That was the local government week that was


After a week off the blue keyboard returns

What will the world be like in 2020? We love a bit of futurology and this piece from Claudia Megele on the Guardian Local Government Network gazes into the crystal ball and tries to make sense of local government in 2020. Just as a flavour of what you would see when you clicked through:

In spite of the coalition government’s bold rush toward privatisation of public goods and services, the profit-driven model will prove insufficient to tackle the complexity of problems and services required. The needs of citizens and communities will require co-ordinated services that will lead to a stronger recognition of the role of local government – and the eventual need to rebuild its capacity.

However, this will require local government to rethink its revenue sources, a renegotiation of labour relations, and rebuilding citizens’ views of community and society.

Local authorities are always on the look out for more cash and the latest opportunity is a tax the Government are planning to levy against late night pubs and other establishments. As the Independent report:

Local authorities are entitled to a greater share of a new £18m levy designed to force pubs and clubs to pay for the social cost of late-night opening, council leaders claim.

The cost of running services such as taxi marshals and street wardens to help to make Britain’s booze-soaked city and town centres safer in the early hours will not be met if the share of the proposed “late-night levy” remains capped at 30 per cent, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).’

This is just another example of two public agencies (in this case police and local authorities) fighting over resources which they would both use to tackle the same problem, together. We’ll fight it out for a few weeks and whilst it will impact our bottom line the services we provide will remain unchanged, on both sides of the coin. Sad really isn’t it?

We’re fans of local democracy and always slightly disappointed at the state of the current local democratic process. Thus, we were heartened to see a couple of blog posts this week looking at how we could improve that process. If you also care about this then do take a peek at this post from Puffles’ best friend and this one from the ever insightful Toby Blume. Toby ends with a classic call to arms:

 I may not want to go to a political rally, a public meeting or a local hustings, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested.

Surely there are some social tech people who might usefully turn their attention to helping our political parties become more sociable in the interests of democracy and political engagement?

Let’s only hope there are people out there who are prepared to respond, and more importantly political parties who are willing to listen.

John Harris, one of the comment writers for the Guardian, is paid to have opinions and is therefore paid to be slightly polemical. The problem I often have with such a polemic is that it makes me angry even when you basically agree with it. And such was the case when I read Mr Harris’s piece about elected mayors. Entitled: Elected city mayors: the delusions and dangers of power freak politics’ Mr Harris argues:

What the great mayoral delusion really highlights is the modern establishment’s talent for messing with things for the sake of it, with no sense of history, experience, or even clarity about what exactly they want.

His argument is based in large on four parts of the country: Birmingham, where he doesn’t like the New Labour nature of possible candidates; Doncaster, where he doesn’t like the incompetent mayor; Liverpool, where he doesn’t want the current Leader of the Council to win and Manchester, which doesn’t have a Mayor, is successful and where the Leader agrees with him.

It would be fun to devote a whole blog post to dissecting Mr Harris’s bluster but shall we stick with this:

Low turn outs are prevalent in almost all of local government, incompetent politicians are not exactly unknown in local authorities, some mayors have been very successful, and you can’t dislike a system because you dislike the candidates or the diversity of candidates (Mr Harris had already set up these straw men before he lit his fire torch). Apart from that it was a well reasoned and thought through piece.

There are many things in life that I don’t really understand well enough but the one that bothers me the most is probably pensions. When you combine my only partial knowledge of pensions with an article in the FT I am both intrigued and uncertain at the same time. This article was about the potential for London local authorities to pool their pension pots, save some money in fees and then use some of the money to invest in infrastructure and in the words of the FT:

Proponents argue that the administration costs of running 34 separate pension schemes for London’s 32 boroughs, the City of London Corporation and the London Pensions Fund Authority would fall sharply from their current total of £30m a year.

They have also suggested that a combined fund could direct as much as 7.5 per cent of its assets, or £2.25bn, into local infrastructure projects.

Sounds like a good idea to me but, as mentioned above, I just don’t know enough to know to be sure.

Ever wondered why someone would want to use an i-pad for work? This piece from the rather excellent Mark Braggins sums it up very nicely. As he explains:

Unlike everything I’d tried before, the iPad met most of my work requirements right from the start. It also had other benefits I hadn’t considered:

  • In meetings, laptops create a small but perceptible barrier between you and the person sitting opposite. Being flat, the iPad doesn’t create a barrier when you type
  • Many laptops have keyboards that click when you type, which can be annoying for those nearby. You can do that with an iPad too, but for me taking notes silently and unobtrusively is a real bonus
  • It takes a matter of moments to read or send tweets via iPad. Twitter is a wonderful source of news, research material and intelligence, which I raved in a separate post. My favourite iPad app for Twitter is Echofon (I can’t get used to Twitter’s own app)
  • I don’t store anything confidential on my iPad, but it’s reassuring to be able to find, lock and erase it remotely in case it gets lost.

Mark also notes that his i-pad is a personal tool as much as a work one and therefore he was fine paying for it. I have no problem with that, in fact I commend it; the question is whether local councils are going to be willing to open their networks to those members of staff who are more comfortable working from their own equipment?  In many cases they still aren’t.

We sound a little like a broken record on some things (local government is good, localism has potential for good and evil), and one of these areas is the use of internal social networks such as that provided by Yammer. And we’re not the only ones to be excited by its potential to not just encourage sharing and collaboration and break down silos, but also to fundamentally change the culture of an organisation, as this inspiring piece on the Comms2point0 blog tells us.

Relinquishing control of a big chunk of internal communications to the power of Yammer has not been instinctive or without a little nervousness, but so far it appears our decision was right. Yammer is likely to have a huge impact on the way we communicate and collaborate as an organisation. Yammer also gives us the ability to connect with separate networks if we choose to, whilst keeping our own network private and secure, raising further the possibilities of greater collaboration with our partners, contractors and potentially our customers.

It’s very early days, but already there is evidence that some messages are appearing on Yammer instead of email and from a communication point of view, I’m more than happy to see the back of occupational spam in my email, preferring to control my Yammer feed instead. Imagine a day when internal email no longer exists.

If you’ve not got on board the Yammer wagon yet there really is no good reason not to!

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

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