Sworn in as leader of Lambeth Council only last week, Tom Franklin
already looks at home and brims with enthusiasm for his new role. He
quit his job at the Rowland Company late last year to take up a post as
special adviser to Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, but changed his mind at
the last minute, gambling that he might land the job of council leader
following the departure of its former leader, Jim Dickson, to public
affairs agency GJW.
’I took a drop in income and I’m delighted to have done so. There’s
something about Lambeth that grips you, like trying to finish a Rubik’s
Cube, you just have to keep at it,’ he says.
He has a tough time ahead. Lambeth still suffers from the mismanagement
- financial and otherwise - of the Labour administration which was voted
out in 1994. Four years out of power gave the party time to reflect and
the council returned in 1998 with New Labour stamped all over it.
Franklin says his aim at the council is to improve things noticeably for
Lambeth residents. He is keen to exploit staff potential, to allow them
the responsibility to take risks and think creatively, while freeing up
councillors to focus on the bigger picture of where they will be in five
years’ time. Former chief executive Heather Rabatts, who stepped down in
March, is soon to be replaced. ’We’re looking for someone who has
managed difficult, disparate organisations,’ he says, ruefully.
The bureaucratic nature of local government is something he is learning
to grapple with. Having served as a councillor in Lambeth for six years,
he is aware of the differences between working in the public and private
sectors, and considers disentangling this bureaucracy to be one of his
main jobs as leader. Luckily, he also believes that herein lies one of
’In PR, I learned how to focus on what you want to achieve, and how to
communicate this in a two-way dialogue. It’s important to get people to
lift their eyes from the here and now, to look at what can be achieved,’
he says. He draws parallels between politics and PR, saying that both
are about communicating with a particular audience in a way that is
empathetic and allows you to engage in dialogue.
At Rowland, Franklin worked with organisations including the Salvation
Army, the National Union of Teachers and the UK Atomic Energy
His role was advising internal communication teams and mentoring, he
He maintains that he enjoyed his time in the private sector but that he
did not go in with a view to staying there forever.
’He was good at public affairs, but this job is what he was made for,
says former Rowland colleague and fellow Lambeth councillor Kevin
’You could say his heart was not in the private sector the way it is
here. He is desperate to make the Lambeth Council job work.’
At 30, Franklin is one of the youngest council leaders in the country
and outside work enjoys clubbing. Craig says he has noticed the recent
removal of an earring from one ear, and describes him as ’a bit of a
Franklin comes over as relaxed and tremendously excited by the prospect
before him. Despite admitting to waking up at night and scribbling
things down frantically on bits of paper, he is relishing the prospect
of harnessing the potential of all those involved in making the council
work for Lambeth.
’You have to give staff space to use their brains. The council is a
monster with people trapped in there,’ he says. He admits he is on a
steep learning curve when it comes to delegating, but is committed to
changing the way the council works to improve accessibility and
He is keen on the idea of the council being an organisation without
solid walls, and notes that the edifice that houses the council, Lambeth
Town Hall, does not lend itself to improved communication between
residents and councillors - in my hour there, I encountered five
There are no plans at Lambeth to follow the north London borough of
Islington in cutting the public relations budget, Franklin says, but
adds that he wants to see more for his money. Lambeth employed its first
director of communications, Robert Blower, at the start of the year, and
his brief is to build a pro-active communication strategy, including
clearly branding the council.
’No doubt he’ll end up in Parliament,’ says Rachel Rees, Franklin’s
former boss at the National Housing Federation. ’He cares about poverty
and disadvantage, but he will be ruthless to get what he wants, and he
is very ambitious. This isn’t the end of the story.’
Researcher to Robin Cook
Account director public affairs, Rowland Company
Leader, Lambeth Council.