Grantham Journal Big Interview: Council chief executive says he is ready for the challenges in his new post

Aidan Rave, Chief Executive of South Kesteven District Council.
Aidan Rave, Chief Executive of South Kesteven District Council.
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The new chief executive of South Kesteven District Council, Aidan Rave, took up his post in June. The 43-year-old comes from Doncaster where 15 years ago he was deputy to the elected mayor of the town. Married with four children, Mr Rave has worked in local government and the private sector. Joining the district council now, Mr Rave has moved to an area which faces promises extensive growth.

What is your background?

I am from Doncaster. I grew up there and went away to university and came back. I then got involved in the local charity sector. It was a voluntary job to begin with doing some administrative work, finding my feet a little bit. Within six months a job came up. I applied for it and I got it. I was happily working for a development trust in Doncaster and then got involved in the local political scene. Doncaster was going through something of a challenging time. An opportunity came to stand for council, so I did and then pretty quickly became deputy mayor. It was unplanned but I enjoyed it immensely. I am so glad I did it, but I wouldn’t want to do it again particularly! Then I went to work in the private sector for a number of year as a consultant. My professional background is organisational development which I did my postgraduate study in. I worked all over the country for different councils, different charities and organisations and a few years ago set up on my own. I did a few long term assignments, I worked as the assistant chief executive for Victim Support and latterly spent about two years or so as the UK director of strategy at Barnardo’s which was brilliant. I absolutely loved it.

What attracted you to the job of chief executive at SKDC?

It was very much the picture the politicians painted of what they wanted to do. They felt they could do good things for the district. When I looked at it, I thought this is an interesting place. It’s got a lot going for it, a lot of potential and when I met the councillors, across the political spectrum, I went away thinking actually I really want this. I think they have a very clear idea of what they want for the district.

What are the current issues which you find most interesting in the district?

I think the future of the four principal market towns is fascinating. There are any number of challenges but there are also any number of opportunities that go along with those challenges. We have the cinema development in Grantham which after years and years of planning and talking about we are now going to deliver. We have just got to get on with it and do it. We have got the prospect of the retail outlet village, for example, which I think presents Grantham as a town centre with both an opportunity and a threat. The opportunity is to bring some of that footflow from the oultet village into Grantham to develop our businesses here and to grow the wealth of Grantham. The threat is if we are not ready for it we won’t get it and it’s really that blunt. The politicans have given a very clear lead on this. They want to see things happen and my job is to repond to that and make it happen, so that’s a big challenge.

When you walk around Grantham you can instantly see what needs to be improved but you can also see what a wonderful fabric its got to it. It’s got nice little shops that offer something that’s beyond the usual vanilla high street names that offer the same thing everywhere. It’s got the church and the surrounding area which is a genuinely nice place to be. We can improve it further. It’s hugely well connected in terms of rail links and roads . It’s got schools which get good results and a strong economy. All the ingredients are there. Our ambition as a council is to get a little bit more involved in exploiting that potential going forward.

Some people will say there is too much focus on Grantham and not the other towns in the district. What challenges do the other towns face?

I think that Bourne and Market Deeping in a way face a similar challenge and a lot of my time in the first couple of weeks has been focussed on how do we ensure that we have a clear blueprint in place. Ironically, I heard in the first few days that too much of the focus is on Grantham but I think over the first month in what I have done most of it has been Bourne and the Deepings. Most of the things that have come across my desk have been to do with opportunities and schemes there. I think there are things starting to happen in those two towns and we need to build on those. When all is said and done, we are a modestly sized district council. We are not big enough to be worrying about four different towns. We have go to bring the opportunities together and ensure that there is enough going on for everybody and that is completely within our gift. The interesting thing about Stamford is that its challenge is not necessarily growth and development in the town centre because it’s already well developed, but it does have its challenges not least if you try and park in it on a Friday or a Saturday, or you try and drive through it, its difficult. You think how do young people get on the housing ladder there when you have a housing market growing probably as fast as London is. So there are different challenges but challenges nonetheless. But there is a balanced approach. The politicians have been clear from the outset that South Kesteven is about more than Grantham but that doesn’t mean that Grantham is not important. It’s certainly not lost on me. So, newly in post I have made sure I have got out to all the areas. I have talked to the people and I will continue to do that.

What are your hopes for the future?

I would not have come for this job if I didn’t think there was a real opportunity to do something special. I feel a great responsibility in accepting the job to meet the ambition that the elected members have set out and that ambition is for us to be a growing, thriving district over the coming years exploiting the natural opportunities that we have got, offering realistic opportunities for people to set up businesses, for people to come and live and spend their leisure time here. In a nutshell, I’d like to think in five years time that instead of people jumping on the train and commuting to London because it’s really handy, there might be an opportunity for people to live in London and commute to Grantham for business opportunities or indeed to live and work in Grantham and around the district. I think there are massive opportunities and that’s why I am genuinely excited about it. Now I have the job I feel incredibly priveleged and I want to make something of it. I think we can attract the biggest names in industry here but alongside that I think we can grow our own. I think that’s critical to it. There is no reason why the next Uber should not be coming from South Kesteven. That might sound like a crazy thing to say but there is absolutely no reason why we can’t do it. There are businesses operating in the district which are of global significance in the tech market . They will grow because they are great businesses not because of SKDC, but we can help them with infrastructure, with planning. It might sound on one level 
fantastical, but on another, it’s happening today. There are serious businesses growing in this district. It is grounds for optimism.

What is your greatest challenge at this time?

This organisation has gone through a lot of change in a short period of time. There is a new political leadership and the council is now under a new managerial leadership. The challenge in the short term is to ensure as an organisation we manage and respond to that change positively. I have got to say the staff have been absolutely fantastic. They have been not only phenomenally welcoming and supportive but they are also genuinely up for this. I have never known an organisation be more up for it and I have worked in a lot of councils. So that’s been humbling really. The platform in the first place is for us to be a strong organisation and for us to go out and help others achieve.