I think it is possible that I have now been around more local government restructures than I have spent years working in Local Government. Often, this has been as a bystander rather than as an active participant but having seen so many restructures I can’t help but wonder why they happen with such regularity.
Here are four thoughts about why there seem to be so many:
1) The curse of the one year budget
Local Government decides on its budget for the next year in February or March and then implements it in April of that same year. This is not exactly a recipe for long term planning and can lead to the sort of instability that leads to regular changes to structures over a short period; hence the need for a formal restructure. Longer term planning can allow these things to happen gradually and not require whole sale restructures. However, this short term planning is not wholly negative. It can also lead to political flexibility which allows for new initiatives and ideas to be tried out on short notice. See below:
2) Performance management (or the lack of)
It’s a bit of a shame to say this but often the reason councils introduce a restructure is so they can remove those members of staff who are, how to put this, best off in alterative employment. If councils were better at performance managing those members of staff who don’t fully pull their weight and if the Trade Unions didn’t make it so difficult to properly manage these staff members then restructures probably wouldn’t be as necessary. Sadly, we often know who will be the focus of the restructures; instead of putting everyone at risk it would be better if these people were properly managed, given the opportunity to improve, and if not let go and someone else given the opportunity.
Local Government is probably like many businesses, in that new managers tend to come it with new ideas and therefore want to change the way their teams operate. However, the effect in local government is doubled as we get both new managers and new councillors to provide guidance. Add in new central government initiatives and you have a recipe for new teams, new policies and therefore new restructures with increasing regularity. This combination wouldn’t necessarily lead to multiple restructures if it wasn’t for number 4.
4) Flexibility of staff
The ability of staff to move seamlessly from one job to another similar one seems to be missing in Local Government. This is not entirely because of the staff and their lack of flexibility, although this has to be a factor. Too often, people are unwilling to take the risk of doing something slightly different because they fear that it will undermine them in a future restructure or will require new skills and take them out of their comfort zone. Equally it is because many managers are reluctant to allow their staff to make these sideways steps rather than hold a formal restructure or support those who lack the confidence but have the skills to do so. This is a shame.
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