - 2019

    Gary was first elected to South Holland District Council in a by-election in June 2001. He was re-elected in 2003 and elected Leader of South Holland at the Council's Annual Meeting that year, a post he has held ever since.

    He is a Bricklayer by trade and has an Honours degree in History and Politics from De Montfort University. A former Chairman of the District Councils' Network, Gary chaired the LGA Environment and Housing Board for two years before becoming Conservative Group Leader and Vice-Chairman of the LGA in June 2011.

    In 2013 he was awarded a CBE for services to Local Government. He was elected LGA Chairman at the General Assembly in June 2015 and was made a life peer in the 2015 dissolution peerages list, taking the title of Baron Porter of Spalding. He stood down as LGA Chairman at the end of his four year term in July 2019.

    One of Gary’s main achievements in his time as Chairman was his leading role in the campaign to negotiate the scrapping of the government cap on how much local authorities can borrow against their Housing Revenue Account assets to fund new developments.

    He also helped to secure an extra £2billion for adult social care, and following the Grenfell Tower tragedy successfully lobbied the Government to pay for all of the council and housing association buildings that required recladding.


  • Jon Collins   

    Leader of Nottingham City Council, 2003 - 2019

    Jon has 40 years experience of local government, the public and voluntary sector. He has been a Nottingham City Councillor for 32 years, council leader for 16 years and variously responsible for community development, community safety, property and finance management, transport, neighbourhood and city centre regeneration and economic development.

    During his 16 years as Leader, Nottingham became Britain's cleanest big city, crime dropped from nearly 75,000 crimes per year to less than 35,000, education results have improved significantly and over 90% of pupils are now taught in schools judged good or outstanding by OFSTED.

    Under his leadership, the Council also developed a reputation for innovation and enterprise, boosting its commercial income by over £20million in the last 4 years. This has included a joint venture housing development and regeneration company (Blueprint), building three tram lines with 32 km of track to complement Nottingham’s profitable municipally owned bus company and delivering a range of council and commercial services for neighbouring authorities and public organisations.

    Jon also has extensive experience working at local, regional and national partnerships. Locally this has included Nottingham’s Crime and Drugs Partnership, Primary Care Trust, Education Improvement Board and through chairing the county police authority.


  • Chair – Paul O'Brien

    APSE Chief Executive 

    Paul O’Brien is the Chief Executive of the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE). Based in Manchester APSE has over 250 local authorities in membership.

    Paul has commissioned and contributed to over 100 APSE research publications on topics as diverse as housing, energy, finance, scrutiny, commercialisation and devolution. These have been produced with respected bodies such as TCPA, CLES, NPI, CIPFA and CfPS. A key stand of APSE research is through our excellent partnership with with De Montfort University. Through this partnership, we took part in a Knowledge Transfer Programme, which was awarded 'outstanding' status by the European Social Research Group. 

    Paul was named in the LGC magazine's 100 most influential in local government. He is a columnist with the MJ magazine and regular contributor to numerous local government publications. He was a member of the Guardian’s Local Government Network Advisory Board. He was also a board member on the partnership which delivered the ODPM’s National Councillor Mentoring Programme.

    Paul was previously APSE’s Principal Advisor (Scotland), and has over 30 years' experience in local government. He is a Fellow with the Royal Society of the Arts. Paul has previously completed an MBA at Glasgow Caledonian University.






Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.






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