Archive for February 2011

I agree with Eric

February 28, 2011

I'm as shocked as you are

Hold onto your seats and don’t adjust your screens, I am about to say words I didn’t ever expect to say.

I agree with Eric Pickles.

Not generally of course, but recently he has decided to attack local government in a new (and seemingly random as ever) way, this time under the mantle of transparency and openness.  Yes, the Pickleator has written to local government and told them that bloggers should have the same rights as the accredited press.

So that I don’t misquote him, here is the message he sent out:

Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council.  Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don’t seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year’s budget this is more important than ever. (more…)

The Department for Criticising Local Government

February 25, 2011

Because Grant Shapps and Eric Pickles already have their pictures on our site

The Department for Criticising Local Government (for that is what the DCLG has become) have developed their operating model over the past eight months and I think we are now in a position to identify the different roles the Ministers play.

It goes something like this:

  • Eric Pickles makes the generalised attack on Local Government. This will be done in a forum where there can be no real come back (set piece TV or radio interview, newspaper etc) and in the context of another Government announcement. In effect the attack will be an aside used to partially justify the Government’s position; be it the need for cuts, localism, or local government pay caps etc.
  • Grant Shapps will be rolled out to argue with the Local Government representatives over the details of the criticism. He will usually choose two or three talking points and defend them all day from Radio 4 in the morning to Newsnight before bed. He’s very good and usually wipes the floor with his opponent.
  • Bob Neill will act as the voice of outraged Britain picking on a small example, usually taken out of context, that proves that local government is wasteful, crooked or otherwise disagreeable. His speciality is local papers and responses to newspaper stories. He particularly loves ‘non-jobs’, expensive buildings, high pay and bins but will turn his hand to anything the DCLG spin team choose to plant with their favourite papers.

Which got me thinking; what will be the story next week and who will deliver it? Here are some thoughts:

  • Local Government is closing too many swimming pools denying Britain a chance of winning gold at the 2012 Olympics (Eric Pickles)
  • XXX Borough council is closing its pool despite the presence of two senior managers in the leisure department earning over £60,000. It also refuses to share the management of the pool with neighbouring authorities (Grant Shapps).
  • The pool  was once used to host a ‘big fat gypsy wedding’ and the authority spent £5,000 making the environment appropriate as part of their diversity strategy. (Bob Neill)

Or:

  • Local Government is not delivering on its commitment to clean graffiti off public buildings at a sufficient rate (Eric Pickles)
  • Evidence from the Local Government Association themselves shows that the proportion of the council budget invested in graffiti cleaning has fallen in each of the past three years as councils have stopped focusing on what residents really want. (Grant Shapps)
  • XXX council has a policy of actively encouraging graffiti; protecting the rights of criminals above the rights of normal residents and refusing to even clean the area’s residents truly care about. (Bob Neill)

Any more suggestions for what the DCLG might come up with next week?

Don’t hate the referee

February 24, 2011

Are we really to blame for the obesity epidemic?

There is a saying: don’t hate the player, hate the game.  Well, today a revision of this came to mind: don’t hate the referee, hate the game.

Listening to the radio I heard a story on the child obesity epidemic ‘sweeping the nation’.  Several London boroughs took up a chunk of the top ten places, with the rest scattered around the country.  Whilst childhood obesity is not something to defend or be supportive of, what annoyed me was the line of attack from the radio hosts and the target for their ire.

In case you hadn’t guessed, yet again local government was taken to task over this issue, and told exactly how unacceptable the situation is.  I agree, but what exactly can we do, above our current efforts. (more…)

Conferencing

February 23, 2011

Just waiting for the arrival of the 9:22 train

I was once invited to speak at a local government conference; I’d been doing some interesting work and someone somewhere thought I might be the perfect person to speak in workshop number 7 at some wonderfully specific conference.

I was absolutely thrilled and preceded to annoy my wife, my colleagues, my pets and even my car stereo by alternating between boasting and practising for my big moment.

Little did I know how monumentally insignificant my big moment would be.

You see, conferences in local government are a very odd thing. People from across the country cough up £100 or so (well their council’s do) and trek half way across the country to hear from ‘experts’ in the field about what it’s happening in their little part of the sector.

These conferences always seem to follow the same pattern:

(more…)

Came-wrong or Camer-on-the-other-hand?

February 22, 2011

Seven!

At the risk of breaking the boundaries of anonymity, I can reveal that I’m too young to have experienced the Thatcher years.  I was alive through them, but was only aware of them as much as I now know of the Hadron Collider: it exists, it’s all pretty complicated and people either think it will give loads of answers or destroy the world.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the same words are starting to spring up around the latest incarnation of Tory government.  Privitisation, attacks on local services, greedy bankers: all of these are things which my parents talk all about but which I am just preparing to form a solid opinion of.  And you know what: I’m on the fence.

David Cameron’s recent announcement that businesses and charities will now have the ability to compete to deliver the services which in recent years have been coming solely from the public sector has been criticised from many corners for potentially destroying those services and opening the door for the private sector to bleed us all dry.  There is no way that any private company will do anything that doesn’t make them money, even if that means providing a sub-standard service and charging ever-increasing costs to do so.  Or does it?

(more…)

Employing a star?

February 21, 2011

Over-achiever or self-printed certificate?

I recently heard an amusing story from a friend of mine in a council in one of this nation’s big cities.

The council my friend works for was in the process of employing a new senior member of staff (when I say senior we are talking one of the top five or so members of staff in the local authority; the sort of person who would definitely be on Eric Pickles list… It is no secret that local authorities are currently under a lot of pressure and this job was considered by the members of the council to be so important to their long term future that they dreamed up a very complex recruitment process.

I’m no HR professional but when the recruitment process used was described to me I was very impressed. There was:

  • Testing
  • Interviews with other senior officers and members
  • A speed dating interview event with staff and other stakeholders (including customers)
  • A presentation

So why tell this story?

Because the council in question were sold a pup. Apparently their new senior manager is about as effective as Jeremy Clarkson at a save the earth rally.

I’m talking mocked by other councils, laugh out loud bad.

It’s still early days but if this is true and the member of staff doesn’t help deliver the high quality that is not only expected but clearly needed then this recruitment process will turn out to be an unmitigated disaster.

Why does this happen? How could an appointment that bad, which within the first few months is widely criticised by those outside of the organisation, still occur even after this extensive recruitment process?

(more…)

Flagrant waste of council tax money

February 18, 2011

We’ve mentioned many times that we love guest posts and we do our best to put them up as and when they pop into our inbox. Today’s excellent post is from Matt in London who pokes a little fun at the obsession in the media about council furniture. If anyone would like to add their own post please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com.

But not before you’ve enjoyed today’s post:

I’m frequently fascinated by the media (and wider public) interest in the money councils spend on office items, like stationery and chairs. The latter was most recently seen by our friends at the Audit Commission, but all sorts of councils including Haringey have had “name and shame” articles recently about spending taxpayers hard-earned cash on luxury items like seating.

Certainly papers seem to get more “up in arms” about a council spend £100 on chairs than they do on the massive sums frittered away on PFI projects and the like.

In light of this I thought I’d share this picture of some council furniture at my council, which I think demonstrates ‘value for money’. I don’t think there’s been much interior design oversight or aesthetics strategy planning around this mixed bunch, but it does look like we last invested in seating some time around the time of Local Public Service Agreements. Surely the public would be impressed by this during financially restricted times.

No budget for furniture or just too arty?

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