Criticism


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?

We had to wait most of the day but John KM put together a very eloquent response:

It’s not clear to me how management would go about consulting non-union members. Let’s say there’s a workforce of 5,000, half of whom are union members. One of three things could happen:

a) Consult all staff with some sort of survey. Management then frame the questions and can thus report the findings in whatever way they choose best. There could be 2,500 different answers to qualitative questions, the results of which could again be reported in whichever way management choose.
b) Choose staff representatives or ask people to come forward. Those who are selected are then accountable to no-one and may just involve themselves because they have an axe to grind or who are seeking personal career advancement through cosying up to senior staff.
c) Elect representatives of non-union staff. This then essentially amounts to being a union, but without the various bits of legislation that ensure democratic process.

Unions need national structures because a great deal of things are decided by national government. Successive administrations have undermined local democracy to the point where national representation is vital.

I would not say for one moment that there aren’t many things about unions that should be reformed but the way to ensure effective and accountable unions is for everyone to join and hold stewards and branch officers to account. If they think they could do a better job then they should stand for election themselves. If they think dues are too high then they could vote to lower them. If they think unions are too ready to strike then they could vote against such action.

Since unions are democratic organisations you can change them if you wish, as long as you persuade enough people to agree with you. Technically if you don’t succeed then you go off and set up your own trade union.

Don’t snipe from the sidelines, get involved!

We will have to agree to disagree but he makes a very strong argument

I-Pads

At the end of June we jumped to the defence of the London Borough of Havering’s decision to give their councillors I-Pads. However, being cautious local government types we concluded that:

  • 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 it’s 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.

This was just a little too cautious for the excellent local democracy blog which took us to task arguing:

I’d suggest that this represents a triumph of a grumpy anti-politics that ultimately diminishes the legitimacy of local government itself. It’s a populist starting point that negates so many other important considerations. It’s almost as though we can’t clear our throats without acknowledging the Tax Payers Alliance agenda.

There’s a two way compact between us voters and Councillors (as with all elected representatives): They strive for the highest standards in terms of civic representation (the stuff this blog bores on about all the time) and, in return, we give them a high social status and reasonable compensation to cover the opportunity cost of being a Councillor.

I don’t think either side of this compact is being met – I’d be interested to see how many councillors would be able to write a half-decent A-Level essay on what good representation entails – but I do think it’s time to put a bit of dignity back into local government. Someone has to make the first move.

I’d call it a score-draw but I do find the tenor of the argument put forward on the blog very difficult to disagree with.

A traumatic 2012

And finally, this isn’t criticism at all but we still find it very exciting to be quoted by proper journalists we very much liked the fact that Patrick Butler didn’t disagree with us when he said this:

It’s worth pointing out that this spending cuts pressure is unlikely to let up: as Cipfa has noted before there is no guarantee that the 2011-12 budgets will hold, given the ambitious levels of savings required. As the ace bloggers at We Love Local Government have argued, 2012 could be even more traumatic.

So, please keep the criticism and debate coming. We really appreciate the comments and actually enjoy it when people disagree with us; after all if there’s no debate then life is pretty boring and blogs are pretty pointless.

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: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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10 Comments on “Criticism”

  1. Localgov Says:

    Actually, I think we should all agree all the time.

  2. LouLouK Says:

    Awesome. Seriously.

    If we all just sat here sagely nodding and praising each other and the machine we work inside nothing would ever change and no one would ever think properly about what we did and why we did it.

    You make people think. And between you, you know far more about local government machinations, I suspect that any of your critics. And yet you still own up to learning things too.

    Heroes. The lot of you.

  3. BigK Says:

    I’m just gutted that you haven’t quoted any of my comments. Inspires me to try a little harder!

  4. Hayley Lewis Says:

    A very timely reminder for those of us that work in local government and/or who blog not to disappear up our own backsides in a waft of self congratulation. Criticism frOm

  5. Hayley Lewis Says:

    A very timely reminder for those of us that work in local government and/or who blog not to disappear up our own backsides in a waft of self congratulation. Criticism from any quarter should always be constructive… Although I s’pose constructiveness is in the eye of the beholder(recipient).

  6. cb Says:

    I find some of our best learning comes from criticism – genuinely I try to encourage service users I work with to complain so that those higher up or more distant in the local authority who run around in self-referential circles to be reminded of who they really serve…

  7. Paul Evans Says:

    Thanks for the link back to the Local Democracy blog – sorry if the argument sounded a bit harsh – I’m WLLG’s biggest fan most of the time!

    I think we’ve gamed local democracy into a fairly bad place and we need to think about how we can get the best out of councillors and officers – often, this means breaking a few patterns with a bit of generosity. We can’t expect a lot of councillors to stop being pusilanimous until we stop applying pusilanimous standards to them.


  8. […] blog will know we like starting debates and we even like criticism. In fact we recently wrote a post dedicated to the well thought through and constructive criticism we have received from various people who read our blog. We write the blog in good faith and welcome people with an […]


  9. […] the Government’s response but actually about referenda themselves. One of our favourite critics, Paul Evans was particularly exorcised, signing off with one of my favourite debate enders ever: Direct […]


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