Archive for March 2011

The indispensable few

March 31, 2011

The indispensables ones aren't always highlighted in gold

Everywhere I have been in my local government odyssey there have been some constants. Bad catering, poor heating systems and numerous complicated templates are just an example of the commonality possessed across the local government sector.

Another, often unsung, constant is the presence of one person who knows everyone and everything about the team, and often the council, you’re working in.

I call these people the indispensable few.

The indispensable few don’t occupy senior roles within the authority.

Some will be PAs (long established as the most powerful position in any organisation) but more often than not the indispensable colleague is just an ‘ordinary’ member of the team, an ‘ordinary’ officer or a service manager, usually of a small service.

This person will have a set role to perform but will be found helping anyone and everyone achieve their goals. They will be a source of news and information but won’t be gossipers in the traditional sense of the word. They’ll know what’s going on but have a clear idea of what can be shared, to who and when. They will often be taken into the confidence of half the organisation; and never let anyone down.

The individual in question is the person we turn to when we need advice and aren’t ready to go up the chain to our manager etc.

They’ll know who to call and where information can be found.

In summary, the indispensable few act as the grease that helps the council operate smoothly. Without them I’m pretty sure the council would not function nearly as well.


In the name of Duty

March 30, 2011

Life is no computer game

Eric Pickles has not always been our favourite person. However, for every piece of bluster and unwarranted attack, there are also flashes of genius.

One of these flashes of genius appeared a few weeks ago when Mr Pickles released a full lust of the statutory duties faced by local authorities and invited us, the informed members of the public, to nominate duties to remove.

We are not, and have never claimed to be, local government experts but in our role as ordinary officers we thought it might be fun to have a read through the duties and identify those we thought were silly, amusing or just worth a quick comment.

Do enjoy our musings below and then if you feel up to it please feel free to pull out the ones you like from the DCLG website and add them in the comments.

DCLG_067 Involve local representatives

Isn’t this what we do when we work with any Councillor?

DCLG_066 Best value duty

I could put this here for ideological reasons and an in-depth criticism of Best Value, CPA, CAA etc.  But no, for me it’s just the name.  I like the idea of a duty that is just best value.  It is like we’ve gone into a supermarket and gone to the discount aisle and got the economic version of duties.  Do we get two for the price of one?


Productivity in the Public Sector, or value?

March 29, 2011

Are we productive or valuable?

We continue our week with a brilliant guest post which hit our inbox.  If you have something about local government you’d like to share with the world e-mail it to us at, but not until you’ve enjoyed this.

One of the most corrosive “narratives” around at the moment in the media, and amongst the commentariat, is that the public sector is unproductive.

The private sector creates jobs, promotes growth, and pumps needed cash into the economy. The public sector is parasitical, taking a cut of the economic wealth of the nation and siphoning it off to support a never-ending tide of bureaucrats and middle-managers, none of whom are involved in front-line service delivery – yet who are adept at feathering their own nests.

A lot of commentators are keen to argue that such people are inherently unproductive. They are the antithesis of entrepreneurs – dynamic go-getters with the will to succeed and the knowledge that if they fail, the buck stops with them. And they’re the polar opposite of the chief executives of big corporations – who stand and fall by the support of their stakeholders, who have the freedom to take their money out and invest elsewhere if they’re unhappy with the direction of the company in which they have a stake.

Simplification? Quite possibly. But it’s a compelling argument if the only public services you see day-to-day are rubbish collection and street lighting. And it’s an argument born of enraged impotence – firstly, at the injustice of a world where the richest spoils go to those who do the least to earn them, and secondly, at the utter unaccountability of these pen-pushers in their non-jobs – even though, as the refrain often goes, “we pay their wages!” (more…)

Why I didn’t march

March 28, 2011

How they do it elsewhere

Before I start this piece I should make something clear:

This blog does not have a collective position on anything and the following piece reflects just one persons view (i.e. mine).

This past week saw a twitter hash tag circulating in advance of Saturday’s anti-cuts march. The hash tag was something like #whyiammarching and was chock full of ordinary public sector workers expressing why they would be giving up their Saturday to march through the streets of London.

Anyone who read those tweets could not fail to sense the sincerity of those who protested this weekend. These weren’t rabble rousers or people simply out to protect their own interests. On the contrary these were, and still are, committed public servants out to protect the services, and service users, they care about.

A typical tweet read:

  • AIR is marching because art education is a right not a privilege
  • Because I believe in healthcare, education and employment for all
  • Gratitude: In my 20’s homeless and adrift. I remember it now, homed, grounded, psychotherapist. Helped to this place
  • Have already seen clients who will have significant rent shortfalls due to housing benefit cuts which may result in eviction

And rather less sympathetically:

  • The cuts are wrong and will hit the vulnerable and leave the rich to do what the f**k they want

It is hard to read these without feeling a twinge of guilt about not going. The following tweet emphasises that point:

  • Because moaning isn’t good enough

This blog has done its fair share of moaning (although on reading back through it not that much about the cuts) so why did I decide to stay at home?


Do as I say, not as I mean

March 25, 2011

Say it properly

After exclusively revealing some training notes from our secret senior managers training recently and getting away with it, I thought I’d share another memo which I’ve received.  These are designed to prepare me for life as a senior manager in the future, so I’ve been asked to memorise as much as possible and start using it on a regular basis.

Any of this sound familiar?


Today we are going to be looking at language: specifically that which you will need to know.  There needs to be a very clear divide between what you are saying and what you are meaning, so be sure to use the right words at the right time.  Simply go through the column on the right, select the appropriate situation and use the language on the left.

And if all else fails, pull out number one on our list…


Prince Harry (Otherwise known as PRINCE 2)

March 23, 2011

An improvement over PRINCE 1 (William)?

One of my welovelocalgovernment colleagues put up a blinding piece about stifling creativity in local government. Unfortunately, the areas he was criticising are nearly all areas I work in. Develop a pro-forma? Check. Created a Steering Group? Check. Filled in timesheets? Check. Introduce Project Management software? Half-check. Been on PRINCE 2 training? Aha, success! One piece of creativity destruction that I have managed to avoid!

But, if I’m honest this simply isn’t success on my behalf.

I’ve never been on PRINCE 2 training because my authority wouldn’t pay for it; I wanted to go but just wasn’t allowed.

To use my colleague’s framework; I wanted to stifle my creativity but wasn’t allowed to reach my full stifling potential.

So, assuming that the central argument was more or less correct, why was I so keen to go on this piece of training and develop the PRINCE 2 skills?

(It is probably worth explaining here that PRINCE 2 is a methodology for managing projects. It stands for Projects in Controlled Environments and was specifically designed for use in the public sector. It is widely used throughout local authorities in the UK)

A simple argument would be that I wanted to make myself more employable. That is part of it but I think that probably misses the central point of why it would make me more employable:

I wanted to be PRINCE 2 qualified because everyone else in local government was getting the qualification and everyone is using it. PRINCE 2 has become ubiquitous across local government and those without it are, in many roles, often seen as behind the times.

In one of my previous authorities you couldn’t move without running up against someone who was PRINCE 2 qualified. From the admin assistants to those who put together Government bids to people managing small projects in the council to scrutiny officers (who ‘managed’ scrutiny reviews) to those building whole schools the one thing that united them was a PRINCE 2 qualification.

Some authorities sent their whole management team on courses (anywhere between £750 and £2,000 per person) and declared boldly that they were ‘PRINCE 2’ authorities and were going to run their management teams with just exception reporting, Gantt charts, well kept risk registers and updated PiDs. (if this is verbal garbage then I can only apologise: Google is probably the answer)

So why PRINCE 2?