Posted tagged ‘localism’

An engaging conversation

June 21, 2012

Our week of local government introspection continues with part four today, and as yesterdays post seemed at first to be similar to one earlier in the week, so today’s touches on yet remains separate to another post, namely that around digital engagement and innovation.  Before exploring this link let’s start at the basics.

Starter for ten: What is engagement and why bother with it?  A pair of very simple questions perhaps but worth asking.  Engagement in relation to local government centres around how we involve local people in the planning, running and evaluation of our services, and comes in a number of forms and methods.  Popular engagement techniques include surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, workshops and interviews, but can also be as creative as World Cafes, PinPoint, Open Space facilitation or Planning for Real.

As for why, well if you have to ask this then perhaps you’ve not been around local government for too long.  The business case is fairly simple: firstly we are told we have to, secondly it helps us builds a two-way relationship with residents and thirdly good engagement actually opens up a huge world of knowledge which we otherwise may not find out about.

We’ve often remarked that you should never throw away your drainpipe trousers as sooner or later they will come back into fashion, and so it seems to be the case with approaches to community engagement.  There is no one single way of doing this, and so successive governments have tried various ways to encourage or force local authorities and residents to engage with each other.   (more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

That was the local government week that was

March 9, 2012

But that's not proper qwerty!

This is a fascinating week for local authorities as all of us need to have our budget agreed by the end of the week. Many will already have done it weeks ago and some would have left it to the last minute. This has meant many long nights for senior officers and a lot more sightings of councillors than we might see for the rest of the year. The budget process is the culmination of a lot of work for a lot of people but much like the rest of life local government work doesn’t stop when the budget is signed off. Even more important will be delivering the services with the reduced budgets and doing so in a way we’d all be proud of.

So, local government will keep on keeping on and so will the WLLG local government round up:

Speaking of budgets, the Audit Commission has announced this week that they have awarded ten contracts for the provision of audit services to local authorities. As the Guardian reported:

Two of the ‘big four’ auditors, PwC and Deloitte, have missed out on contracts, while the other two, Ernst & Young and KPMG, will share half of the 10 regional contracts.

The big winner appears to be Grant Thornton, which has taken a maximum four contracts with a total estimated value of £41.3m.

As you can see these have largely been let out on five year contracts to major accounting firms. I’m not an expert but I can’t believe this is what Eric Pickles was hoping for when he pledged to localise the provision of audit and may have a significant impact on local authorities over the next five years.

Onto more interesting topics.

People have often said that local government is a job for life (ITV did so just last week!!!) but they would be wrong. Increasingly, local government staff are needing to think about their careers in different ways; a point recognised by the excellent Guardian Local Government Network who have started a regular careers e-mail and set up a local government specific jobs board.

Despite these positive steps good career advice is difficult to come by, in part because a lot of it is over a short period of time. I was therefore rather chuffed to have stumbled across this piece from Jonathan Flowers specifically about career planning. The whole piece is excellent but I was particularly taken with this bit of imagery:

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Putting the local back into local government

February 29, 2012

Middle Class council service delivery

We love a guest post and today’s asks a lot of questions; the most interesting of which is whether we’re trying to make everyone middle class (which certainly isn’t the focus where I work!). We hope you enjoy this post, think about it, and if you have a post you’d like to submit please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com 

One of the things that I do on a regular basis in my job is to look at what other Councils are doing to address particular issues.

I am one of those rather sad people who can spot the SOCITM organising framework for a website and be instantly able to find my way around.  I am often profoundly depressed about what I find when I look at some documents as I could cross out the name of X Council, replace with Y council, and it would still look the same.

I saw a comment last year which caused me to ponder, and I have been pondering ever since: ‘is the goal of all public policy to turn everybody to be middle class?’

There is a trait within all of us to find homogeneity in as many places as we could.  When my parents used to travel, they would always stay in a Travelodge and eat in a Brewer’s Fayre on the basis that you knew what you were getting.  I can understand that but personally would prefer to stay in a quirky bed and breakfast and take my chances on finding a little restaurant somewhere.  Mary Portas is right about our high streets becoming increasingly identikit and indistinguishable from each other.

There are too many times when we focus on the government element of our role and not enough on the local.

(more…)

Are councils enviro-mental?

November 9, 2011

Ready or not, here it comes

We noticed that our good friends over at the Guardian Local Government Network are today running another in their series of excellent live web chats, this time on making councils greener. If you haven’t taken a look already, we suggest you head on over there.

This debate was brought to the fore in part thanks to a really good article by Faye Scott, which examined some of the threats and opportunities localism is presenting to the green agenda, we recommend you check it out.

This issue is one which has been troubling some of the WLLG crew recently. Before reading Faye’s article, we had been having similar conversations with coleagues about the way that the funding challenges facing local government are restricting the things we spend our money on, moving away from what we should be doing towards what we had to do.

To quote a couple of stats from the article:

• 37% of councils deprioritising climate change or state that it was never a priority

• 35% remain firm in their commitment to climate change and believe that action could even increase in the context of localism

• 28% are narrowing their ambitions to focus on reducing emissions from their estate and ceasing work on wider environmental issues.

The first of these stats is particularly shocking. Over a third of local authorities, having considered all of the implications, have decided doing their bit for the environment simply isn’t worth it. (more…)


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