Archive for May 2011

Politically Restricted

May 31, 2011

Is everything political?

In this guest post a middle (I assume) manager asks why certain posts within local government are politically restricted. If you have a guest post you’d like to have on this site please drop us a line at but not before you’ve read this interesting take on the neutrality of officers.

I recently received a promotion within my local authority and now find myself in the rarefied air of a ‘politically restricted’ post. This means I can no longer do such radical things as go canvassing or speak or write in public in a way that people might perceive as expressing support for a political party.

Many people will be reading this and thinking ‘why not?’ so let’s have a brief diversion and explain.

The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (LGHA 1989) introduced the principle of ‘politically restricted posts’ (PoRPs) and of restricting the political activities of local authority employees. This was, so I am told, designed to prevent local government officers from having any lack of political impartiality, which could lead to separate loyalties and prejudicial service.

In other words, the idea of PoRPs (a horrible looking acronym) was to prevent people like me being biased in my work. To a certain extent this is not unreasonable. My job involves managing services that are managed by politicians. The services, in this case, are fairly controversial and each year a fair amount of strategic decisions are taken, usually by the Director, to the Cabinet for decision.

In addition, the councillors are then responsible, and accountable, for whatever my service does. With this in mind I can see why the politician would want to be certain that when I was at work I wasn’t doing anything to undermine them, as a local politician.

Despite this I still think the rule is bordering on the ridiculous. This is for three reasons:


The personality of Local Government

May 27, 2011

Are you a pitbull or a know-it-all?Some time ago we wrote a piece for the Guardian which looked at some of the different types of Councillor personalities we have collectively encountered over the years.  Some are more difficult to deal with than others, some are arguably more effective than others, but all are around in various mixtures and quantities.

At WLLG we always try to offer a balanced opinion on things (even agreeing with E-Pick on the odd occasion), so it’s about time we dealt with another side of the local government coin; the officers.

So here we bring you some of the personality types we know who work with and around us each and every day.  And if there’s one on this list that you can’t place in your own organisation, like a target around a poker table odds are that it’s you.

The Pitbull

Usually found in more senior roles, The Pitbull has a reputation far surpassing most others.  Willing to fight almost any fight, they appear to take pleasure in actively opposing others and revel in conflict situations.  They tend to not beat around the bush, instead going straight for the throat and ripping the life out of whatever project or minion who has had the misfortune of getting in their way.


What’s in a name?

May 26, 2011

Does a 'Mr.' or 'Mrs' really make a difference?I was introduced to our chief executive many years ago when they wandered over to my desk, thrust their hand out and told me their name.  As a young, junior member of staff I actually had no idea who they were, being separated by six layers of management from them, and since then have known them only by their first name.

I now sit on their management team, and still have a very good working relationship with them.  We speak about non-work related issues, and often share humorous opinions on current events.  We are by no means drinking buddies, but would certainly make a point to say hello should we bump into each other in the market or a restaurant.

This is a situation that is not entirely unusual, but one which was unheard of in previous generations.  Just a generation or so ago I would have been introduced as Mr. Clooney (hey, if I’m going to be anonymous I’m going to choose a good pseudonym) and they would have been introduced as Mrs Smith.  And this level of formality wouldn’t have been restricted to senior officers either – surnames were the norm for anyone outside of close working relationships and friendships. (more…)

The hidden barrier to getting a job in Local Government

May 25, 2011


There are many reasons that talented people from outside local government don’t come into the sector. But before the money, the culture, negative perceptions and career concerns come into play the prospective applicant from outside local government has to face another major barrier: the local government application form.

Having applied for a few private sector jobs, and even got a few, I thought I had a fairly good appreciation of the job application process. It generally went something like this:

1)      Answer some open style questions (2-5) or provide a covering letter detailing why you are suitable for the job

2)      Send in your CV

Everything should be kept to two pages maximum as you know that the recruitment manager is probably going to spend 30 seconds on each application.

This is a massive generalisation but helps explain why experiencing the local government job application process was a major shock to the system.

Not every council asks applicants to apply in the same way but in general it works something like this:

1)      The applicant is asked NOT to provide a CV under any circumstances.

2)      They are then asked to illustrate how they are suitable for the job in question by supplying answers for each element of a person specification listed on the job advert. Often there are between 15 and 30 person specification requirements, each requiring an answer.

3)      Then, the general information that would be supplied on a CV is required.

As you can probably appreciate this is a slightly more lengthy process.

Whereas the archetypal private sector application favours, and even encourages, brevity the local government process favours those who write, not just a little, but a lot!

This has two impacts:


What future for graduates in local government?

May 24, 2011

A ticket to the corporate centre?

Last week we joined the discussion of the recently downsized National Graduate Development Programme and suggested that this was going to be the start of a big debate. Since then, Impower and Futuregov have dipped their toes in the water and today one of our readers gives her analysis of the scheme and emphasises the importance of looking beyond the corporate centre when developing, and attracting, talent in the future.

 If you would like to provide a guest post on this, or any other, topic please drop us a line at but not before you’ve enjoyed this excellent post.

Like many across the sector, I was exasperated but not entirely surprised at the recent news that the National Graduate Development programme (NGDP) is to face major cutbacks. At a time when local authorities are implementing unprecedented public spending cuts now more than ever it is vital that the sector attracts the best possible future leaders.

Many might be asking themselves the question, in an era of cuts is attracting graduates into local government really a priority? Surely difficult choices have to be made?

No local government officer or policy maker would argue that cuts don’t need to be made; but every ‘difficult choice’ has wider ramifications that will impact upon the sector well into the future. Key stakeholders have emphasised the need to ‘avoid the road to nowhere’ and local government as a whole has now definitely reached a critical tipping point  where it must set out a vision of where it wants to be in 10 or even 20 years time. Surely, at the heart of this must be a carefully thought out strategic approach as to how the sector will attract, develop and retain the best talent in order to advance that vision?

The attraction of the NGDP was that it attracted that inflow of talent that supports local government’s drive to serve local communities in the best way it possibly can. And of course an immense sense of pride can be taken from the fact that through schemes such as the NGDP many high calibre graduates have entered and stayed in local government who in the past may have made other career choices.


Why Chelsea should never run a local authority

May 23, 2011

When comparative success is not enoughFootball is a behemoth. It influences the moods and lives of millions, and has more money sloshing around it than a NHS IT project. Over the past twenty or so years it has developed from a passionate sport to a global business, where politics have as much impact as at any town hall.

Recent events at one major club are catching the headlines right now, with the story breaking as this one is typed. Chelsea have sacked their manager Carlo Ancelotti after a trophy-less season, citing their high levels of ambition and the lower than expected performances over their campaign.

So how does this in any way relate to local government?

Carlo Ancelotti was the manager of that football club. He was responsible for developing the strategy for success and working closely with those responsible for implementing that strategy to ensure that his vision was transferred into action. He was scrutinised regularly from all angles, and worked with those who controlled the resources available to him. In effect, he was the Chief Executive of a local authority; in charge of an organisation worth several million pounds and trying to achieve the goals set out before him by those who pay the bills. (more…)

Blogs and Blogging

May 20, 2011

Giving a plug!

On twitter there is a tradition that on a Friday you give an indication to your followers of who else they should be following. The same tradition doesn’t exist in the blogosphere but we feel it is high time we give some love to our favourite blogs out there.

In a slight change from the normal plugs we thought we’d also link to some of our favourite pieces on those blogs (many of which we’ve probably linked to on twitter). Too often blogs are transitory in nature and good pieces of writing are remembered for a day or two and then promptly forgotten. Hopefully, this will help address this.

So without further ado:

Fighting Monsters

This blog about social work in the UK written by a practising social worker is a must read for anyone working in that field and a very interesting read for everyone else.

A few weeks ago, when the super-injunction furore was at its height, the author of the blog explained in a way that almost no-one else managed the difference between the celebrity injunction and the type that have also been targeted in relation to Family Court and Court of Protection. It is well worth a read.


Saying one thing

May 19, 2011

Hotter isn't necessarily betterIf working in local government teaches one thing, it’s that there really is a form for everything. However, if it teaches some other things, one of these is that it’s easy to say one thing and then go ahead and do another.

Our good friend Eric Pickles looks like he’s been studying this one hard this week, with his department releasing yet another one of their favourite heat maps; this time around it’s hotting up wherever there is more money to spend per head of population (sounds a little like a typical night at China Whites to me). According to this map 63 councils recieve over £1050 per resident, the same number below £830 each and the rest fall somewhere in between.

E-Pick has told us in the past that he wants local people to take control of local areas, then here tells us in his own words “It’s not how much you spend, but how you spend it.” If this were true, why release the figures in this way? Transparency is mentioned in the press release and is a worthy thing to refer to, but this doesn’t actually seem to match up with the other reasons given. (more…)

The council fridge

May 18, 2011

Room for all sorts of freshly chilled metaphors

A friend of mine recently moved jobs. When I asked him how it was going his answer was fairly simple:

‘You should see how horrible their fridge is!’

It was an odd observation but now I have thought about it I think you can genuinely tell a lot about a team by the quality of their fridge.

Here are the similarities between a council and their fridge:

1)    We all work in silos

If ever there was evidence of silo working it’s the council fridge. Open the average fridge and you’ll find at least three or four bottles of milk, and nearly all of them will have black marker scrawled over them detailing the exact team who ‘owns’ that milk. And on Friday the poor old cleaner will end up having to throw away four three quarter used bottles of milk.

Why don’t people work together to share the milk? Why don’t people work together to solve other wider problems? It’s simple really, ‘I bought ‘have the budget’ for the milk ‘service’, we need the milk ‘service’ and those tight accountants will keep stealing it unless we make it clear who owns the milk ‘budget’… Or something like that.


Transformation through restructure

May 17, 2011

How many staff will fall?

May is here and many local authorities will have just gone through the first of what is sure to be a number of major restructures to take place over the next three or four years.

At the end of it almost 140,000 local government jobs that once existed no longer exist and a large number of local government employees find themselves redundant and forcibly retired.

However, there are many ways to skin a cat and this set of restructures has demonstrated significantly different approaches from different councils.

In fear of generalising (but doing it anyway) broadly speaking there were two approaches:

1)      The ‘protect our staff’ model

In this model every effort is made by the local authority to find their staff a job. Although the new service structures and job descriptions will be significantly different to what was being done by the current staff lower thresholds will be set to ensure staff are able to transition into the new structure.

Under this model there is no attempt to ensure the removal of ‘deadwood’, by which we mean staff that are not performing up to the level they should be. Nor is there any effort to bring new blood into the organisation through the creation of new posts. The primary aim is to limit, at all costs, the number of redundancies.

In one example I heard about the primary determinant of whether or not a member of staff would receive a job in the new structure was their salary. So, if you were ‘overpaid’ in the old structure that would continue and if you were ‘underpaid’ then tough. This disadvantages those on short term secondments or who are acting up into managerial roles (who tend to be newer in the organisation and keener to get on) and advantaged those who’d got high salaries by dint of spending a long time in the organisation.

This model reassures staff in the organisation during the transition and keeps as many people as possible in post. It assumes that the authority has consistently worked to develop talent and performance managed those staff who are not performing up to standard and that development programmes are in place for all staff going forward.

2)      The ‘we’ll design a structure and then try to get the best staff we can model’

In this model the council designs a structure that they feel will meet the authority’s needs going forward. All staff are told they are at risk of redundancy and have to apply for the jobs in the new structure. If the staff are good enough for the new roles they are appointed but if not the council is comfortable about going out to external recruitment.

In this model ‘deadwood’ is definitely gone and ‘slightly ok wood’ have to prove their worth in interviews.

I know of one council where a team of 15 was reduced to 10 and yet only 7 of them got a job with three posts being advertised externally.

The disadvantages of this model are that it is expensive; making a lot of people redundant is very costly, as is recruitment. It is also very destabilising for the local authority; staff feel under threat for most of the consultation period and subsequently you need to bed in a whole load of new employees.

It is also largely a one off trick; if the local authority has to do it too often then it is evidence of them failing in many other ways.

I don’t know which model is best but here’s my guess:

In one or two year’s time the authorities in model 2 will be far better off than those in model 1. Carrying staff who aren’t quite up to it might seem like a sensible option in the midst of a horrible series of redundancies but long term having exactly the right staff in post can only be of benefit to the authority and local people.

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