Sheila Boyce has been promoting risk management for years, and when the job of chief executive at Alarm came up, it was too good an opportunity to miss. Christine Seib reports....

Many of Sheila Boyce's career decisions have been a search for challenge, and it looks like she's finally got it. The new Association of Local Authority Risk Managers (Alarm) chief executive has a three-year term to prove her worth to the association's 1,200-plus members.

During that time she must foster the re-ignition of the sector's excitement about risk management. “Local government has historically responded to risk management positively, but the issue is to get it moving, revitalise it again, which is a challenge,” she says.

Boyce says discussion about risk management was sparked in the early 1990s by the run off of Municipal Mutual, which threw local authorities into the commercial market after years under a paternalistic mutual.

“It brought it right up the agenda,” she says. “You had to take ownership of risk, not just assume the insurer would cover it.”

Due to the public sector's willingness to share information, its risk management initiatives developed quickly, which then led to a quiet period.

New enthusiasm
“Everyone was working away in the background in regional groups that meet on a quarterly basis,” Boyce says. “People worked to move things forward on a grass roots level.”

However, there has been a renewed enthusiasm for risk management in the past three years, which Boyce partly attributes to a more claims-conscious public. “Local authorities have statutory obligations so it can't stop doing things that attract claims. There's been a significant rise in Alarm membership and commitment to risk management,” she says.

Also, they now have a time limit to work to: on April 1, the district auditor will begin examining how local authorities have embedded risk management in their practices, as part of a planned long-running relationship with Alarm.

There is also the Alarm conference coming up at Warwick University on April 9 to 10 and the selection of Alarm Risk Manager of the Year for the individual who has done the most innovative work within their local authority.

Yet, Boyce is relishing the hard work to come. After starting at a life assurance company, and gaining the Chartered Institute of Insurers qualification, she moved into its overseas department, where she used her fluent German. Children followed, then an administrative job at High Wycombe's local authority building control unit came up.

Coming to the fore
Not long after, a retirement at Wycombe's insurance office left a vacancy that offered too much challenge for Boyle to refuse. “It was a very interesting time to join because risk management was coming to the fore and I went to an Alarm conference as a delegate at the time,” she says.

In 1993 Boyle left the local authority to set up a new department for a mortgage lender. “It was a challenge because it was a start-up opportunity,” she says.

This was followed by five years in Aon's public sector consulting group. “I saw the Aon advertisement and thought it would be wonderful. I did miss working with local authorities, though, because I've always had a soft spot for them.”

Now, Boyce is onto her biggest test: the Alarm job. “Its a brilliant challenge, a brilliant opportunity, somewhere I can use my skills,” she says. “Once it becomes paper-shuffling, it's not so interesting.'

She can see a number of hot topics coming up in the local authority arena. “Stress is one issue but it's the whole issue of people as our most important asset. We don't necessarily treat them like that and that's got to change. We've got to make sure they're managed and fitted to the job and the job keeps them coming in and keeps them challenged.”

Of anyone, Boyle understands that very well.