Posted tagged ‘flip chart fairy tales’

That was the local government week that was

May 11, 2012

More content than the Queen’s Speech

It was the Queens Speech this week. The WLLG bloggers were a bit disappointed with the Government’s progress on any number of key issues with the localism agenda and social care reform agenda seemingly ground to a halt as the Government prioritise other issues. As much as we try it is very hard to get excited about the Government legislating to complete the abolition of the Audit Commission they announced two years ago.

There were some good bits within the speech and some relevant to Local Government and you can find them summarised on the LGIU blog:

It is good to hear that there will be a Bill to create new powers for the Children’s Commissioner and improve services for children in care, both things that the LGiU has been campaigning for. Similarly, we welcome mention of legislation on the future funding of adult social care although we are concerned that the plans are vague, and we would urge the government to confirm that legislation will follow the forthcoming White Paper.   Chances of a lasting settlement on social care funding seem greater to us if the momentum is maintained and if we are far enough away from the next election.  The lessons of 2010 are that once an election is on the horizon any political consensus will break down.

And whilst checking out the LGIU do check out Andy Sawford’s alternative Queen’s Speech which is very sensible and includes:

  • The Community Budgets Bill
  • The Localism and Statutory Duties Bill
  • The Social Care Funding Bill
  • The Children’s Services Bill
  • The Primary Justice Bill

Meanwhile, whilst we were disappointed by the Government’s programme we were equally disappointed by the LGA’s response where their key messages were:

  • The LGA will continue its parliamentary lobbying work to ensure the best outcome for our member councils.
  • Councils have already shown remarkable resilience in coping with the spending cuts and local government is already the most efficient, transparent and trusted part of the public sector.
  • Within our legislative lobbying work we will be campaigning to ensure there is sustainable funding for local government going forward.

Talk about burying the lead!

Meanwhile, in non-queens speech blogging we really liked this piece from Flip Chart Fairy Tales about the battle between the younger and older workforce. Apparently, some commentators are arguing that we need older workers to stand aside to make space for those younger staff who have no jobs. Instinctively, this sounds like nonsense but Rick dissects it with characteristic verve:

Calling on older workers to retire and make way for the young might sound like a good idea. It is no way to solve youth unemployment though. As ever, keeping as much of the population as possible economically active is what makes for a prosperous and stable society. If a greater proportion of people are over 65 it makes sense, therefore, for the over 65s to stay in work. Given that people in their sixties are healthier and fitter than in previous generations, that is now possible. The same factors that make people live longer also enable them to work for longer.

If we are to counteract the costs of ageing, more older people will have to carry on working. Far from taking the jobs of the young, the working elderly are more likely to keep spending and creating jobs for the young. Accusing older workers of  job-hogging fits in neatly with the fashionable generational warfare narrative but it is nonsense. If we are to deal with the consequences of an ageing population, that ageing population will have to keep working. And that will be better for all of us.

On the topic of the fate of the young this piece from the Guardian Local Government Network could not be more unhappy with Kate Davies arguing that we are now facing a housing crisis for young people that is perhaps not going to ever improve:

Call me naive, but I had always assumed that things could only get better; that progress was what happened over time. My parents’ life was a big improvement on their grandparents, and mine on theirs.

Scientific advances, greater freedom, less poverty and more opportunity would – I thought – ensure that each generation would do better than their predecessors. I had taken the onward march of mankind for granted.

But now the evidence shows that we are going backwards.

A bit too pessimistic for my liking but the housing crisis for young people is certainly real and not being addressed properly by any politician (see Queen’s speech above).

Who would have known that there was a website called public sector travel? Well, there is and they had an interesting article this week about the endless pain caused to local government by EU procurement rules:

The Local Government Association has called on Whitehall to roll back what it sees as needless complexity in procurement flowing from the European Union.

In a procurement pledge for the local government sector, the Conservative-controlled LGA said: “Public procurement is highly regulated particularly by the European Union and over the years the European procurement rules have become more and more complicated.

“We need help from government to put the power of procurement back into the hands of local government.”

We tend to agree that there is need for reform but are not holding our breath!

And finally my favourite tweet from a council twitter account for quite a long time is this classic from Surrey Matters:

Nut lovers, did you know nut shells make great compost? #6thingsyouneverknewyoucouldcompost

Is this genius… or madness?

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

That was the local government week that was

March 9, 2012

But that's not proper qwerty!

This is a fascinating week for local authorities as all of us need to have our budget agreed by the end of the week. Many will already have done it weeks ago and some would have left it to the last minute. This has meant many long nights for senior officers and a lot more sightings of councillors than we might see for the rest of the year. The budget process is the culmination of a lot of work for a lot of people but much like the rest of life local government work doesn’t stop when the budget is signed off. Even more important will be delivering the services with the reduced budgets and doing so in a way we’d all be proud of.

So, local government will keep on keeping on and so will the WLLG local government round up:

Speaking of budgets, the Audit Commission has announced this week that they have awarded ten contracts for the provision of audit services to local authorities. As the Guardian reported:

Two of the ‘big four’ auditors, PwC and Deloitte, have missed out on contracts, while the other two, Ernst & Young and KPMG, will share half of the 10 regional contracts.

The big winner appears to be Grant Thornton, which has taken a maximum four contracts with a total estimated value of £41.3m.

As you can see these have largely been let out on five year contracts to major accounting firms. I’m not an expert but I can’t believe this is what Eric Pickles was hoping for when he pledged to localise the provision of audit and may have a significant impact on local authorities over the next five years.

Onto more interesting topics.

People have often said that local government is a job for life (ITV did so just last week!!!) but they would be wrong. Increasingly, local government staff are needing to think about their careers in different ways; a point recognised by the excellent Guardian Local Government Network who have started a regular careers e-mail and set up a local government specific jobs board.

Despite these positive steps good career advice is difficult to come by, in part because a lot of it is over a short period of time. I was therefore rather chuffed to have stumbled across this piece from Jonathan Flowers specifically about career planning. The whole piece is excellent but I was particularly taken with this bit of imagery:

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Interim Judgement

February 20, 2012

Starting a storm: The unfortunate (but wealthy) Mr Lester

Two weeks ago we had a sense that the unmasking of Ed Lester from the Student Loans Company as the sole employee of his own personal services company was going to lead to a bit of a public sector witch hunt and so it has proven.

But whilst the majority of the heat so far has been on the civil service and the QUANGO sector it was only a matter of time before Eric Pickles jumped into the fray. And whilst others had been pussy footing around the issue (after all, other ministers are meant to be defending their own departments) Mr Pickles has typically been able to come out with both guns blazing and a nifty soundbite.

Mr Pickles on Friday called for Local Authorities to target ‘town hall tax-dodgers’ arguing that:

Local people have a right to know whether town hall tax-dodgers are short-changing the public purse; whether bumper bonuses are being awarded to poorly performing workers; or whether pay is being hiked up for execs who’ve boomeranged from post to post.

I am actually quite sympathetic to Eric Pickles.

My first job in local government was on a team that involved about eight staff; of which I think five of them were interims and all of those were in some form of separate company which enabled them to pay less tax. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what happened next; within a year the two members of the team who were on the payroll had left to take interim roles elsewhere and had set up PSCs (or joined a different umbrella company which apparently did the same thing… Who said tax isn’t meant to be taxing?!?).

I also don’t really like the idea of any member of staff setting up arrangements that enable them to pay less tax than I do. It just feels wrong.

And yet and yet…

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That was the local government week that was

January 6, 2012

New year and yet the same old picture

As we enter the New Year the people in WLLG towers are filled with optimism. The first week of the New Year has provided it’s usual mixed bunch of headlines and despite everything we are determined not to let it get us down and to follow the lead of the excellent Guardian Local Government Network and be more positive in 2012.

So, starting with the heavy stuff (that we shall not let get us down) the Daily Mail kicked off 2012 with a story about local government pay (quel surprise). This one was about local government pay increments, a topic we have discussed in the past. Here, the Mail ‘discovered’ that:

The survey of 188 councils shows that a shocking 72 per cent use annual increments to reward staff.

It means many Government employees are given more money on the basis of experience rather than performance.

These increments, known as ‘time served’ payments, are usually awarded either in April at the end of the tax year, or on the anniversary of the employee joining their council.

Local authority pay rates published by Unison, the public services union, show there are 49 distinct salary increments for staff earning between £12,145 and £41,616, no matter how well they are doing their job.

It’s hard to get as upset as the Daily Mail did about this but it does raise a pretty serious issue for local government. Are we serious about pay cuts and pay freezes including those for people with less than four years in a particular role with the understanding that this is fairer than just freezing the salary of those with long service?

And secondly do we believe that paying increments based on service time is better than putting in increments based on performance? I favour the latter but I think it is part of a fundamental decision that local government still needs to make.

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That was the local government week that was

December 2, 2011

What we have been reading

And what a week it’s been.  Up and down the country, local government has been at the centre of the news over the past seven days, with column inches galore debating its merits and the work it does, all through the lens of the ongoing debate over the pension scheme negotiations.  Here are our pick of the blogs which look at things from some rather interesting angles, as well as a few blogs which mention less polarising issues.

We’ll start off with a post from Citizen R on her I Was A Public Sector Worker blog, posted on the day of the strike.  It neatly sets out why one person supported the strikes, even though they were no longer part of the public sector, showing how deeply many feel about the issues.

I’ve mentioned before that when I went into the public sector it wasn’t for the pensions or the perks or even the holidays. I wanted to be a teacher and make a difference in children’s lives. I felt I could best do this in the state sector.  As a new teacher of 22 I didn’t care about a pension because it felt like retirement was a million years away (it still is now that the age of retirement is getting higher and higher) and took a big chunk of my wage each month that might be better spent on having fun.

But now after a whole career spent in the public sector I’ve been left high and dry. I don’t pay into a government pension any more because that jo has gone and I have no job to strike from today. But the public sector is where my heart lies so I’m with everyone who strikes today. Good luck and maybe just maybe the government will listen for once.

It’s with mixed feelings of joy and disbelief that we unfortunately get to read a new post from the simply superb Redundant Public Servant (if you don’t know why we rate him so highly then you’ve never read his blog – so do it now!).  Joy because we loved reading his brilliantly crafted and bewilderingly regular posts detailing his own battles around his impending redundancy, disbelief because it looks like he may be going through it all again.  In this guest piece for Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog he points out some of the incredible numbers being thrown around. (more…)

That was the local government week that was

November 18, 2011

Same picture; different stories

It’s a bumper crop of local government blogging and other news this week so without further ado:

One of our favourite blogs is flip chart fairy tales and this week’s discussion of local government cuts, and the ‘great local government fire sale’ that is accompanying them, was particularly accurately put. As the author (Rick) points out:

Councils desperate to get costly services off their books may well grasp at such offers without thinking too hard about the longer-term implications. In some areas, smaller firms and social enterprises might not even get a look in.

This is the sort of thing that happens in all distressed organisations. Companies that are facing bankruptcy tend to slash and burn in a breathless struggle to dump their costlier activities. Sudden and drastic budget cuts will have the same effect on local authorities.

The ever excellent Simon Parker has written a helpful post about the Public Account Committee’s report on local government finance. As he says:

Reviewing the formulas is necessary but not sufficient. The problem with changing the rules is that it redistributes money: some councils get more and others get less. That requires a government with the political guts to shift funding around the system. And that is where things get tricky.

He’s not wrong and as he mentions later on it’s going to take real courage from central Government to do something about it.

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Oliver Letwin: Fear doesn’t come cheap

August 3, 2011

Am I afraid? Does this face look afraid?

The comments of Oliver Letwin over the weekend have caused quite a stir within the Public Sector. In case you missed it (where have you been?) Mr Letwin said:

“You can’t have room for innovation and the pressure for excellence without having some real discipline and some fear on the part of the providers that things may go wrong if they don’t live up to the aims that society as a whole is demanding of them,”

“If you have diversity of provision and personal choice and power, some providers will be better and some worse. Inevitably, some will not, whether it’s because they can’t attract the patient or the pupil, for example, or because they can’t get results and hence can’t get paid. Some will not survive. It is an inevitable and intended consequence of what we are talking about.”

In response some of our favourite blogs sought to make sense of things. Fighting Monsters took him to task in an article entitled ‘why I despise Oliver Letwin’ which amongst many points said the following:

What kind of society have we become when we feel it is appropriate for a Government ‘Policy Minister’ to drive a disdain and almost bullying approach to a public sector that provides services he will never need?

Meanwhile Flip Chart Fairy Tales got to the bottom of some of Mr Letwin’s more general arguments and looked specifically at the issue of productivity. After agreeing that there has been a fall in productivity alongside an increase in performance he argues about the upcoming savings agenda:

Will more discipline and fear help? Probably not. A bit more discipline wouldn’t go amiss in some areas but it’s not going to save £52bn. If anything, language like this will just further piss off the already pissed off public sector managers, the very people on whom the government is relying to make the changes work.

So what is left to say? Despite all the heat and light about Mr Letwin’s intemperate comments there is a real challenge for Local Government that underpins the Government’s approach.

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