PROFILE: Tom Franklin, Lambeth Council - Young gun goes in blazing at Lambeth. Tom Franklin has rolled up his sleeves and is ready to set the council straight

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.

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

his strengths.



’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

Authority.



His role was advising internal communication teams and mentoring, he

says.



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

Craig.



’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

trendy’.



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

accountability.



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

security guards.



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.’





HIGHLIGHTS



1992



Researcher to Robin Cook



1996



Account director public affairs, Rowland Company



2000



Leader, Lambeth Council.



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