Competency killed the Council


Well, if we're honest no; it makes you look like an idiot!

A new year and another guest post. We received a few over the Christmas period and will put them up over the next few weeks. This one discussed the problems that can come when members of staff are ‘too’ competent.

After some mediocre school results I made a pact with myself to aim higher and strive for bigger and better things. I pledged never to pass up an opportunity and to toss my name into the hat and see where it gets me. This commitment is not all altruistic; at the same time I was an ambitious individual, keen to move up within the organisation and assume some genuine responsibility in the not too distant future.

Well to date, it’s got me a place on the most hated team within my Council, having to meet the challenge of next year’s budget cuts, working a 50 hour week on a junior salary. Sitting here now I am left with the conclusion that (both metaphorically and financially speaking) I am playing the long game.

The lesson I have learnt is that competency is both a blessing and a curse in Local Government.

When I started within my organisation I set about my day job with enthusiasm and tenacity. Within a short space of time I got myself a reputation, and word soon spread within my department: I was ‘competent’. You can tell when you are competent because a) your workload increases over and above that of your more senior colleagues, b) you find that your name is touted as having the necessary skills to ‘organise the Christmas party’ and c) that promise of flexi-time and a 36 hour week soon becomes a distant memory.

When you raise your head above the parapet, your job description becomes something which you keep in your drawer and treat like a photo album. You take it out once in a while to remind you of the ‘good old days’, the only current information on there is your pay grade. At the bottom of the structure charts, this situation is only likely to lead a bit of ill feeling and a frustrated PDA.

The competency curse is not just reflected at bottom of the hierarchical tower.

Higher up the organisation and in situations such as we are in right now, (when the faecal matter hits the oscillating device), it is the competent managers are more likely to bear the burden of the budget savings. In conversations such as been had in the past year, i.e. “how are we going to make the necessary budget cuts?”, a competent service head will already have produced a series of costed options, with an accompanied service impact report and consultation plan.

The less able will have chosen to bury their head in the sand and their response would probably be to mutter something about ‘being a statutory duty’ and the service being ‘already stretched’.

So when a Senior Manager puts forward their department savings, there is an inevitable choice; to choose a service saving that is fully costed and impact assessed, or suggest that there are probably some savings in another service area, but further work is required.

Well, it’s fairly obvious isn’t it! The unfortunate result is that the services with better managers, which are likely to be more efficiently delivered already, take the hit.

The one silver lining of this cataclysmic cuts related rain cloud is that cuts are of such a magnitude that no areas can be sacred. Every service, function and grant must be brought to the table before it can be taken off: the competency curse is removed; for this year’s cuts at least!

Explore posts in the same categories: The future of Local Govt, We love the Council

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One Comment on “Competency killed the Council”

  1. Paul O'Brien Says:

    Are you sure this year cuts will be spread evenly. My recollection is that everyone starts off with the same percentage of cuts to achieve, say 2% (although probably a lot higher this year). The service departments then come forward with their 2% and Education and Social Services then use the ‘statutory’ argument you mention and squeeze the 2% from the property maintenance, school meals and fleet maintenance budgets as they have always done. How long can this double whammy go on, especially as the service departments have been through CCT, Best Value and Gershon already!


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