IF he can do for Cambridgeshire County Council what he has done for himself, Mark Lloyd will be a roaring success as its new chief executive. Having left an under-achieving school in the Welsh Marches at 16, he joined the Civil Service for what could have
IF he can do for Cambridgeshire County Council what he has done for himself, Mark Lloyd will be a roaring success as its new chief executive.
Having left an under-achieving school in the Welsh Marches at 16, he joined the Civil Service for what could have been a humdrum time-serving career as a petty administrator. But someone recognised his potential.
Within years, he was competing successfully against Oxford and Cambridge graduates for what are called "fast-stream" places - public servants who are set to climb the ladder very quickly.
He worked for central Government in Wales, the Midlands, London and north Manchester before eventually entering local government with Durham County Council in 2000, becoming chief executive five years later. In the meantime, without A-levels, he had achieved a higher Master of Business Administration degree from Durham University, one of the country's oldest and most revered seats of learning.
At just 40 years of age, his easy smile clearly conceals a steely determination to make Cambridgeshire work - an ambition that almost foundered late last year and cost the council's leader her job.
He was one of the three short-listed candidates to replace former professional footballer Ian Stewart after he retired last summer as the county council's chief executive. He was the choice of the appointments panel, but not of then leader Councillor Shona Johnstone. She was concerned that his lack of proven experience in turning round adult social services - the county council's main weakness - would make it difficult for her to work with him.
She made the mistake - which proved tragic for her political career - of telephoning him to say she could not work with him.
Had she consulted political colleagues or officials in advance, Mark Lloyd's withdrawal of his candidacy might have been accepted. Instead, it was she who was forced into resignation and it was left to her caretaker successor, Sawtry's Councillor Keith Walters, who had been leader from 1987 until last year, to kiss the frog.
The upshot is that Lloyd eventually accepted the job he had originally been offered two months previously.
Durham was good about it. The council there, which will become a unitary authority in a year's time, forgave him for his "affair with Cambridgeshire", he told The Hunts Post, and they will part on excellent terms when he moves to Shire Hall on March 31.
He leaves Durham with a four-star rating (out of four), a situation Cambridgeshire remains hopelessly shy of, largely because of its poor delivery of adult social care - but something Mr Lloyd says he is determined to deliver.
If he achieves that, there must be a question mark about how much longer this ambitious young chief executive will stay. But it will take some achieving, so he will be here for a while.
For now he is anxious to stress that he is on a learning curve and will not be proposing ways forward before he knows more about this overwhelmingly rural fenland commuter-belt area.
But he is clear about some principles he will pursue - which will not include trying to impose what worked in Durham.
"I'm a public servant, and it's really important that the council is built around residents and communities and is responsive to them," he said. "It's about councils being on tap, rather than on top. We must deliver damn good services."
But to motivate employees to deliver those services it must be perceived by its staff as a model employer.
Among the priorities are that the council should provide leadership in the community, working with residents, business and the voluntary sector, and influencing regional and national policy in ways that benefit Cambridgeshire. The council's 69 elected members should get out and behave as champions for the people they represent. "If they are not fighting for Cambridgeshire, it's a poor show," he said. "The county council should not be shy about being the voice of Cambridgeshire." But it is deluding itself if it believes it can work effectively on its own. It must work through partnerships with other councils and other bodies.
The most exciting challenge for the new chief executive is what has become known as the "growth agenda" - the delivery of tens of thousands of new homes, including the new 9,500-home new town of Northstowe, based around the old airbase at Oakington, which is set to be a prototype for the Government's eco-towns of the future.
"This is not just about laying down concrete and delivering infrastructure. We must think about them as places people want to live. Otherwise, they won't work."
The other immediate challenge is congestion charging in the city of Cambridge, which has become hugely controversial because of opposition from commuters from out of town and middle-class parents living in the city - in spite of the possibility of £500million Government sweeteners to improve the public transport alternatives across the county.
But everyone has an opinion. In Cambridge, barbers seem to be the city's answer to London taxi-drivers. Last week, a routine three-minute appointment for someone for whom a shave should take longer than a hair-cut, stretched to 45-minutes while one of Chesterton's Sweeney Todds delivered his considered view on the matter.
In Durham, it was simple. One bollard, with a £2 charge to move it, removed 90 per cent of the city centre's problem traffic, to everyone's satisfaction. That is not an option for Cambridge.
At a personal level, Mark Lloyd struggles a bit with his nationality. Born in England (just) of Welsh parentage and married less than a year ago to Shan, who, though he met her in Durham, grew up just across the border in Wales, he confesses to having being "satisfied" with the outcome of the recent contest at Twickenham. That view of life might have to change.