Archive for July 2011


July 29, 2011

A Friday game for all to enjoyThere’s nothing we like more at We Love Local Government Towers than a good game on a Friday afternoon. Okay, perhaps we like biscuits a little more, but games are a very close second. With that in mind, here is a very simple game which can be played today at no additional cost to you or those around you. It’s easy to play, and can be amended to suit your own needs very easily.

Below is a list of words or phrases which we are getting a little tired of hearing thrown around meetings, usually by someone attempting to sound more clever than they actually are. Some or jargonistic, others are simply meaningless, but all have a special circle of our own hells reserved for them.

But words themselves are not evil – it’s how they are used that’s the problem, so we want you to use them for good rather than evil. Simply print them out and take them with you into your next meeting – the more people in it the better – and use as many as you can. They must be used appropriately and without others noticing; oh, and the only way to win is to get them all in during a single meeting.

Good luck! (more…)

Nobody’s Perfect

July 28, 2011

Who will make sure you are going the right way?At a recent job interview I found myself faced with the dreaded question: what are your areas for development?  Essentially the inquisition interview panel were asking me “what things are you really bad at that will make us think twice about employing you?”

Of course in such a situation the worst thing to do would be to tell the truth.  “I have a terrible memory”, “I sometimes say offensive things in the hope of starting conversations”, “I actually don’t understand most of the financial regulations so just bumble my way through them” – all of these may be true but are not going to help get the job.

I refused also to say the standard, tired response of “I’m a bit of a perfectionist”; that’s BS of the very lowest degree in most cases and simply screams out ‘I’M NOT CREATIVE ENOUGH TO COME UP WITH AN ORIGINAL RESPONSE’.  In the end I went for my willingness to JFDI – Just-Flowering-Do-It (you can replace Flowering with other more suitable words should you feel the need to).  This sometimes means I’m halfway through an exciting project before I remember that my line manager might just be interested in finding out what I’m up to.

Why do I bring this up now?  Well, at a recent Senior Management Team meeting one of our Service Heads stood up to talk about the review she had conducted on her service.  She went into detail about some of the things that had gone well, but then also detailed some of the things which, to put it bluntly, had gone really badly. (more…)

A local council for local people

July 27, 2011

Does Royston Vasey have a town council?

I commute to work and I hate it.

Each month I spend more hours than I care to consider and more money than is really sensible traipsing back and forth to my local government job. I do it for a number of reasons: Because if I didn’t it’s highly likely I wouldn’t have a job; because I believe it is important to work in different environments and learn from different experiences; because getting the job I now have was a promotion and because, despite everything, I really enjoy my work.

Despite it all (I really do hate commuting); on balance this makes sense for me as an individual so I suck it up.

But is what is good for me good for the community I serve through my local authority?

You’ve probably heard the arguments before. My council (by which I mean the one I worked for at the time) has fairly frequently rocked up with a ‘workforce to reflect the community’, a ‘Local opportunity’ policy or something similar designed to ensure that the council is made up of people who can relate to the people we are meant to be serving.


Manager without portfolio

July 26, 2011

Mandy: A model for Local Government?

In 1997 Tony Blair named Peter Mandelson as the Minister without Portfolio within his cabinet. At the time people thought this was an excuse to give Mr Mandelson a Cabinet position without actually giving him a job.

My guess is that the stated aim of bringing in someone with the soul job of ‘co-ordinating within government’ was probably more or less correct, and if so is something we could learn from in Local Government.

In fact, I would like to advocate that councils start thinking about appointing managers without portfolio.

In general in Local Government we appoint managers first and foremost to manage their teams. We then gather these individual managers, each appointed to manage their teams, and put them together into a management team. We expect this management team to provide the strategic lead for the council (or for the department they work in), to manage their staff and budgets, to mange projects and programmes, to co-ordinate work with other departments and to look after all manner of complex work.

Despite this requirement at the management team level we still appoint our managers based on their ability to manage their own teams and hope that they will be generalists and therefore able to handle all of the other responsibilities.

However, I think this is perhaps a mistake. I know a lot of people in Local Government and many of them are managers and a few of the people I think should be managers are not. Some of these people are fantastic people mangers, some are brilliant strategists, some are ideas people, some are the people I’d most trust with shepherding complex projects through the organisation and others are the networkers, people who join everything together and are constantly finding ways of making our work more efficient and effective.

But rarely are the combination of skills listed above all present in a management team. In part this is because we value the ability to manage the service above all else when appointing our middle and senior managers.

It is for this reason that I strongly advocate the introduction of managers without portfolio. These people would not be laden with the management of individual teams. In fact they might not even be that good at people management and may have been passed over for exactly that reason. However, due to their lack of service management responsibilities these people would be responsible for doing a lot of work for the department or council; developing strategy, delivering projects and co-ordinating all of the good work that is going on.

Surely this is a role we could welcome in Local Government?

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at:

It’s end of term time.

July 25, 2011

Will he make the grade?For those of you who also follow our “ever excellent” (and modest) Twitter account – @welovelocalgov by the way – you’ll know that recently we linked to an article which gave a bit of a review of Eric Pickles over the last year.  It’s well worth a read, but we felt it didn’t sound quite enough like a school report to us.

So, to kick this week off we’ve sat down with our marking hats on and written our very own school report for Mr. Pickles; as he is currently the man in charge of all things local government we felt it would be fair for us to cast an eye over the last twelve moths or so.  We hope it will provide a platform for future achievements.


Eric has demonstrated a basic grasp of mathematical systems, although he is yet to truly understand some of the subtleties of numbers. His constant assertion that fewer staff = more work is one which is proving thought to break. His work around deringfencing grants has allowed significant figures to be brought into his equations; however Eric must spend a significant amount of his efforts developing these equation related skills. His area based grant formula is simply unintelligible and needs significant work. C-


Eric has shown a strong desire to become more involved with the written word, principally through his efforts with regards to the Code of Conduct which aims to limit the efforts local authorities make to communicate effectively with their residents. That being said, whilst his intentions are clear his ability to translate this into appropriate action is in need of more consideration. C

Personal relationships (more…)


July 22, 2011

To encourage criticism; write daily and leave the comments section open

This blog recently passed 70,000 hits which, due to the fact we are humans mistakenly wired to celebrate round numbers, we considered very exciting.

When we started to blog we did so in part because there wasn’t much out there that looked at local government from a front-line point of view. We even entitled it ‘a sideways look at the world of local government’ which we considered an appropriate summary of our intentions.

However, as time has gone on we’ve also tried to spark a bit of a debate and comment on local government issues in a way that are a bit different to the prevailing wisdom. As individual authors we never write anything we don’t believe but increasingly we don’t shy away from writing articles that we think might end up with us being criticised, or annoy our fellow bloggers, and as our readership increases we find that even those we thought were uncontroversial lead to a certain amount of comment.

Today our post is dedicated to these criticisms and comments. We love the feedback and have so much time for people who make the effort to write the intelligent and insightful responses they do. Sometimes we continue to disagree but sometimes we are convinced that we were wrong to start with.

So here are some people who deserve some kudos for their responses:

Read all about it

Just last week we argued that the bureaucracy in Local Government should maybe be granted some more credit due to the fact it allowed some accountability and prevented the sort of madness that has engulfed the News of the World

Responding, Mark Stanley pointed out that perhaps we were granting a bit too much credit where some wasn’t due:

Er… people in glass houses are picking up rocks by the sound of things.

I really like this blog, it offers great insight and is often right on the money. I think this is the first post I have felt really at odds with.

One significant issue with the practice of getting 30 signatures before a project is approved is that *nobody* assumes ownership of the blame because there are 30 fingers pointing at someone else.

Anyway, everybody knows it was IT’s fault!

Yes the NoW has taken a kicking, much like the Met police, MPs, fat cat council execs, BBC bosses, etc… Maybe it stuck around so long it became public sector?!

A fair point well made

Trade Unions

Also last week we were put up a post expressing our disappointment with the performance of local government trade unions and basically asking the question: If Trade Unions are the answer I’m not sure what the question is?


Nice guys finish last, but should they?

July 21, 2011

Does power always need announcing?Being powerful is very much like being a lady.  If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

So said one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century, and in the intervening years one would like to think that this still holds true.  Sadly, it seems to be a saying that is being confined to the history books.

It has sadly become simple common knowledge in many local authorities that if you are likeable you are not management material.  Those who are amenable, friendly and supportive are seen as valuable members of any team and allowed a certain amount of responsibility, but are then overlooked for more senior roles as they are regarded as soft, easily led or not hard-nosed enough.  Only bossy people get to be the boss.

This isn’t how it should be, and how many want it to be.  A good leader needs to understand the carrot and stick approach.  They need to understand when to offer advice, guidance and support and when to take the advice of Malcolm Tucker and stick the carrot in a certain orifice.

Of the two skills, the latter is certainly the more visible and the more easy to pull off.  We are almost all capable of being nasty, aggressive and belittling, and certainly remember those individuals who treat us in such a manner.  Those meetings when those with any power throw it around, battling with others like rutting stags, are the meetings that get spoken about and give the victors reputations as someone not to be trifled with. (more…)

Open Public Service White Paper: A Matrimonial View

July 20, 2011

Are they also discussing public service reform?

Its guest post time on WLLG and today’s post features the sort of ‘walking through the park’ conversation that would have Mr WLLG rolling his eyes. However, our guest poster uses an early evening stroll to try to get to grips with the risks and pitfalls of public service reform, coalition style. We think he does a good job:

The other day my wife and I were discussing public service reform as we strolled through our local park in the early evening sunshine. My wife is on maternity leave with our first born and has, through listening to radio 4 more regularly and utilising local services as a young mother, become more engaged in the political debates around public services.

She asked, prompted by the news of the new Open Public Service White Paper, what the incentive was for opening up public services to competition.

I said the short answer that proponents would give was that greater competition between providers to improve cost efficiency and to drive up quality. I said that there were already examples of many services being delivered by providers other than the state or local government. We then discussed the issue of how alternative providers can make money by offering economies of scale and more efficient ways of working that could allow them a margin to make a profit. Once Southern Cross entered the discussion, the subject of risk reared it’s arguably ugly head.

I quoted from a recent newspaper article that had, through FOI, retrieved some research commissioned for the Government that suggested one of the ways that private companies are able to make money is their ability to enter and leave a market at speed.

When an opportunity presents itself a fleet footed company will want to get in, without massive set up costs, and take advantage. If at some point an activity becomes less successful and unprofitable then the business can close down and invest its capital in more successful ventures.


Being Mindful

July 19, 2011

It's not always easySome of our own posts and our guest posts are a little lighter hearted in nature, dealing with ridiculous dress codes, badly judged e-mails or ways you can identify when you’ve been in local government too long.  We love sharing them too, so if you’ve got something you want to say then e-mail it to us at

However, we are not shy of addressing some more serious issues affecting the lives of local government officers, and today’s guest post does just that.  We hope you read it and understand a little more about the issues it discusses by the end than you might have at the beginning.

Cost.  That has become a bit of a dirty word in the office these days: how much money something costs, how much time it costs, how much energy it costs to get things done.

These costs are generally speaking organisational, and are usually relatively straightforward to quantify.  However, a major area of cost which never finds its way onto any balance sheets is the cost to people, and even when certain costs are accounted for there is one glaring omission – the cost to ones mental health.

Mental health is something so often misunderstood, even by those who mean well.  Some feel they are understanding people, who will do all they can to support someone through their mental health battles with the idea that it can be beaten and overcome, put in the past and moved on from.

Others take the opposite tack, trying to treat them as they would anyone else and not making a big issue out of it in the hope that distraction with other ‘more important and urgent’ issues will put mental health firmly in its place at the bottom of any priority list.

For those of us in local government these are incredibly stressful and difficult times.  Even the most stoic and mentally healthy person can find themselves wobbling at the moment; tempers fraying, long silences growing, work and relationships suffering as the constant and increasing pressures and responsibilities are placed upon them.

For those of us who were fighting mental health problems even during the ‘good old days’ of local government, things can be a fair bit harder. (more…)

Working from home

July 18, 2011

Sorry for the bad hand-writing; my washing machine was on...

If there is one thing that all local government staff can agree on it’s that no-one can agree on the appropriate place for ‘working from home’ within the local government world.

Too often the response of colleagues when you tell them that you will be working from home the next day is to raise their hands to the side of the heads, put their index and middle fingers in the sky and then bend them as they say that you’ll be “working” from home then.

Despite this there are plenty of good reasons for why both the organisation and the individual should work from home and very few reasons why they shouldn’t. Working from home benefits the work life balance, allows for more focused work and saves the council money. There are, of course, different ways to manage the home working.

Personally, I like to work from home when I’ve got a big piece of work to do. I like the ability to put on my own music, get comfortable at my dining table and just delve into it. Without the inevitable distractions of an office environment I estimate increased productivity of at least half. I don’t do it very often but sometimes the act of clearing your diary and working from home can be deeply beneficial.