Archive for September 2011

Local Government Oscars

September 30, 2011

No tears tonight please...

ATTENTION: WE HAVE GOOD NEWS; THE DATE FOR THE POSTING OF THIS BLOG HAS BEEN PUT BACK TO THE 30TH SEPTEMBER!

As some of those in Local Government will know, or will quickly re-remember and panic, today is the closing date for the 2012 LGC awards.

The LGC awards are just part of a burgeoning local government awards industry. Other options for the budding local government Oscar wannabes include the APSEs, the Guardian Public Service Awards, the MJs and a whole variety of sector specific award ceremonies.

Added together and an excellence co-ordinator (a role that existed in an authority of a friend of ours in the mid 2000s and specialised in writing award entries) could find enough work to occupy their whole year.

These awards all tend to follow a similar pattern. Each will have an application process involving a lengthy application form. These application forms will then be assessed by a panel of experts who will establish a shortlist for each of nominee.

Whilst applying is free, if you do get nominated the only way to attend the awards ceremony is to pay for a seat or ten at the evening event. These seats will be aggressively sold by the event organisers and if you do not book your table early you can expect a lot of phone calls.

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An unhealthy situation

September 29, 2011

Council staff may need to get that doctorate after all

My husband’s birthday is coming up soon.  I know it’s coming up, and that I will be expected to buy a nice present, perhaps cook a nice meal and maybe if he’s lucky arrange a bit of a party, but so far I haven’t.  Life’s been busy, other things have taken my time and attention and generally I’ve let it slide, no doubt to remember again a few days before and pick him up a ‘humorous’ card, a Chris Ryan novel and some random golf-related stuff.

In fact, I’m feeling very local government about it all.  You see, councils up and down the country are going through the same thing.  In 2013, the responsibilities previously undertaken by the PCT around public health will transfer lock, stock and anti-smoking barrel to their council counterparts.

2013 is just 15 months away.  If you were wondering, that’s 66 Mondays away from the day this post goes live.

But are we in the council ready?  Have we got long term plans and strategies in place to handle these changes, with work currently underway to prepare the ground for an influx of new officers and workstreams, working to understand how we can avoid simply tagging them on to other areas but really make them part of an integrated service and weaving them into the service delivery plans of their new colleagues? (more…)

Understanding the Local Government budget cuts

September 28, 2011

When £10 million isn't 10 million pounds...

A little while ago one of my colleagues wrote a piece detailing how the ‘feared’ cuts of April 2011 were in reality just the calm before the storm. They briefly explained how local authorities had dealt with the budget cuts in a very short period of time:

Well, some of them looked at what they could do in a few months and made some small cuts around the edges. Others looked at small financial adjustments they could make which could keep them going for a year. Some found ‘underspends’ to roll over whilst others just dived into their reserves to make ends meet from 2010/11 to 2011/12.

This is evidence, if ever it was needed, that the local government budget process is pretty complicated. This was further brought home to me last week when the estimable Simon Parker of the NLGN reported from the Lib Dem Conference that:

Turns out LibDems aren’t all that passionate about #localgov - but MPs in denial – one said cuts ‘not draconian.

Not draconian? Surely they missed the memo?

Well, either that or they simply don’t quite understand the local government budget.

The budget in my local authority is roughly (and all numbers here are rough as the budget process is way above my pay grade) £140 million and we’re being asked to find something like £50 million savings over the next four years. The assumption you might make is that the council’s budget in 2015 would be just £90 million.

Unfortunately, this is totally incorrect. Our budget in 2015 will probably end up being something like £130 million. You might then assume that this is a cut of just £10 million and something that our Lib Dem friends would easily describe as ‘not draconian’. Again, you’d be wrong.

So why the discrepancy?

Because life isn’t static and nor is the council budget.

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A degree of essential skills?

September 27, 2011

Does this count if I argue with myself?

Recently we have offered our dear, valued readers a number of quite nuanced posts, tackling sensitive issues and asking some big questions. From debate on frankly ridiculous referendum guidance, to the problems facing all at Dale Farm, to equalities monitoring information, we’ve tackled it recently.

However, today is a return to a simple, straightforward old school rant, so if this is not your thing then look away now and come back tomorrow.

Todays rant takes us back to a pet topic of mine, and was brought up as I delved into a new shared drive area, which thanks to the vaguaries of ICT randomly became available to me. It covered recruitment, and laid out a dozen or more job descriptions which had been recruited to over the past few years. As I looked through them they covered a wide range of work areas, and required a huge range of skills and experience. But do you know what sat at the top of each person spec, regardless of the job or grade?

“Educated to degree standard”

Some added an “or equivalent” at the end of that short sentence, but regardless it invariably sat there in black and white, usually followed by the capital ‘E’ for essential.

What does this even mean?! It doesn’t appear to matter whether or not the degree was in any relevant area or subject, how well they did, what university they went to or when they did it, just that at some point in their life they studied and got that precious slip of paper. By inference, if you chose for whatever reason not to go to university then obviously you are not capable of fulfilling that role. (more…)

Debating Referendums

September 26, 2011

Have I seen this picture somewhere before?

Last week we wrote a piece decrying the Government’s ludicrous idea of giving local residents the power to call referenda but then not make the result of that referendum binding. As mentioned, this is sort of the equivalent of giving people money to go out and buy as many cakes as they want but then not letting them eat any of them.

Flippin ridiculous!

However, the twitter response to our post was not about the idiocy of the Government’s response but actually about referenda themselves. One of our favourite critics, Paul Evans was particularly exorcised, signing off with one of my favourite debate enders ever:

Direct Democracy is just poison.

It was sort of hard to know what to say to that really; so I bottled out and pledged to spend a bit of my weekend mulling why exactly I was defending referendums and whether the plural or referendum was referendums or referenda. (Paul got me on that one too!)

Before I continue I should urge you to read Paul’s piece on why Direct Democracy is a really bad idea. It’s available here and lays out, in more detail than I’d ever manage, the reasons that referendums are not a good idea.

Rather than refute each of Paul’s points, which would be pretty dull and often not possible due to the quality of some of his arguments, I decided to try and develop a coherent vision of when and why referendums might be a good thing. It was a lot more tricky than I originally thought.

We should not get caught up on the principle of the issue but it is worth saying that it is profoundly democratic to let people have an un-weighted one person one vote on an issue that directly affects them.

As Paul points out the problem here is that the way we set up referendums in this country. In general we usually set them up for a limited number of questions and usually one where all nuance is stripped out of the debate. The referendum regarding the voting system is a recent and prime example.

However, just because we mis-used a referendum to decide our electoral system does not mean the whole system is bad; or does it?

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This post is not binding

September 23, 2011

If it's non binding can I vote twice?

We at WLLG towers really like localism.

Thus, when we heard that the localism bill would include a new provision around local government polls and referendums we were tentatively quite pleased. In fact so excited were we that one of my colleagues dug up the briefing paper prepared by the auspicious House of Commons library no less.

Up and down the land excited WLLG authors opened up the paper and were greeted with a very positive first line:

The Localism Bill 2010-12 contains provisions which would enable residents to trigger a local referendum by petition. Additionally, local councillors will be able to request a referendum in their local area (subject to approval by council resolution) or the authority itself may resolve to hold a referendum on a local issue.

It’s a good start and whilst it is important for any provision to show a balance between direct and representative democracy the fact that councillors are going to be involved might help balance that.

Besides, we’ve only just read the first line of the document and the experts of the House of Commons library are sure to have provided some further details as to how this delicate balance might be achieved.

So let’s read on. Line 2 of the library research note:

 A local authority will not be bound by the result of a referendum

WHAT?!?! Sorry, have I misread something? Let’s try again:

A local authority will NOT be bound by the result of a referendum

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Inside out

September 22, 2011

How far on the journey are we?

When I was much younger I spent a wonderful autumn making some extra money through conkers.  It wasn’t big business, but having a conker tree in the back garden meant I had a steady supply when many of my friends didn’t, so I swapped enough money for the odd trip to the tuck shop for some un-treated conkers of varying sizes.  My friends could have gone and got some conkers themselves, or perhaps sourced an external supplier from another school, but my services were cost effective and efficient, I offered a guaranteed service and at the end of the day I shared my sweets with them, so everyone was a winner.

This delve into history came to mind today when I read news that Birmingham City Council’s legal services team have secured a major contract to supply 70 health trusts legal support at a cost of £8.8m.  This has precipitated the development of two brand new divisions – LSB Law and LSB Law Conferencing – which will deliver this work and the training to complement it, a huge task in anyone’s estimation.

To my admittedly limited knowledge, this has to be one of the biggest examples this country has ever seen of a public sector service offered by one Council being sold to other public sector agencies.  I have experience of internal consultancies, many of which prove very successful.  Where a specialism exists which one single team has developed and which other teams need, it is not unusual for that team to charge a modest fee to make use of this service.  Design, communications, consultation, audit, legal advice, training, research, print; all these and more are made use of in the internal marketplace (which we looked at ourselves some time ago). (more…)

Liberal Anonymity

September 21, 2011

So remind me; who are you again?

This blog is not necessarily one that takes a great amount of notice of the internal workings of our country’s political parties. However, as I listened to my daily dose of John Humphries and his Crazy crew this morning I heard that one of today’s ‘highlights’ at the conference would be a speech by the Liberal Democrat Local Government Minister Andrew Stunnell.

Unfortunately, I have to work during the day so caught up with his speech in the written form yesterday evening (you can do so too).

So where to begin?

Well, Mr Stunnell started with a joke and although it takes some explaining I assume everyone in the conference hall got it. Speaking about the coalition negotiations he said:

Newspapers full of the back stories of the four-man Liberal Democrat negotiation team of Danny Alexander, Chris Huhne and David Laws.

I’m not bitter.

Honest.

The Guardian wouldn’t have spelt my name right anyway.

Funnily enough I can empathise with the Guardian on this one. We’ve written between five and ten posts about the DCLG over the past 18 months and do you know how many of them have involved Mr Stunnell? Well, the answer is none. Reading the rest of his speech I couldn’t work out whether this was a good thing or a bad thing.

Was it good that the Liberal Democrats only Minister in the DCLG had kept his head down and not joined in the Eric Pickles inspired local government baiting?

Or was it a sign of Liberal Democrat ineffectiveness that despite being in Government nothing changed?

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Between a rock and an asphalt hard place

September 20, 2011

Going and getting nowhere very fast

For those of you who have missed the news recently, Basildon BC are facing a bit of a tough time from just about every angle as they start the process of physically evicting around 400 travellers from their current site this week.  Originally they had planned to send the bailiffs in first thing on Monday morning, although a late court injunction was granted to put this back until at least Friday, and then possibly longer after that.

This is the beginning of the end to a process which began a decade ago, when the Council began trying to move a then-smaller group of travellers on from the site but were unsuccessful.  It is difficult to pick some of the facts from the story without coming across as biased towards one viewpoint or another, and not being immersed in the situation we don’t want to say whether one is in fact right or wrong, but it’s worth for a second reflecting on the challenges the Council faces here.

In the first place, they are being pressurised by local people to move this group on.  According to their consultation findings, they claim an overwhelming majority of local people want them to take the action that they are now trying to push through, with few arguing for the opposite.  If they stood aside and allowed the traveller community to stay on their site then they would be going against the wishes of the pre-existing local community.  This of course assumes that good practice principles were followed when undertaking this consultation, but we have to believe that if they hadn’t been then they would have not got as far as they have to date.

They also have many years of planning law and regulations to consider.  Over the years, countless buildings and developments will have been proposed to the planning department for a huge variety of structures and potential communities.  Some will have been successful, others will have fallen foul and not been allowed.  By the looks of things, the travellers have developed the site they are on without going through these processes and/or abiding by the findings of the planning department, carrying on with their own plans regardless. (more…)

Asking the right question; Westminster style

September 19, 2011

You mean to tell me there is a book about this???

The enterprising Puffles recently posted on twitter a long list of questions asked by our distinguished parliamentarians to the good Ministers of the Department for Criticising Local Government.

These questions included:

  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many letters his Department received from hon. Members in June 2011.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the cost to the public purse was of (a) cars leased by his Department to staff and (b) ministerial chauffeurs between June 2007 and May 2010.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much his Department has spent on entertaining in each financial year since 2007-08.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the estimated saving to the public purse was from lower staff wage costs arising from industrial action by staff of his Department on 30 June 2011.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much his Department has spent on photo shoots and videos involving Ministers since May 2010.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the cost to the public purse was of stationery purchased by his Department between June 2007 and May 2010.

Now, obviously the above questions tell their own story about the quality of parliamentary scrutiny of Mr Pickles’ Department (and I didn’t have to try too hard to pick them) but there were some questions about actual policy.

These included: (more…)


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