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by Graham McColl - Tuesday, 25 June 2019, 10:01 AM
Anyone in the world

Ian McNaught is Scotland Excel’s Strategic Organisational Development Manager and leads the Scotland Excel Academy.

“Scotland’s public sector has faced the need to develop its workforce against a backdrop of tightening budgets for many years. So I’m extremely proud to share the approach of our Academy – a resource that brings learning to the sector in a way that ensures public bodies get immediate returns from investing in their staff.

Work-based learning has demonstrated proven results in the academic world for some time, so we wanted to tap into it’s potential to bring a new approach to learning and development to the public sector.

The Scotland Excel Academy is unique because it combines accredited, multi disciplinary learning with work-based learning to help strengthen and equip work forces in a way that gives organisations quick returns.

We’re proud of our award-winning model. It’s delivered by the public sector, for the public sector and since 2016 has benefited 165 Scottish public-sector employees. Building upon engagement to date across 21 councils and 14 public-sector organisations we’re ready to roll it out more widely across the public sector.

In response to the sector’s needs, we offer three core disciplines: procurement, leadership & management and project management and we are fully partnered with the appropriate accrediting bodies.

We’re the only academy in Scotland offering this particular approach.

The Academy’s journey has been exciting. Because Scotland Excel is the country’s Centre of Procurement Expertise, the initial focus when we launched it in 2016 was to create a resource that would enhance and develop the public procurement community’s core skill set.

The partnership we have with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) to deliver accredited courses was, and still is ahead of the curve. Adopting a strongly applied focus, each learner can apply new knowledge and skills to their work practice the next day, all underpinned with a blend of online discussions, taught workshops and applied projects.

We realised there was also a need for the procurement community to gain leadership and management and project management skills, so we expanded our offering.

This also saw our partnership with accrediting bodies grow to include Chartered Management Institute (CMI), Association of Project Managers (APM), and Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Of course, you don’t have to work in procurement to take part in our programmes, with employees from a wide range of public sector organisations and professions all benefitting from learning with us. Many students can directly relate their participation in The Academy to promotion and new job opportunities. The programmes are a cost-effective way of ensuring staff develop the right skills from the start of their career, right up to senior level. The Academy supports multiple pathways, providing a depth of knowledge within a specific discipline and a breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines. Such a portfolio supports career progression regardless of where a person is in their career cycle.

The public sector is being increasingly asked to do more with less, and when a public body invests in an employee’s learning and development, it wants to know that any new skills and theory gained can be applied straight away in the workplace to help drive outcomes and existing projects.

Our new, work-based learning programmes for Scotland’s public bodies include, Strategic Leadership, Leadership and Management, Management Coaching and Mentoring, Project Managements, CIPS Practitioner and Advanced Practitioner, and Business Analysis & Organisational Innovation.  Courses are delivered at a range of levels from HND equivalent through to Masters.

Looking to the future, the public sector will continue to evolve and the challenges it faces will also change.  Because we’re firmly embedded within Scotland’s public sector, we will work to ensure The Academy continues to be a strong resource that stays ahead of the curve.”

For more information on how The Academy can help your career, contact

Helene Holden

0141 618 7436

[ Modified: Tuesday, 25 June 2019, 11:18 AM ]
Anyone in the world

There are a few terms that evoke contrasting emotions within local government and “The Commercial Council” is certainly one of them. To some it is simply an oxymoron but to others it’s one of the paths to resolving the challenges of the wider public sector.

Understanding what the term “commercial” means and implies is generally at the heart of the debate. Implications rather than definitions appear to be at the core of many objections. In my own experience, the term evokes negative emotional responses of “outsourcing”, “service reduction” or “abandoning those most in need in our communities due to financial constraints”. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth for those people and organisations that have started this journey.

Every single council in Scotland, and perhaps most of the public sector, can demonstrate an example of “commercial excellence” and how it positively impacts service delivery. But it is typically not prevalent throughout organisations or is it a core part of their organisational culture.

I created the graphic shown below on the 31st October 2014. As someone who can never remember dates, its unusual for me to recall that date so precisely. On that specific date, I was discussing commercial councils with a colleague and their views were so strongly against the concept I was left speechless. As I sat at home reflecting on the conversation, the tragic news broke about the Virgin Galactic crash in the Mojave Desert. I reflected on the dreadful news but was struck by the outpouring of public support for Sir Richard Branson and his endeavours. People recognised the risks he, his organisation and the pilots had taken to realise their mission. All recognised the potential for failure but were willing to take these calculated risks in order to reap the rewards. Using their extensive resources, they sought to innovate and undoubtedly profit from their enterprises.

We, the public, watched in admiration, felt grief at their failure but ultimately supported their endeavours. We wished them luck and hope they try again.

Now consider another example - Social Bite ( One of my favourite social enterprises. The founders, Josh Littlejohn and Alice Thompson set up this incredible project with a clear mission. They had little in the way of resources but instantly made an impact in their community. Failure was always a risk but they have now taken their idea to new heights and continue to develop it. They may not reap the monetary rewards through retained profit but the social value is evident for every customer to see.

 entrepreneurial leadership

We the public, watch in admiration, are proud of their achievements and support their endeavours.

The leap from Virgin Galactic to Social Bite may seem huge but consider the elements of risk, resources, failure, innovation and reward. They are common throughout entrepreneurial activity regardless of private or social motivation.

The right-hand side of the above graphic shows the public entrepreneur. In order to support a commercial council, we need to consider the previous two examples. For now, let’s ignore the academic discussion between intrapreneur and entrepreneur and consider what we need to do to work towards the commercial council.

Organisations need to consider the risks it is willing to take which are also acceptable for their services. Public bodies often have significant resources irrespective of how they have been reduced over the period. They need to consider the opportunities that are available. This will sometimes mean bringing services in-house but also sometimes involve devolving these services. Failure in many cases is completely unacceptable in public service but not in all cases. We need a new approach and attitude to failure. The public value delivered by local authorities and the wider public sector is immeasurable but the rewards and need to deliver more for less are unquestionable.

This final leap from social entrepreneurs to public entrepreneurs is the step we need to accept and take. This is the step towards the commercial council. It is a long journey. I would argue it is a generational journey and future generations will thank us for it. We owe it to our children and their children. We don’t want or need wholesale privatisation or cuts to our services. We need entrepreneurial leadership to take us on the journey.

So what are the aspects I would recommend to you?

Risks - What is the current risk appetite of your organisation? Is it simply dictated by the chief executive’s view of risk? If you are willing to take risks, then does everyone in your organisation know the organisational risk appetite? A few organisations across Scotland now communicate a one page organisational risk appetite to every member of staff. This allows every employee to understand what is acceptable and what is not.

Resources – Do you truly know and accept all the resources that are at your disposal? This often goes way beyond an asset register and must include your staff and may even be the geography outside your front door.

Innovation - How do you encourage innovation in your organisation? It needs to go beyond the suggestion box with the £10 reward if chosen associated with it. In my experience of the public sector, organisations have a plethora of ideas that often go untapped as staff are unaware that their ideas are welcomed.

Failure is one of the biggest challenges. Extensive research has shown that in general failure is unacceptable in the public sector. If people aren’t rewarded for innovation and failure is an ever-present possibility, then why should they try? We need to challenge this. I see the attitude to this slowly changing in the public sector but becoming much more challenging from a public viewpoint. This is a dichotomy that needs to change.

The commercial council may not be the ultimate panacea to the challenges we face in the public sector but it most certainly not an oxymoron. It is the right direction and by addressing some of the points covered above we can move towards it.

It just takes a few steps in the right direction to start the journey.

[ Modified: Thursday, 6 July 2017, 11:07 AM ]