Archive for August 2011

And now, the end is near…

August 19, 2011

Pack your bags and stuff that memory stickUnlike our forebears, who joined local government in the knowledge that they would probably not leave until they were handed their golden carriage clock and a retirement card, those of us around today have to accept a slightly different situation. Our jobs are slightly more transient, with individuals more likely to move about within and between organisations far more frequently.

This is rarely a simple or straightforward task, and one which few if any training courses can prepare you for. So, as it’s Friday, we thought we would present the We Love Local Government guide to things to do when you leave your job. Of course, additional suggestions are always welcomed in the comments or on Twitter (@welovelocalgov by the way).

1. Raid the shared drive

Over the course of our jobs we write a lot of stuff that’s useless. Reports (with at least a dozen draft versions), photos from events, spreadsheets and random notes fill shared drives all over the country; however, hidden amongst all of this place specific information are some real gems. (more…)


Closing Libraries (and other heresies)

August 18, 2011

To close or not to close? That is the question...

It is amazing how quickly a local government working, library supporting, cuts defying, Eric Pickles baiting council officer can turn into an anti-libraries cuts enthusiast with just a few vaguely provocative tweets but that is exactly what happened to me on Tuesday.

Twitter is great for many things; it is helpful for spreading ideas, sharing articles and making pithy comments on the news of the day. It is good for making connections, starting debates and provides for the intellectual stimulation some other forms of social media do not.

However, twitter is not good for developing a full and detailed argument on any particular topic.

And so it proved on Tuesday.

@walkyouhome and @ShirleyBurnham are (and I think it is ok to assume this) library supporters and campaigners and neither were particularly impressed by my suggestion that the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act might be a pretty poor basis upon which to base today’s library policy.

Of course I did this in typical twitter slang “me thinks world a little different in 1964???”

And the debate started. It ranged across a number of topics but my side of it essentially boiled down to five things:

1)    A libraries service for 2011 probably looks very different to one in 1964

2)    A libraries service for Hackney should look different than one for Gloucestershire

3)    Innovation in the delivery of library services should be encouraged and this might mean different models

4)    Local councils are best placed to make these decisions

5)    Judicial reviews are a very bad way to decide local policy


Throw a little conflict into the mix

August 17, 2011

Conflict isn't always bad“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”  It’s not often that a quote from the renaissance man that is Eminem bears any relevance to life in local government, but this phrase rings true for many in local government.

We’ve spoken before about the difficulties of knowing when to stand up for yourself, when (to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln) you need to find somewhere solid to stand and plant your feet firmly and when a little more consensus and apathy might be a better course of action.

That being said, conflict in the workplace is a much maligned and misunderstood beast.  Most of us being flock animals are people who want to run with the crowd and who like to be liked.  Few revel in being hated and reviled, although most of us can put up with some mild dislike from time to time.  For the majority however it’s an easyish life we are after.

The underlying issue being avoided is that of conflict.  Most people labour under the impression that conflict is always negative, and are more than able to reel off countless examples of fights, arguments and disagreements which turned sour.  Whether personal or professional, all of this conflict has ended up creating a sense of negativity and disappointing outcomes.

What’s more difficult is to ask people to think of times when conflict has actually been helpful. (more…)

Managing upwards

August 16, 2011

Do they really care about your project?To err is human; to blame it on someone else shows management potential.

Perhaps a little unfair on the huge number of expert managers out there, but this simple sentence nicely sums up a recent situation I found myself in which I’d like to share.  It may be a trifling matter in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve learnt some valuable lessons along the way, and a problem shared and all that…

Picture the scene: a young, bright eyed officer is tasked with setting up a borough-wide project involving senior managers from across the Council and every service area.  Brimming with excitement, she is then brought back down to earth a little by being told that she has just three weeks to go from nothing to completion.

Undeterred, our brave and intrepid officer begins her journey towards success:  research and benchmarking is done, case studies are sought and a plan emerges from the shadows.  Meetings are booked, including the first one with a very senior officer more than a few rungs up on the treacherous corporate ladder.

The meeting is a great success; in fact almost too successful.  The senior officer backs the project wholeheartedly, sharing that they have been involved in near identical enterprises in the past and know exactly what to do.  They and their own team have all of the information to hand along with the relationships with others to complete the job, so effectively agree to do the work.  This is noted, agreed and shook upon, whereupon our officer leaves them to it. (more…)

The collapse of the corporate centre

August 15, 2011

Something not to throw away!

‘Never throw away your old drain-pipes’

My university lecturer was not talking about guttering but about the fashionable uber-skinny jean which had been in and out of fashion many times in his lecturing career. His argument was that if you follow local government you should be prepared to see ideas, structures and policies come in and out of fashion.

Never has a wiser word been said and as goes drainpipe trousers so goes the corporate centre within local authorities.

During the early 2000s the inspection and performance management regimes of the Labour Government were in full swing and the Audit Commission was constantly driving local authorities to improve their ‘corporate capacity’. The rationale for this was that councils were showing weak leadership from the Chief Executive down; decisions weren’t joined up and policy decisions weren’t being made from a structures evidence base.

What followed was a substantial investment in policy and performance teams. Allied to this was a renewed focus on engaging the public so added to this new central function was an investment in community engagement expertise and communications teams. On top of this was a new focus on working in partnership with local providers and a commitment to meet the Government’s equalities agenda so these teams were added to the corporate centre along with the recently amended committee teams now embarking on the new world of scrutiny.

Councils were asked to focus on centralising certain functions and teams like procurement, business improvement and project management were added to the centre; often grouped together with the others in a Chief Execs department or a deputy chief deputy chief execs team in some bigger authorities.

What next for the Police Commissioner model?

August 12, 2011

A future commissioner or a model for disaster?

The last few weeks haven’t been kind to the police forces, especially in London. First there was the phone hacking scandal that led to the resignation of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Then there were riots on the streets of London and other major cities which the police were seemingly slow to react to. In light of this one of our favourite guest bloggers asks what the effect of the past few months might be on the Government’s proposals for elected police commissioners.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill 2011 is proposing to replace Police Authorities with directly elected Police Commissioners. The soon to be replaced police authorites are currently comprised of local government Councillors and co-opted Independent Members.

At work a couple of months back I speculated with a colleague about whether the Police Bill might suffer the same procedural delays that the Health Bill had. His view was that it was less controversial with the public and the political classes.

That was in the Spring and of course, the police have since had a roller coaster few months. First the public opprobrium arising from the phone hacking scandal and now public concerns about civic unrest. My question is have these two events impacted on the debate regarding the elected police commission model?


Whither Local Government?

August 11, 2011

A friendly disagreement

Simon Jenkins is a well known fan of elected mayors and of devolving more power to local areas. It is therefore not particularly surprising that his response to the recent riots was as follows:

In this crisis, our cities need local leaders with real power. The vacuum of authority below our centralised state leaves the police with the impossible task of keeping order alone

Jenkins’s argument is that the over centralised state has left local government enfeebled and thus totally reliant on leadership from central Government. In his most provactive paragraph Jenkins argues:

At a time of crisis the TV stage is taken by a police officer and central government minister. Councils are run by enfeebled party machines and their “leaders” are politicians whose means of selection and election gives first loyalty to party rather than community. They feel no obligation to public leadership. Suggest to a council leader that he stand for direct election without the carapace of party, and he shudders at the thought. These figureheads are mere agents, factotums, of central government.

Normally, I would be in agreement with Jenkins’ argument. I too believe that local government needs to have more powers, take a greater role in the local community and generally be more independent from central Government.

However, I think Mr Jenkins may have gone too far.

Local Government has, in my mind, actually performed well in this crisis. Ask around local authorities and you will hear plenty of stories of Borough commanders liaising with the leader (or locally elected mayor) of their council. Both groups recognise that we can’t address these problems in isolation and been quick to work together.