Posted tagged ‘scrutiny’

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…)

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…)

The collapse of the corporate centre

August 15, 2011

Something not to throw away!

‘Never throw away your old drain-pipes’

My university lecturer was not talking about guttering but about the fashionable uber-skinny jean which had been in and out of fashion many times in his lecturing career. His argument was that if you follow local government you should be prepared to see ideas, structures and policies come in and out of fashion.

Never has a wiser word been said and as goes drainpipe trousers so goes the corporate centre within local authorities.

During the early 2000s the inspection and performance management regimes of the Labour Government were in full swing and the Audit Commission was constantly driving local authorities to improve their ‘corporate capacity’. The rationale for this was that councils were showing weak leadership from the Chief Executive down; decisions weren’t joined up and policy decisions weren’t being made from a structures evidence base.

What followed was a substantial investment in policy and performance teams. Allied to this was a renewed focus on engaging the public so added to this new central function was an investment in community engagement expertise and communications teams. On top of this was a new focus on working in partnership with local providers and a commitment to meet the Government’s equalities agenda so these teams were added to the corporate centre along with the recently amended committee teams now embarking on the new world of scrutiny.

Councils were asked to focus on centralising certain functions and teams like procurement, business improvement and project management were added to the centre; often grouped together with the others in a Chief Execs department or a deputy chief deputy chief execs team in some bigger authorities.
(more…)

Talking about talking

March 15, 2011

 

Be careful or the public might tell you what they actually want

Here at We Love Local Government we love a good guest post, and here indeed is a guest post worth loving.  If you’ve got something to do with local government you’d like to write about from any angle (even if you think we’d disagree with you) then e-mail it to us at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com.  Until you do though, read this and enjoy.

Reading the recent WLLG post on the way in which councils talk to local people brought back some unpleasant memories for me. I used to be a scrutiny officer. Without knowing much (ok, anything) about the art or science of “community engagement” I and my colleagues, with backbench Members, periodically organised public meetings to inform scrutiny committees’ views on various topics of local interest.
One particularly good one was on the subject of a high-profile local community event. The council and a number of other “local partners” – including the police – wanted to make some significant changes to the way it was run. Predictably, local people – including the organisers of the event – didn’t. Predictably, there was a massive bunfight, generating far more heat than light. We found it difficult – practically impossible, in fact – to get through the agenda, because attendees kept butting in and heckling. It was all the chairman could do to keep order. In the end we got through it but it was a hairy experience and I, as a relatively junior officer, wiped my brow and silently vowed to myself that I’d never do it again. (more…)

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