Posted tagged ‘cuts’

Use the staff-Force

June 22, 2012

What better way to end a week of posts reflecting on the wider context for local government than to reflect on the local government workforce?  Well, we couldn’t think of anything either, so here goes.

Like many service industries, and indeed like most organisations in existence, local government is almost entirely dependent on the quality of the people who work for it.  Whilst it is not universally the case, generally those councils who contain and retain the best staff deliver the best services, and the converse is just as true.  This poses the sector a number of inter-related challenges.

Firstly, the local government workforce is getting older and local government has struggled to attract and retain the calibre of new recruits to leave people confident in the future of the industry.  On the one hand this has resulted in staff who are increasingly experienced in their field, but of course holds the danger of a potential lack of innovative new ideas coming from people new to the sector.

A key point of ingress for these newcomers has for the last few years been through the NGDP programme.  However, it has become clear that this excellent stream of talent appears to have been dammed, with fewer councils taking on graduates as well as investing in their training and development.  This short term quest to save a few pennies promises to cost many, many pounds in the future.

Secondly, whilst local government staff are not, relatively speaking, badly paid the recent attacks on the pay and conditions of council workers has damaged morale and has the potential to put people off joining the sector. (more…)

The TPA strikes again

April 26, 2012

If you are reading this, odds are good that you are well aware of what has been happening over the past few years in local government.  Funding has been slashed, cuts have been implemented and services cut, leading to the recent announcement that £1.4 billion has now been cut from the local government paybill.  This has apparently been made in part by efficiencies, but mostly has been down to the sad spectre of redundancies.

210,000 people have so far lost their jobs over the past couple of years, and there is no end in sight to the challenges.  Services are being stretched to the limit, and council staff are hard pushed to ensure that the most vital are maintained as well as delivering what local people want and need their council to deliver.

So it was with a degree of shock but at the same time no surprise that I came across the latest rant by the TPA about the pay of senior officers.  If you are yet to go through it, it’s the sixth time they have gone through the accounts of local authorities and released the figures, drawing conclusions and starting arguments.  This is their right to do of course, but their tubthumping approach is less than helpful in the wider conversation.

This latest attempt by the TPA to grab some headlines has certainly succeeded, but it has also taken an incredibly weak route to do so.  By focussing on such a small number of staff out of the 2.1m still working in local government they are taking cheap pot shots which cover up the real issues and challenges facing the sector. (more…)

The glass bottleneck

April 11, 2012

Typically; it is white men who are in and around this bottleneck

I’ve always been slightly sceptical about the concept of the ‘glass ceiling’. It’s not that I don’t recognise the hidden barriers that exist for people from non white, non male backgrounds and prevent them from rising to the top of organisations. The evidence that shows this is incontrovertible; although the situation is improving.

Instead, one objection to the term is that it just seems a bit definitive. After all, if there was a ‘glass ceiling’ we’d have no women or people from black or ethnic minority backgrounds in senior management; and whilst we don’t have enough there are definitely some.

The other objection I have to the glass ceiling concept is that when referred to (usually in the short-hand rather than academic versions) it occurs at just the moment that the amount of available jobs shrinks. We have maybe seventy service managers in my local authority; maybe twenty senior managers and four directors. If we were to place the ‘glass ceiling’ at the senior management level that would represent just 1% of all staff in the local authority. You can see this two ways; firstly you could argue that it is only natural that discrimination shows up at that level as this is where it matters most. This is probably right and has been written about in plenty of other places.

However, I am interested in something else which seems more self evident than the glass ceiling:

Of course some staff will find it difficult to progress when the number of available jobs at the next level shrinks so quickly (hundreds into seventy; seventy into twenty; twenty into four; four into one).

I have taken to referring to this problem as the glass bottleneck.

(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:

(more…)

In defence of Eric Pickles (no, really this time)

March 8, 2012

Our very own cover boy; two days in just one week

Two days ago a guest poster hinted at a defence of Eric Pickles but after flashing us a little piece of leg gave us an equally valid but slightly less Pickles-defending post about the way some critics of Mr Pickles choose to attack him for reasons not connected to his policies.

After a quick editorial meeting at WLLG towers we decided that one of us should write a proper defence of Mr Pickles. At first I thought it would be a challenge but to be honest there is much about Mr Pickles to admire.

Let’s start with the obvious:

If you accept the Conservative’s overarching philosophy which says that the country is bust and we need to do everything we can to cut public spending and thus the deficit then Mr Pickles has been a consistent presence. Whereas other cabinet ministers have caved into the pressures of their departments Mr Pickles has been steadfast in cutting the budgets of both the DCLG and the wider local government sector.

However, that is not to say that Mr Pickles has been a single minded budget cutter. Where there are issues which he feels are important to local voters the Secretary of State has been a consistent defender of his pre-election policies. Thus, we have seen two years of council tax freezes and money set aside for weekly bin collections. Like it or not Mr Pickles has identified issues which he thinks justified his party’s election and has delivered on them.

It hasn’t just been pet causes Mr Pickles has found money for. Yes, the budget cuts faced by local authorities have been tough but many of those in areas with tough budget cuts have talked about the dampening grant being a real life-saver. Not something the Secretary of State would crow about but it has made a real difference.

So what about those issues not related to the budget of local authorities?

(more…)

Political intrigue

February 15, 2012

Where the real intrigue happens...

I love reading political thrillers, especially the ones which involve someone fairly insignificant managing to change the course of the novel through their brave actions. You spend the book rooting for the underdog and the cause they represent and then at the end they usually succeed and everyone realises they were right all along.

Local Government is many things but no-one would ever claim that it is appropriate for a political novel. However, this week at my council we came about as close to political intrigue as I have ever experienced in local government.

At the moment all the council’s proposed budget cuts are being discussed by our political masters. As part of this process the managers of services which are facing potentially controversial budget cuts have been required to attend various committees and defend themselves. It’s a fairly simple process; the Directors of each directorate sits in for the whole meeting along with our chief financial officer and various department heads are called in to discuss the details of the services in turn.

This week it was the turn of a department which provides preventative services. As the service is not statutory they had been asked to find a rather substantial cut in their budget and were not happy about it.

The section of the meeting started fairly normally with the chair asking the manager to outline how the saving would be made and the impact that the cuts to the service would have. I believe the second question asked was around the steps that would be place to mitigate the impact of the cuts. So far so standard; after the councillors are getting used to facing horrible decisions and managers that are obviously not happy about putting forward savings that are going to damage services they care passionately about.

However, question three was a classic. I don’t have the exact words but it went something like this:

(more…)

There’s nothing as bad as an underspend

February 7, 2012

Spend it, spend it now!

Being a ‘budget manager’ in local government can be a tough job. Some managers just have a few staff to look after and the budget is quite easy. However, at the other end of the spectrum some managers can have incredibly complicated budgets involving contracts, equipment, staff and innumerable other things to consider.

What makes the job even harder is that each manager has to predict at the start of each year how much they are going to spend and getting it wrong can have large consequences.

What confuses some people, including many of those I work for, is that under-spending that budget is just as bad as overspending it.

It is fairly easy to get your head around why an over-spend might be bad thing. The council would have to find money from its reserves or make further cuts to other services to make up for the extra money that you have spent. This would also have an impact on the budgets for the next year and generally put the council in a tricky situation.

(more…)

Do we have a failing social care system or just a failing funding model?

January 9, 2012

Layers of complexity distilled

‘Welcome to the New Year!’ I said to myself washing my face and listening to the early morning news headlines on the 3rd January. That very morning, the first working day of the New Year an open letter from charities, faith-based groups and senior figures in the NHS and local government said that we had a failing social care system that must be reformed.

The letter to the Telegraph argued:

As a society we face a growing care challenge. We should celebrate the fact that we are all living longer lives, particularly disabled people and those with long-term conditions. But the unavoidable challenge we face is how to support the increasing number of people who need care. It is a challenge which we are failing to meet – resulting in terrible examples of abuse and neglect in parts of the care system.

This comes at huge cost to the dignity and independence of older and disabled people, but also to our society, family life and the economy. An estimated 800,000 older people are being left without basic care – lonely, isolated and at risk. Others face losing their homes and savings because of soaring care bills.

Disabled people are unable get the support they need to live their lives independently and be part of society.

Businesses are losing increasing numbers of experienced staff who are forced to give up work to care for older or disabled relatives. These carers can then be pushed to breaking point, providing round-the- clock care. Our NHS is also paying the price, as a lack of support leads to avoidable hospital admissions and then keeps older and disabled in hospital beds because they cannot be cared for at home.

We have a duty as a nation to change this – but it requires political leadership.

I’m no social worker but whenever we look at the council budget it is hard to avoid the feeling that the social care element of the budget is a ticking time bomb that at any time might just blow up a council’s budget; especially when cuts are being made.

However, I don’t think social care is failing; I think the funding of social care within the local government budget is failing.

(more…)

New Year, New Predictions

January 3, 2012

But will we even remember to turn the months over?

Happy New Year!

2011 was a pretty momentous year for those of us working in the public sector with cuts, strikes, riots, redundancies, rising demand for our services and a surrounding narrative that pitted those who work in the public services against those who use those services.

For those of us working in local government this led to panic, defensiveness, stress, pressure, innovation, decisiveness and a lot of hard work. And despite everything I really believe we enter 2012 in a stronger position than we entered 2011.

This time round we know what the cuts will be, most of us are well versed in the attitudes of the coalition government and the vast majority of councils have set themselves a realistic plan for meeting the budget pressures placed upon us.

So with that in mind, what do we think will be the five top story lines facing local government in 2012?

1)      The cuts

As I’ve mentioned before many authorities took the easy way out for their cuts in 2011/12. A few bits of low hanging fruit here, some small marginal redundancies there, a little bit of money from reserves and a few budgetary adjustments and most of us got through relatively unscathed. The plans for 2012/13 are severe in contrast. The low hanging fruit has gone and really tough decisions need to be made. Funnily enough, it’s not the decision making I’m worried about but the deliverability of these cuts. Making staff redundant is one thing but cuts to social care, education provision, housing or any other service that is demand led are very hard to accurately predict, especially as the budgetary pressures elsewhere in the economy come home to roost. The big question for local government is ‘are we able to deliver the budget cuts we promised in 2012.’ It’s a mighty big ask and a challenge for us all.

2)      Housing

(more…)

The (not so) hidden costs of squeezing our suppliers

December 5, 2011

Make the pips squeak

“Procurement savings”

“Efficient maximisation of market opportunities”

“Outsource and save”

“Hard-nosed negotiations”

Regardless of how you describe it local government is looking at any possible way of saving money it can and with over 50% of many councils budgets coming from ‘goods and services’ it makes sense to try and ‘squeeze’ our suppliers as much as we can. Indeed, in my local authority the trade unions have taken their mantra to be that no job cuts or pay cuts should be implemented until management have demonstrated that they have hit our suppliers as hard as is possible.

The Government have also been in on the act with pronouncements covering ‘procurement’ savings that could save savings of £450 per household.

So far so sensible. If we can save money by squeezing the private (and third) sector to deliver our services more efficiently then why shouldn’t we? Indeed, one could argue that to not do so is severely irresponsible.

However, as so often with pronouncements from Eric Pickles and my local Trade Union the actual detail is a lot more complex than either would let on.

(more…)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 241 other followers