Archive for June 2011

Finding savings… the easy way

June 30, 2011

There are only so many cuts you can make before you do serious damage!

As councils move towards the year two savings mandated by the coalition Government the pressure to find ‘easy’ savings to eat into the huge cuts targets only grows.

By and large councils have made the cuts to ‘non-crucial’ services and reduced staffing levels in the back office functions. They’ve found savings from investment and offered voluntary redundancy to anyone who wants it. Council’s have innovated in service design and reduced management. And still the savings won’t be enough.

What’s left then are very difficult cuts to valuable frontline services. Do we take money from street cleaning or libraries, reduce the social care budgets for children or adults, take chunks out of transport or homelessness?

Which is why some councils are considering making big supposedly ‘straightforward’ savings by means of changes to terms and conditions of their staff.

I’ve asked around the WLLG network to get a sense of where we are right now around the country and whilst the picture in my (admittedly small) sample varied a bit invariably the changes to Ts and Cs, where known, are going to be huge.

Amongst the options that most people were facing the archetypal package seems to be something like: (percentage reduction in staff spending power in brackets)

  • No pay increments for the next three years (2% for staff receiving them)
  • A reduction in pay of 1% – 3%
  • A period of mandatory unpaid leave; varying from 3 days to one or two weeks (0.86%, 2% or 4%)
  • A reduction in annual leave down to 26 days for all staff (those with five years’ service currently get 31)
  • An increase in hours from 35 to 36 or 37.5
  • A reduction in sick pay so that the first three days of any period of sickness need to be paid back (either by working the hours or actually paying back the money)

There was also some changes to overtime etc

Three things sprang to mind:


Do they even care about us?

June 29, 2011

Did the PM betray attitudes towards Local Government?Yesterday the Prime Minister attended the LGG conference and spoke to the masses. He was apparently the first serving PM to do so in history, and began by quipping that perhaps afterwards he would know why none of his predecessors had done so.

He was due to talk about localism, so thanks to a timely heads-up from @dominiccampbell I tuned in to the live web stream and listened as he began outlining localism. It started well, with reference to what in effect used to be known as Total Place, and went on to mention the current deregulating of local government.

However, before long the conversation turned away from local government. Mr Cameron instead turned the focus of the discussion over to the current headline issue – public sector pensions – and in effect used his key note speech to speak directly to the media. He set out why he was doing what he was doing, and how important it was that his party’s plans were followed through.

The discussion around the rights and wrongs of this debate are not the topic for this post, and in any case are being picked apart by far brighter and more informed minds than mine. My interest in this is instead to be a little narked at the way local government appears to have been casually tossed aside here. (more…)

Being proud of the failures

June 28, 2011

It really is an optionWe all make mistakes.  Mine have included making decisions above my pay grade, sharing information in a meeting which I ‘thought’ everyone knew and not kissing Katie Patterson when her big sister locked us in the shed together (true story).

Believe it or not, organisations make mistakes too.  We commission projects which don’t do as well as we thought they would, we employ people that don’t end up performing well and we add things up wrong so that our accounts are more entangled than a plate of spaghetti.  And the similarities between personal and organisational mistakes?

We cover them up.

The general consensus is that if you can hide things away well enough or spin it around so that a new set of success measurements are achieved then you’ve won.  There’s always next year after all, and neither you nor the organisation can then be accused of not being good enough – solid reputational risk management, surely? (more…)

The Lisa Loeb of Local Government

June 27, 2011

Why can't you just... Stay

“You say, I only hear what I want to”

So sang one hit (but many album) wonder Lisa Loeb back in the 1990s.

I was reminded of her carefully crafted lyrics last week as I made a quick tour of the Senior Management Teams (SMT) of our council departments.

At the beginning of each meeting the Department Head gives a quick summary of the latest Senior Leadership Team (SLT… We love our acronyms) meeting. This is the meeting of the Chief Executive and his senior managers.

Obviously, these SMT meetings are then a prime opportunity for the senior managers to feedback to their own managers about exactly what the strategic direction of the council is. It also forms the first part of the cascade of knowledge from the big boss down to the minions.

My problem was that I knew at the beginning of the week that I was going to hear the same message 5 times. I was planning to use the moment to update my notes and prepare for my little session of the meeting, before I could then make a quick exit. Indeed, one senior manager did take pity on me and let me get my bit out of the way before the obligatory SLT update took place.

However, this did leave me with four repeats of the same information to sit through, or so I thought. In fact, what I got was four, often quite different, versions of a fairly simple message.



June 24, 2011

Look how shiny...

“They gave them what?”

This was what Mrs WLLG practically shouted at me, through a mouthful of food, while during our evening meal I related a story about Local Government I had seen on the net.  The story was about the London Borough of Havering giving 17 of their Councillors I-pads.  They were also looking at providing the said gadget to all their Councillors.

These were not being given as prizes for becoming a Councillor but were to help the Councillors in their duties as a Councillor.  This of course is all happening at the time of cuts to the Council’s budget and job losses amongst its officers.  This isn’t the first time a Council has given I-pads to Councillors.  A year ago Leicester City Council did a similar thing.

Now Mrs WLLG’s response is understandable.  After all these Councils are giving these Members a bit of technology many adults would kill to have.  However both Councils have, in a round about way, given the same answer to Mrs WLLG’s food spluttered question; “Madam, this will save us money by cutting down our printing costs.”

This got me wondering, well roughly how much will this save in printing costs?  So I thought I would do some rough calculations (these are rough and I have no idea if these are anything like the figures the two Councils above have worked out).  Here they are:

So according to the printer at work each printed page I print in black and white costs 4p.  I’m going to assume that this is the case for any page of an agenda the Council prints (I recognise that there are difficulties with this assumption but I have to start somewhere).

Looking at my local Council’s latest Cabinet agenda it was 376 pages long, the month before it was 571 pages long, the month before that it was 931 pages (wow, the Officers in my local Council must write looooong reports…and we wonder why Councillors don’t read our reports?) and the month before that it was 466. So over a four month period, the Cabinet report was on average 586 pages long.  That means on average , in that four month period, it would have cost my Council £23.44 to print one agenda.

However, as I work with Councillors, I know I have to provide one copy of an agenda per Councillor at the meeting.  I also need about 5 extra copies, one for the files and the others in case anyone (Councillor, public or press) needs a hard copy.  So according to the minutes there are 12 Councillors expected at Cabinet (that’s 8 Cabinet Members and 4 Junior Cabinet Members).

So I reckon that over that four month period, on average, the Council spent £398.48 per month to provide 17 printed copies of the Cabinet Agenda to the Councillors.  This, I think, means that in a year the Council could be spending £4383.28 on Cabinet agendas (Cabinet is a monthly meeting but I assume it doesn’t meet over the August Recess).

So for one monthly public meeting, if the Council could get away with not printing its agendas, it could save about £4383.28.  Not millions, but then again not something to be sneezed at, especially as there are so many meetings for Councillors other than Cabinet (think Full Council, Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Planning Committee).  However there are a few caveats to this figure.   I have chosen the meeting that would probably get the most reports each month and so would have the biggest agendas.  So not every public meeting with Councillors would save this much money over a year, but surely it adds up.

Also, we can’t completely get rid of paper agendas for public meetings, as in the interest of accessibility and accountability, agendas should be available for those in the public who don’t have a computer.  Yet, these figures still suggest the I-pads could save some money.

Yet I’m not completely sold.

Mrs WLLG’s response is still valid.  After all does it have to be a shiny new I-pad, can’t it be any type of tablet computer, maybe one cheaper than an I-pad?

Basically, for me, this issue of the I-pad is part of a wider conversation about what Councillors are provided with to complete their job as a Councillor.  I know Officers and Residents who are shocked to find that some Councils give their Councillors Blackberries and Laptops.

Now I believe the Councillors do need these modern tools, as they are (or should be), trying to deal with their case loads, read reports, meet residents, involved in meetings, lobbying on behalf of their constituents while often holding down a full-time job.

These tools help that, but I think there are some rules concerning I-pads and all these techy tools that Councils should comply to when giving stuff to Councillors.  Here are my top four:

  • These tools should never become a perk of being a Councillor.  So to ensure they are tools, a business case for why Councillors need them should be put forward that shows how they can be used as tools to further the Councillor’s work.
  • Use some procurement sense.  As with a contract, work out your options and find the model that offers value for money for the Council.  So would another tablet Computer be able to do the required job, instead of the fancy and fashionable I-pad?
  • If the Councillor breaks it, through misuse by them, then they cover the costs.  At the end of the day its the Council’s property not theirs.
  • This one is not a rule, more a suggestion/question.  I’m not sure it would work but could the Council do a similar thing with I-pads that the Cycle to work scheme does? So the Council buys the I-pad and slowly the Councillor buys off the Council, if they want it.  Though I suppose it wouldn’t be tax-free like the cycle scheme.

Of course at the end of the day, Miss WLLG was just jealous….of how good I looked with mashed potato splatted on my face.

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Grasp the Intranettle

June 23, 2011

Intranets need and overhaulI want you to do something right now.  Odds are you are at your computer at work, or will be in a short enough while.  I want you to open up a new window or tab and go to your intranet page.

Take a look around.  Drink in the sights, the attractions, maybe even dive into a new area or two and take a look around and try to find out about something new.  It won’t take long – just be sure to come back here afterwards.

Done that?  Good.  Now; think about what you saw.  I would like to put my Mystic Meg hat on (wow, that dates me…) and hazard a guess that your browsing experience was, for want of a better phrase, underwhelming.

I’m guessing there were some notices from your chief executive, maybe some links to some basic business information and probably something up there talking about the impact of the cuts.  If you took the chance to delve below the surface I would put money on the fact that before long you found something very simple which was significantly out of date, wrong or just didn’t make sense.

Why intranets seemingly have to be this way is beyond me, and is beginning to get my metaphorical goat. (more…)

Job Evaluation

June 22, 2011

Jokes about Reindeers are not as funny in June

It’s a guest post day on WLLG. Today’s poster tackles an area of local government that few dare to tread but is becoming increasingly important; the job evaluation process. If you have a post you’d like to add to the blog please drop us a line at but not before you’ve read this excellent post:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that equal pay is a good thing. But pay cuts in the name of equal pay aren’t readily accepted.

Enter the quandary of Job Evaluation.

The 2004 Local Government pay agreement obliged all councils to carry out JE. Roles are assessed and graded on factors including knowledge, mental skills, physical/mental/emotional demands and working conditions.

Some roles stay on existing spinal column points; some increase and some – inevitably –go down. Same is fine, up welcome, but a reduction in scale points, particularly for the low-paid and those at the top of their scale, can cause serious upset.

The mantra of JE is that roles are evaluated, not people. This is a hard fact for those potentially facing a drop in pay, with related effects on salary progression and pensions. While pay protection is usually offered, ranging from months to years, an adverse JE outcome can be a serious blow to individuals’ finances and wellbeing.


Our colleagues ain’t so bad

June 21, 2011

Voodoo pins can break my bones but names will never hurt me...

Local Authorities are basically conglomerates of all sorts of different services staffed by all sorts of different types of people. Whilst it is often the case that staff, whether working for a company or a public sector organisation, will defend their organisation regardless of what is going on, it is not always the case in Local Government.

So why this tendency to, as the Americans would put it, ‘rip into our colleagues.’

I’ve heard two or three examples of this over the past few weeks which can point the way a little:

1)    The ‘I could have done it better’

Local Authorities are having to make some tough choices at the moment and our local newspapers are keen to shine a light on some of the cuts and fee increases that are happening. Just this week, a series of parking increases were getting our residents, and thus the local papers, exorcised. No matter where you went in the council people were sharing their wisdom over exactly how the situation should have been handled; be it by phasing the charges, communicating better or maybe being a little bit smarter about the across the board policy. If you talk to the parking managers they will roll their eyes, point out that they considered all of this but quite simply in order to make the income target this was the ‘least worst’ option. And I believe them.

2)    The ‘Oh, for *7%^s sake; you’re really just not helping’



June 20, 2011

That is one sinister looking pig!

So, another week, another threat of strikes and another attack on local government pensions.

If anything concerns me about the whole debate it is the ridiculous language used by people on each side of the debate. The tendency of people from the Government to slip into the tired language of: ‘generous’ public sector pensions is as dangerous as the hyperbole of those from the Union side who claim the Government plan another ‘pension raid’.

Before I get caught up in a ‘pox on both your houses’ rant here is the most important local government pension stat courtesy of the Hutton report into pensions:

Average local government pensions are £4,000 for men, £2,800 for women.

Now, this amount may possibly be higher than if those same individuals were working in different jobs and receiving private sector pensions or purchasing their own pensions on the open market.

However, we need to get away from calling this a ‘generous’ pension.


Local Government Haiku

June 17, 2011

Making Haiku famous... Even as he is anonymous

The poetry beloved of Herman Van Rompuy is an old favourite of one WLLG blogger so for no reason other than it is Friday she persuaded the gang to join in and produce some local government Haiku. Here’s what we came up with; please do join in:

On service delivery

Rubbish once a week
Said Eric; the costs piled up
Localism ain’t dead?

Scrutiny meeting
Adding to our democracy
But no-one listens

Watch dogs poo and you flytip
Is Big Brother back?

On savings

We need to save cash
To pay for the deficit
Redundancy time?

Children’s services
Don’t start making cuts to us
Or a child might die