Having retired as Chief Executive of COSLA on 30 June, Sally Louden reflects on her seven year tenure at the top of the association.
COSLA has a unique and strong position in the public life of Scotland, which puts it in a key position to represent Local Government and influence public policy on issues that impact on communities up and down the land.
To make the most of that voice and the opportunities that come with it, we have invested significantly in building relationships, human to human relationships – with our members, Governments, partners, professional associations and many others – to get to the real issues and potential solutions. These relationships are the bedrock of making progress, to having robust and respectful discussions, to focus on what is really important – and that is to support people to live their best lives.
Like every other membership organisation, we are led by our members. In this case, by councillors from all parties and none and I’m delighted that all 32 Councils are members of COSLA – this makes COSLA’s voice even stronger.
From funding and the economy, to education and housing, from health and social care to the arts, sport and leisure we work to deliver what we know matters to local people in local communities across Scotland. It is often underestimated just how crucial these services are and how hard Councillors and Council officers work to delivery these essential services.
COSLA champions Councils’ vital work, the essential services that they deliver and endeavours to secure the adequate levels of resources and flexibility required for our Member Councils to do what works for communities locally. People often say it of their job, but being Chief Executive of COSLA have truly been a privilege and I have enjoyed (nearly!) every minute of my 7 years as COSLA’s Chief Executive.
My job as Chief Executive, together with the COSLA staff and our democratically Elected Politicians is to represent Local Government – not just making a case, but working in the best interests of communities. We work positively with all in Local Government, other spheres of Government, key stakeholders and professional associations on policy, powers, funding, and legislation – putting our shoulders to the wheel to find solutions that work on the ground.
Over the last few years, we have made a real and concerted effort to strengthen relations across the Local Government family and have secured Partnership Agreements with the wider Public Sector, including Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, the Local Government Improvement Service, Public Health Scotland, and NES to name, but a few.
I am particularly proud of COSLA’s work across the following areas over my tenure: the development of a Partnership Agreement with Scottish Government, the herculean effort we put in to protect communities and businesses during COVID and the part we played in giving support to people fleeing Ukraine.
When I was appointed COSLA Chief Executive in 2016, I said that it was one of the top jobs in Scotland and I stand by this claim. Now having done the job for 7 years, I would reaffirm the significance of this highly, varied role which I have been honoured to have undertaken. It is a fantastic role, and I am delighted to have played my part with our wonderful staff at COSLA, our Councillors and our Member Councils in helping to deliver the best possible outcomes for the people of Scotland.
COSLA is a respected player in Scottish public life. Looking ahead we now have a Partnership Agreement with the Scottish Government in place that should make partnership working even stronger and thus further benefitting the people of Scotland, the people who rely on the services we provide. We also have the recently launched the COSLA plan, which will guide COSLA through the next five-year term and I am absolutely sure that this will enable COSLA and the Scottish Local Government to respond to the unexpected, adapt to the yet unknown, embark on new areas of work, further develop partnerships, and above all else, serve our local communities in the same way we have done under my time at COSLA.
In the words of President Bartlet from the West Wing series: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world. Do you know why? Because it’s the only thing that can” And that is what COSLA does.
• Jane O’Donnell, the new Chief Executive of COSLA, has been invited to speak on how local authorities in Scotland are delivering on priorities at APSE’s upcoming Annual Seminar on 13 September. More information about the event and how you can book your place can found here.