One officer; many councils
In my Local Government carer I have worked through a few different Local Authorities. When other Local Government Officers find this out they often ask the dreaded question, “Which did you like best.” Considering they are often working in the authority I’m currently working in, I don’t really want to say, “Not this one!” However the other day I was asked a different question, “What was different about each Council.”
This got me thinking. I could tell the person about how in one Council all the Officers seemed to be between 20 and 30. It was almost as if by the time you reached 30, you were secretly killed off, maybe through a room with a trap door. Then there was the Council were all the Officers seemed to be between 40 and 60, almost as if they automatically refused you a job if you were under 30 and they went head hunting for new employers at 40 year old birthday parties (How I got into one of these Councils I still don’t know).
Though I could have also told the person about that Council were staff wearing shorts and a t-shirt were seen as fine. This would have compared interestingly to the Council were you could tell what grade a male member of staff was on by the quality of their shirt, if they wore a tie, if they wore a blazer and if they polished their shoes.
I then thought I could tell them about the difference in Councillors.
So there was the Council were the Councillors had been there years, knew the words to the Red Flag backwards if Labour, had campaigned with Thatcher if Conservative or Paddy Ashdown if Liberal and were still as active politically and locally as they had ever been. Then there were the Councillors who ignored Officers or the Councillors who were led, without protest, by the Officers.
Slowly even more differences came to mind around policy, how performance was monitored, what their response to emergencies were and how social the staff were (at one Council more work, networking, agreements and deals was done in the pub next to the Town Hall after work then in the office during work). Then, almost suddenly, my mind cleared and I saw similarities as well as differences, from the concentration on value for money (gives you an idea what period I’ve been in Local Government) to the dedication of Officers and Councillors.
Though even these similarities could bring out differences. So when the buzz words were place shaping, two of the Councils I worked for brought out Sustainable Community Strategies (oh another similarity…rubbish titles that are slight meaningless). Both had aims for what the areas would look like in 20 years. Both mentioned things like more jobs, less dog poo on the streets, better education and less crime. Yet they also approached the things differently , consulted on the strategy differently, implemented the strategy (or didn’t) differently and measured success differently.
And these differences are not a surprise. Not only are there so many different people involved in Local Government, and so lots of different ideas and approaches, but it is affected by the local area, the aims of the senior management, the activity of the Councillors and the politics.
It is this last one that I think is important. In Local Government we work in a political environment. This political environment affects what policies the Council follows, how the Council interprets Central Government dictates, how the Council implements policy and even the relationship between the Councillors and Officers. I have learnt that it is dangerous to forget the political, for it can affect which work is continued and which isn’t.
This constant of the political is in the very fabric of Local Government, and you know what? Its what makes the jobs I have done in Local Government so much more interesting, fun and even meaningful then any other job I have done outside Local Government. So, even if you don’t work with Councillors, remember in Local Government politics is always involved.