Real-life story - Jon Wells
Jon draws on many years of experience working in environmental health roles, gradually expanding his range of responsibilities. He has overseen the provision of services while priorities in public health and the public sector have continually changed.
How I got into the role
At school I was best at sciences, which led to my thinking about becoming a scientist or a chemist. The reality was that in order to afford to go to university I needed to get a place on a course that was funded through either a scholarship or an apprenticeship. I was awarded a scholarship from Leicester City Council to undertake a degree in environmental health at Aston University. I graduated from there, meeting the competencies for environmental health practitioners, as set down by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH, the professional, awarding body for environmental and public health and safety).
After university I worked for seven years in environmental health for Leicester City Council and then for Birmingham City Council. My work in Birmingham focused on urban renewal, standards of housing (including student accommodation), and housing in multiple occupation. I returned to work in Blaby as a career move and for a commute more conducive to family life.
Throughout the course of my career as an environmental health practitioner the role gradually expanded to encompass health improvement and health promotion. The traditional job that I trained for changed along with changes to the responsibilities of public sector organisations. I undertook additional associated qualifications in acoustics and air pollution. As my career moved into more managerial, leadership and strategic roles I embarked on postgraduate diplomas in management and strategy as well as a diploma in coaching.
At work I became the licensee of the council social club bar - all good experience, especially as licensing now falls under my area of responsibility.
What I do
It’s probably fair to say that roles such as mine vary across the country and we all do things differently.
My day-to-day work is wide ranging and very varied. I have strategic, leadership as well as managerial responsibilities. At senior level I lead many of the strategic and corporate functions of a political organisation. This is especially pertinent now that responsibility for public health comes within the local authority and that the key objectives and priorities for councils are centred on health and wellbeing.
I chair the Blaby Staying Healthy Partnership. The partnership comprises organisations such as the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Inclusion Support Service, local mental health services as well as schools and regulators (eg the police). We work together to reduce health inequalities in the district by taking a co-ordinated approach towards local health priorities based on evidence. In this way we pool our energies, maximise our resources and reduce duplication to ensure that Blaby residents benefit fully from the investment of limited funding.
In my capacity as manager of service teams, I oversee building control, environmental health, emergency planning, licensing, car parks and car park enforcement, leisure services, parks, green spaces, play facilities and partnerships, along with contamination, food safety and air quality.
We have 110 staff dealing on a daily basis with issues ranging from bonfire nuisance to buildings that do not comply with building regulations, so you can see the breadth of this role is enormous.
The best bits and challenges
I enjoy working at a strategic and leadership level for the health of Blaby and its surrounding authorities. My greatest challenges and achievements have been in fostering innovative partnerships to enable Blaby Council to work creatively with partners and stakeholders to secure best value for our money (for instance, by restructuring teams to work across neighbouring authorities). In this way we have been able to retain skilled, knowledgeable and experienced staff to work in a cost efficient manner.
We have been praised for our creativity in service redesign and have attracted attention from other authorities with whom we have been pleased to share our experiences.
With reductions in the budget for leisure, we will need to work to retain services whilst reducing risk. It can be a challenge to influence services and service priorities whilst returning significant savings for Blaby.
Life outside work
I have an interest in rugby. As my family grew up I qualified as a rugby junior coach to support my son and his team, although my son has now left home.
Career plans and top tips for others
I know that public sector organisations will need to continue to change over the next few years and to take decisions that make the best use of facilities and partnerships, so I see that I will be expanding the breadth of services rather than advancing my career.
This role takes some explaining! You would need to see it in action for yourself or shadow this role if you are genuinely interested and really want to understand what’s involved.