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Politicians, partnerships, community… and cake

I often reflect that I have the best job in the world, and part of that is the amazing diversity in every day. Last Thursday is a case in point. 
I started the day with a birthday breakfast – The Queen may have two birthdays but I celebrate 13. In truth, I only have one of my own but every month I hold a birthday breakfast for staff born in that particular month. It’s very jolly, and it’s a chance to put together people from different departments who otherwise might not have anything to do with each other inside the College.
While it’s designed to be fun, it’s also an opportunity for them to share ideas and experiences in a relaxed environment and to be reminded that even if they tend only to mix with a particular group of people they are part of one college community. 
And, of course, we eat cake… which is generally a good thing.
In traditional style, lunch followed breakfast. I had beenasked to speak at the wonderful Business Expo 3.0, brainchild of the inspiring Vicki Beale who runs Rapid Sales Solutions and who, having been a student at the college herself, is now in the process of taking on new apprentices to train with us. 
There was a spectacular turn-out, which is of course precisely what one would expect in this city. Milton Keynes’success and continuing growth is built on partnerships – like ours with Vicki – and partnership was my theme for my address to the Expo.
People sometimes think that “partnership” is soft – all warmth and cosiness but with little substance. They’re wrong. Successful partnerships are based on trust, integrity and respect. They can trigger innovation and creativity. Going into partnership with other businesses is not about giving up your market share but making more of what you have. 
Until comparatively recently, much scientific research was done in silos… physicists and chemists, geographers and statisticians all beavering away on similar problems entirely within their own methods and disciplines. Today, largely because of the internet, there are collaborative research groups all over the world making far faster progress by taking advantage of each other’s expertise. 
If you look up ASTROTROP, you will discover how astronomers have teamed up with experts on forestry to better understand evidence regarding climate change gathered by satellite. The one group is expert on trees and the other highly skilled at looking at things from a long way away. Once you get them together, their value to each other is obvious. 
It’s often the same when businesses collaborate, or when business works with education.
And then, after lunch, what next but tea? Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt dropped in to the Betchley Campus just in time for sandwiches and scones and cake. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say the students and staff blew his socks off. I have the chance to see how hard-working, talented, interesting and interested they are every day of the week, but it gives me a real thrill to see visitors becoming more and more impressed as they’re shown round. 
Students fed him, interviewed him, told him what he ought to do if Labour get into power after the General Election next year and generally charmed him.
His tour ended with a demonstration from our highly skilled basketball players. We had no idea beforehand but he professed himself a big fan of the sport having lived for some time in Chicago.
At the end of the visit my Deputy, Nick Isles, and I had the chance to sit down in private with Mr Hunt to talk about future policy. I couldn’t help but think how much less notice he might have been inclined to take of our opinions if he hadn’t been so obviously impressed by what he’d seen.
So another day in the life of a FE principal drew to a close – it had been an energetic and enjoyable one. The theme of the day is don’t hide what you can do. Put your ideas out there and be willing to forge relationships with others who might help you take them in directions of which you’ve never dreamt. 
Partnerships are good for growth. Look closely at your own community and you will find people you can work with and who can help you to do things better. 
Oh, and eat cake. That’s very important.