Archive for August 2010

Do you know who it is yet?

August 31, 2010

A short post for today…

Although this is an anonymous blog it has been brought to our attention that others will be able to work out who is writing the blog; not least because from time to time we write about ourselves.

Therefore, if you do manage to use your spidy-sense and work out who we are just drop us an e-mail. In return, and provided you work in or around local government at the time, we will add you as a contributor to the blog. After all, people must get bored reading the same three or four writers every week so it’d be good to add some new blood every now and again.

Look forward to hearing from you.


If only BP felt this way

August 30, 2010

I love a good cup of coffee.  If I can’t get it freshly ground from the finest beans and served as strong as Hulk Hogan and hot as Megan Fox, I’ll just as easily accept it the other way around.

I regularly put my hand up to make a cup, and offer to make one for colleagues which often results in me carrying a handful of mugs of steaming hot liquid of various descriptions.

Recently I was in such a situation when I found my hands growing rapidly warmer.  I had only started on my journey and had made it as far as some stone-type flooring before hitting the office proper when I could take it no more, and promptly turned rapidly around and made my way back to the kitchen, spilling a little in the process. (more…)

Power to Local Authorities: the Pickles way

August 28, 2010

British Road Signs

Road Sign Overload?

This blog has refrained from commenting too much on Central Government policy (although we did wade into the Audit Commission debate) of late; not least because many of the big changes are still to come.

However, Thursday’s DCLG publicity stunt cannot pass unmentioned. The Secretary of State Eric Pickles decided that of all the pressing things on his desk the most important issue to tackle on a quiet Thursday was that of… wait for it… road signs.

Under the headline: ‘Councils urged to remove unnecessary street signs’ Mr Pickles and Philip Hammond took a nice stroll around Oxford Circus in central London looking for unnecessary signs and gently patting inappropriate bollards. You can see the video here.

His argument, that unnecessary road signs, railings and advertising hoardings make streets untidy and can actually make areas less safe is possibly correct. Indeed, I am neither a road sign expert nor can I say that I care much about them. My problem with Mr Pickles is twofold:

1) Local Government is going through the most radical changes of at least the last two decades. Funding cuts, decentralisation and a massive overhaul of local authority powers are just the iceberg of important issues crossing Mr Pickles’ Desk. Surely, surely, he has better things to do than stroll around Oxford Street pointing at road signs. And, even if he doesn’t (it is August after all) why oh why does it require two Government Ministers poke the bollards?

2) Haven’t the coalition spent the past 100 days informing us that it is time for central government to basically butt out and leave local authorities to it? Apparently, local authorities should have the power and freedom to handle major issues without Government interference but can’t manage to deal satisfactorily with their own road signs without guidance from not one but two Government Ministers… Really???

Another fine example of blogging

August 27, 2010

NB: Updated on 8/9 to remove bad grammar.

My colleague recently started a series of blog entries detailing other blogs out there that we think are worth looking at. First came the local government worker and today I thought I’d add my twopence worth.

This blog is called helpgov and came to my attention because of its superb dissection of the recent story about local government unproductivity.  

The Blog’s pretty good all round and in particular I would read the discussion of alternatives to staff redundancies as budget cuts hit locla government which can be read here.

We’ll try to provide other sites and blogs to follow over the coming weeks so if you have a suggestion please e-mail us at


Hold on lads, I’ve got an idea

August 26, 2010

The classic phrase is something along the lines of ‘if you put a million monkeys in front of a million typewriters for an infinite amount of time, eventually one will reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare’.  Well, if apparently if you ask 65m people to come up with ideas for cutting the national defecit and saving money you’ll get a seemingly endless numbers of suggestions (whittled down to about 45,000 so far), both weird and wonderful.

In case you’ve missed it, the government have been asking people online to come up with any and all ideas for ways to cut costs, and boy have the people responded.  Interestingly, apparently two-thirds of suggestions have come from public sector staff (although take with a pinch of salt any piece of information presented with the word ‘apparently’ as a precursor).

There are literally tens of thousands of suggestions on the site, many of which are repeats, racist, xenophobic or just plain stupid.  However, there are some real gems in there, with some so basic and easy to do it really made me scratch my head and try to justify why they have yet to be done. (more…)

Decentralisation – 1

August 25, 2010

The world of local government is about to change. 

Many of these changes might be characterised as negative; for example, the need to make substantial savings has single-handedly engendered a sense of panic within councils everywhere and left many worrying about the effect of these cuts on council services. 

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister: Less power please


However, some of these changes could will have a major effect on local government but at the moment we don’t know what the effect will be and whether it will be positive or negative. Of these changes the major shift might just be the ‘Big Society’ and the accompanying policy of decentralisation. 

For those wondering exactly what this might mean for local government you can do worse than read a speech by Greg Clark given in July this year. The speech is here but the key passage is probably this: 

As well as this three-fold explanation of what the Big Society is, the Prime Minister also set out the three basic methods by which government can act to build it up: 

These are decentralisation, transparency and a third category that I’m going to refer to as social finance. 

Again, these are intertwined, but also readily distinguished. 

Transparency is about the redistribution of knowledge: The state must stop withholding information that would allow a much wider range of actors to identify social needs and propose new ways of meeting them. 

Social finance is about the redistribution of money and other assets. Instead of passing down through layers of absorbent bureaucracy, public funds should get straight through to wherever and whoever can use them most effectively. This means contestable contracts, payment by results and a revolution in the availability of upfront investment for social purposes. It also means communities having the right to save, run and own buildings and other under-used assets for social purposes when they could do that job best. 

Of course, there’s no point in making information and funding available to new providers of social goods, if they aren’t allowed to use them in new ways. Thus the third and most fundamental building block of the Big Society is decentralisation, which is, of course, about the redistribution of power

I know this is a long quote but I think the direction of travel is important here. My reading of this, and I am probably in a minority with this position, is that the Government is acting out of a deep conviction and commitment to decentralisation. Not only do they believe that decentralisation is one way to improve the quality of our public services but they go further. I would argue that the Government (and by this I mean both parties within it) believe that decentralisation is the right thing to do ideologically. 

If is the case then the key task for local authorities is not just to work out where decentralisation can deliver better public services, or even to lobby for more powers to be passed to local Government, but to work out how local authorities can operate in a world where power is increasingly pushed downwards. 

This poses a lot of challenges, not least because authorities have been used to towing the Government line and, to coin a phrase, ‘feeding the beast’ for years. 

I want to write more on this in the coming weeks but would also welcome your thoughts and comments: Am I right that the Government are fully committed to decentralisation as a concept rather than as a tool? How can local government deal with this? Is Local Government going to be jumped by a commitment to pass power to the lowest possible level, as it has with school’s policy?

Are the kids alright?

August 24, 2010

Lazy, good for nothing time wasters.  No, this isn’t a deserved rant against the England football team, it is paraphrasing the message delivered recently which discussed the productivity of local authority workers (

To quote directly:  “Junior staff in local authorities are, on average, productive only 32% of the time during working hours.”  It said this compares with an average of 44% in the private sector, the argument being therefore that we could shed 500,000 jobs and see no difference in service delivery.


We are not alone

August 20, 2010

And there was I, thinking that we were the only Local Government workers in the blogosphere…

I’ve stumbled across another excellent blog (glossing over my use of the word ‘another’ there, subtly implying that we too are excellent) which looks at local government through the eyes not of the politicians or the masses, but of the people from within who are responsible for driving the wheels round on a daily basis.

The Local Government Officer blog takes a look at things large and small, and offers some insightful comments and opinions on the workings of our workplaces, I’d definitely recommend a look if you have the time.

Don’t forget to come back afterward though!

Be a Time Killer Queen

August 19, 2010

Open plan offices are wonderful things.  They encourage people to interact with each other, make us stick to our clear desk and hot desk policies and force us to stay off some more interesting corners of the internet.

What they also do is allow us to become a team of office curtain twitchers, keeping a corner of an eye on what people are doing or looking at.

It’s this ability which recently drew my attention to a colleague.  He was sitting opposite his line manager, so his screen couldn’t be seen by them.  What he didn’t know however was that I was making use of the aforementioned hot desking policy, and was sitting a few desks behind him.  This allowed me to observe as he spent at least ten to fifteen minutes looking intently at his screen whilst opening and then closing folders and files.  He didn’t read them, he didn’t organise them; he spent that long just opening and closing them.

We can all waste time on occasion, and sometimes it’s really valuable to take a break and think about something different (which is where our excellent list of reasons that you know you’ve been in local government too long came from).  Here are some of my favourite ways that I’ve seen local authority staff waste time. (more…)

The salaries of the top earners

August 18, 2010

Whenever I travel through London I take a rather unhealthy interest in the local free sheet published in the area. Last week I came across the Wimbledon Guardian, a paper which I assume from the vast number of adverts and limited news inside of it must be a free sheet delivered to every house or at least available in vast quantities at the train station.

What caught my eye was the front page which had a story about the Chief Exec awarding himself a £16,000 pay rise. I managed to find the story some days later here.

It wasn’t just the Chief Executive but also the other corporate directors who had received the additional money. What surprised me was that both major political parties (Lab and Cons in this case) in the Borough were broadly supportive of the move. This might be because the London Borough of Merton (the local authority in question) has had both major parties in power in the past year.

However, the reason both parties gave was that they needed to pay increased money to attract the quality of staff they needed to deliver the best service possible.

Is it possible that the politicians, who live and die by the results delivered by the senior managers have realised that they need to pay top market rates in order to secure the necessary talent that will help them deliver top notch services and thus win elections? And if this is the case then what does it say for the rest of us in this time of austerity? Are we going to have to be like the bankers and protect the salaries of the best and brightest by being ruthless with the minions? And if so, how can we possibly sell this to members of the public?

As far as I know there has been no uprising on the streets of Merton but were this to become a national picture, justified or not, would local authorities be able to justify their position and Chief Execs their high pay?