Posted tagged ‘Guardian local government network’

That was the local government week that was

May 25, 2012

Back by something less than popular demand

‘Woohoo!’ I hear you say, can it really be that after a one week hiatus the WLLG round-up is back?

Well, yes, by popular demand (err, well not exactly but humour us) we’ve scoured the world of local government to bring you our favourite bits of the week. Well, that and the pieces we thought we could comment on.

We have been watching the changes to the relationship between the NHS and local government with a lot of interest and this week the LGIU published one of their excellent briefings accompanied by this post entitled ‘Health and Wellbeing Boards: system leaders or talking shops?’. The blog correctly identifies some issues that have yet to be resolved by this boards and particulr flagged the following:

An important issue which is not yet being addressed head-on is the relationship between the council and the HWB as a council committee. This is will be particularly important in relation to NHS provider reconfigurations which so often prove politically challenging. The Kings Fund describes the situation regarding contested reconfiguration as follows:

‘Even where there is a compelling case for change on the grounds of clinical safety or outcomes, the local authority will come under pressure to reflect local opinion and preserve valued services…In these circumstances the local health and wellbeing boards will be in the eye of the storm and the current wave of generalised goodwill on which they have been riding will quickly dissipate.’

The Tax Payers Alliance (TPA) 2020 tax report was largely ignored by the political classes, due in part to the fact that it advocated a huge tax cut for the wealthy and described people who opposed that point of view as suffering from sexual jealousy. However the report did make mention of local government and on that point we sort of find ourselves agreeing with them. As the Conservative Home blog points out:

Part of the mix they propose would see more tax at a local level, with councils less dependent on central government handouts. For localism to be a reality it must include the management of money. Otherwise councils are the paid agents of Whitehall. The report argues that half the net spending of a council should be paid for from locally raised tax – rather than 17% at present.

The politics of their plan would be greatly helped by the context of tax going down overall. But the power to impose a Sales Tax would come on top of retaining VAT. They would also allow a Local Income Tax.

Perhaps a bit too radical for some but a point definitely worth making and exploring further.

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Do we employ the right people in local government?

May 23, 2012

Answering questions…

Our good friends at the Guardian Local Government Network deliver each Friday a local government careers e-mail. The e-mail includes a link to their ‘working lives’ blog where local government employees describe what their job entails; a section called ask our members where local government people can ask for career advice and links to jobs and helpful career based articles. If you haven’t signed up before now you should.

All of this is by introduction to today’s post which seeks to answer the GLGN’s career question of the week:

Is local government employing the wrong type of people? Does it need to think about bringing people in from a much wider group, rather than focusing on people with previous public sector experience?

This is a common question and one that is often asked of the Whitehall civil service; an institution that generally employs policy generalists at the age of 25 and then at 45 after twenty years doing just that expects them to run departments, mange substantial IT systems and deliver complicated projects. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, was particularly scathing of this element of the civil service and I have no doubt that the debate over civil service skills will continue under the current administration.

But how does this work for local government? On face value the two shouldn’t be comparable. Whereas the whole civil service is, and here I am stereotyping for effect, basically one big policy team, local councils usually have a small policy team outside of the Chief Executive’s office. The rest of the staff on the council are carrying out front line service delivery.

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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

April 20, 2012

Some things to look at...

It was an interesting week for the WLLG crew as we collectively went through a little bit of a work related slump. We are keeping on keeping on and thankfully so is this week’s round up of local government related news and blogging.

Checking out the regular column of Richard Vize in the Guardian Local Government Network can be a joy. It can also be deeply sobering as last week’s piece was. Entitled: ‘Social care: the ticking timebomb at the heart of local government’ I think Richard got the issues pretty much spot on:

The government is getting into dangerous territory with social care, as funding, reform, rhetoric and reality combine to pull high-need, high-risk services dangerously out of shape.

The whole article is well worth a read as are some of the reports referenced within it.

Into the same debate came one of favourite bloggers, ermintrude2, who wrote this interesting piece entitled ‘Is there really ‘Crisis’ in Care?’. As she says:

I wonder about the use of the word ‘crisis’ though. There is a massive issue in relation to funding but this is not something that has been ‘magicked’ out of the air. Nor is it an issue which has suddenly arrived with this government. We have known about the needs of an ageing population for decades but each government of all parties have continued to try and ignore the fact that there will need to be a higher level of tax receipts or co-payment to meet the needs of people who require support from the state.

If it is a crisis, then it is a crisis created by lack of foresight both politically and economically – it is not a crisis created by the care sector or people who require care.

Her pieces are always worth reading and this one is no exception.

We’ve been fairly critical of national politicians who launch their local election campaigns with a bluster of non-local government related soundbites. Thus, we feel it’s necessary to give a few props to the Welsh Liberal Democrats who argued that:

“Welsh people know that if they want a better schools better services and better value for money the only way they are going to get that is by voting for a Welsh Liberal Democrat councillor.”

The squeeze on public spending meant “you really need to make sure that councils focus their resources on things that really make a difference”, she said.

“We have delivered better services, we have delivered better schools whilst at the same time making sure that we are not wasting tax payers money and we are keeping council tax rises low,” she said.

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That was the local government week that was

March 30, 2012

New week; same rubbish picture

Another week and another big Government announcement that will have a large impact on local government. Thus, where the budget led last week the National Planning Policy Framework followed this week. As always on these big days we are indebted to the Guardian Local Government Network for keeping us appraised of what is going on. This summary of responses from key stakeholders was a useful quick catch up. As this comment from the Chief Executive of the National Trust demonstrates it also showed that the response was actually fairly positive:

There are a number of important changes that have been made to the draft, responding to concerns that we and others raised. All these changes improve the document and give it a better tone and balance.

Now the serious business of planning begins. The country needs huge effort at a local level to get plans in place that properly reflect the integration of social, economic and environmental goals, and protect places people value.

However, if like us planning is not your thing this wordle from @gaillyk summed it all up very quickly:

Whilst talking about local development this story from the USA tickled me. Yes, we have some lobbying of local authorities over planning issues but US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a lobbyist dedicated to helping him build his house. As Politico report:

At Mitt Romney’s proposed California beach house, the cars will have their own separate elevator. There’s also a planned outdoor shower and a 3,600-square foot basement — a room with more floor space than the existing home’s entire living quarters. Those are just some of the amenities planned for the massive renovation of the Romneys’ home in the tony La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, according to plans on file with the city. A project this ambitious comes with another feature you don’t always find with the typical fixer-upper: its own lobbyist, hired by Romney to push the plan through the approval process.

No matter what happens with our more localised planning system please don’t ever let us learn that lesson from our American cousins.

Thanks to @williamoulton for alerting us of the impending end of the executive and scrutiny function and the replacement of it with good old fashioned committees. As the Local Government lawyer reports:

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That was the local government week that was

March 23, 2012

What a week; you’ll never believe what Pete in accounts said about Tracy in Transport and we got new pens in the civic centre and the cafeteria started serving hot sausage rolls… Oh yeah, and George Osbourne announced his budget and the health bill passed.

Speaking of the budget we were indebted to the Guardian Local Government Network for their local government budget tweeting on the day and this summary on the site from Sir Merrick Cockell is worth a read; especially in light of the opening paragraph which puts it all into context:

Today’s confirmation that public spending will continue to fall beyond 2015 has to come with a recognition that councils have already delivered extremely demanding cuts that others have failed to match. For the sake of hard-pressed local residents, it’s time for other parts of government to face the choices councils have been making for some time.

Local authorities are seeing their government grant cut by 28% over the current funding period. In comparison, Whitehall will trim budgets by just 8%. It is simply unsustainable to go on cutting council funding when the adult care system is dangerously overstretched and the country’s roads need a £10bn upgrade.

Sticking with the budget yesterday’s post failed to properly link through to the LGIU site so in the spirit of making up for past mistakes this piece on their blog makes an interesting point about the budget’s focus on cities, possibly at the expense of the rest of local government. As director Andy Sawford says:

The budget had a noticeable emphasis on the role of cities in driving economic growth, with announcements of a new ultrafast broadband deal for cities, new infrastructure focussed around cities, and emphasis on the 24 largely city based enterprise zones.  It is good to hear about the City Deal for Greater Manchester, which could open the door for many more localised deals with the Treasury that help councils to innovate.  Inevitably though the rest of local government will be left wondering when it will be invited to the party to agree local deals, develop further enterprise zones, and get support for ultrafast broadband.

It’s also worth checking out the other comments and briefings on the LGIU site. (more…)

That was the local government week that was

March 16, 2012

 

Someone missed the 'B' off from the graphic

As always with our weekly round up we are at least a week behind the rather excellent Richard Vize whose weekly column for the Guardian Local Government Network is a local government journalistic highlight for us. This (well, last) week he tackled the issue of integration and took a long hard look at the DCLG’s latest plan; one that unsurprisingly omitted much mention of local government. As Richard points out:

The near absence of councils from this strategy is as good an indicator as any of how the government is intent on marginalising local government in national life. While some councils have historically been responsible for failing to see how their communities were dividing before it was too late, many have shown courage, passion and ingenuity in bringing local people together, and putting integration at the heart of what they do.

His argument about the absence of housing from the strategy is also incredibly well made and should be taken on by the DCLG.

Sticking with the GLGN I absolutely loved this piece from Councillor Rex Osborne. He makes the case for more evidence based policy and the direction he takes is one that I really appreciate:

All I’m looking for is something as basic as, asking (and answering) the question: if we cut A, what will the affect be on area B and person C? This would be hugely beneficial to policy makers, councillors, and the public alike.

Such analysis could be both prospective and retrospective, assessing how cuts could be anticipated to affect certain groups or areas, and later examining what has actually happened, and how far (or not) this has diverged from expectations.

The whole piece is well worth a read.

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