Posted tagged ‘eric pickles’

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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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?

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In defence of Eric Pickles

March 6, 2012

Does he need defending?

It’s a guest post today and with a title that needs no introduction. So without further ado courtesy of a guest poster, ‘In defence of Eric Pickles':

There, that got your attention.  It’s not completely true, as in, we’ll be defending some other people as well.

I am troubled by the constant references to Mr Pickles’ girth.  Whether it is Nick Clegg saying that Eric Pickles is the only cabinet minister who can be seen on Google Earth or Greg Clark talking about the heavyweight presence that Local Government has at the Cabinet table, people enjoy a laugh at him, and at John Prescott before him.  This Billy Bunter style humour is unhelpful at best and possibly destructive, being redolent of Form 4B on a Tuesday afternoon.

People might say that he will laugh it off, and it is a bit of a joke and not serious, and he should develop a thick skin.  As a fattie in my younger days, I can tell you that it isn’t a joke, he shouldn’t have to laugh it off and why should he develop a thick skin.  It is unpleasant to know that when you wake up in the morning, you know what will happen.  Fattism seems to be the acceptable face of bullying in public life.  I wonder how long it might be before this gets referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission?

And whilst this is an issue for Mr Pickles and Lord Prescott, this distracts attention from the impending obesity crisis that we are facing.  Whilst we maintain an adolescent and puerile approach to obesity, we won’t get anywhere near sorting it out as a major public health issue.  The reasons that people are overweight are many and complex, much as those reasons as to why people are underweight and malnourished.  Understanding those reasons and looking to address them rather than resorting to fattie jokes surely has to be the best way.

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Diving into the downward spiral

February 13, 2012

How cool does this look?

When I was a kid our local leisure centre had a cool water flume type ride. What was great about it was that after you had gone through the fun of the flume it opened out into a big bowl which you spun round and round before dropping out of the end. It was great!

Please bear with me as I torture a metaphor but being in local government is a bit like that water ride at the moment (and not in the sense that it is great).

The top half of the flume represents what local government has experienced so far. Much like the tube section of the flume was predictable, if difficult to control, the budget cuts so far have been understandable for local government. Yes, we’ve been shaken from side to side and yes it feels like we are being pushed downwards by a never ending torrent of budget cuts (told you this metaphor was going to be pushed) but at least we’ve been able to manage the cuts within the context of a direction of travel we all sort of understand.

To return to my flume the ride in the tube was always fairly similar but the big bowl at the end was absolutely unpredictable. Sometimes you flopped straight down into the hole and sometimes you went round and round before falling rather ungracefully into the hole after 30 seconds or so.

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Neutrality

January 30, 2012

Keeping a Straight Face

‘Right Eric, I have had enough. When you and your acolytes have been purposefully dishonest about local government services I am fine to disagree. When you slash our budgets and then blame local government for closing services I can understand that this is politics. But when you have the bare-faced cheek and total lack of integrity to attack council officers for giving impartial advice that you disagree with I have simply had it.

Pickles, I’m calling you out!’

So started what was going to be an epic rant about Eric Pickles’ latest salvo in the war about the council tax grant.

For those who missed it Mr Pickles said the following:

‘Particularly to finance officers, there is a danger here of being involved in politics, in a way. There is a referendum [trigger], and to suddenly find yourself mysteriously arriving in that place between zero and where you have to face the electorate is a highly political decision.

To put it another way I’m happy to use the headline from the Public Finance magazine:

‘Don’t meddle with council tax freeze’, Pickles warns FDs

As you imagine what especially annoyed me about this is that Mr Pickles had just tried to drag officers into the debate about council tax. He should know better. Much like civil servants local government officers are, especially at the level of finance director, politically neutral.

However, I took a deep breath and decided that having a Monday post upset with Mr Pickles two weeks in a row was the beginning of an unhealthy obsession; and continuing that rant was going to be bad for my blood pressure.

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Morally Deficient?

January 23, 2012

Eric being moral?

We’re not really the sort of people who have New Year’s resolutions but when the excellent Guardian Local Government Network asked us to name one we said that we were going to be nicer to Eric Pickles in 2012. And you know what; we meant it.

Unfortunately, much like the diet, alcohol ban, gym attendance and intention to spend less money on cheesy Wotsits this New Year’s resolution has not made it to February.

So what caused our feelings towards Mr Pickles to turn so rapidly? Before showing the headline it is probably worth reminding people that Mr Pickles has offered every council money equivalent to a 2.5% increase in council tax and in return the council has to commit not to increase their tax this year. So back to our outrage…

One headline can sum it up:

Councils have ‘moral duty’ on tax – Eric Pickles.

A moral duty?!? As in this is an absolute? As in this is correct and any other interpretation is thus immoral?

Are you kidding me?

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The Local Government Chess Board

January 19, 2012

But where are the Knights?

‘Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just a pawn on a big chess board?’

So asked Sarah Norman during a discussion of public sector job losses and the attempts by the Government to move those jobs to the private sector; either by moving the service into the private sector or by losing public sector jobs and replacing them with a growing private sector.

However, the wider question Sarah asked is a profound one.

I think we expect our leaders to be something akin to chess players, making their small moves but always doing so with an overall plan and a view of exactly what is happening across the whole chess board.

So as we like to do with profound questions here is the We Love Local Government guide to how our leaders, and others in local government, play chess:

Eric Pickles: Mr Pickles is a chess player with just one strategy. He’s learnt it really well and is consistent and well drilled in its delivery. However, if people try to deviate from the ‘cuts’ strategy it can flummox him and make him make mistakes. However, those that underestimate him and dive straight him, not seeing the wider strategy, often end up with their king lying face down.

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