Almost two weeks ago on 7 October, I walked through the doors of the Electoral Commission for the first time as Chief Executive. It was a big day for me and for the organisation. The previous Chief Executive, Peter Wardle, was here for 10 years and had led the organisation from its early days, and through a mix of successful, landmark and rocky moments, into a body that has become an established part of the UK’s constitutional landscape. So I am acutely aware that I have a lot to both live up to and build on.
I’ve been delighted over the last week about the welcome I’ve received both from the staff and the stakeholders I have met so far. I’m also excited about what is ahead. I’m joining at a time when there are an enormous number of challenges, opportunities and electoral events coming up for the Commission and I know I’m not going to have much time to settle in before everyone I meet expects me to know everything that’s going on!
I’ll be visiting all of the Commission’s offices in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland over the next few weeks and I’ll be out and about meeting as many stakeholders as I can so that I can have a clear idea of what the challenges and opportunities are and how best we can work with others to meet and exploit them.
But, nearly two weeks in, what are my initial thoughts?
Well in many ways, my first week was like any other in a new job. It doesn’t matter if you join an organisation at the top or the bottom of the career ladder, some challenges remain the same. New faces, new names, navigating a new building and new IT systems and lots of catching up on the many projects that the Commission is currently either leading on or involved in. It’s been really exciting to see how much is happening and I can now quite easily answer the question, “What does the Commission do when there isn’t an election taking place?” – a heck of a lot is the answer!
Next May will see elections to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. At the same time there are elections for Police and Crime Commissioner in England and Wales, local government elections in England and of course the London mayoral and Assembly elections. This involves months of planning for the Commission, electoral administrators, candidates and campaigners. So it really is all hands to the deck for the next six months.
In addition to this, we are also busily planning for the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. From monitoring the passage of the legislation as it continues through Parliament, to preparing for everything that will need to be done after this. In the absence of knowing the timing of the referendum, everyone across the Commission is hard at work making sure that everything is as prepared as possible prior to the date of the poll being announced.
There is also the Commission’s day-to-day work, our regulatory bread and butter, that continues to take place alongside all of this planning. I’m conscious that this is some of the most complex and important work that the Commission does. It ensures that there is fairness, transparency and confidence in our electoral system and it has been great to see that the team are so committed to this area despite all the other work that is going on. From producing guidance for parties and candidates to overseeing the reporting and publication of political finances and investigating breaches of the rules where they occur, I’m looking forward to see how we can build on the great work that is already done to make sure that we remain an international leader in this area of work.
I’ve always looked for roles where I can really make a difference and see through changes that will benefit others. I can’t think of any better example of this than making sure that elections are run well, our system of political finance is fair and that voters have confidence in the outcome of every electoral event.
As I’ve only very briefly described here, this is already an exciting and very busy time for the Commission, but I’m also keen that we continue to develop as an organisation. One of the first things I will be focussing on is the review of the Commission’s strategic plan, which will shape how we approach our work over the next few years. I’m keen that we make the most of this opportunity and identify where we can make improvements or build on what is already working well.
I am fortunate to be working alongside real experts and I’m sure that I will learn a lot during my time here. I also hope to contribute lots of new ideas and fresh perspectives on how we can develop as an organisation and build on the great work that I can see going on around me. So onto week three….