Posted tagged ‘localgov’

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…)

That was the local government week that was

March 2, 2012

While we blow off some steam, here's some great links from this week

Today is a day when a little routine may very well have stopped us saying something which might just have got us in trouble.  After a tip off from some of our tweeting friends (many thanks by the way!) some of the WLLG crew plonked ourselves in front of the telly and watched ITV present what they thought was a balanced assessment of whether it’s better to work for the private or public sector.  Suffice to say that, from our perspective at least, it was a less than neutral affair, and we are working out our response right now!

So in the meantime, here are some of our picks from the blogging week.  As ever, if you’ve seen something great which we’ve missed then tell us in the comments below or tweet us @welovelocalgov.

To start with, Dan Slee has once again mined a rich vein of thought and pointed out something which in hindsight sounds perfectly obvious (a much under-rated skill, we assure you) with a post about Facebook pages.  That’s right, pages rather than page; the premise that having one page to rule them all, one page to bind them may not actually do you much good.

Look at New York City. They have 5,000 people liking their City Council Facebook page and a similar number on Twitter. But they have 400,000 following @metmuseum as well as 1,300 liking an AIDS initiative.

Or look at the Scottish Island of Orkney. On Twitter 2,000 follow the council, 4,000 like their library, 400 the story telling festival and 80 sign-up for the jobs feed. So in other words, twice as many like things the council does rather than the council itself.

It’s that last sentence which rings most true to us, and one which councils would do well to wrap their heads around.

Over at the LGiU came the results of the 2012 Councillor Achievement awards.  To single any of the winners out would do a disservice to the rest, so instead we’ll just provide a link directly to the list and tell you to head on over and check it out.

(more…)

35 Things I’m giving up for lent

February 23, 2012

At the start of every year we are pressured into making New Year’s Resolutions, which promptly go the way of LAAs and fade into the hazy depths of distant memories.  However, no sooner have we accepted that perhaps losing 7 pounds a month for a year is a tough ask than along comes lent.

Well, unlike in previous years, this year I am going to take advantage of lent and actually do0 (or not) a few things for lent.  If you’ve got any suggestions then tweet us (@welovelocalgov).  For the next 40 days:

  1. I will try to give up rolling my eyes whenever I read the words ‘Eric Pickles today announced…’
  2. I will not criticise my boss in public (even if I’m in the right)
  3. I will not criticises my boss in private (even if I think they can’t hear me)
  4. I will not work more than a 45 hour week
  5. I will not sneer every time someone says that the answer to a problem is more localism
  6. I will not play localgov bingo
  7. I will not hide song lyrics in committee papers
  8. I will not constantly compare my new workplace with my old workplace
  9. I will not respond to people who ask for IT help that they have an ID-ten-T problem (more…)

A question of standards

January 25, 2012

Guest post alert, and this pleases us.  As regular readers will know, WLLG Towers is home to more than one brain, but even between us all we find a fair few corners of the local government world about which we know pitifully small amounts.  If you happen to have some thoughts to share about any such corner then please send them in to us at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com, as did today’s fantastic guest blogger DSO.  Enjoy!

In those heady days after the last general election, the coalition government sat down and hammered out a document, The Coalition: our programme for government, subtitled “Freedom Fairness Responsibility”. Included in the proposals for local government was a sentence which met with cheers from many local councillors: “We will abolish the Standards Board regime.”

Now, the Standards Board regime might have had a lot of reasons to be disliked, but it would never have been established if there hadn’t been a need for some oversight of ethical standards in the conduct of local councillors. The vast majority had no trouble sticking to the Code of conduct although they might have resented the necessity of legislating requirements to treat people with respect, not bullying and not to abuse their position for personal gain.

The real problems came from those determined to breach it on principle and from the complicated framework for dealing with complaints: investigations could drag on for months, there was secrecy concerning what information was seen and by whom, and no one was ever satisfied with the outcome of a Standards Committee hearing. Some of these criticisms were addressed when the regime was overhauled in 2008, transferring most of the work to local councils to speed up the process and bring local knowledge into play, but at the same time increasing costs for the local council. Everything had to be filtered through a first-stage committee meeting which could consider only evidence from the complainant and, based on this one-sided view, had to decide what to do next: investigate or drop it. An authority in the southwest received more than 800 complaints from one resident, and had to meet to decide what to do with each of them as the legislation didn’t allow the Monitoring Officer any discretion to dismiss clearly vexatious complaints. (more…)

Things we learnt at #UKGC12

January 24, 2012

Wow!  What an end to the week last week!  For those of you who didn’t know, last Friday saw one or more from the WLLG team making our way to the Microsoft offices in London Victoria for the fifth UK Gov Camp, an ‘unconference’ with no set agenda, no guarantees and no limits.  The participants set the agenda themselves, pitching their ideas for things they’d like to present or like to talk about, and those who find at least one other person to speak with do just that.  The wonderful ‘rule of two feet‘, which means no-one gets offended if someone leaves a session before the end, allows participants to never find themselves in a useless session and to put it simply, great things happen.

We strongly recommend you take a look at some examples of blogs (here, herehere, here, here, here and here) , twitter conversations, pictures and anything else that have been shared since the end of the first session and throughout the two day camp any time you are lacking a little motivation or inspiration.  In fact, the nigh-on legendary Dan Slee thought it would be good for participants to share some of their initial thoughts and opinions of the day, so to follow suit here are ten things we learnt from #ukgc12.

People care

No, really, they do.  If they didn’t care about delivering great public services then there is simply no way they would have invested their own time and sometimes money to trek halfway across the country in order to sit in a building talking with other public service people.  There is no way at all that these conversations would be passionate and inspiring, and there is no way that many of these would lead directly to projects, concepts and work which would benefit more than those directly taking part.

People knock public servants in ever increasing numbers and sometimes there are occasions when they are right to do so.  However, if the attendees of those two days truly make up any percentage of staff then there is a lot of heart and energy being put in up and down the country to improve the lot for the rest of the population; you can’t put a price on this.

Innovators do more than tech (more…)

Localgov Secret Santa Gifts

December 20, 2011

What will Santa bring for good local government types?

With the festive season very much upon us, staff up and down the country are busy trying to work out how to get a gift for a fiver for their secret santa choice despite only having met them once at a team away day four months earlier. If you’re having problems you should either visit the mindblowingly brilliant Five Squids website for some inspiration, or alternatively read our list and match your chosen person with the perfect gift.

If you’ve got any other suggestions you can join in the fun by leaving a comment below or by tweeting us (@welovelocalgov) using #localgovgifts

Chief Exec
In this time of constant attack from angry residents, media local and national, councillors from just about all parties and even from those who are supposed to be there for local government it’s important to know that your friendly Chief Exec needn’t take all of the flak themself. Why not provide them with a fully disposable sacrificial lamb?

Simply select an officer of little actual power and arrange for all blame to fall firmly at their door. Should they happen to earn more than the chief exec they will also be able to deflect those pesky paid-more-than-the-PM arguments.

Scrutiny manager
Scrutiny needn’t be a chore – it can be fun too! Give your scrutiny manager the chance to pit their wits against colleagues with a personalised version of the classic Cluedo board game.

They will be able to investigate the mystery of who killed all hope and trust in the public sector: Was it Mr Pickles in the Office with a hatchet? (more…)

Does motive matter?

December 14, 2011

Is it about motive or outcomes?

Regular readers will know we appreciate guest posts, and recently have been lucky enough to have a number of these sent into us. If you’ve got something you would like to send in you can always find us at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com. Todays guest post poses a very interesting question around motives and ethics, and we’re looking forward to hearing what you think about it. Of course, that means you’re going to have to read it first…

I am a fraud.

To be clear about this, I’m not saying I commit fraud, merely that I am one. I found myself considering this after several meetings with officers and councillors recently regarding my area of work. I spoke with them all at length over the course of several meetings, looking at a range of projects and trying to get their buy-in to my plans as well as to excite them about the potential outcomes. Through my one-to-one meetings with my manager and informal feedback from others I heard that I was developing a very positive reputation, with people particularly appreciating my commitment and enthusiasm.

Of course, I am pleased with this, except for the simple fact that what I am being praised for isn’t real. Well, not entirely anyway. You see, I actually don’t really care about these projects. My enthusiasm and commitment is required to get the tasks I have completed and deliver successful outcomes. The perceived passion is actually a tactic to achieve my end goals. Machiavelli would no doubt approve. (more…)

Accountability and #localgov leadership

December 1, 2011

Playing the blame game?

After a busy few days inside and outside of WLLG Towers we thought it would be a perfect time to share a thought provoking guest post from Jessica Crowe (@CfPScrutiny) of Centre for Public Scrutiny fame.  The past few weeks has shown us the importance of both leadership across the public sector and the importance of accountability, so Jessica’s post is both timely and interesting.  If you’ve got a subject you’d like to write about you can send it to us at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com or tweet us about it @welovelocalgov, otherwise get yourself a cuppa and scroll down for more.

Three things last week made me think yet again how we need a better understanding of what accountability means for leaders in local government these days. Firstly I attended an excellent lecture given by Sir Michael Lyons (remember the Lyons report…?) to mark the 45th anniversary of the Institute of Local Government Studies (@INLOGOV) at the University of Birmingham. This was followed by the distinguished panel of Baroness Onora O’Neill, Catherine Staite, the new Director of INLOGOV, and Derek Myers (@ChairSolace), Chief Executive of Kensington and Chelsea. Sir Michael’s lecture set out what ought to constitute ‘fit for purpose’ leadership in public services for the future.

The following night, with my nerd hat firmly on, I took part in a roundtable hosted by accountants Grant Thornton to discuss their new research analysing what council accounts and Annual Governance Statements tell us about the state of corporate governance in local government. And in between these two thoughtful events I read a ridiculously simplistic rant in the MJ from a former local government public relations officer, arguing that the bean-counters of the “accountability industry” should back off and just let the professionals get on with delivering services.

The INLOGOV evening came up with some elegant lists of three as maxims for better public service leadership (“do less; do it well; do it together” from Sir Michael; “honesty, competence and reliability” – Onora O’Neill; “aggregate where you can; localise where you should; innovate everywhere” – Derek Myers). In emulation, here are three conclusions drawn from these three experiences: a plea for more understanding of what public accountability is and why it is both helpful to and a special responsibility of leaders in local government. (more…)

GIS a break

November 8, 2011

Mapping the benefits

It’s a guest post for us today, which is always something we love to be able to say. If you’ve got a topic you’d like to write about (or even something you’d like us to look at from a slightly sideways perspective) you can get in touch at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com. Until then, here’s some words from someone who’s done just that.

In my line of work I meet a lot of different teams from a lot of different places around the Council, and last week I had the chance to expand my network a bit when I met our GIS team. For the uninitiated and non-councilese speakers, GIS stands for Geographical Information System; basically a way of mapping geographical information on a map, with other data able to be overlaid.

To start with I was taken through some maps of the borough, with ward boundaries and key council buildings plotted on it. Next was a layer produced which showed the borough as it was laid out throughout several periods over the last 200 years, before up came a layer which showed satellite images of the borough.

It was nothing that I couldn’t have seen on Google.

I was then taken through a whole load of new maps they had produced – for plotting where cash machines were, where local businesses were and where some other similar resources were located.

It was nothing I couldn’t have seen on Google.

When I asked them about this, about why they had invested so much time and resource on something which to my untrained eyes looked like it was out of date several years ago and which appeared to be slower than a slow motion replay of a snail in a last-past-the-post race, it was as if I’d asked Jamie Oliver why he didn’t serve turkey twizzlers at his restaurant. (more…)

This is the localgov week that was

October 28, 2011

Some of our favourite blog posts this week

One of the things we love most about writing this blog is the excuse it gives us to spend time on the internet, reading other blogs for ‘research’ purposes.  Since we began writing all that time ago more than a few others have joined us in the blogosphere, regularly educating and amusing us in equal measures.  Some agree with some of the things we write here, others point out all of the things we haven’t thought of or which totally disagree – which is certainly no bad thing.

So in an effort to spread a little blogging cheer we wanted to point our readers towards some of the blog posts we have particularly enjoyed over the past week.  If we missed one that you thought was particularly good then tell us about it in the comments below or tweet us a link (@welovelocalgov by the way) and tell others all about it.  And if you come across something interesting over the next week or so, you know who to tell!

(more…)


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