Archive for November 2010

Let’s Spread Some Good News

November 30, 2010

He doesn't endorse us, but maybe Russell might appreciate our efforts!

Russell Howard does many wonderful things, including what I consider an excellent TV show entitled Russell Howard’s Good News.  In this he trawls the news stations, papers and websites, picking out some things which deserve ridicule and being picked apart which he does with aplomb.

However, he also makes a special point to pick out some simple good news stories which should be shared for good’s sake.  These are things with no pithy punchline or demand for incredulity; rather they are stories which perhaps are a little unusual but which bring a smile to the face and warmth to the heart.

In no way are we trying to compare ourselves favourably to he of TV fame, but we do identify with what he is striving to do.  We too like picking apart some of the funnier and stranger goings on in our own little corner of the world, attacking where we feel it is needed and defending on occasion as well.

With this in mind we would like to announce our first direct call out to our readers.  Over the past few months we have seen our readership rise from ourselves (seriously, one week we had a total of 20 views, and a dozen of these were by my Mum) to thousands of people a week.  Whilst we would love to think it is our prose which attracts you to these pages in reality we know it is probably down to the fact that you work in or with local government and can share in our musings. (more…)

Holidays are coming… (with some politics thrown in)

November 29, 2010

A word map of Eric Pickles' mind?

This blog tries very hard to be apolitical. That is not to say that we are uninterested in politics, nor that we don’t discuss political issues; it’s just that we try our best to stay clear of the ‘Political’ debate between the Westminster parties. We also don’t discuss religion or work with animals or children. It’s just easier that way.

In light of this we have tried our best to treat Eric Pickles and the coalition with a sort of equanimity; taking the rough with the smooth and not getting too uppity about either. (For evidence of this see our discussion of the Audit Commission abolition and CSR and for evidence of the opposite see a guest post on the Child Benefit changes.

However, this weekend Mr Pickles has got me simply too upset to ignore. It’s not as if he was in my good books anyway; in the past week the rather talented Allister Hayman from the Local Government Chronicle revealed that the poorest Local Authorities were going to face the biggest cuts in their budget with some of the most deprived areas in Britain receiving cuts of 37%. What made it worse was that some of the richest areas in Britain were to receive increases; yes, you read that correctly, increases in the amount of money they received this year.

Then, on the radio I heard Mr Pickles blustering that the (Conservative run) Local Government Association was exaggerating the job cuts local government would be facing. If only councils were more efficient fewer jobs would be lost he argued. It seems that Mr Pickles didn’t understand that job cuts were how Local Authorities tended to find efficiencies.

Despite these acts of provocation a post discussing these acts of outrage might have been too political so I was prepared to leave it. Then came a post on the Conservative Party Blog from Mr Pickles that tipped me over the edge (thanks to @FlipChartFT for the heads up). Here are the first few paragraphs:

Councils don’t need to mask or hide this year’s Christmas festivities for fear of causing offence, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has said today.

As the lights are turned on for Christmas all over the country, Mr Pickles urged councils to take pride in Britain’s Christian heritage; celebrating the nativity and all the traditions that have sprung up around it from tinsel and tree lights to turkey.

“We should actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas, and not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity and the importance of the birth of Christ.

“The War on Christmas is over, and likes of Winterval, Winter Lights and Luminous deserve to be in the dustbin of history.

The full ‘story’ can be found here:

(more…)

A Mr Kipling standard of performance

November 26, 2010

 

Exceedingly good performance not limited to cakes...

 

Today I thought I’d recount a little vignette from a newly trained accountant I met at one of those awkward Local Government conferences we sometimes go to.

This particular accountant works up north somewhere (I choose not to say) and during her training period (not too long ago) went to her manager and asked him for some new work; so far so keen.

However, this is not the private sector and the response made me smile.

The senior accountant looked a little shocked by the approach of his apprentice and quickly gathered together a few small pieces of work to pass on. No more was said of it for the next three months until it came time for the apprentice’s half year evaluation.

(more…)

So why do we wear ninja masks?

November 25, 2010

Here at We Love Local Government Towers we are a friendly lot.  We share ideas and opinions freely, disagreeing often but with ideas and not individuals, which means no matter what is said we are rarely if ever offended by each other.

However, the WLLG Towers are a fictional building; we in fact inhabit far less light-hearted environments and are spread around various public sector organisations at a variety of levels.  In these organisations fear, mistrust and intrigue abound, and often we are not as free to express our real thoughts and opinions for fear of vilification, discrimination and possible retribution.

These, and a few others, are the reason that we set up this anonymous blog in the first place, and we wanted to take a minute to look at our decision to stay anonymous in a little detail.

I would like to say that there was an extensive period of planning after the need for this blog was identified: that we wrote plans, formulated policies, established and benchmarked procedures and formed steering groups to guide us on our blogging journey.  Suffice to say, we didn’t.  In fact, we threw away our learning from our years of service and went a bit crazy by just coming up with an idea in a corridor and within fifteen minutes getting it done.

There was no grand plan, no strategy as to the long term success or otherwise to our adventure.  In fact, in those early days posts were few and far between, with two or three a week feeling quite busy.  We got ourselves into the swing of just writing things down, learning how to do it as we went, and just talked about things which amused us.  We had a readership of less than five, two of which were writing the posts, and nearly threw a party the first time one of our posts was seen by someone we didn’t know. (more…)

Meetings, watches and time wasting

November 24, 2010

 

Meetings with graphical characters; that would make me turn up on time!

 

An e-mail in our inbox (welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com) tickled me so, following the success of the drunk senior manager, I thought I’d reprint it in full…

If you have similar or better stories please just send them along. We might even have to make this a weekly feature if we keep getting so many good ones.

A funny story that I should share with you from this morning. I was sat in the programme management office, which leads onto the meeting room. One person turns up at 8.45am, says that he has a 8.30am meeting which I know nothing about. He shrugs his shoulders and wanders off. Another person arrives at 9.05am claiming that they are there for the 9am meeting. I said the other guy just left and that he thought it was at 8.30am. She stays for some idle chit chat, shrugs her shoulders and wanders off. Another person arrives at 9.20 claiming the she is also there for the 9am meeting. I said she should wait and I will call the others however she could only stay until 9.30am and therefore left. Finally the fourth member of the 9am meeting arrives at 9.35am. I thought about explaining the situation but didn’t bother.

It was amusing the fact that a) no one actually turned up on time even according to the time they thought the meeting was and b) no one seemed to care.

But fear not, these are the people who are going to lead the Council to a bright new future!

Fear not indeed; with people as concerned about time keeping as that a few budget cuts should be no problem at all. You’ve just gotta love local government.

Youth, and Local Government, is wasted on the young – Part 2

November 23, 2010

Young vs old, who will win? There's only one way to find out.....

Regular readers will no doubt have read a piece by a co-blogger last week, which made the point that local government is dominated by old people and that younger, more energetic and less fearful staff find it too difficult to get in on the action.  Of particular note were graduates, those shining stars who are destined for greatness and deserve every bit of help they can get in order to get there sooner rather than later.

Now, football and politics aside, the two of us very rarely disagree too much (although their positive take on their team’s young players will forever be a bone of contention).  However, the subject of the need for youth to triumph over experience is one on which we agree to disagree.

I feel I need to make my own position clear here, to give a little context to my comments.  I left school at 16 with some GCSEs and a few contacts, and then spent the next decade and a half slowly climbing my way up the greasy pole.  Not because I feel the burning need for power or authority, just that I’ve been in the right place at the right time on a few occasions.  I’m not at the top (far from it), but am keeping my annual salary above my age which is all I ever hope to do.

During that time I’ve worked with colleagues old and young, competent and, well, less so.  On one score I do agree that some of the brightest and best of these have been those taking part in the various graduate schemes in place (and there are a few).  However, these have not been universally great; in fact, along with some of the best, I’ve also encountered some of the worst, most over-paid, over-trained and under-skilled individuals in local government.

My major gripe is the opinion that these individuals have had, that by the sheer fact that they went to university that they are better than their peers and are owed position, power, authority and respect.  The fact that they know how to pass a course and have letters after their name has given them a degree of arrogance I’ve not seen since Cristiano Ronaldo made his way overseas.

Before I provoke cries of outrage and righteous indignation, I want to be very clear; these are in the minority.  As I said, most of these graduate have been good to excellent, although in my opinion a fair number of them are no better or worse than other colleagues who have spent the same amount of time they were studying for in a local authority.  In place of theory is practical knowledge, in place of process and best practice is experience and the knowledge of how to get things done.

In an ideal world, these graduates and other youngsters would be able to come into teams and make all of the changes necessary to turn an average service into an exceptional one.  We do not, however, inhabit such a world.  Newcomers to a team – whether they are fresh out of university or simply joining the sector for the first time – have very little practical history to draw upon, and have ideas and plans which simply will not survive the day to day grind.

Those who have been at the coal face for an extensive period of time do have such experience to draw upon, and do so on a constant basis.  These are the people who are risk averse, which is not the negative word many people describe it as; whilst little real progress is made neither are serious mistakes.  Local government is not the private sector, where the worst that happens is that a company goes bust; vulnerable people’s lives and wellbeing is at stake.  If a company doesn’t deliver its services then customers up sticks and go somewhere else to get what they want; if the public sector doesn’t deliver good enough services people have nowhere else to go and the service itself will still have to struggle through.

I’m not saying new people with fresh ideas and impetuous aren’t more than useful and more than needed.  The downside of having a bunch of people who always do things the same way is that you’ll always get the same results, and there is certainly a high degree of cynicism and negativity that can build up.  However, I think youth and vibrancy needs to be tempered and guided by those who have been there and seen all of the things being suggested tried and fail before.  The lessons learnt by doing rather than by reading about doing are invaluable, and need to be retained and valued lest we all make the same mistakes time and again.

There is also the question of appropriate positions for these graduates, who thanks to the knowledge they have worked hard to amass usually feel they should enter the workplace proper in the lower to middle management jobs.  As someone who had to work for years to get to where I am I can honestly say that there is nothing more frustrating than seeing jobs at your own and higher levels going to those with practically no experience under their belts but as many letters after their name as a man with a delayed stutter.  If they are really that much better than me then fine; experience has shown me though  that sometimes this isn’t the case.  I’m not saying I’m that good, but neither are they.

In my service area the average age is around 35, with a disproportionate number of graduates balancing out a few individuals who got their first contracts counter-signed by Churchill.  In my mind I want to see that balance maintained at all costs.  I want to see new, young, fresh graduates wanting to be part of local government and wanting to make it better, but not at the cost of those who have been doing just that for decades.

I’ll finish with a few words that might explain where I’m coming from far better than the previous few paragraphs:

I hear and I forget, I see and I remember; I do and I understand

Buying stuff

November 22, 2010

 

Putting the squeeze on

 

Sir Philip Green, the Topshop tycoon and BFF of X Factor’s Simon Cowell, recently wrote a scathing report detailing how the Government could save a fortune if only it learnt how to procure (i.e. buy stuff) better.

The figures that Sir Philip was talking about are mind-boggling and far beyond the scope of anything I, as a relatively junior local government officer, would ever come into contact with. However, like many local government officers I have had to buy things, and many of these times have found it somewhat frustrating.

I might not like Philip Green’s abrasive approach but surely local government procurement bears no relationship to how it works in the private sector, surely.

I should state that I am not a procurement officer and therefore am not privy to all the processes that go into making a good procurement.

However, my experience of the procurement process is that it is mighty complicated.

Big procurement exercises can involve pre qualification questionnaires, lengthy submissions in response to detailed specifications, interviews with the providers, further clarification interviews, visits to local authorities who had already procured the thing we’re interested in before then eventually looking at the pricing. It can take ages and in tight projects can be a mighty pain in the backside.

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Follow Friday

November 19, 2010

Twittering and other things

If you ignore the fact that many of us have found our way onto the redundancy lists of our respective councils and the fact that many of our friends and colleagues are finding their jobs at risk, the last few weeks have been pretty exciting for us at the WLLG blog.

Not only have more of you lovely people be reading the blog and commenting but we have also started moonlighting for our friends at the Guardian Local Government Network.

We’ve only got three posts up so far but if people like them and the Guardian get nice comments it should become a weekly thing.

Here, we have a slightly cynical look at local government cuts

This piece has caused some controversy on twitter so it is worth noting that the post is satirical in nature, highlighting some of the worst examples of rash cost cutting and is based on experiences that we and our colleagues in local government have actually witnessed. The Guardian pieces are slightly lighter in nature than those on this site (by design) and hopefully provide a useful corrective to some of the other pieces in Local Government literature.

Here, we explain the process for writing a local government blog (with tongue in cheek)

Here, we rehash previous blogs for our Guardinan debut. (more…)

Youth, and Local Government, is wasted on the young – Part 1

November 18, 2010

Would she want a job in Local Government?

At Welovelocalgovernment we have a mix of professions and backgrounds. Therefore, when one of us suggested writing a piece about the plight of young people in the local government workforce we decided to do it in two bits; part 1 about young people with a graduate background and part 2 about young people without a graduate background. This is Part 1.

 

I had a meeting with someone in HR the other day (unfortunately, meetings with HR nowadays tend to involve discussing the redundancy process) but before I left we had a brief chat about the age profile of local authorities.

There may be some exceptions but in my experience local authorities seem to be populated by those of us firmly rooted in middle age, if not slightly slipping into the ‘wise elder’ category. It makes me wonder how they all got here; surely these people were young once? If not, when did they join Local Government?

The central civil services certainly does not have this problem; the Fast Stream is almost famous in terms of a graduate scheme and brings through a steady stream of excellent university students, gives them five years protected tenure within the Civil Service and then lets them loose within the higher levels of the civil service. As I understand it the fast stream brings in at least 500 graduates per year who can then work their way through the management grades.

(more…)

The Architect builds my anger up

November 17, 2010

Et tu, Architect?!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog piece which introduced you all to a semi-colleague who took credit for an excellent piece of work under false pretences.  Well, I am now able to bring you round two of the saga.

Before I go any further I want to say that this is not meant to be a blog about venting personal grievances.  I will not name them, no matter what the bribe is, and will try not to get too worked up about the whole thing.  I’ve chosen to write about it and share because I get the ever growing impression that this is becoming less and less an isolated incident in the public sector, which worries me.

As regular readers will know, there are many restructures happening in local government at the moment due to the Comprehensive Spending Review, one of which I am now part of.  The work I am responsible for and have been delivering with the help of an excellent team is moving over to another service area entirely, and I am the only one of my team who has been given the chance to follow it.

So, to keep it simple I am eligible to apply to do my job, as are six others from other parts of the council (it’s a big restructure).  All of these have rightful claims to the job and have dealt with the issue in an amicable (if slightly strained) way.

The last person up for it is our friend, The Architect (whose moniker I shall henceforth jargonise to TA).  As you may recall, TA has been on secondment to central government for some time, and wanted to stay there permanently.  We  were all recently sent the proposals for our restructure, and have been invited to make our comments. (more…)


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