Growing up in a family full of people working in the health and public sector, Austin was destined to work in the sector too! Brought up in Rutland County, Austin moved to Birmingham to undertake his degree in International Studies and Economics at the University of Birmingham. A complete contrast to his youth experience, Austin was exposed to a much wider range of people of different social and economic circumstances – “I went to a private school so grew up with people from quite privileged backgrounds”.
Attracted to the diversity of such a large city and wanting to do something with a bit of meaning and substance, Austin stayed and took up a job with Birmingham City Council as a Neighbourhood Ward Officer working in a couple of estates in South Birmingham. There he cut his teeth in public service culture working with people from very different social circumstances.
Moving through various career opportunities at Birmingham City Council to Commissioning Manager within Adult and Community Services, the attraction of a rural setting of his youth, starting a family and career opportunity drew him to work for Worcestershire City Council, leading on children services for a period of time. From there he more recently joined Solihull MBC as Head of Stronger Communities (Head of Communities and Housing). Working for three very different local authorities has provided a very varied experience of how democratic power is used; joined up working and decision-making.
Currently responsible for homelessness, rough sleeping, commissioning partnerships and developing housing policy and strategy, Austin’s main challenge is…. “how do you change attitude and behaviour of residents and landlords to the green agenda……. enforcement or encouragement and incentivise”? In building stronger communities, Austin is responsible for commissioning services from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector – taking an asset-based approach. In the changing role and responsibilities of local authorities as service providers to creating and shaping the market providers, for him the challenge has been….. “we’ve been slow to communicate to the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector the implications of the shift of LA macro commissioning to a personalised agenda ”. Though the overall pot of money from central government to LAs for the voluntary and community has not significantly changed over the last 20 years, more service provision is now commissioned than grant funded. A further challenge for his role is…..“how do you ensure that the social value of grant funding approaches is incorporated into the way services are commissioned in the future”?
So why join the Network? Since working more closely with independent funders during his time at Birmingham, Austin believes that funders are supporting social issues 2/3 years ahead of public sector bodies and there is much to share, learn and collaborate on by working more closely together…..”its never been easy to get the public sector and independent funders to co-ordinate their work and collaborate…….it’s very random and haphazard”. For Austin, the value of being a member of the Network and a Trustee is to strategically contribute to getting the public sector and funders to work more closely on addressing common social issues.