Archive for October 2010

Digital Chinese Whispers

October 29, 2010

It’s a competitive world out there, and with recent events and the coming months it’s only going to get more so.  As with anyone brought up in the world of cricket and fair play, I would like to think it’ll be a level playing field for all concerned, with support being given by colleagues for applications and interview preparations, the best candidates getting the jobs and a no-hard-feelings mentality should one be pipped to the post.

I’m not that naïve however, and something happened today to highlight the lengths that some people will go to in order to gain an edge.

A colleague, who shall remain entirely nameless, left our team some time ago on a secondment to work in a related field in central government.  Once they had left they proceeded to insult local government every opportunity they got, and vowed never to return to the petty, bureaucratic nonsense and political point scoring that it entailed (their thoughts, not mine).

That, of course, was before the elections and subsequent reviews.  They since had their secondment finished and weren’t able to secure a suitable role in central government or anywhere else, so have had to accept that they are returning from whence they came.  However, they are no doubt going to continue applying elsewhere in the hope of leaving us behind once again to go on to bigger and better things in their eyes.

While they were with us, our team worked on a nationally recognised project and have been cited as one of the best around.  One colleague in particular did just about all of the work to set it up (and a damn fine job they did too), building it up from a concept and set of ideas to a fully realised set of projects and events, involving thousands of local people and worth millions of pounds.  Their blood, sweat and tears went into ensuring that people honestly came from around the world to see how we did things. (more…)

CSR related fashion crimes?

October 28, 2010

I was a Blur fan.....

The mid-90s spawned many things to be remembered fondly; Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the World Wide Web, Street Fighter 2 and the Blur Vs Oasis Wars to name but a few.  However, one of the things less noted in a positive sense was its style.

The big, baggy suit was still in vogue, along with the grunge scene popularised by Nirvana and some frankly disgraceful sequined combinations my sister tried to leave the house wearing.

I only bring this up because I fear that these may be making something of a comeback.  Over the past week or two I’ve noticed an increase in the number of solid colour shirts being sported by male colleagues around the office.  I’m not talking pastels in some nice, sharp styles; I’m talking about bright red, petrol blue and mustard yellow, all with a degree of baggyness that would have Madness opining about their trousers. (more…)

In Defence of Performance Figures

October 27, 2010


LG Worker to the rescue


I recently wrote a post trashing performance indicators: LG Worker responded in the comments section and so I invited him/her to write a post in defence of performance indicators… And, as if by magic: here it is!

When I first joined Local Government, several Authorities and several years ago, I had a 1 to 1 with a Colleague I saw more as a mentor.  As we sat in the local pub (after work I hasten to add), he turned to me and said, ‘Young Padawan, to progress your career, you should get some Performance Management experience.’  This statement was geeky in two ways.  The first was the reference to Star Wars, as far as I knew I was not a Jedi who had ‘the Force.’   The second was the reference to Performance.

As I was relatively new to Local Government and really to the world of work, I had no real understanding of what Performance was.  The title gave clues but not the full picture.  Anyway, soon after I found myself in the Council’s Performance Team.  Within six months of being there, I could not see the point of my work (how did it connected with the residents?) and had badly messed up a big project.  As this project crashed around me, I decided I needed to take a break and reassess my options.

In the long weekend I took, instead of deciding to give Performance up, I had an epiphany and saw not only how important Performance is but also how it linked back to our ultimate bosses, the residents.  In this period were Performance Indicators are being thrown out (I hear the usual bloggers of this site cheering), I want to defend them and show you why they are a tool we should be holding on to.

Their defence is provided by the four things they help provide; monitoring, accountability, benchmarking and partnership.


e-low, e-low, e-low

October 26, 2010



Just don't e-mail us about anything...


For most people, contacting the police is a simple thing.  If you have an emergency it’s 999, if not you ring your local police station and leave a message which then gets deleted.  Simples.

Not so if you work for local government.  Today I got an e-mail from our ICT team telling me that my special e-mail account will be set up soon.  Upon further investigation I discovered that this was a special e-mail account specifically to talk to the Met police.

Apparently colleagues have been having all of their e-mails to their police based counterparts blocked because – wait for it – they get sent via the internet.  This means they are not secure, and that only those sent through a special type of e-mail account will get through to them.

So; if I want to e-mail anyone else in the world I simply fire up Outlook, write an e-mail and send it.  If, however, I want to e-mail the Met police I have to close down Outlook, log off that entire profile (closing down everything else I’m working on at the time), log on under a new, ‘special’ profile, fire up Outlook again, write it and send it.  Unless I get an instant response I’ll then have to close it all down again, load up my normal profile, get back to work for a bit and repeat the procedure later on to see if I’ve got a reply.

Am I alone in thinking this is ridiculous? (more…)

Royal decisions

October 25, 2010


Sign of the times or advanced warning?


The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster councils announced on Friday morning that they will be investigating sharing all of the services provided by their councils.

The response in the media was suitably ridiculous.

The most commonly asked question from the great and the good in our media was how local people would know who to contact when they needed to get in touch with their local authorities.

This 100% missed the point. If I need social care, admissions information for my child or simply to pay a parking fine I don’t really care where the people I call are: I just want them to come and provide the service. Birmingham council is much bigger than this merged council will be and no-one gets upset that they don’t know who to call.

There are practical issues to overcome for sure but very few of them are related to the way that people get in contact with the council.


I don’t know what to say

October 20, 2010

The first cut isn't the deepest!

A lot of ink will be spilled commenting on today’s CSR; some will be deeply informed commentary and some will be scare mongering rubbish.

To be honest at times like these there isn’t much new to add so I won’t write an essay:

Here are three things that spring to mind:

1) George Osborne talked of protecting crucial front-line services and yet there is a 25% cut for local government; which bit of local government does he actually think is not a front line service

2) The cuts for Local Government are spread with a saving of 7.1% per year for the next four years. My fear is two fold…

a) Firstly, that this will encourage local authorities to take the ‘easy’ option and look for salami slicing of their services each year. This will mean bad decisions get made and the wrong posts get deleted in order to minimise disruption. The same applies to Osborne’s commitment to lose the jobs through natural wastage. Instead of making rational decisions about our future needs we’ll just be winging it and hoping the right people leave or retire. I fear it might lead to badly managed services when what we need in a time of austerity is better managed services.

b) Secondly, the cuts hanging over us will not provide an improved service or lead to better decision making. Instead, the horror of what we have gone through this year will be repeated again and again.

3) Despite all this, and the questions it raises we are no closed to knowing totally what will happen to the council. As my Chief Exec pointed out:

These reductions are in line with what we had expected and have been planning for, but it is now up to the DCLG to decide how best to manage and distribute this spending within their areas of responsibility. At a local level it will be some time before we can identify exactly what this will mean for xxxxx’s budgets and more clarity will come in early December when the local government finance settlement figures are announced.

Even now, we still don’t know fully what to expect… It’s the uncertainty that is killing me…

Today is the Day

October 20, 2010

In happier times?

I woke up this morning feeling like I did many years ago on exam day; I assumed that the feelings were nervousness, apprehension and fearing the worst.

Working out these mixed emotions is tough.

In my heart of hearts I know that despite what George Osborne says today, many of the changes that are being planned for my local authority are already in train and won’t be revoked. I also know that even if the cuts he announces are huge it won’t necessarily mean I’ll lose my job or the services I help provide will be cut. Those are rightly decisions for local leaders.

Despite knowing these things I can’t help but feel that today is probably the most significant day for local government for possibly twenty years.

There will be massive changes in the coming years. Some changes have already begun but only in a small way; today will be the starting gun for what is to come; after all there is nothing like the cold hard reality of losing cash to focus the mind.

All of this leads me to question my analogy – I was right in one way; yes, it is like the morning of an exam.

But the feelings are not just nervousness and apprehension but actually excitement and anticipation. The world of local government is about to change and I for one want to make sure I’m part of making the best out of, whatever that change might be.

I, and my fellow bloggers, will doubtless consider the impact of the cuts later and the catastrophic effect they will have on the public services we provide and my job but for now the anticipation is flowing through my veins so all I can say is this:

George; bring it on!

20/10 Vision

October 19, 2010

Can we really look to the future when most of us are more short sighted?

I sat down at my keyboard today and very quickly became confused.  Nothing to do with the constant switch between Firefox or IE8 (which I use at home and everywhere else) and IE6 (which I am still forced to use at work despite it being nine years old); no, this confusion was down to the content of this post.

Part of me wanted to write about a couple of interesting little things which have happened around the office; the return of a significant colleague to the team after a secondment, the development of a very interesting programme here, a crazy conversation overheard in the toilets involving a gun (I kid you not).

Another part of me wanted to comment on the major, major changes that will be happening in just a few days, thanks to the Comprehensive Spending Review.  Or perhaps about the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, which to all intents and purposes is less of a bonfire and more of a spreading of the ashes.

Then I realised that this confusion is actually symptomatic of local government at the minute.  We are being encouraged to keep focussed on the little things and keep working hard, whilst being aware of (but ignoring to some extent) the fact that 20,000 quango staff and Osbourne only knows how many colleagues will potentially be out of work. (more…)

The Freedom of ‘Lazy Journalism’ Act

October 18, 2010

Freedom to stencil

In the publicity surrounding his recently published memoir ‘A Journey’ Tony Blair was asked if there was anything he regretted from his time in office. Cleverly dodging the obvious answer, ‘Iraq’, our former Prime Minister surprised the watching masses by answering: ‘The Freedom of Information Act’.

Those watching probably responded to this with a big yawn but Mr Blair was 100% right: the FOI Act drives many of us to distraction.

I’m not going to get into the morality of the issue; I personally believe that the more information in the public realm the better but for Local Government staff the morality of the issue is basically besides the point; practically it is a nightmare.

The real problem is that many of the requests we receive are not from concerned citizens but from seriously lazy and, dare I say, incompetent journalists. Not all journalists are lazy or incompetent and some who use the FoI Act do so with devastating effectiveness.


Abolishing the Performance Indicators

October 14, 2010

Abolished Quangos and indicators in the morning; now, what's for lunch?

Eric Pickles has announced that he will be abolishing all Local Area Agreements (LAA) and the National Indicator data set.

(Obviously, the flip side of this is that he is also abolishing the grants that went with meeting those LAA targets.)

In the place of the national indicators the Government will ask for local government to prepare and submit a series of different data sets.

The assumption here is that it is not the collection of the data that puts unnecessary costs on Local Government but the bending of services to meet the targets and the number crunching that follows to turn the data into performance indicators. A lot will depend on how simple Mr Pickles data requests will be.

I reckon that the savings from not collecting these targets will be smaller than Mr Pickles believes but that this symbolises a welcome retreat by the central government. Whether local government can rise to the challenge is an open question especially in times Osbourne enacted cuts but for the first time in a long time this offers local government a fighting chance to innovate and plough their own furrow in response to specific local needs.