Posted tagged ‘dclg’

Eric Pickles is at it again

May 30, 2012

Ever the politician

It has been a while since the mighty Eric Pickles has raised the ire of the WLLG team. This has not been for want of trying. Mr Pickles’ latest thoughts of multi-culturalism raised a curious eyebrow, his entreaty to business people to work harder made us wonder if he had simply forgotten he wasn’t talking about local government that day, his re-announcement of the business rates changes mildly distracted us, and his obsession with street parties and flags keeping us amused if not informed.

But whilst Mr Pickles might have been characteristically provocative in his speech (something which we actually value here at WLLG) the simple fact is that the DCLG has somewhat run out of policies, ideas and general announcements. Even the Queens Speech was a largely DCLG free zone.

All this was to change on Monday. With what announcement did the DCLG choose to make the political running you may ask? Well, this:

New council tax help for hard-working families and pensioners

Good news you might think and as the press release continues we find out that:

These reforms could allow councils to make up to a £20 reduction in the bill for a typical Band D property in England, or hold bills down by the same amount.

Amongst some sensible reforms (finally, individuals can pay their council tax over 12 equal instalments ending the ‘put it all into 10 months’ nonsense) the Government was particularly keen to emphasise this £20 reduction they are freeing up local authorities to provide through their technical changes. This money is freed up by giving:

Councils greater local flexibility to choose to waive special tax relief on second homes and empty homes, allowing councils to use the monies to keep the overall rate of council tax down. This would allow a £20 saving on a Band D council tax bill for ordinary families. There will be no requirement for councils to make any changes, if they do not wish.

So, why on earth did this seemingly innocuous announcement raise the ire of the WLLG team?

Well, it was the sheer bare-faced cheek of it.

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What exactly does Andrew Stunell do?

November 7, 2011

Two appearances on this blog must equal fame right?

Last week an interesting report was published by the Public Administration Select Committee arguing that the number of Government Ministers and those on the ‘payroll’ should be reduced. Whilst serious men like Peter Riddell took a stab at thinking through the implications of this we at WLLG decided to take a look at whether this might be a good idea in our favourite of Government departments; the DCLG.

Now, as many people will have noticed, we are neither scientists nor researchers nor politicians nor journalists and had it not been for Google I doubt we’d be able to comment on such a weighty topic. However, with the help of the internet we decided to run a small experiment. But which minister to choose?

Like him or not it is fairly obvious what Eric Pickles gets up to and both Grant Shapps and Greg Clark come across my radar fairly regularly. Bob Neill is obviously the junior partner in the team so was a possibility and there is Andrew Stunell, the Liberal Democrat in the team and the Communities Minister.

Having previously pondered during the Lib Dem conference how much impact Mr Stunell has on the DCLG I decided he would be the perfect Guinea Pig.

So, what exactly does Andrew Stunell do?

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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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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…)

Asset stripping

August 8, 2011

And for my next criticism...

I find it difficult to rant about the things I should rant about. Oliver Letwin wants to spread fear in the public sector; I raise my eyebrows. Francis Maude calls it ‘absurd’ that people in the public sector should be paid the same as their equivalents in the public sector and I let out a tired but resigned sigh.

However, when Eric Pickles takes the opportunity of a quiet August Friday morning, when the news should be filled with previewing some form of sporting endeavour and commenting on a piece of toast with Britney Spears’ face on it, to claim that councils should be on an asset sell off I think my blood almost boiled.

What state of ridiculousness does this man live in? Could he not take August off from bashing councils and maybe focus on building some bridges with local government? Could he not have simply focused on the admirable aim of open data hiding behind his headlines?

The stupidity of his statements about councils selling off their assets (apparently shops, pubs and golf courses were his, easy, targets de jour) almost requires no response but here goes anyway:

1)      Selling off assets only releases a one off capital receipt. Thus, it might be possible to use one to fill a budget gap in year 1 but in years 2 and 3 that figure needs to be recouped in full, along with the other cuts needed for that year. In other words it simply delays the inevitable.

2)      If the asset is bringing in revenue then selling it removes that revenue from a council’s income stream and leaves them needing to find even more money to balance the budget in years 2 and 3.

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Throwing away localism?

June 15, 2011

An excuse to show my favourite bit of graffiti

Unless you’ve been buried under the nation’s burgeoning mountain of waste, which apparently is spilling over from landfills to cover our streets and will continue to do so unless it’s disposed of weekly, you will have heard that the government have made a bit of a u-turn when it comes to the issue of weekly bin collections.

Eric Pickles has been championing the case for weekly bin collections for years now, and decided that there was no way he was going to sit back and allow local authorities to decide for themselves how often the rubbish should be collected in their areas.  After all, they can’t possibly know what local people really want or how much better weekly collections would be, so he issued something of an announcement to say that it would be so: weekly bin collections for all.

The thing is, nobody managed to explain to him that this might cost a few quid.  In fact, it might cost around £140million, or about 7927ish experienced staff nurses (I’ve always wanted to find an opportunity to describe things in this way, ever since local government “waste” started being described in such terms). (more…)

Is this the end of public sector tweeting as we know it?

June 8, 2011

Is blogging and tweeting worth your job?As those who follow us on Twitter (@welovelocalgov by the way) will know, recently we came across what we think is some pretty bad news.  A fellow tweeter, @NakedCServant, has apparently been digitally hunted down over the course of seven months by a specialist security expert brought in by the DCLG, and has now been suspended pending an internal investigation and disciplinary hearing.  You can read more about it at the LocalGov website.

None of us at WLLG know or knew @NakedCServant, but we obviously feel a certain kinship with them.  They were writing as an anonymous voice from within government, saying many of the things others were thinking and offering an insiders perspective of what was going on.  Yes, he may have occasionally wandered over the line a little and said a couple of things that they wouldn’t say in a public meeting, but no state secrets were revealed, no one was hurt and no money was made.  What’s more, he did all of this from his own i-phone, so can’t even be accused of using government IT resources for personal use.  They did however break their code of conduct, and now face at best an uncertain future and at worst an unmasking and a brief fifteen minutes of notoriety.

This raises some serious questions regarding the way all of us who comment on government – central or local – might potentially make use of social media and share our opinions.   (more…)

The Duty to Involve debate

April 20, 2011

We all agree people should be involved but is the Duty to Involve any good?

Eric Pickles is all over the deregulation agenda at the moment.

His latest effort has been to re-write the Best Value guidance and in doing so also repeal the ‘Duty to Involve’ and the ‘Duty to Prepare a Sustainable Community Strategy’.

His rewriting involved reducing pages and pages of official ‘guidance’ and reduce it to just under 300 words. Indeed, the press release accompanying the announcement was twice as long!

The welovelocalgovernment team is a diverse one so in order to reflect this we set up a little late night e-mail debate between two of us.

Here is the outcome:

Let’s cut to the chase; the duty to involve was just like any other duty; ill-defined and misappropriated. It was, at the same time, used to justify activity that suited a councils own needs and applied to activities that had no business being called consultation just to say we had met the duty.

Nothing like a gentle warm up eh? I think the issue you might be having is simply looking at life AD (after duty) and how the duty was misused. For all the faults in application, the duty provided those of us who care about public involvement and engagement a powerful argument. We were able to go to senior managers and argue that they had to do a better job of engaging with the public because of the duty. I’ve lost count of the number of times the duty was referenced in senior level reports. Local Government can often be slow to do the right thing and a little kick from the centre can do wonders.

But isn’t that the problem Mr Pickles et al are trying to solve? If Local Government doesn’t stop being so dependant on the ‘central powers that be’ how are we ever going to develop powerful self confident local government that we need?

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In the name of Duty

March 30, 2011

Life is no computer game

Eric Pickles has not always been our favourite person. However, for every piece of bluster and unwarranted attack, there are also flashes of genius.

One of these flashes of genius appeared a few weeks ago when Mr Pickles released a full lust of the statutory duties faced by local authorities and invited us, the informed members of the public, to nominate duties to remove.

We are not, and have never claimed to be, local government experts but in our role as ordinary officers we thought it might be fun to have a read through the duties and identify those we thought were silly, amusing or just worth a quick comment.

Do enjoy our musings below and then if you feel up to it please feel free to pull out the ones you like from the DCLG website and add them in the comments.

DCLG_067 Involve local representatives

Isn’t this what we do when we work with any Councillor?

DCLG_066 Best value duty

I could put this here for ideological reasons and an in-depth criticism of Best Value, CPA, CAA etc.  But no, for me it’s just the name.  I like the idea of a duty that is just best value.  It is like we’ve gone into a supermarket and gone to the discount aisle and got the economic version of duties.  Do we get two for the price of one?

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At the whim of our political masters

March 16, 2011

I like the DCLG and I like local government. But which is better? There's only one way to find out....

Delicious!

Sometimes we learn a new use for a word and then spend the next three weeks trying to find a use for it and sometimes it just falls into a our lap.

However, this time I heard the use at the weekend and by Monday had a reason to use it; this blog from the people at political scrapbook is delicious.

Basically, the bloggers at political scrapbook have taken Mr Pickles to task for his constant attack on local government non-jobs. Amongst their observations are:

Pickles’ glass-and-steel Department for Communities and Local Government employs no less than 2,100 staff, not one of which can be described as a front line role .

You see your attack on non-jobs Mr Pickles? Bang, have one back!

Other members of Pickle’s senior team include the Deputy Director for the Big Society, who adds value by “leading on the corporate secretariat and performance”.

Want to attack specific non-jobs in Manchester? Well, here have some of your own medicine!

Overall, Pickles has 111 Directors and Deputy Directors, all on £65K+ and many of them earning far more than the PM.

Overpaid Local Government fatcats eh? Well, let’s take your 111 senior managers and smoke it!

(apparently this number earning more than the PM is actually 2 so there was some editorialising going on here)

This is all fair game right?

As I see it the political scrapbook is just doing to the DCLG what the Department for Criticising Local Government has done to local councils up and down the country.

Just like the DCLG ministers the political scrapbook people have distorted some basic facts to make their point. Mr Pickles et al criticise local government staff and we fight back by picking on the civil servants at the DCLG.

All is fair in love and war right? Plus, he started it!?

Well, not quite…

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