Archive for March 2012

That was the local government week that was

March 30, 2012

New week; same rubbish picture

Another week and another big Government announcement that will have a large impact on local government. Thus, where the budget led last week the National Planning Policy Framework followed this week. As always on these big days we are indebted to the Guardian Local Government Network for keeping us appraised of what is going on. This summary of responses from key stakeholders was a useful quick catch up. As this comment from the Chief Executive of the National Trust demonstrates it also showed that the response was actually fairly positive:

There are a number of important changes that have been made to the draft, responding to concerns that we and others raised. All these changes improve the document and give it a better tone and balance.

Now the serious business of planning begins. The country needs huge effort at a local level to get plans in place that properly reflect the integration of social, economic and environmental goals, and protect places people value.

However, if like us planning is not your thing this wordle from @gaillyk summed it all up very quickly:

Whilst talking about local development this story from the USA tickled me. Yes, we have some lobbying of local authorities over planning issues but US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a lobbyist dedicated to helping him build his house. As Politico report:

At Mitt Romney’s proposed California beach house, the cars will have their own separate elevator. There’s also a planned outdoor shower and a 3,600-square foot basement — a room with more floor space than the existing home’s entire living quarters. Those are just some of the amenities planned for the massive renovation of the Romneys’ home in the tony La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, according to plans on file with the city. A project this ambitious comes with another feature you don’t always find with the typical fixer-upper: its own lobbyist, hired by Romney to push the plan through the approval process.

No matter what happens with our more localised planning system please don’t ever let us learn that lesson from our American cousins.

Thanks to @williamoulton for alerting us of the impending end of the executive and scrutiny function and the replacement of it with good old fashioned committees. As the Local Government lawyer reports:

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Race to the bottom

March 29, 2012

Shouldn't we be pulling people up rather than pushing them down?

Recently I found myself once again in a meeting with some of our local councillors.  They were as usual a friendly and interesting bunch of souls, attempting to do their best by their constituents and planning a public meeting for local people to engage on the goings on of our council.

The subject of meeting papers came up, with one councillor spending five minutes peering at a printed excel table of five point type and miniature lines.  As they struggled I made the point that it’s a shame that we can’t zoom in on paper in the same way that we can on computers or tablets.  It was as if I’d accused them of witchcraft.

I then spent a good ten minutes or so hearing them discuss how they were against any person in a meeting, be they councillors, officers or members of the public, attending a public meeting and making use of any form of electronic device to store or access papers and information.  Their thinking was that this gave these people an unfair advantage over everyone else in the room as they could access more information more easily and more quickly; therefore this made others feel uncomfortable, so it was deemed better to have everyone on a lower but level playing field.

I was stunned to say the least.  As they were councillors and as they were changing mid-meeting from jolly and positive to boisterous and negative I decided not to make a larger discussion of this, instead getting back on topic and filing it away for later absorption and deliberation. (more…)

Of dead horses and local government

March 28, 2012

South Park - Because we can

I’m not sure if there are copyright rules for posting e-mail circulars onto blogs but as soon as I read the following I knew it was designed to be shared. So, without further ado, and with apologies to the original author for a few WLLG additions, we present ‘Dead Horse Theory’:

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that; “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”

However, in local government, more advanced strategies are often employed, such as: 

  1. Buying a stronger whip.
  2. Changing riders.
  3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
  4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.
  5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.
  6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.
  7. Telling everyone that we’ve always ridden our horses this way
  8. Benchmarking our horse against dead horses ridden by other authorities
  9. Hiring external contractors to resuscitate the dead horse
  10. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
  11. Hiring outside consultants to put together a training programme to support staff to work better with the dead horse
  12. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.
  13. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse’s performance.
  14. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.
  15. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed , it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.
  16. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horsesAnd of course:
  17. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position

Do you have any other ways that we could make the dead horse more productive? If so please make a note of some of them below.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

Manage to lead

March 26, 2012

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Peter Drucker

And with this simple quote, shown up is one of the fundamental flaws in the way we value the people who work in local government.

Having been through restructures in the past, I am well versed in the intricacies of the average process.  The team or service undergoing the changes invariably ends up reviewing their structure charts, placing new teams together and rearranging workloads before or after assigning a manager for them to work with or to lead on their projects and keep things moving in the right direction.  Those higher up this chain get paid more, those lower down get paid less.

But why is this?  Why do those who sign off the leave cards for others, and who record progress via 1:1 meetings get paid more than those who actually do the work, those who make the contacts and those who lead the agenda and projects to where they need to be?

There seems to be an underlying assumption often made that leadership and management is intrinsically linked and that you can’t successfully do one without doing the other at the same time.  On many job descriptions for managers at whatever grade is the ability to lead and motivate others; how many of us are truly inspired by those immediately above us?  If you are one of thee then you are in a privileged position, as many simply are not.

However, many of us do find this inspiration from other colleagues we work with.  Some of these will be more senior than us, some more junior and some our peers.  I for one have been lucky enough to have had one or two inspirational managers, have been enthused by more junior staff and worked alongside some who have pushed me to be better than I  thought I could be before.

I’m sure I’m not unique in having known many of the exact opposite, those who’s jobs may or may not have been to inspire me but who didn’t for whatever reason.  Some of these have been superb managers, who have provided exactly what I needed when I needed it and allowed me to lead myself in my own direction. I didn’t hold this against them, in fact for me this was equally as important a stage in my professional development. (more…)

Shades of Grey

March 26, 2012

So much better than black and white

We like a good guest post; especially one from someone who makes us think. Today’s is just such a post and we hope you enjoy it and reflect on it. If you would like to submit a guest post for the blog please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com but not before you’ve read this:

There’s a new guy working in my office and to be honest he makes me feel really uncomfortable.

The reason for this discomfit is fairly simple really; he sees things in black and white and isn’t afraid to say so. If something isn’t working in our department his response usually consists of:

well, why don’t we just do it differently?

I have more than once found myself responding to this question with a complex discussion of why things are done the way they are and why it has proven difficult to change things so far. It’s not that we don’t want to change things it’s just a lot more complicated than that.

And if a member of staff in a different department isn’t following process in the way we think they should be my new colleague will ask:

and are they being disciplined for this?

Again, I have found myself defending the members of staff and pointing out that there are different interpretations of the right way to act and that just because people are doing things differently this doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong, even though we agree that we think they are.

So why does this all make me feel uncomfortable?

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That was the local government week that was

March 23, 2012

What a week; you’ll never believe what Pete in accounts said about Tracy in Transport and we got new pens in the civic centre and the cafeteria started serving hot sausage rolls… Oh yeah, and George Osbourne announced his budget and the health bill passed.

Speaking of the budget we were indebted to the Guardian Local Government Network for their local government budget tweeting on the day and this summary on the site from Sir Merrick Cockell is worth a read; especially in light of the opening paragraph which puts it all into context:

Today’s confirmation that public spending will continue to fall beyond 2015 has to come with a recognition that councils have already delivered extremely demanding cuts that others have failed to match. For the sake of hard-pressed local residents, it’s time for other parts of government to face the choices councils have been making for some time.

Local authorities are seeing their government grant cut by 28% over the current funding period. In comparison, Whitehall will trim budgets by just 8%. It is simply unsustainable to go on cutting council funding when the adult care system is dangerously overstretched and the country’s roads need a £10bn upgrade.

Sticking with the budget yesterday’s post failed to properly link through to the LGIU site so in the spirit of making up for past mistakes this piece on their blog makes an interesting point about the budget’s focus on cities, possibly at the expense of the rest of local government. As director Andy Sawford says:

The budget had a noticeable emphasis on the role of cities in driving economic growth, with announcements of a new ultrafast broadband deal for cities, new infrastructure focussed around cities, and emphasis on the 24 largely city based enterprise zones.  It is good to hear about the City Deal for Greater Manchester, which could open the door for many more localised deals with the Treasury that help councils to innovate.  Inevitably though the rest of local government will be left wondering when it will be invited to the party to agree local deals, develop further enterprise zones, and get support for ultrafast broadband.

It’s also worth checking out the other comments and briefings on the LGIU site. (more…)

Budget takeaways

March 22, 2012

More nutritious than the budget?

People far cleverer than us were making their pronouncements on yesterday’s budget almost as soon as it had left George Osborne’s red box. We were never going to match that so instead have produced our budget takeaways:

False promise of the day:

The Chancellor announced that he wants a ‘simpler tax system where people understand what they need to pay’… Perhaps he was going to announce a bold new proposal for the design of local taxes that links payment locally to service delivery? Nope, he just meant publishing a pie chart similar to the ones in local government council tax bills… At least we’re trailblazers right?

Sort of good news announcement of the day:

From the LGIU:

The Government will provide £30 million to local authorities in England towards the transitional costs to new local support schemes for council tax’

But won’t provide more money to meet, you know, the benefits that are being cut. Helpful for local government; no respite for the people who are about to lose their benefit.

Unfathomable thought of the day

Did we just witness a budget where the individual in my council who benefited the most from it was my Chief Executive? Really? No, really?

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Spring cleaning

March 21, 2012

Time for a tidy up in the office?

Today is big day for us, and a big day for everyone.  The budget announcement, which may just be the last big hurrah for the coalition government, will affect every person in the country and have a direct and indirect affect on the work of local government.  As all this is such a big deal we won’t be attempting to cover it ourselves yet or sharing our thoughts on the blog until we’ve had the chance to digest it a little (although I’m sure we won’t be able to resist spurting out a few thoughts via Twitter – @welovelocalgov).

So today is something of a holding day, and we thought we’d take the chance to look at something a little lighter.  This weekend sees us all losing a precious hour of our days with the coming of British Summer Time, and along with this will be the inevitable demand for a spring clean around the house.  Dusters will be pressed into action, those jobs which have been put off will be tackled and old junk will be thrown out, leaving us feeling (in theory) happier, leaner and ready to face the summer.

It’s not only home that can benefit from this approach of course, so here is the WLLG guide to performing your very own workplace spring clean.

1.  Dig out your budgets

It is surprising how few people actually get to see the budgets for their own areas of work.  Some managers guard these spreadsheets and figures jealously, permitting nothing more than glimpses of the overall numbers and no more.  Some staff see this as more than enough and trust others to see them through.

Take the opportunity to have a look at your budget and get to know it a little.  If you are a manager take a closer look at it, perhaps blocking out some time to do so with a friendly finance officer (they are friendlier than you think, even if they often spiral into technical detail).  Ask them to explain all those acronyms, ins and outs and idiosyncrasies that have been confusing you, on however small a level, for years, and ask them to do so without making it all sound like gobbledygook.  And take the time to go through every line to look at what it actually means for you and your team; does it all add up. (more…)

What is wrong with the Labour Party?

March 20, 2012

Mr Benn in his local government outfit (sort of)

This blog tries not to be party political as such. We’re perfectly happy to praise any politician when we agree with them and equally content with having a whinge when we disagree with them (or simply aren’t sure what they do!).

Thus, our blog tends to focus on things that are in the news or policies that are about to effect the sector. With this in mind the fact that we have not written a post about the Labour Party and local government since, well, ever probably tells its own story. Either we are all a bunch of raving Tories (unlikely), naively ignoring the good work of Labour on local government (possible) or Labour does really have a problem with their Local Government policy at the moment.

To illustrate this further I would like to play a little game with our readers; the same game I played with a Labour Party member friend of mine last week (she lost). Question 1: Can you name the Shadow Secretary of State for Local Government?

The answer is Hilary Benn MP; a former councillor in Ealing and now an MP for one of the Leeds constituencies.

Ok, so that was the easy question, and if I was Davina McCall I’d now be bragging about how clever people from West Dorset were and suggesting that ladies over 45 needed to buck their ideas up before breaking into question 2. Can you name the rest of the members of the shadow DCLG team?

I spend a lot of time (too much according to my wife) reading and writing about local government, and work in local government, and my sad confession is that I did not get a single one:

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You can’t put a price on geography

March 19, 2012

George Osborne and the North; a match made in...

At the time of the pre-budget report the Treasury hinted that they wanted to do away with local pay bargaining. Although the announcement was met with consternation in local government circles the fact that the treasury had said they were going to ‘investigate’ the issue rather than implement it meant that we all sort of treated it with a large shrug.

George Osborne is not a man to put up with shrugs and this weekend it was announced/leaked/trailed that he was planning to introduce regional pay across the public sector. Whilst I don’t think he has thought this through I guess that means that it might just be time to take the policy more seriously.

I have (at least) three concerns with the policy:

1)    The politics of envy

I live in London. I know why civil servants in the Treasury, who also do, might feel like this is a good policy.

I know that the salary I earn doesn’t go as far as it would if I lived in the same town as, say, my sister. I know that house prices are high, travel is expensive and commuting times are longer. I also know that friends of mine in London often earn more than me simply because of the career path they have chosen.

However, none of these things make the policy a good idea. I realise that the higher cost of living and the lower relative wages in my current home city are negatives but equally living in London is great in many other ways (not least the range of other job opportunities in the City) and I wouldn’t trade it in for living somewhere else with higher relative wages.

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