Posted tagged ‘blog’

From the Vaults

June 26, 2012

Yesterday we shared some of our very favourite blogs out there, which between them cover a massive range of areas and focuses from so many angles and in so many different styles that we enjoy the struggle to keep up.

All this got us thinking about blogging in general, and some of the posts between us we ourselves have unleashed upon the world over the last few years.  Some of these have been good, others not quite so good, but overall we’re fairly satisfied with the overwhelming majority of our outpouring of thoughts and theories.  With that in mind, and to round off our introspective series with a retrospective and nostalgic post, here’s our own personal, non-scientific and entirely subjective pick of the We Love Local Government blog.  If you’ve got any personal favourites we’ve missed we really would love to hear what they are, if not then why not take a look at some of these and see how the blog grew from humble beginnings to where we stand today.

In the beginning…

It was way back in 2009 when we decided that some other people may enjoy some of the things we spoke about, so proceeded to set up this very blog and post up our first ever post, ‘How to walk in three easy steps‘.  This first toe-dip into the water made us smile enough to continue, so before too long we had added to it.  When we found out that we weren’t allowed to walk up the stairs we’ll admit to double taking, and when Christmas time rolled around we explored some of the health and safety implications it entailed.  And it was good.

It was 2010 when we decided to help the world to Meet Dave (no, not that one), and he soon became a recurring presence over the years.  2010 was also the year when we first featured a sort-of guest post, when one of our colleagues forwarded on an e-mail protocol that seemed just a tad on the over-the-top side not to share.

Having focussed up until that point on rather more minor issues, at this point in our evolution we made a small but important step by starting to think a little beyond the boundaries of our office with this initial look at shared services.  Of course we still delivered some more lighthearted messages (such as when a resident made a Members Enquiry in order to get some pigeons off their veranda), but this balance was one which soon became the norm for us.

It was one of the more lighthearted posts which began to prompt people who didn’t know us to start reading – a simple little post entitled “You know you’ve worked in local government too long when…” went around the office and was also picked up by the Guardian (some of the comments on there are worthy of inclusion!).  Soon after we went against the then-current grain and didn’t get upset when the Audit Commission went away, and we started seeing some silver lining appearing in the growing economic crisis facing local government.

Of graduates and jargon

The NGDP scheme was always an area close to our hearts, and over the past few years we’ve covered it from a number of angles.  To begin with, we began by asking where graduates might be able to find employment in local government, before taking a look at the graduates in question through two different pieces.  We think graduates are a good thing by the way, even if sometimes we rant about some of them!  We even tried to offer some advice to those who are new to local government, although it’s as true for anyone as it is for graduates.

Jargon and Councilese has always been something we are interested in, starting way back with our first pick of the litter.  Do you even remember when the word ‘efficiency‘ wasn’t intrinsically linked to ‘cuts’?  We’ve also tried to reveal some of the secrets of local government language (slightly tongue in cheek perhaps, but perhaps not far off the mark), as well as starting the biggest game of bingo in local government history.  That being said, sometimes having a strategy is a good idea, as long as you don’t just have it criticised of course…

Attack!!!

It’s not been easy being a public servant, and we’ve been attacked by the media on a regular basis.  Whether it’s Panorama making comparisons with the pay of the PM, Channel 4 on sickness levels, the TPA on senior staff or ITV just having a go at us for, well, not much really, frankly we deserve more.  We also expected a bit of backlash when we had a pop at lazy journalists, going so far as to name our top three FOI-ers, but happily it was the good ones who actually read it and seemed to agree.

And it’s not just the media which we like to have a good rant about either.  When a ‘colleague’ took credit for another’s work we felt justified in making a point, although it didn’t appear to get through as we had to return to them later.  Even our DCLG masters have felt content to stick their boot in, from Grant Shapps to Eric Pickles himself.  We don’t always disagree with Mr Pickles however, and will pay him his dues when we think he’s got something right.

Localism and the cuts

It would have been wrong of us to not share our thoughts on Localism, which we started to do by declaring that it’ll only ever work when people accept that some areas will be different to others; seems a little obvious to us, but not to others perhaps.  Of course it always helps to have a good benchmark to measure against.  Local approaches to other things have borne fruit, not least the local approach to the big clean up after the riots, which showed all that is good in our communities.

The cuts have had a monumental effect on us all but have been reacted to in different ways.  Some, such as children’s services, declared that they couldn’t be cut for reasons as grand as ‘a child might die‘, whilst some individuals have considered how the whole situation affected them mentally and emotionally.  It’s also not easy when the focus of the cuts has been local whilst the debate has stayed national – shouldn’t people be thinking of us and the challenges we face a little more?  However, our favourite analogy of the situation remains a guest post comparing local government to life on the high seas.

Moving on

Some of our blogging team moved around and shared their stories. Whether writing about feelings of survivors guilt, concerns over one guest-blogger’s feeling that they have a non-job (whatever they are) and another’s lack of really caring about their job (despite doing it very well), telling your job that you are leaving them or the live blogging final-day-in-the-life-of post, we’ve been through the mill and will no doubt do so again.  We’ve even begun wondering whether or not we’ve reached the glass bottleneck, and whether actually we needed to find some sort of specialism if we were to have any chance of moving on.  Of course, sometimes you find yourself thinking actually, perhaps I do need a new job, especially when your boss asks you to handwrite their notes for them

The interwebs

Another area we’ve had particular interest in has been around ICT.  Social media has been a regular topic of conversation, although sometimes we concentrate on things somewhat more mundane such as our propensity for demanding constantly changing and complex passwords for our multiple systems.  We’ve attacked intranets and proposed i-pads for councillors, and discussed whether or not we should be happy blurring the working lines through regular updates.

Christmas time

As we said above, Christmas time is always a lot of fun, and we managed to have some with a little caroling wordplay (and a bit more for good luck)and some local government jokes.  We nabbed Eric Pickles Christmas letter to Santa, mused on what to buy for colleagues through your secret Santa process

And finally…

At the end of the day, this blog is all about the good things in local government. Whether it’s sharing a little appreciation for some undervalued colleagues such as accountants, saying all of the things we love about local government or that our friends love, celebrating our own successes or our failures we’ve always tried to have something to say.  Sometimes things have gone wrong.  Sometimes we’ve written things and found that not everyone always agrees with us, especially when it’s a tough situation, but that’s fine; as long as the discussions are being had we’re happy enough.  And of course, should our own big idea – of a day/week celebrating all that is local government – ever come to pass then we will be happy that our hard work is paying off

And finally, here are a few of our favourite random funny posts, for no real reason other than because we like them.

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

A day out in Staines (upon Thames)

May 21, 2012

It’s by the river you know! – Picture courtesy of http://www.stainespeople.co.uk/home

Sometimes we receive a guest post and think it might be a simple promo job. Despite appearances to the contrary we’re pretty convinced this is not one of those and in fact make a really strong case for local authorities as geographically based entities and not just service delivery organisations. It’s therefore well worth a read:

Neither living in, nor working in, the borough of Spelthorne I was, to put it lightly, a little sceptical at the council’s attempts to rename the town of Staines to call it Staines upon Thames. After all, is changing the name really going to make any difference to the town? It was next to the Thames before the name change and it will remain next to the river after the name change. It was not as posh as Richmond or Windsor before the name change and this will not change after the name change.

However, when a friend of mine invited me to pop along to Staines upon Thames day, the official launch of the new name for the town I was intrigued to say the least (the promise of beer and jazz had nothing to do about it).

What I found was, in its own way, brilliant.

The local council had done more than just voted to change the name of the town. The day they had organised to launch the new name showcased local charities, voluntary groups, water based leisure activities and businesses. It featured local bands singing from a stage in the town centre and a map of Staines upon Thames where local residents could signal their favourite parts of the newly named metropolis.

And the crème de la crème of the whole experience was a duck race. The race involved placing over 1300 ducks in the river, each costing a couple of quid and contributing to local charity, and then, a la pooh sticks, waiting for the current to do what it does best.

All in all the day was quaint but well attended.

It was also a good reminder of why we have local councils and the importance of a sense of place. Everything about the day, and the plan to change the town’s name, was based on a wide coalition of local supporters. The event itself was sponsored by at least twenty local businesses, the street signs were sponsored by a local estate agent and many of the stewards for the day were provided by the Heathrow airport ‘here to help’ team (which was quite cool). Many businesses had stalls; usually with some games to support local charities. And most of all many members of the town turned out to show their support, both for the new name and for their local area.

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This post is urgent

May 18, 2012

You’ve got mail!

To: Reader, Readers, Skimmers, Non-readers

CC: My boss; your boss; Finance; HR

BCC: My colleagues who I need to know that I am taking this seriously

Subject: URGENT: Action needed!!!

Dear Readers,

It has come to our attention that readers of this blog have NOT been reading the blog early enough in the morning. To make matters worse it has been reported to me that some readers of the blog have not been reading the blog consistently.

I have also heard of some readers who only skim read the posts.

This is obviously NOT acceptable and I write to you asking for this to be rectified straight away!!!

As such, I expect an immediate response from all of you covering the following points:

  1. WHAT YOU WILL DO TO RECTIFY THE SITUATION
  2. BY WHEN

I should also remind you of comments made in previous communications on this topic. As the boss has said recently:

Please enjoy today’s post.’

I am not going to report back to my boss and tell him/her/it that this has NOT been fixed by each and every one of you!!!

<Insert name of defenceless admin officer> Localgov: I would like to remind you that you are meant to be RESPONSIBLE for this issue. Please inform all readers as to their duties regarding this. I also expect a full report from you accompanying a new procedure manual for monitoring the reading habits of the readers.

ALL: Let me REASSERT that I expect this situation to be fixed within the next <Insert random timescale> and will not accept any excuses.

IF YOU DO NOT FIX THIS I WILL BE FORCED TO ESCLATE THIS TO YOUR BOSS’S, BOSS’s, BOSS’s BOSS!!!

WLLG

PS. This is obviously not that urgent or I would have picked up the phone or come and seen you in person. But I am angry, running out of the door and won’t have a chance to bug you about this for at least four days and I needed to make everyone in the organisation know that I am taking this very seriously indeed.

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 We’re not angry in real life… Honest!

That was the Local Government week that was

May 4, 2012

It’s the morning after the election night before – let the counting commence

That was the local government week that was is meant to provide people with a nice round up of the week that has just gone. Unfortunately, most of the exciting stuff going on in local government happened overnight and whilst we like to be topical we’re not THAT topical.

However, whilst we do not have the election covered in any substantial way we know the people who do (and doubtless have spent much of the last night checking out their site). So before you read any more do get your morning election fix from the excellent LGiU site:

Although they are still working on the content you can check out all sorts of bits and pieces including:

  • information on when most counts are taking place and results expected to be declared - bit.ly/IjynMt
  • 70 Count Correspondents at the counts feeding us local insight and analysis -bit.ly/IjlnMj
  • collected and mapped data for all authorities holding elections - bit.ly/Irk2wK

Plus, check out their blog which will have been updated throughout the night and then whilst you are blog checking do check in with our friends at the Guardian Local Government Network whose liveblog in partnership with the (yes, you guessed it) LGIU has been a source of much local election happiness over the past 24 hours.

The LGiU share our passion for democracy and we’re really pleased they cover the local elections in the detail they deserve, including those that aren’t in London! Nonetheless, it’s always worth checking out their previous post on the 50 councils to watch to see how accurate they were.

The elections this time round are quite varied with mayoral elections, council elections and mayoral referenda. It is therefore interesting to see Harry Phibbs from the Conservative Home Local Government Blog admitting to doing a full about turn on his approach to Mayors:

In the 1998 referendum on setting up a Greater London Authority with a Mayor of London and London Assembly I voted No. This was despite the encouragement of the Conservative leader William Hague for Londoners to vote Yes. I thought that it would be another layer of bureaucracy. That despite the assurances of Tony Blair that it would prove a GLC Mark II – there would be inherent empire building.

Despite the eight years of Ken Livingstone, which in many ways confirmed my misgivings, I think that it is better to have accountability for services such as transport and policing rather than have them run by Quangos. Localism should mean that where possible powers should be devolved from City Hall to the London boroughs. But there is a need for a Mayor of London. So I think I was wrong to vote No.

Always good to see a politician admit to a mistake in the past and as he argues later in the post this is not a party political issue but an issue for each and every voter to make their own mind up about. We agree.

One other slightly worrying election related issue comes from London where apparently police are to guard voting booths:

Police officers are to be stationed at every polling station in Tower Hamlets after the Met launched an official investigation into allegations of electoral fraud. Officers will man all 70 polling locations in the borough on Thursday alongside borough enforcement officers to prevent voter intimidation.

The measures come as the Met launched an investigation into “unprecedented” evidence of voter fraud in the key London borough less than 48 hours before the mayoral polls open.

Police sources today admitted the measures were unusual.

Very unusual and really concerning for local government as the body responsible for making sure our elections operate as they are meant to. Definitely something worth watching on election night.

It is also worth remembering that whilst many news organisations will report the elections in a way similar to Reuters:

Conservatives face local polls backlash over recession

These are actually local elections and not a referendum on the Government. We’d all do well to remember that.

So, what about the rest of the goings on in local government land?

We liked this piece on the Equalities Act from the ever excellent Guardian Local Government Network which rather optimistically concluded:

The Equality Act, however, could offer the chance to place equality at the centre of local government work. “It’s not seen as an add-on any more. It’s work that people do, day in and day out,” says Mohammed Ilyas, policy officer at Harrow council. “I think we have definitely cracked it this time.”

I think the article summed it up pretty well and really hope local government will manage to make the most of the Equalities Act and not just see it as something they need to ‘comply’ with.

An interesting new site reached our notice this week. The Independent Local Government site, although we’re not quite sure where it has come from seems to be quite interesting. As they argue:

In England today local government is little more than an executive arm of central government implementing policy and budgets sent down from Westminster and Whitehall. Many would argue that this inhibits local growth and development. The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, chaired by Graham Allen MP, and the Local Government Association, are campaigning for independent local government. This Information Daily Focus Report covers all the issues and provides a valuable interactive resource, free to access, thanks to sponsorship from Boilerhouse Media Group

Again, not quite sure we agree with them in total but really glad these issues are getting a wider airing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the site and the wider campaign.

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

Election day in the jungle

May 3, 2012

The polling station is always quiet early in the morning

Welovelocalgovernment has built up a network of contributors from around the country. It was therefore no surprise when one of our local government friends sent us a transcript from a local election campaign headquarters.

The following briefing allegedly took place in the campaign headquarters of Simba the Lion in his campaign to win the local ward of Jungle East. The other voice in this transcript is that of his advisor Nyoka the snake.

S: Nyoka, what’s the update? Am I going to manage another term looking after the vines and managing the gradual decline of the forest due to logging decisions made nationally that strip my resources?

N: Wow, you’re in a cynical mood this morning

S: Must just be election blues; I’ll be alright in the morning. So how’s it going?

N: We’re right on track Mr S; as always the main concern on election day is getting out the vote. As usual I’m having a little trouble persuading the campaign volunteers to just talk to people they know are going to vote for us.

S: Ah Nyoka, now who is the cynic? Part of the joy of politics is the debate about issues with people who disagree with you. Should we be relaxed about tourists coming to gawp at us? Should we support limited destruction of our habitat if the rest is better protected? Should we be stricter about the local residents who throw their own faeces at passing animals and then hide in trees? What is my position on birds being given equal rights to animals? And what about the insects? These are the debates that matter and why people come out and vote.

N: On the contrary sir, those are the debates that matter in the weeks preceding the vote. Today, only turnout matters. We want our voters to show up and we want the Chuwi (Simba’s main opponent) supporters to stay at home.

S: Go on then; how is our get out the vote effort going?

N: Well, it’s the classic problem; we have pledges but I have no idea whether the animals were telling the truth. We’re particularly strong in the eastern section of the ward where the monkey vote looks firmly in your camp. However, you know the monkey’s; young, free-spirited and not particularly interested in politics. As always, we’re really concerned that they won’t turnout. However, we’ve got some really enthusiastic young female monkeys on staff and they’ve pledged to spend the whole day in the trees persuading them to come to the polls.

S: What about some of the hard to reach communities within the jungle?

N: A classic problem. I suppose there are two theories. Take the leopards for example; one is that we’ve just done a really bad job at reaching out to them but on the other hand maybe they just don’t really care about politics at all and don’t want to be reached. We’ve tried a bit this election but when push comes to shove we’re going to focus on the community that turns out.

S: So, how are we going with the tortoises?

N: Well, as you know we could manage nearly 100% turnout from the tortoises. For some reason the elderly members of the junlge have always had good turnout rates. My campaign volunteers are out there offering them lifts to the polls as we speak.

S: Lifts?

N: It’s best you don’t know the details sir but it involves monkeys, vines and tree trunks.

S: Erm, ok… So tell me; how did we do with the community leaders?

N: Well sir as you know we’ve had quite a robust community campaign; focusing on those individuals who are influential within their community. In particular we’ve focused on the elephants this year.

S: Always a success; they can be very hierarchical.

N: Well, it does seem to be shifting a little. The younger bulls are less likely to simply follow the advice of their seniors. We’re still trying but we might need to reach out to the whole community in the future.

S: Good advice Nyoka, we shall make a real effort on that in future years. So what about the bird community?

N: Well, your twitter account has been very successful at reaching out to them. (Boom boom!)

S: So, what do you think are my chances? Am I going to be returned as the councillor for Jungle East?

N: As always this will probably depend on the turnout of the small mammals; they are the classic swing voters and tend to vote for the candidate they think is going to win. Which is confusing as we never know who that is going to be. Nonetheless, we both know that Chuwi offended the antelopes with his ‘all look the same to me’ comments so I think we should be ok.

S: So, let’s move to the more important question. Will I get a cabinet position on the jungle council?

N: I’m working on it….

(Nyoka winked at his master and slithered out of the HQ.)

S: (whispered) Plausible deniability…

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

The three publics

April 25, 2012

Because penguins are much cuter than the public

There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to split up the local population. For every different service in local government there are different considerations to make and thus different ways to assess the members of the public that make up your customer base.

Despite the different methodologies there is probably one thing that we all, at least in part agree on; that it is important to understand the people you are meant to be serving.

In the private sector we would have a fairly simple starting point; we would want to keep current customers and then work hard to attract other customers.

In effect, the private sector organisation is dealing with two publics; those who use their service/product and those that don’t currently use the service/product but might.

In local authorities, and the public sector more generally, this situation is greatly complicated by a third public; those who have no need or interest in a specific public service but because they in some way contribute to it have an opinion which needs to be taken seriously. This method of splitting up the local population is a crude one but it can be instructive when trying to understand the political responses to service changes and the way that local authorities try to meet the needs of their local community.

1)    The public who use a service

We tend to be fairly good at collecting information about those who currently use our service, how they feel about it and what we could do to improve it. However, there are two problems with how we manage this public. Firstly, for services with a relatively small client group we tend to use the current service as the context and then talk to our customers about how it works and how it could be changed or improved. We rarely ask the bigger question of if the service was starting from scratch how would we design it and what would it look like?

The second struggle is where the services reach vast quantities of the public. For these services we often give them simultaneously too much focus (bin collection and potholes anyone?) and not enough detailed conversation with the public concerned. Thus, we will often spend lots of money on the services involved but perhaps won’t take the extra time to really make sure we are delivering the service the different parts of the community might need or want. In a funny way in these situations it seems that the public becomes too big for us to really handle.

2)    The public who don’t use a service but might do in the future

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Me and my CC army

April 23, 2012

Free Advertising...

E-mails are great; seriously, they are time saving, efficient and most of all really easy to use even for a technical dunce.  And whilst Mark Zuckerberg may be predicting the end of the e-mail I am confident that in local government they will be here for many years to come (we are never ever ahead of those sort of trends!).

Unfortunately, even the best inventions can fall foul to the mis-use of the human being who is in charge of piloting the tool of choice. Two and half years ago (yeah, I couldn’t believe we’d been going for that long either) one of my colleagues wrote about the strange mis-use of the ‘reply all’ button and concluded:

Seriously, if you can’t be responsible about using the reply all button then frankly you shouldn’t be allowed to use a computer. In fact, you shouldn’t really be allowed out of the house, or be left alone with anything complicated like shoe laces or peanut butter.

She was of course spot on but two and half years later I am taken with another e-mail problem similar to the ‘reply all’ phenomena: People using the cc section of the e-mail as a show of strength or bravado.

I call this phenomena ‘me and my cc army’ and it takes a number of different forms:

1)    The ‘look at all the important people who you would be disappointing if you don’t do as I say’

In this version a relatively junior person is copying in as many layers of management as he or she can think of to show that the issue is really important. Not having the confidence to make the request themselves on its own merit they call in the ‘big boys cc army’.

2)    The ‘see chaps, I really am on your side’

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