Posted tagged ‘local government’

Democratic Localism

June 20, 2012

The least worst option…

On first glimpse this post title is not too different to the post about politics we posted on Monday. Isn’t democracy and accountability just another element of the political context local government is facing?

We don’t think so.

The long term future of local government is far more dependent on what we do with the structure of democracy and accountability it operates in than any policy change dreamed up by this or any other Government.

Local Government, as it currently exists has elements of success and failure pre-programmed into it. On the success side of the ledger local government has proven to be the most responsive and quickest changing part of Government. It has, especially in recent years, proven able to make quick cuts and rapid investments, to commission imaginatively and to provide a series of complex local services to its communities in a fairly well received way.

On the other hand, local government is becoming increasingly less democratic at the local level. People don’t vote for their local councillors in anywhere near the numbers they vote for their MPs (we don’t even get levels as high as the Voice!). Even where local people are turning up to vote my perception is that in many areas the effort expended to capture that vote, by the local politicians, is rapidly decreasing.

What’s more in many ways it is not hard to understand why the voters don’t care and the politicians don’t try as hard as they once might have. Whilst Governments of all stripes might declare their support for localism the reality is that national politicians fear losing control, and the postcode lottery that might follow, even more. This leads to ring fences, legislative controls, guidelines, targets and other requirements dominating the public service provision. The current Government have done a little to reduce these but with 25% budget cuts coming it is very hard for local authorities to really do much more than the statutory services they are obliged, under the law, to provide.

Equally, local government in theory is predicated on the idea of local difference. This is fine in theory but we are also a universalist sort of country. I’m pretty sure members of the public would be ok with different street cleaning routines in different parts of Britain but the three biggest services in a local authority are all ones which many would consider needing a consistent approach; those being social care for children, working age adults and older persons .

So, in many ways it can be argued that local government is overly centrally driven, lacking in democratic legitimacy and whilst innovative and nimble lacking in a unique mandate.

The above is an intentionally negative view and laid out to spark debate; we love local government but are genuinely fearful that in twenty years local councils will just be glorified quangos or foundation trusts without the real democratic underpinning so crucial, in our minds, to what government is meant to be. We are, despite everything, passionate supporters of true democracy.

One of the reasons for out optimism is that there is light on the horizon in the form of two clear broad alternative visions currently being posited for this organisational and political malaise. Option 1 is broadly Steve Hilton localism, captured within the context of the Big Society and option 2 is empowered municipalism, as proposed by the ever energetic Graham Allen MP.

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The political context

June 18, 2012

The political context – on a mug

At a recent WLLG catch up we decided that we’d like to mix it up a little and try something different with the blog. So for this week we will be presenting five short posts looking at five elements of the local government sector and where we think we are right now. Today’s post is the first in the series and looks at the political context. We hope you enjoy this and the other pieces this week and look forward to hearing your responses to them.

When we stumbled upon the idea of writing a week long themed version of the WLLG blog taking on board some of the broader issues impacting local government I signed up to write this post thinking it would be a rather simple localist treatise plotting the future for local government in a new environment. This was not the case.

The more I think about it the more I am reminded of the innate complexity of the local government policy arena we all work in. Councils operate hundreds of services and each of them is governed to a greater or not quite a great extent by the Whitehall machinery. Thus, there is little that local government does that is not deeply impacted by central government.

This post then, has a danger of being central government focused which is precisely what I had hoped to avoid. However, despite my misgivings we do need to start with the coalition.

The recent Queens Speech was a bit of a waste of time and effort and seemed to many to show a Government that had run out of ideas.

I differ a little.

I suggest that the reason the Queens Speech was such a letdown was that the Government has already cast its dye in most key areas and is basically just in an implementation phase. The true impact of these changes will have a much greater effect on the perceived success, or failure, of the coalition than anything the Queen read out in 2012.

In most key areas of Government activity the coalition wisely used the first few years of the term to get their reforms out of the way.

Austerity and the accompanied dramatic cuts to public spending are definitely an ideological approach to our economic malaise but they provide a consistent, if controversial, base to the coalition’s economic plans. Whatever ‘Plan B’ ends up looking like it will be based on the austerity foundations. Whether this succeeds or ends up failing dramatically will probably define the success or otherwise of the coalition. Meanwhile these cuts are probably the single biggest risk facing local government now and in the next five or more years.

The changes to the welfare system will have an even greater impact on the local government finances. This is not least because the government has cynically told local government to cut council tax benefit by 10% whilst protecting all sorts of people and then at the same time said that if local government wants to not make the cuts they can just cut other services. Of all the Government changes this is the one that annoys me the most as it is brazen, cynical and most of all cowardly.

Other welfare changes will also impact local government and put more pressure on our services.

Meanwhile the major changes the Government is making to Health and Education are already underway and each impacts local government. Free schools and academies no doubt undermine the influence of local authorities over local education but many councils are more vexed with the Government’s attitude over funding for new school building or renovation. Structures are important but what matters to teachers, parents, students and local politicians more is whether the schools that everyone is working in are in a fit state.

Mr Gove and his colleagues should make sure this problem is fixed, and fixed soon.

The changes to the health service have possibly wide ranging impacts on local government. Although the NHS has basically reconstituted PCTs in another form with the Commissioning Support Organisations for now, in the long term it seems more logical that local authorities might provide partnership to their Clinical Commissioning Groups. From a place perspective isn’t this more sensible than what is currently being offered in many areas? The Government seem keen to push local CCGs to operate tendering processes between local councils and the private sector thus ensuring that CCGs either go NHS or go private but I hope the Government will change their tune on that one.

Meanwhile, the challenges of localism and the Big Society will continue to bring new players into the local service provision. This provides a unique challenge to local government, not least as this will probably mean that local government has to get better at change; services may change providers every few years, services may fail and commissioning will have to be imaginative to meet ever changing local needs. The risks of this are huge but there are opportunities to exploit as well.

All of the above examples provide challenges for local politicians. No longer are they at the top of a command and control structure where their every word is implemented by somewhat star struck council officers. Instead, increasingly their direct influence is declining, to be replaced by an influence based on their ability to negotiate on behalf of their communities. I would argue that this makes councillors infinitely more important as without this democratic accountability or local consent we are left with services that have no connection to the communities they serve.

However, it is a real challenge and will involve councillors upping their collective game. Whether we have provided them with enough support to play this new role I am uncertain but seeing the development of it will be fascinating over the next 5-10 years.

Whilst most of the Government’s legacy is already put in train there is one area where we don’t yet know the impact or indeed whether the Government is going to have the courage to put in place a long term sustainable solution; funding of Adult Social Care. As the Barnet graph of doom shows, if this issue is not addressed soon the entire council budget could be taken by funding adult and childrens social care within a decade. An unfathomable amount of people support something equivalent to the Dilnot report and the fact that the Government have yet to put forward a Bill to implement the recommendations is a peculiar example of either Government feebleness or civil service intransigence or both.

As you can see, a post that was meant to be a localist treatise ended up being a quick trot through the impact of the coalition government on local government.

This is, of course, not totally fair. Local government is still the most innovative and fast moving part of the Government structure in the UK. Thus, whilst austerity is the unifying feature for all local government and the changes being made by the Government represent the context in which local government is operating right now, the changes being made around the country differ depending on the council concerned.

I’m going to be honest; I don’t know what’s happening in over 350 councils around the country. I could probably not do much more than ten. However, every time I visit a council or speak to more enthusiastic and forward thinking members of staff there is always something interesting and innovative happening.

Local government’s ability to continually flex to the changing contexts we face is central to the Government being able to introduce its radical and wide ranging policy prospectus. Our role is also crucial to ensuring that services provided locally that so many people rely on are provided in the best way possible.

Local government will rise and meet this challenge and it would be nice if the coalition recognised this once in a while rather than always being on the attack.

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 

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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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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A day out in Staines (upon Thames)

May 21, 2012

It’s by the river you know! – Picture courtesy of http://www.stainespeople.co.uk/home

Sometimes we receive a guest post and think it might be a simple promo job. Despite appearances to the contrary we’re pretty convinced this is not one of those and in fact make a really strong case for local authorities as geographically based entities and not just service delivery organisations. It’s therefore well worth a read:

Neither living in, nor working in, the borough of Spelthorne I was, to put it lightly, a little sceptical at the council’s attempts to rename the town of Staines to call it Staines upon Thames. After all, is changing the name really going to make any difference to the town? It was next to the Thames before the name change and it will remain next to the river after the name change. It was not as posh as Richmond or Windsor before the name change and this will not change after the name change.

However, when a friend of mine invited me to pop along to Staines upon Thames day, the official launch of the new name for the town I was intrigued to say the least (the promise of beer and jazz had nothing to do about it).

What I found was, in its own way, brilliant.

The local council had done more than just voted to change the name of the town. The day they had organised to launch the new name showcased local charities, voluntary groups, water based leisure activities and businesses. It featured local bands singing from a stage in the town centre and a map of Staines upon Thames where local residents could signal their favourite parts of the newly named metropolis.

And the crème de la crème of the whole experience was a duck race. The race involved placing over 1300 ducks in the river, each costing a couple of quid and contributing to local charity, and then, a la pooh sticks, waiting for the current to do what it does best.

All in all the day was quaint but well attended.

It was also a good reminder of why we have local councils and the importance of a sense of place. Everything about the day, and the plan to change the town’s name, was based on a wide coalition of local supporters. The event itself was sponsored by at least twenty local businesses, the street signs were sponsored by a local estate agent and many of the stewards for the day were provided by the Heathrow airport ‘here to help’ team (which was quite cool). Many businesses had stalls; usually with some games to support local charities. And most of all many members of the town turned out to show their support, both for the new name and for their local area.

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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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Strategy

May 9, 2012

A strategic photograph?

Last week the cuddly entrepreneur and TV personality Lord Sir Alan Sugar fired the pleasingly accented Azhar from the midweek warm up act for Dara O’Briain’s ‘You’re Fired’, the Apprentice.

What was Azhar’s crime? Well, according to the editing crew at the Apprentice it was using the word ‘strategy’ one time every five minutes when everyone knows that the Apprentice is a seat of the pants ‘JFDI’ sort of experience.

In fairness to Azhar he took the firing fairly well and then proceeded to drop the ‘s’ bomb about fifteen times during the much more enjoyable follow up show. He also revealed that his knowledge of strategy is built from his rather successful refrigeration business which seems to be making him a fair bit of money.

As is often the case this got me thinking. To what extent does having a stated strategy actually matter? After all, as Jade (Azhar’s surviving project manager) would often point out, what’s the point of all this strategy if it prevents you from making decisions and getting on with it?

In local government we often struggle with ‘strategy’. This is for a number of reasons:

Strategies are easily forgotten and many councils end up using strategies as a way to launch new ideas or generate a buzz in the council. This leads to the local authority having multiple different strategies, none of which is particularly unique and none of them providing quite the impact that one would expect.

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That was the Local Government week that was

May 4, 2012

It’s the morning after the election night before – let the counting commence

That was the local government week that was is meant to provide people with a nice round up of the week that has just gone. Unfortunately, most of the exciting stuff going on in local government happened overnight and whilst we like to be topical we’re not THAT topical.

However, whilst we do not have the election covered in any substantial way we know the people who do (and doubtless have spent much of the last night checking out their site). So before you read any more do get your morning election fix from the excellent LGiU site:

Although they are still working on the content you can check out all sorts of bits and pieces including:

  • information on when most counts are taking place and results expected to be declared - bit.ly/IjynMt
  • 70 Count Correspondents at the counts feeding us local insight and analysis -bit.ly/IjlnMj
  • collected and mapped data for all authorities holding elections - bit.ly/Irk2wK

Plus, check out their blog which will have been updated throughout the night and then whilst you are blog checking do check in with our friends at the Guardian Local Government Network whose liveblog in partnership with the (yes, you guessed it) LGIU has been a source of much local election happiness over the past 24 hours.

The LGiU share our passion for democracy and we’re really pleased they cover the local elections in the detail they deserve, including those that aren’t in London! Nonetheless, it’s always worth checking out their previous post on the 50 councils to watch to see how accurate they were.

The elections this time round are quite varied with mayoral elections, council elections and mayoral referenda. It is therefore interesting to see Harry Phibbs from the Conservative Home Local Government Blog admitting to doing a full about turn on his approach to Mayors:

In the 1998 referendum on setting up a Greater London Authority with a Mayor of London and London Assembly I voted No. This was despite the encouragement of the Conservative leader William Hague for Londoners to vote Yes. I thought that it would be another layer of bureaucracy. That despite the assurances of Tony Blair that it would prove a GLC Mark II – there would be inherent empire building.

Despite the eight years of Ken Livingstone, which in many ways confirmed my misgivings, I think that it is better to have accountability for services such as transport and policing rather than have them run by Quangos. Localism should mean that where possible powers should be devolved from City Hall to the London boroughs. But there is a need for a Mayor of London. So I think I was wrong to vote No.

Always good to see a politician admit to a mistake in the past and as he argues later in the post this is not a party political issue but an issue for each and every voter to make their own mind up about. We agree.

One other slightly worrying election related issue comes from London where apparently police are to guard voting booths:

Police officers are to be stationed at every polling station in Tower Hamlets after the Met launched an official investigation into allegations of electoral fraud. Officers will man all 70 polling locations in the borough on Thursday alongside borough enforcement officers to prevent voter intimidation.

The measures come as the Met launched an investigation into “unprecedented” evidence of voter fraud in the key London borough less than 48 hours before the mayoral polls open.

Police sources today admitted the measures were unusual.

Very unusual and really concerning for local government as the body responsible for making sure our elections operate as they are meant to. Definitely something worth watching on election night.

It is also worth remembering that whilst many news organisations will report the elections in a way similar to Reuters:

Conservatives face local polls backlash over recession

These are actually local elections and not a referendum on the Government. We’d all do well to remember that.

So, what about the rest of the goings on in local government land?

We liked this piece on the Equalities Act from the ever excellent Guardian Local Government Network which rather optimistically concluded:

The Equality Act, however, could offer the chance to place equality at the centre of local government work. “It’s not seen as an add-on any more. It’s work that people do, day in and day out,” says Mohammed Ilyas, policy officer at Harrow council. “I think we have definitely cracked it this time.”

I think the article summed it up pretty well and really hope local government will manage to make the most of the Equalities Act and not just see it as something they need to ‘comply’ with.

An interesting new site reached our notice this week. The Independent Local Government site, although we’re not quite sure where it has come from seems to be quite interesting. As they argue:

In England today local government is little more than an executive arm of central government implementing policy and budgets sent down from Westminster and Whitehall. Many would argue that this inhibits local growth and development. The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, chaired by Graham Allen MP, and the Local Government Association, are campaigning for independent local government. This Information Daily Focus Report covers all the issues and provides a valuable interactive resource, free to access, thanks to sponsorship from Boilerhouse Media Group

Again, not quite sure we agree with them in total but really glad these issues are getting a wider airing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the site and the wider campaign.

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 27, 2012

A busy week; no wonder the keys are leaping off the page

It’s been a proper busy news week and with more days and more time we could have written twice as many posts this week. Nonetheless, our Friday post gives us a chance to catch up. We’ll try to do the week some justice and also pick up a few slightly different pieces but goodness knows what we have missed.

It only seems right to start in the East End of London with the London Borough of Newham being accused of social cleansing by trying to find homes for people on their housing waiting list in others parts of the country, namely Stoke. This caused an almighty row but the underlying issue is an important one. As the BBC explained:

Newham’s mayor, Sir Robin Wales, blamed government policies which had left his borough “chasing around the country trying to find ways to deal with people who are in need”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have got a waiting list of 32,000 – we’ve got hundreds of people looking for places to stay and the result of government benefit cuts, which are still working through as well, means that many more people from wealthier parts of London are looking for places to live in London and they’re just not there.

“We have written to 1,179 organisations [housing associations] saying could you accommodate some people? We’re not looking to push people all to one place, we’re looking to find the best possible solution for citizens.”

The Government accused Newham of playing politics with the issue but failed to recognise that Newham weren’t the ones who brought it to the presses attention.

More pernicious is the seeming inconsistency in the Government’s position. If it is acceptable to pay people different amounts based on the local economy why is it not ok to recognise the higher costs of living in London and pay higher housing benefit based on that? Similarly, if the Government insist of having some form of cap on the benefits then surely this is because they don’t want people to claim benefits to live in expensive parts of the country.

The coalition can moan all they want about social cleansing but the people on these waiting lists need housing and the fact that local authorities are thinking imaginatively to solve the problem, where they can, should be welcomed.

Thanks to the good chaps at Comms2point0 for linking to this piece by Martin Osler about the importance of communications professionals being able to write well. As he argues:

Effective Writing Underpins Communication

Some of you will read this far and say “ach, here he goes; another ex-hack banging on about poorly drafted news releases.” No, excellent writing skills are much, much more than this. As communications professionals we should be able to write robust, grammatically correct proposals and briefing documents, properly punctuated and a delight to read. We should be creating free flowing articles on behalf of our clients, magical web copy, crafty blogs and exciting competition entries.

It is a mistake to base any sweeping judgement on ones own limited experience but I have come across quite a few communications officers in local authorities who see their inability to write well as part of their ability to communicate effectively. Some wear this lack of skill as a badge of honour or at least don’t see it as a problem.  I agree with Martin; if you can’t write well then I don’t really care how good your messaging or creativity is.

It has often been said that there are lies, damned lies and statistics but in this modern day and age there are also very clever people out there willing to explain those statistics. Kudos then to Chris Game from INLOGOV for breaking down the competing political claims about council tax in councils run by the different parties in the run up to the local elections. Whilst all the parties claim that their tax is lower it’s actually just a little more complex than that:

Band D has thus become a benchmark for comparative purposes, and it is therefore perfectly reasonable that the Conservatives tend to use it – as they could with this year’s Commons Library figures – to claim that average Band D tax rates are normally lower in Conservative than in Labour or most Liberal Democrat areas.

Reasonable, but disingenuous. Not so much because only a small minority of properties (15% in England) are actually in Band D, but because, exacerbated by the absence of any revaluation since 1991, the mix of property bands across authorities and regions nowadays varies starkly. In my own authority of Birmingham 56% of properties are in Bands A and B, and just 14% in Bands E to H combined. Neighbouring Solihull has 19% A and Bs and 41% E to Hs. In the North East there are 56% Band As, in the South East 9%, in London 3%.

All of which obviously means that, to raise a certain tax income in an authority with mainly Band A to C properties requires a significantly higher Band D tax than in one comprising many E to H properties. The average bills paid by tax payers will vary similarly – being generally higher than the Band D figure in affluent and Conservative-inclined areas, and lower in poorer or Labour-inclined ones.

Hence Labour’s equally disingenuous preference for using average tax bill figures as their political comparators.  North East: Average Band D council tax £1,525; average tax bill per household £1,072. South East: Average Band D council tax £1,475; average bill per household £1,381. As the anthropomorphic Russian meercat, Alexsandr Orlov, would confirm: simples!

‘Simples’ indeed and well worth reading the whole piece.

In case anyone missed it the Taxpayers Alliance published their annual Town Hall Rich list 2012 identifying the number of staff receiving total benefits packages over £100,000 per year. In a way I appreciate the work of the TPA; they make as much data as possible public and even tried this year to give it some context:

The average remuneration increase for staff in the Town Hall Rich List from 2009-10 to 2010-11 was 26.85 per cent. But this would have been driven by a number of employees receiving large redundancy payments in 2010-11. To account for this, a more accurate picture would be the median average increase, which is 1.83 per cent.

However, their endless message is that these salaries are always inappropriate which is so patently wrong that it annoys me.

This does not, however, annoy me nearly as much as the response of the various local government organsations. I would have liked them to stand up and say clearly: ‘local government is a complex organisation and we employ good staff on market appropriate salaries throughout the organisation. Some of these are well paid but this simply reflects the work that we expect of them’.

Instead they complained that the data included redundancies and therefore overstated the issue. Talk about missing the wood for the trees!

An interesting point of view from Ken Livingstone got some unexpected support this week from a Lib Dem councillor this week via an LGA Blog, when Cllr Lester Holloway agreed that perhaps there are too many boroughs in London.  After all, do we really relate at all to our borough boundaries?

Aside from job losses the main objection has been loss of local accountability. But preserving town hall fiefdoms in formaldehyde does little for accountability.

As a Liberal Democrat with ‘localism’ sewn on my sleeve, I should be instinctively against big domineering monoliths of the state. But Livingstone has a point: borough-based identities are for bureaucrats and local politicians. Most people identify more locally.

We’re not sure whether this could actually work, but one things for sure; we won’t get to find out any time soon.

As the humble mobile phone morphs into something altogether more sophisticated it continues to open up opportunities to engage digitally with groups who in the past would never have been interested or able to benefit from the digital world.  The Government Digital Service (GDS) has picked up on this fact, and on 16 June will be holding a hack day to take advantage of this.

Westminster City Council, with the help of Go ON UK and GDS are holding a hack day on Saturday 16th June. The request is simple, to build something useful and accessible, either for the homeless themselves, for the professionals who assist them, or for any member of public wanting to help in some way. The platform that this is delivered across is also open, covering web, mobile or other platform. Assistance will be available from experts in this area on the day to help with ideas and on Friday 11th May, results of a pre hack day discussion with homeless charities explaining the needs of the homeless in this area will be published.

We truly look forward to seeing the results of this work, and love the fact that in this case the technology is creating opportunities that otherwise simply wouldn’t exist.

Another digital post here, albeit a short one.  Dave Briggs has pointed us towards a nifty new site which aims to help councillors better understand issues in the complex world of planning.  And there’s no ridiculous flowchart diagram in sight.

The purpose of the site is really to drive traffic to NALC’s e-learning platform (provided by my good chums at Learning Pool) as well as to other online learning resources about planning.

We wanted the site to have a nice and bright, informal feel that perhaps not many websites in this particular sector tend to feature, and are pretty pleased with the results!

Thanks to the Evening Standard for highlighting this bit of local government scandal. A local councillor in the London Borough of Merton was removed from his cabinet post for the crime of…. removing an illegally placed poster from some railings. As the Standard reported:

A senior councillor has been sacked from his role as education chief after being filmed ripping down a teenager’s fundraising poster.

Peter Walker was out jogging this week when he stopped to remove the poster attached to railings at Dundonald Park, Wimbledon.

The Labour councillor was secretly filmed by a local resident and the footage was posted on YouTube — prompting Merton council’s leader to dismiss him from his cabinet education post yesterday.

Yep, Jeremy Hunt can survive leaking information about a Government statement to the owners of one of the world’s premier media empires but Councillor Walker cannot survive removing a poster put up by a local youngster… And don’t even get me started on the secret filming!

I love local government!

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

The three publics

April 25, 2012

Because penguins are much cuter than the public

There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to split up the local population. For every different service in local government there are different considerations to make and thus different ways to assess the members of the public that make up your customer base.

Despite the different methodologies there is probably one thing that we all, at least in part agree on; that it is important to understand the people you are meant to be serving.

In the private sector we would have a fairly simple starting point; we would want to keep current customers and then work hard to attract other customers.

In effect, the private sector organisation is dealing with two publics; those who use their service/product and those that don’t currently use the service/product but might.

In local authorities, and the public sector more generally, this situation is greatly complicated by a third public; those who have no need or interest in a specific public service but because they in some way contribute to it have an opinion which needs to be taken seriously. This method of splitting up the local population is a crude one but it can be instructive when trying to understand the political responses to service changes and the way that local authorities try to meet the needs of their local community.

1)    The public who use a service

We tend to be fairly good at collecting information about those who currently use our service, how they feel about it and what we could do to improve it. However, there are two problems with how we manage this public. Firstly, for services with a relatively small client group we tend to use the current service as the context and then talk to our customers about how it works and how it could be changed or improved. We rarely ask the bigger question of if the service was starting from scratch how would we design it and what would it look like?

The second struggle is where the services reach vast quantities of the public. For these services we often give them simultaneously too much focus (bin collection and potholes anyone?) and not enough detailed conversation with the public concerned. Thus, we will often spend lots of money on the services involved but perhaps won’t take the extra time to really make sure we are delivering the service the different parts of the community might need or want. In a funny way in these situations it seems that the public becomes too big for us to really handle.

2)    The public who don’t use a service but might do in the future

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