Archive for February 2011

I agree with Eric

February 28, 2011

I'm as shocked as you are

Hold onto your seats and don’t adjust your screens, I am about to say words I didn’t ever expect to say.

I agree with Eric Pickles.

Not generally of course, but recently he has decided to attack local government in a new (and seemingly random as ever) way, this time under the mantle of transparency and openness.  Yes, the Pickleator has written to local government and told them that bloggers should have the same rights as the accredited press.

So that I don’t misquote him, here is the message he sent out:

Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council.  Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don’t seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year’s budget this is more important than ever. (more…)

The Department for Criticising Local Government

February 25, 2011

Because Grant Shapps and Eric Pickles already have their pictures on our site

The Department for Criticising Local Government (for that is what the DCLG has become) have developed their operating model over the past eight months and I think we are now in a position to identify the different roles the Ministers play.

It goes something like this:

  • Eric Pickles makes the generalised attack on Local Government. This will be done in a forum where there can be no real come back (set piece TV or radio interview, newspaper etc) and in the context of another Government announcement. In effect the attack will be an aside used to partially justify the Government’s position; be it the need for cuts, localism, or local government pay caps etc.
  • Grant Shapps will be rolled out to argue with the Local Government representatives over the details of the criticism. He will usually choose two or three talking points and defend them all day from Radio 4 in the morning to Newsnight before bed. He’s very good and usually wipes the floor with his opponent.
  • Bob Neill will act as the voice of outraged Britain picking on a small example, usually taken out of context, that proves that local government is wasteful, crooked or otherwise disagreeable. His speciality is local papers and responses to newspaper stories. He particularly loves ‘non-jobs’, expensive buildings, high pay and bins but will turn his hand to anything the DCLG spin team choose to plant with their favourite papers.

Which got me thinking; what will be the story next week and who will deliver it? Here are some thoughts:

  • Local Government is closing too many swimming pools denying Britain a chance of winning gold at the 2012 Olympics (Eric Pickles)
  • XXX Borough council is closing its pool despite the presence of two senior managers in the leisure department earning over £60,000. It also refuses to share the management of the pool with neighbouring authorities (Grant Shapps).
  • The pool  was once used to host a ‘big fat gypsy wedding’ and the authority spent £5,000 making the environment appropriate as part of their diversity strategy. (Bob Neill)


  • Local Government is not delivering on its commitment to clean graffiti off public buildings at a sufficient rate (Eric Pickles)
  • Evidence from the Local Government Association themselves shows that the proportion of the council budget invested in graffiti cleaning has fallen in each of the past three years as councils have stopped focusing on what residents really want. (Grant Shapps)
  • XXX council has a policy of actively encouraging graffiti; protecting the rights of criminals above the rights of normal residents and refusing to even clean the area’s residents truly care about. (Bob Neill)

Any more suggestions for what the DCLG might come up with next week?

Don’t hate the referee

February 24, 2011

Are we really to blame for the obesity epidemic?

There is a saying: don’t hate the player, hate the game.  Well, today a revision of this came to mind: don’t hate the referee, hate the game.

Listening to the radio I heard a story on the child obesity epidemic ‘sweeping the nation’.  Several London boroughs took up a chunk of the top ten places, with the rest scattered around the country.  Whilst childhood obesity is not something to defend or be supportive of, what annoyed me was the line of attack from the radio hosts and the target for their ire.

In case you hadn’t guessed, yet again local government was taken to task over this issue, and told exactly how unacceptable the situation is.  I agree, but what exactly can we do, above our current efforts. (more…)


February 23, 2011

Just waiting for the arrival of the 9:22 train

I was once invited to speak at a local government conference; I’d been doing some interesting work and someone somewhere thought I might be the perfect person to speak in workshop number 7 at some wonderfully specific conference.

I was absolutely thrilled and preceded to annoy my wife, my colleagues, my pets and even my car stereo by alternating between boasting and practising for my big moment.

Little did I know how monumentally insignificant my big moment would be.

You see, conferences in local government are a very odd thing. People from across the country cough up £100 or so (well their council’s do) and trek half way across the country to hear from ‘experts’ in the field about what it’s happening in their little part of the sector.

These conferences always seem to follow the same pattern:


Came-wrong or Camer-on-the-other-hand?

February 22, 2011


At the risk of breaking the boundaries of anonymity, I can reveal that I’m too young to have experienced the Thatcher years.  I was alive through them, but was only aware of them as much as I now know of the Hadron Collider: it exists, it’s all pretty complicated and people either think it will give loads of answers or destroy the world.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the same words are starting to spring up around the latest incarnation of Tory government.  Privitisation, attacks on local services, greedy bankers: all of these are things which my parents talk all about but which I am just preparing to form a solid opinion of.  And you know what: I’m on the fence.

David Cameron’s recent announcement that businesses and charities will now have the ability to compete to deliver the services which in recent years have been coming solely from the public sector has been criticised from many corners for potentially destroying those services and opening the door for the private sector to bleed us all dry.  There is no way that any private company will do anything that doesn’t make them money, even if that means providing a sub-standard service and charging ever-increasing costs to do so.  Or does it?


Employing a star?

February 21, 2011

Over-achiever or self-printed certificate?

I recently heard an amusing story from a friend of mine in a council in one of this nation’s big cities.

The council my friend works for was in the process of employing a new senior member of staff (when I say senior we are talking one of the top five or so members of staff in the local authority; the sort of person who would definitely be on Eric Pickles list… It is no secret that local authorities are currently under a lot of pressure and this job was considered by the members of the council to be so important to their long term future that they dreamed up a very complex recruitment process.

I’m no HR professional but when the recruitment process used was described to me I was very impressed. There was:

  • Testing
  • Interviews with other senior officers and members
  • A speed dating interview event with staff and other stakeholders (including customers)
  • A presentation

So why tell this story?

Because the council in question were sold a pup. Apparently their new senior manager is about as effective as Jeremy Clarkson at a save the earth rally.

I’m talking mocked by other councils, laugh out loud bad.

It’s still early days but if this is true and the member of staff doesn’t help deliver the high quality that is not only expected but clearly needed then this recruitment process will turn out to be an unmitigated disaster.

Why does this happen? How could an appointment that bad, which within the first few months is widely criticised by those outside of the organisation, still occur even after this extensive recruitment process?


Flagrant waste of council tax money

February 18, 2011

We’ve mentioned many times that we love guest posts and we do our best to put them up as and when they pop into our inbox. Today’s excellent post is from Matt in London who pokes a little fun at the obsession in the media about council furniture. If anyone would like to add their own post please drop us a line at

But not before you’ve enjoyed today’s post:

I’m frequently fascinated by the media (and wider public) interest in the money councils spend on office items, like stationery and chairs. The latter was most recently seen by our friends at the Audit Commission, but all sorts of councils including Haringey have had “name and shame” articles recently about spending taxpayers hard-earned cash on luxury items like seating.

Certainly papers seem to get more “up in arms” about a council spend £100 on chairs than they do on the massive sums frittered away on PFI projects and the like.

In light of this I thought I’d share this picture of some council furniture at my council, which I think demonstrates ‘value for money’. I don’t think there’s been much interior design oversight or aesthetics strategy planning around this mixed bunch, but it does look like we last invested in seating some time around the time of Local Public Service Agreements. Surely the public would be impressed by this during financially restricted times.

No budget for furniture or just too arty?

Clocking off from clocking in

February 17, 2011

Time for a change of approach?

I had a chat with my boss the other day.  It revolved around the amount of time I was working and my penchant for keeping a track of this by completing a timesheet every day.  This timesheet was a simple excel spreadsheet which tracked the numbers of hours I’d worked each month as I filled out my starting, finishing and lunch times.  Being a responsible sort I’ve got these dating back to my first week at the Council, and can pick out everything from long lunches to 72 hour weeks (rare but draining).

The chat with my boss wasn’t about seeing mine however; she told me to stop completing them.  Apparently I’ve now reached a level where the exact number of hours I work is far less relevant than the actual work I complete; effectively, I’m judged on outcomes not hours.

Since this chat I’ve stopped filling in those little boxes and noticed something: I’ve been doing slightly longer hours and feeling better about doing so.  Whereas before I would try my damnedest to stick to my 37.5 hour working week, maybe adjusting my start or leaving time by 15 minutes or so and clock watching as either rolled around, now I find myself arriving at and leaving the office when I’m happy with my days work.  And I feel better for this.

I get the distinct impression that I’m not alone here.  I have in all but writing been running my own team like this for some time, asking them to do their weeks work whether it takes them 30 hours or 45.  The relaxing of monitoring them and having them stick to strict times for starting and finishing has made them a more flexible and responsive team, happy to work longer when needed safe in the knowledge that this will come round to reward them when times aren’t quite so busy, or when they have personal appointments to be kept.

To put it simply, I trusted my staff.  I trusted them to understand the work they were being asked to do and to get it done, and I trusted them to be responsible about their working hours. (more…)

The ghost of the postcode lottery

February 16, 2011

For health read all public services

Localism is probably the most debated concept within the new Government’s lexicon; if only because it is superficially easier to understand than the ‘Big Society’.

In effect the debate about localism is part of a very old debate about what is the most appropriate level of Government for decisions to be made.

At one end of the spectrum are the communists who would hold that all decisions that could affect the people should be made centrally. This (theoretically) ensures that all decisions made are done so in the best interests of all the people and that (ill-defined) fairness extends throughout the land. At the other end of the spectrum is a rampant form of libertarianism or anarchism where every man is free to act in their own self interest at all times.

Squaring the circle of exactly where this balance should fall has been a challenge for thinkers down the ages. Most of the time the solution is simply an unspoken compromise.

However, the European Union (beloved of formalising it’s rules has formally adopted the concept of subsidiarity; which in turn has been borrowed from Catholic Social Teaching.

To quote Wikipedia, subsidiarity is:

Is an organising principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.

But subsidiarity does not necessarily solve all our problems, especially in a country as small and centralised as the UK.


Speaking on behalf of the Bubble Dwellers

February 15, 2011

How long will the bubble avoid bursting for some?

Today’s post is actually a special thing – a valentines day present from one of the We Love Local Government team’s other halves.  Too often we talk about the world and the situation local government finds itself in under the impression that everybody else is up to speed and has opinions and comments of their own to make; but do they?…

I am a reasonably well educated, sensible,  person who comes from a middle class household.  I was a very happy child and had no worries about money.  My parents kept their thoughts of the government to themselves; I was never included in discussions regarding the state of the country’s affairs and to be honest whenever the 6 o’clock news came on I begged my father to change the channel.  At school, although I excelled in lessons of maths and english I never learnt the differences between political parties.  In retrospect there was the perfect opportunity to teach this during lessons where we learnt of sex education, drugs and religious beliefs.  Effectively, I lived my childhood and teenage years in a bubble.

Luckily being a kind and happy person I have fallen on my feet into a loving relationship.  My partner constantly challenges me into forming valid and educated views regarding life in general which I have always found difficult.  Since the years have passed my very clever spouse has had several jobs and has worked his way up until he found a job in local government.

Since this blog started I have been asked to put my point of view across.  I constanttly argue that I do not have anything important to add to the informed and obviously well written articles but maybe I do.  I got to thinking that I must not be the only person who has grown up in a bubble.