Posted tagged ‘lga’

LGAging behind

May 14, 2012

The Leader of all Local Government?

The WLLG team have been known to be fairly critical of our friends at the LGA. In a time of severe strain on the local government sector and when public understanding of local government seems to be reaching all time lows the response of the LGA has been, in our opinion, insipid.

As we noted on Friday the response to the Queen’s Speech was not a howl of outrage but a reminder that:

  • 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.

This is not to say that the LGA has been totally inactive. The letter organised by Sir Merrick Cockell pushing the Government to act now on Adult Social Care funding reform was a pleasant example of what the LGA should be doing. The fact that it was roundly ignored by the Government was a subtle reminder of the ineffectiveness of local government to influence the national agenda.

This is not the only example of failed leadership.

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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

A Royal Let-down?

May 10, 2012

Speak up for local government

It’s been quite a week for local government.  We’ve had elections, Mayors and scandal, and it was yesterday topped off with the Opening of Parliament and the traditional Queen’s Speech.  After the events of the last weeks, months and years I found myself waiting for this year’s offering with baited breath.  Just how far would localism be pushed now?  How would the Health and Social Care developments be developed over the coming session?  What exciting new areas would be on the horizon and find policy wonks up and down the country furiously debating until the early hours?

To be honest, I was left feeling just a tad deflated.

Don’t get me wrong, there is lots of good stuff in there.  The changes to the Audit Commission set-up which we have ourselves looked at before way back in 2010 are worth unpicking further at some stage and proposals around the Draft Care and Support Bill (amongst others) will be far reaching, but throughout the whole thing and whilst reading follow-up articles I was reminded of a line from a great piece by the LGiU’s Andy Sawford:

Time was that local government promoted legislation in Parliament. In the late 19th Century in particular major bills, such as on Public Health, were initiated by councils. When the Queen addresses Parliament this week, it would be good if those words “my government” meant local as well as central government.

In his piece Andy proposes an alternative Queen’s speech, and includes such gems as ‘The Localism and Statutory Duties Bill’ (aiming to cut through the 1000 or so statutory duties places upon local government, regardless of actual requirements for them) and the ‘Community Budgets Bill’ (aiming to build on the work undertaken previously with community budgets in their many forms and Total Place pilots).

These haven’t made it through to the version read out today by Her Maj, but the difference between these and those which were is that these are focussed solely on local government.

It feels very much like we’ve become the Cinderella of the piece; locked away in the dungeon and forced to do the dirty work as ordered by those upstairs, making sure everything runs as well as it can do, taking the blame when things go wrong and having responsibility for fixing them while others get to go to the ball regardless of whether their virtues (or lack thereof).  Trouble is, we don’t seem to have a fairy godmother on the horizon. (more…)

National problems

April 30, 2012

The best way to defend and reform social care lies in one of these books... I hope

This blog is written by staff members from local government and we are in general strong supporters of the localist principle. However, there are times when even localists like us recognise that local government is providing a framework that is no longer appropriate.

And so this is the case with Adult Social Care.

On Friday, the chairman of the LGA Sir Merrick Cockell published a letter from 400 council leaders urging action on Adult Social Care. When written up in the Daily Telegraph ran with the headline:

‘Elderly care funding will force closure of libraries, councils warn’

The letter itself was a little more technocratic. As the Telegraph reported:

They (the LGA) say that a “loss of momentum” would be “dangerous” on three fronts. “First it will exacerbate the problems of an already overstretched care system,” they say. “Second, and as a consequence, it will increasingly limit the availability of valuable local discretionary services as resources are drawn away to plug the gap in care funding. And third, it will fundamentally threaten the broad consensus that has built up around the Dilnot proposals from all quarters.

“The potential damage caused by any one of these dangers, let alone all three, could set the care reform debate back years.” Councils are required by law to provide services such as bin collection, schools, roads and care for the most vulnerable. Services such as leisure centres, parks, sports clubs, after-school clubs and some libraries are classed as “discretionary”.

Sir Merrick and the other leaders from the LGA who signed this letter are totally right that the impact of the increasing cost pressures from adult social care will impact non-discretionary services.

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That was the local government week that was

April 13, 2012

After a week off the blue keyboard returns

What will the world be like in 2020? We love a bit of futurology and this piece from Claudia Megele on the Guardian Local Government Network gazes into the crystal ball and tries to make sense of local government in 2020. Just as a flavour of what you would see when you clicked through:

In spite of the coalition government’s bold rush toward privatisation of public goods and services, the profit-driven model will prove insufficient to tackle the complexity of problems and services required. The needs of citizens and communities will require co-ordinated services that will lead to a stronger recognition of the role of local government – and the eventual need to rebuild its capacity.

However, this will require local government to rethink its revenue sources, a renegotiation of labour relations, and rebuilding citizens’ views of community and society.

Local authorities are always on the look out for more cash and the latest opportunity is a tax the Government are planning to levy against late night pubs and other establishments. As the Independent report:

Local authorities are entitled to a greater share of a new £18m levy designed to force pubs and clubs to pay for the social cost of late-night opening, council leaders claim.

The cost of running services such as taxi marshals and street wardens to help to make Britain’s booze-soaked city and town centres safer in the early hours will not be met if the share of the proposed “late-night levy” remains capped at 30 per cent, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).’

This is just another example of two public agencies (in this case police and local authorities) fighting over resources which they would both use to tackle the same problem, together. We’ll fight it out for a few weeks and whilst it will impact our bottom line the services we provide will remain unchanged, on both sides of the coin. Sad really isn’t it?

We’re fans of local democracy and always slightly disappointed at the state of the current local democratic process. Thus, we were heartened to see a couple of blog posts this week looking at how we could improve that process. If you also care about this then do take a peek at this post from Puffles’ best friend and this one from the ever insightful Toby Blume. Toby ends with a classic call to arms:

 I may not want to go to a political rally, a public meeting or a local hustings, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested.

Surely there are some social tech people who might usefully turn their attention to helping our political parties become more sociable in the interests of democracy and political engagement?

Let’s only hope there are people out there who are prepared to respond, and more importantly political parties who are willing to listen.

John Harris, one of the comment writers for the Guardian, is paid to have opinions and is therefore paid to be slightly polemical. The problem I often have with such a polemic is that it makes me angry even when you basically agree with it. And such was the case when I read Mr Harris’s piece about elected mayors. Entitled: Elected city mayors: the delusions and dangers of power freak politics’ Mr Harris argues:

What the great mayoral delusion really highlights is the modern establishment’s talent for messing with things for the sake of it, with no sense of history, experience, or even clarity about what exactly they want.

His argument is based in large on four parts of the country: Birmingham, where he doesn’t like the New Labour nature of possible candidates; Doncaster, where he doesn’t like the incompetent mayor; Liverpool, where he doesn’t want the current Leader of the Council to win and Manchester, which doesn’t have a Mayor, is successful and where the Leader agrees with him.

It would be fun to devote a whole blog post to dissecting Mr Harris’s bluster but shall we stick with this:

Low turn outs are prevalent in almost all of local government, incompetent politicians are not exactly unknown in local authorities, some mayors have been very successful, and you can’t dislike a system because you dislike the candidates or the diversity of candidates (Mr Harris had already set up these straw men before he lit his fire torch). Apart from that it was a well reasoned and thought through piece.

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Councils are people too

March 1, 2012

Look at the size of my hand

Mitt Romney, a Republican candidate to become the next president of the United States has said, infamously, that ‘corporations are people too’ (a statement that has been magically lampooned in this campaign video).

If Mr Romney was British I wonder if he would also believe that ‘local authorities are people too’ and if so whether these “local authority people” would bear any resemblance to any other people we know?

On such a loose premise we present:

Birmingham Council as Sir Alex Ferguson

There are many councils but there is only one Birmingham Council and there are many managers but only one Sir Alex Ferguson. Striding like a giant amongst other local authorities Birmingham has a bigger budget than the European commission and a wider remit than almost any other local authority. Likewise, whereas Sir Alex Ferguson is just a football manager he is a manager who’s club has been in every major championship and who, if rumours are to be believed has a wider remit at his Manchester United than almost every other manager in the league.

Cornwall Council as Rick Stein

Whereas once there was a diversity of small local authorities in Cornwall it was viewed as more efficient for them all to be merged into one super unitary. I think Rick Stein would sympathise; I mean why have six fish restaurants when it is much better to have one unitary comprising of a restaurant, chip shop, hotel and bistro all in the same town.

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The first cut is the deepest, but the second will hurt more

April 15, 2011

Another phrase to be banned

On Twitter during the week we had a discussion about the jargon and phrases that local government officers use on a regular basis, and those which the LGA feel should be on their ‘banned’ list.  Some, such as ‘engagement’ and ‘consultation’ are themselves not bad words, although the context they are used in often confuses their meaning.

Others however have a deserving place on the list.  Phrases such as ‘citizen touchpoints’ and ‘thought shower’ have no place in the normal world, and certainly not when talking with local people.  Jargon has its uses; it can convey complex issues quickly and easily between those who understand what it means, but it can also seriously exclude those who are unfamiliar with it (assuming that is that ‘exclude’ isn’t itself a banned word).

A new phrase seems to be entering the office at the moment which I think should be added to that list; ‘cash envelope’.  Pictures of seedy men in raincoats leaving packages of used bills behind public toilet cisterns instantly spring to mind for some reason, when instead nothing sexier than balance sheets and budget books is being discussed.  Apparently services are all trying to ‘push the cash envelope’ to gather as much money to them as possible in the short term in order to store it away for the long term; like a squirrel burying nuts in the autumn, the idea is that when more painful cuts are to be made in the next financial year there will at least be something left to cut.

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