Archive for August 2011

Being humble

August 31, 2011

What happens if you don't have enough of either?

Today we have a guest post from someone who has simply done a better job of tackling this topic than we could. We hope you agree.

If you too would like to submit a piece please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com but not before you’ve read this:

As a parent, I know that the day will come when my children will be better at something than I was, as the day came when I was better than my parents: it’s just that I hoped that my children would be out of the infants before it happened.

I have a confession here: I have never been able to whistle.  I am very pleased that this has never featured on a competency based job description or person specification as I might have had to write something like “whistling is an area of development for me, particularly when contrasted with humming, which is a particular strength of mine and more than compensates for any whistling related deficiencies”.

Miss Guest Blogger, perhaps aided by some teeth falling out, has found out that she can whistle, and is practising hard at it.  She was even more delighted when she found out that I was unable to whistle, and encouraged me to try a little harder “come on Dad” she says “you just need to practice a little”.  I am entirely comfortable in saying that I am unable to whistle and that there are many other people who can whistle better than me.

It got me thinking: when do you hear people in Local Government saying “you know, we can’t do that, we are no good at it and we should get somebody else to do it”? Or how about: ‘I think on balance I’m not the right person for this exciting opportunity’.

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Senior Management Teams: Strategic focus or organisational admin?

August 30, 2011

Making the big decisions or checking the latest performance report?

All councils have management team meetings; indeed, my guess is that all large organisations have management team meetings of some sorts.

At their best these management teams provide the strategic direction for the council; dealing with large issues and ensuring that there is a consistent vision across the organisation. In addition, the team meetings are important opportunities to share information across the council, to ensure that important messages are cascaded down to the rest of the staff, and hopefully to also challenge each other over how the organisation should be structured.

I’ve been to a wide range of these management team meetings as a guest over the past few years and therefore always take a big interest in the agenda of these meetings. The thing that struck me most was the proliferation of basic admin tasks that were covered by these supposedly strategic meetings.

I think this stems from a misunderstanding of what the management team is there for. Instead of being strategic many management teams seem to think that their job is simply to ‘see’ everything that is going on within the council.

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In explanation…

August 26, 2011

Why are we here?Here at We Love Local Government Towers we are pretty proud of all we have achieved so far.  Since we started blogging in 2009 we’ve racked up 320 posts, and with our limited monitoring capacity think have had at least 80,000 hits (although with each Council IP address counting as one hit we reckon the real figure may be just a tad higher).

We’ve been honoured to have written for the Guardian’s Local Government Network, have been featured in their Society Daily update a few times and were even named on the LGC list of ‘most influential organisations in local government’.  This last one particularly humbled us, as it was decided on by a panel of judges we really respect and came entirely out of the blue.

We’ve also been name checked and syndicated by an ever increasing number of blogs, aggregators and even a few proper journalists, who sometimes agree with our posts but just as often don’t.

As time goes on and the number of new readers goes up, we thought it might be high time to briefly revisit who we are and what we do.

To understand the present it’s worth going back to the past, to the very first days of this blog.  Set up after a few conversations in corridors, its very first post poked fun at the rigmarole surrounding the introduction of a new walking club.  Back then posts were limited to at most a couple per week, and covered some of the more light-hearted or bizarre occurrences the first few bloggers faced. (more…)

How is parenting a toddler like effecting behaviour change in a population?

August 25, 2011

You want to take advice from us? Really?

Oooo, what is that you say? Is it guest post day? Well, yes it is and a cracker it is too… Today our guest poster tackles behavioural insight (through the eyes of a toddler). If you came here via twitter then our nudge to get you to read it obviously worked!

If you too would like to submit a piece please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com but not before you’ve read this:

We love our trends in Local Government, our bright new shiny ideas that haven’t been tried anywhere else before and would be perfect for our area: I am sure that you can insert your own favourite one here.  The current one is behaviour change and nudging, inspired by Thaler and Sunstein’s book but also taking on board the work of Robert Cialdini.

There has been a tremendous amount of effort put into nudging, with the Behavioural Insight Team in the Cabinet Office evidence of the Government’s commitment to it.  The recent House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report into this area is a welcome heavyweight analysis of what has at times been quite an ephemeral debate.  But is this something that affects many people outside of policy wonks and researchers?

In an attempt to gauge wider opinion, and sadly lacking a ticket for the Clapham Omnibus, I asked Mrs Guest Blogger for her thoughts on the subject.  When I explained the subtleties and nuances, her first reaction was “is that all?” which is fair enough, her second “is this an excuse not to spend money?” but her final thought on the matter was “isn’t that what parents of toddlers do?”, which got me thinking – how is parenting a toddler like effecting behaviour change in a population?

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Could a council go bust and if it does what should we do?

August 24, 2011

Could a council really go this way?

My managers manager is a fairly senior guy in my local authority. Two months ago he was asked to take 40% out of his budget over the next three years.

In an unguarded moment a few weeks ago he commented that if it transpired that this target was more firm target than aspiration we ‘might as well all pack up and go home.’

This, along with a whole number of other things going on in local government, got me thinking; is it possible that a whole local authority might get in a position where they are so low on resources that they ‘might as well all pack up and go home.’

There are certain things that a council legally has to do and there are functions that have to happen to enable these things to take place. If it becomes impossible to meet these statutory responsibilities within the finances that the council has then in effect it would be bust. I don’t want to be inflammatory but is this possible?

I asked this question on twitter and in response the excellent Alex Khaldi from Impower wrote a blog post entitled: Pop Goes the council? I urge you to check it out as my below summary will doubtless not do it justice.

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The end of roadwork hell?

August 23, 2011

is charging more the answer?It was after sitting in unmoving traffic last Sunday on my way to a family event, seeing vans pushing their way from lane to lane and gradually becoming more and more irate that I thought something needs to be done. When I emerged from the snails crawl only to see lane after lane of space coned off for invisible workmen to be sitting on invisible chairs watching the world go by I started ranting to the powers that be that when I ruled the world, something would definitely be done.

Well, turns out the powers that be were listening to me, as a new idea was thrown out to the masses today by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond. Essentially it enables Councils to levy additional daily costs on those who are digging up certain roads, such as utility companies. Fees of up to £2500 a day are being suggested as part of the 12 week consultation for those works which take place on main routes during peak times, which could add up to a fairly significant sum when spread over a borough, city or region of the country over the course of a year.

My initial reaction when hearing the news was positive; surely anything that can be done to limit the impact on road users would be great, and might just encourage companies to complete work far more quickly. It will also bring a little more money in for Councils to then reinvest in road improvement works themselves. On the surface it makes a lot of sense, but before too long a few questions started springing up.

To start with, what roads will this apply to and how will this decision be made? Main roads certainly would be included, but it’s often roadwork to secondary roads which can cause the most disruption as the ability to close off a single lane doesn’t exist on a single lane highway. And would the same fee apply to a 200m road as well as to a 20km section? (more…)

Libraries, raised tempers and Gloucestershire County Council

August 22, 2011

Shhh; no arguing in the library

As regular readers of this blog will know we like starting debates and we even like criticism. In fact we recently wrote a post dedicated to the well thought through and constructive criticism we have received from various people who read our blog. We write the blog in good faith and welcome people with an interest in local government to join the debate; whether they agree with us or not.

I mention this because the post written by one of my colleagues last Thursday generated the sort of comment we’ve never seen before.

For those who missed it the WLLG blogger argued that there needed be a real debate about libraries and suggested that:

Those who think we can abolish libraries and move to kindles or book share only (I’ve heard it said) are as mistaken as those that think we can simply protect the porta-cabin library in each village and change nothing; which of course isn’t to say that in some locations a porta cabin village library might not be appropriate. However, if we meet in the middle we’ll be able to find solutions that meet all needs and that might just involve book share, libraries in supermarkets, kindles, web services, part time libraries, flexible public spaces, mobile libraries, traditional library buildings and everything in between.

But that’s not, I think, what annoyed people. He then took a brief detour into the world of judicial reviews and argued:

Despite this I would still disagree with the judicial review. The cuts being made by local authorities are next to impossible and if every small group is able to go to high court to challenge the change it will be impossible to do anything at all. I don’t therefore disagree with any of the individual judgments as such; just the principle of it.

The readers of our blog took offence at his reference to them as being ‘small’ and seemed to forget that his argument was not against any individual judgement but more about the principles of judicial reviews.

Nonetheless, the response to his flippant reference to these groups as small (probably a little unwise), both on the blog and on twitter, was unusually angry.

My favourite was the author who said:

I doubt if the people running this blog are representative of local government officers. I suspect it to be the creation of some young men and women in a hurry to get to the top, who think closing some libraries will look good on their cvs.

And the tweeter who suggested:

‘wonder if someone’s stirring the pot so’s to divide & rule’

However, amongst the odd vitriolic comments (from both sides) there were some really passionate responses, particularly from authors who are campaigning in Gloucestershire. In particular, it is worth reading this from Demelza who argued:

I, and many others in Gloucestershire, don’t believe the administration should be able to get away with this, and having exhausted all other avenues, supporting the JR seemed the only option – nor a decision that was taken lightly. It has been extremely stressful and time-consuming dealing with all the media attention and debate and criticism that has come from this, and no small feat to try and raise the many thousands of pounds required by the Legal Sevices Commission as ‘community contribution’ towards the costs of the case.

I believe, in principal, that JRs shouldn’t be necessary, and that councillors should respond and reflect the needs/concerns of their tax payers/electorate, and should not embark on plans where their are clear concerns, from several sources, of illegality. Clearly though this has not been happening in Gloucestershire with regard to the library cuts.

The response from Johanna also included a link to her piece detailing the library changes which is worth checking out.

With this in mind, and recognising that we try not to comment on individual local authorities but instead focus on principles and sector wide issues I decided to do some reading. What I found is a complex picture of an authority struggling to make huge budget cuts, a library service facing HUGE cuts and a community that didn’t feel listened to despite the councils attempts at a widespread consultation. In other words it shows some of the best and worst of the problems facing the whole of the sector right now.

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