Posted tagged ‘local government blog’

What a wonderful world (of local government blogs and blogging)

June 25, 2012

Last week we wrote a number of different posts exploring themes within local government. There was one area, in particular, that we didn’t cover and that was local government blogging.  Today, it’s time to rectify this.

When we started our blog there didn’t seem to be a lot of other local government blogs out there. There were of course some that we have now discovered but equally the quantity and quality has grown over the last few years. Thus, when we sat down to write this post it was a real challenge to narrow them down to a short enough list to fit in a post. We’ve tried our best to catch all of our favourites but if we have missed you out we can only apologise. Now without further ado let’s get to it:

Guardian Local Government Network 

Why? What can we say? Whilst we have our occasional disagreements with the Guardian it is surely hard for local government professionals, of whatever stripe, to challenge the notion that the Guardian Local Government Network is an invaluable resource for all local government staff. The posts are captured from a range of authors and cover a vast range of local government specialities. If you’re not a member then make sure you sign up.

One to read: It’s impossible to pick one post but if you want a feel of what the GLGN is about why not read this piece about the new homes bonus.

Richard Vize column: 

Why? Whilst we’re talking GLGN it is worth mentioning their contributing editor, Richard Vize. Richard’s weekly column is unique amongst local government writers in that it gets right under the skin of some of the major issues impacting the sector and is always worth a read, even on the rare occasions when we disagree with him.

One to read: Richard’s take of Eric Pickles’ high street plan is well worth a read: 

Flip Chart Fairy Tales 

Why? Because it is one of our favourite blogs and although not about local government it does address issues of public sector reform and even when it doesn’t we are yet to find a post we didn’t enjoy reading.

One to read: There is so much to choose but a post entitled Culture eats strategy is always worth a read; a little provocation for those of us embarking on transformation programmes 

Not so Big Society

Why? This is a blog about health and social care written by members of staff who work in social care. Reading the blog no-one can be in any doubt how much the authors care about the people they work with and the policy context they are asked to work in. Anyone interested in these areas should check out this blog as a fantastic counter balance to whatever else is being reported.

One to read: The integration of health and social care is increasingly a hot topic in local government and this post tackles the issue from the first had perspective of mental health.

LGIU Blog: 

Why? We really like the LGIU; the slightly scrappier alternative to the rather staid LGA. Plus, they have a blog and they aren’t afraid to use it. The blog varies between policy blogs, extracted from the wider reports they specialise in (and which should be a key part of your working reading), comment pieces, guest posts and extensive coverage of local government elections. Always worth a read.

One to read: Why not check out this post about Health and Well Being boards and the ever changing health agenda?

Comms 2 point 0: 

Why? Becuase if you are a communications professional working in the public sector this is a blog and information hub just for you. It’s written by communications professionals and always has an interesting thing to say. Plus, it gathers up lots of other interesting links and highlights them for the discerning communicator. Plus, their twitter account has links to five interesting articles almost every morning.

One to read: This post about what comms teams should look like in 2012 seems eminently sensible and is well worth a read.

Dan Slee Blog

Why? Because we are massive fans of Dan Slee and so should you be. A contributor to Comms2point0 Dan’s a local government communicator and as far as we can make out simply a top banana. His blog is about social media and digital communications in PR and local government and is well worth reading.

One to read: 11 Golden Rule for Social media in an organisation. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

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It’s the people stupid

May 28, 2012

Are they truly smiling or just complying?

How many times have we heard the spiel from a consultant or a new Chief Executive promising us that a new structure, new way of working, new computer system or new approach to reviewing the local authority will deliver the savings or improved service we need?

The answer of course is many many times.

As regular readers of this blog will know we are generally fairly sympathetic to this approach. Too often local government is trapped in the belief that we should just continue to do things the way we always have and there is a lot to learn by considering problems from a different point of view or by applying sensibly thought through management tools and techniques. At the same time we get trapped in our management silos and forget that the main aim of the work we do is to serve our customers.

Indeed, sometimes the change is useful even if it is not perfectly designed as just the act of changing things can be beneficial.

However, over the past few months I have been reflecting on the changes we’ve tried to make in our local authority and the one deciding factor in each case of success, and indeed each of failure, has been the people involved. Perhaps, the hardcore systems thinkers amongst you will be shouting at this screen that if that is the case then we’ve obviously chosen the wrong solution to implement or simply not done it properly. My observation is based on nothing but anecdotal evidence but to me it seems that the people involved, especially at management level, are just as important, if not more so.

This should not be a surprise really. We all know who the really good people are in local government and have a pretty good idea who the poor ones are too. However, what was a surprise was how absolutely the staff involved influenced the success or otherwise of the work.

This has a few different elements:

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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…)

It’s all about the game

April 24, 2012

How about LocalgovVille?

In this WLLG bloggers life, regular battles take place with the other half for attention. It’s not that their partner is uninterested, selfish or unwilling to spend time with them; no, the problem lies in the form of one behemoth of a time-sucking entity; FarmVille.

For the uninitiated, Zynga’s Facebook-based game involves the user building and maintaining a virtual farm with crops and livestock which they plant, tend and then harvest to earn in-game credits, which allow them to improve and expand their farm as they see fit. The difference between this and more traditional games lies in the fact that these crops grow in their own version of ‘realtime’; whether the user is logged on or not, the plants keep growing until they are ready to harvest, then die off and wasting the time and virtual money used to get them ready for harvest.

This has resulted in elements of our lives literally being booked around the harvest schedule; dinner gets done early as the corn is ready to reap, the children’s baths are delayed whilst the cows are milked and evenings out with friends are postponed as some special event or other comes up.

Were this a regular game I suspect it would soon have worn off its charm and the demands it placed on our lives would have stopped them from enjoying it as they do. However, this game has introduced the element of competition and score keeping, which drives them on. They compare their scores with friends and family, swap comments and advice with aquaintences and provide and receive gifts on a seemingly constant basis. This social aspect has thoroughly drawn them in, and contributed to the developers of FarmVille being valued recently at $7.8bn (and yes, that’s billion).

Besides the inconvenience, this has got me thinking about gamification and it’s rise in the virtual world. The advent of social networks has revolutionised the gaming world, as have the introduction of smart phones with internet and GPS access. All of a sudden the world really is our playground; perhaps our local areas and local government should sign up in some way? (more…)

What’s in a name? That which we call a Rose by any other name would smell so sweet

April 19, 2012

Now go on, you didn't expect to be seeing them today, did you?

It’s been ages since our last guest post (well, since 26 March anyway) and we were beginning to think that perhaps no-one else had any interesting or amusing points about local government which they wanted to share with us and our readers.  That was when this work of art popped into our inbox (welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com by the way) and proved us wrong in the most wonderful way, so here it is in all its glory.  If you’ve got something you think would interest or amuse us or our readers send it in and you too could see your name up in pixels, but first enjoy and chip in yourselves.

The colleague who sits next to me is a slammer.

Most of the time she is very calm at work; while everyone is stressed she is usually the relaxed one. However she does get stressed and she deals with this by slamming down the phone. She will tend to be as sweet as pie on the phone but I know she is angry at the caller because she slams down the phone at the end of the conversation. At times this may be led by an appropriate outburst.

The other day she really slammed down the phone. Any harder and she would have broken the head piece, gone through the desk and met the floor. Once said phone was down, she whispered under her breath, in that kind of whisper that everyone care hear within a mile of you, “No Madam I am not going to refund your *%*! parking ticket, as my job is to collate performance data on education, not to deal with parking tickets and anyway, I have no idea what our *%”! parking policy is.” What had caused this outburst? Quiet simply the call centre had put through a resident wanting to complain about parking to someone who had nothing to do with parking.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this. When a call comes through that has nothing to do with your job. Sometimes you can understand the mistake (I know Scrutiny Officers get calls about security), sometimes it is just bizarre (I know an Engagement Officer who gets a call about the Borough’s flood defences). But you know what? I don’t think it’s the person at the call center or reception’s fault.

No; its our job titles.

Look at your job title now. If you had no idea what your job was, would you understand what it was you did just by your job title? I’m willing to bet the amount of the Country’s Deficit, that the answer is no. I’m also willing to bet you are sick and tired of having to explain what it is you do after you have met someone for the first time and they have given you a blank look when you have told them your job title. You may even have a set phrase, “Its like…” I’m also willing to bet that the majority of your friends and family haven’t a clue what it is you do, because they have turned off before you have even started said explanation. And you know what, nearly every job title in local government is like this (go on look at the job title of a person in the team next to you…see, I’m right!). (more…)

Do Chief Execs actually matter?

April 3, 2012

How much power do they really have?

Recently I have discovered the excellent Freakonomics podcast.  In the same style as the best-selling book by the same name, this podcast looks at the hidden meaning of everything, and how these things affect everything else; I highly recommend a download.

A recent hour-long special episode asked a simple question; would we notice if there was no president of the USA?  I won’t spoil the show itself by going into the detail, but basically the answer was probably not as much as you might think.  And this got me thinking: How much of the local government set up actually has power and would be noticed if they disappeared?

I’ll start today by considering the top of the heirarchical officer tree; the Chief Exec.  Widely seen by many, especially those who view these things from afar, as having total power and authority over the organisation, the Chief is the one individual who has ultimate responsibility for everything which goes on under the auspices of the Council.  Whilst from some angles this may indeed be the case, as with the US President it’s not anywhere near as clear cut as one may at first (from a distance) presume.

I need to make it clear that I’ve never been the head of a local authority, but I have spent two years as the head of a voluntary sector organisation.  Having been involved in that organisation for some time I began by believing that the top position was in essence that of a benevolent dictator, someone who was in total charge and would be able to make decisions and push strategy and delivery wherever they felt it should go.

In reality however, the position provided little in the way of substantial direct power.  Authority was permitted by members and the bodies which made up the organisation, but any delivery relied entirely upon their agreement and assent.  The role I performed gave me a solid platform and the ability to get my voice heard by all, and afforded my plans and opinions a degree of authority others perhaps did not have.  My role was not one of issuing orders and decrees and more one of cajoling, persuading and guiding, portraying the attitudes and traits I wanted to see replicated by others and essentially being the change I wanted to see in others. (more…)

Race to the bottom

March 29, 2012

Shouldn't we be pulling people up rather than pushing them down?

Recently I found myself once again in a meeting with some of our local councillors.  They were as usual a friendly and interesting bunch of souls, attempting to do their best by their constituents and planning a public meeting for local people to engage on the goings on of our council.

The subject of meeting papers came up, with one councillor spending five minutes peering at a printed excel table of five point type and miniature lines.  As they struggled I made the point that it’s a shame that we can’t zoom in on paper in the same way that we can on computers or tablets.  It was as if I’d accused them of witchcraft.

I then spent a good ten minutes or so hearing them discuss how they were against any person in a meeting, be they councillors, officers or members of the public, attending a public meeting and making use of any form of electronic device to store or access papers and information.  Their thinking was that this gave these people an unfair advantage over everyone else in the room as they could access more information more easily and more quickly; therefore this made others feel uncomfortable, so it was deemed better to have everyone on a lower but level playing field.

I was stunned to say the least.  As they were councillors and as they were changing mid-meeting from jolly and positive to boisterous and negative I decided not to make a larger discussion of this, instead getting back on topic and filing it away for later absorption and deliberation. (more…)

Manage to lead

March 26, 2012

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Peter Drucker

And with this simple quote, shown up is one of the fundamental flaws in the way we value the people who work in local government.

Having been through restructures in the past, I am well versed in the intricacies of the average process.  The team or service undergoing the changes invariably ends up reviewing their structure charts, placing new teams together and rearranging workloads before or after assigning a manager for them to work with or to lead on their projects and keep things moving in the right direction.  Those higher up this chain get paid more, those lower down get paid less.

But why is this?  Why do those who sign off the leave cards for others, and who record progress via 1:1 meetings get paid more than those who actually do the work, those who make the contacts and those who lead the agenda and projects to where they need to be?

There seems to be an underlying assumption often made that leadership and management is intrinsically linked and that you can’t successfully do one without doing the other at the same time.  On many job descriptions for managers at whatever grade is the ability to lead and motivate others; how many of us are truly inspired by those immediately above us?  If you are one of thee then you are in a privileged position, as many simply are not.

However, many of us do find this inspiration from other colleagues we work with.  Some of these will be more senior than us, some more junior and some our peers.  I for one have been lucky enough to have had one or two inspirational managers, have been enthused by more junior staff and worked alongside some who have pushed me to be better than I  thought I could be before.

I’m sure I’m not unique in having known many of the exact opposite, those who’s jobs may or may not have been to inspire me but who didn’t for whatever reason.  Some of these have been superb managers, who have provided exactly what I needed when I needed it and allowed me to lead myself in my own direction. I didn’t hold this against them, in fact for me this was equally as important a stage in my professional development. (more…)

Spring cleaning

March 21, 2012

Time for a tidy up in the office?

Today is big day for us, and a big day for everyone.  The budget announcement, which may just be the last big hurrah for the coalition government, will affect every person in the country and have a direct and indirect affect on the work of local government.  As all this is such a big deal we won’t be attempting to cover it ourselves yet or sharing our thoughts on the blog until we’ve had the chance to digest it a little (although I’m sure we won’t be able to resist spurting out a few thoughts via Twitter – @welovelocalgov).

So today is something of a holding day, and we thought we’d take the chance to look at something a little lighter.  This weekend sees us all losing a precious hour of our days with the coming of British Summer Time, and along with this will be the inevitable demand for a spring clean around the house.  Dusters will be pressed into action, those jobs which have been put off will be tackled and old junk will be thrown out, leaving us feeling (in theory) happier, leaner and ready to face the summer.

It’s not only home that can benefit from this approach of course, so here is the WLLG guide to performing your very own workplace spring clean.

1.  Dig out your budgets

It is surprising how few people actually get to see the budgets for their own areas of work.  Some managers guard these spreadsheets and figures jealously, permitting nothing more than glimpses of the overall numbers and no more.  Some staff see this as more than enough and trust others to see them through.

Take the opportunity to have a look at your budget and get to know it a little.  If you are a manager take a closer look at it, perhaps blocking out some time to do so with a friendly finance officer (they are friendlier than you think, even if they often spiral into technical detail).  Ask them to explain all those acronyms, ins and outs and idiosyncrasies that have been confusing you, on however small a level, for years, and ask them to do so without making it all sound like gobbledygook.  And take the time to go through every line to look at what it actually means for you and your team; does it all add up. (more…)

Time to cut out the ribbon cutting?

March 15, 2012

Is there really a point?

During yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions David Cameron announced that the Queen, acting on the advice of the Deputy PM, had conferred the honour of official City Status on three cities across the country - Chelmsford in England, Perth in Scotland and St Asaph in Wales – as well as Northern Ireland’s Armagh becoming only the second place from that particular home nation to have a Lord Mayor.  The congratulations of the WLLG team go out to each and every person who put their hard work and effort into these bids, and our commiserations go to those who bid but were not successful.

24 towns from all over the country competed for this rare honour, including places as diverse as Wrexham, Stockport, Reading and Tower Hamlets.  Each put together a comprehensive bid document which hopefully haven’t all already disappeared from the internet, as each of these shows exactly why each of these places see themselves as worthy of the title, and therefore a place to be proud of.  Having known some of those involved in putting these bids together we are only too aware of the effort that was put into them on tiny or non-existent budgets, along with the investment and time local communities made to support them.  Regardless of the outcome, none of the entrants should be too downheartened at the result, as the process may very well be just as valuable as the prize.

But why exactly is this prize so valued?  What is it about the addition of two words to stationary and signs – ‘City of …’ – which makes such a difference to so many people?  The title itself carries no additional funding, no additional power, no additional authority and no additional rights.  Some may say that the added prestige attracts businesses and investment, but really this can only be anecdotal evidence at best.

And city status is not the only ceremonial aspect of local government which we get so worked up about.  All over the country sit ceremonial Mayors (not to be confused with their elected counterparts, which are a different ball game altogether), sheriffs, chaplains, Honorary Aldermen, Lord-Lieutenants and more.  Many of these roles go back decades or even centuries, and few are the town halls which aren’t adorned with wooden plaques bearing the names of previous incumbents proudly in golden lettering for all to see.  Few of these roles actually contribute actively to the ‘real’ work and business of the council, and act merely as honorary posts during symbolic parts of ceremonies and meetings.

Why is it that we invest so much of our attention into these roles, despite their arguable superfluous nature?  Surely we don’t actually need someone to formally open a meeting of full council whilst dressed in full regalia or wearing pounds of gold jewellery?  These are the duties of a meeting Chair and could more than adequately be carried out without so much pomp and ceremony.  Do we really need to use such archaic titles and honorifics to describe simple duties, some of which in this time of austerity might be worth taking the principles of Occam’s Razor to?  If something could be simplified then should it be? (more…)


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