Archive for October 2011

The much maligned ring fence

October 31, 2011

Not quite the sort of fence we were thinking of

This blog can be guilty of a form of post-writing schizophrenia. With different writers and daily requirements it is entirely possible to read posts that flat out contradict each other. Today is one of those days.

In the past this blog has been very positive about the removal of the so called local authority ring fence and the Government’s attempts to free up local authorities to act in the interest of their local communities; regardless of what the Government think. The flip side of this admirable argument is that when the Government removes the ring fences it is the services that were once ‘fenced’ that are most at risk.

This unfortunate truth was on display in force last week as both young people and those reliant on Supported Living services found that the removal of the ring fence.

In the case of the Supporting People grant the removal of the ring-fence was actually made in 2009 and we have two years or evidence to look at. The LGIU have prepared an interesting briefing and concluded that:

At the same time (as the ring fence was removed), councils across the country are faced with very difficult financial decisions as they cut an average of 28 per cent of their budgets. As a discretionary service, Supporting People is particularly vulnerable and it is clear that despite lamentations from central government, housing related support is declining at a local level in many councils.


This is the localgov week that was

October 28, 2011

Some of our favourite blog posts this week

One of the things we love most about writing this blog is the excuse it gives us to spend time on the internet, reading other blogs for ‘research’ purposes.  Since we began writing all that time ago more than a few others have joined us in the blogosphere, regularly educating and amusing us in equal measures.  Some agree with some of the things we write here, others point out all of the things we haven’t thought of or which totally disagree – which is certainly no bad thing.

So in an effort to spread a little blogging cheer we wanted to point our readers towards some of the blog posts we have particularly enjoyed over the past week.  If we missed one that you thought was particularly good then tell us about it in the comments below or tweet us a link (@welovelocalgov by the way) and tell others all about it.  And if you come across something interesting over the next week or so, you know who to tell!


(Not) Getting Sacked

October 27, 2011

Not getting fired

At the moment I find it highly unlikely that I will ever get fired; made redundant almost certainly, sacked, exactly the opposite.

This is both because I consider myself to be a hard worker and fairly good at my job but also because I am a local government worker and sacking one of them is an absolute nightmare. I therefore find myself in the odd position of supporting the sentiment behind the policy suggestions put forward by venture capitalist and Conservative Party donor Adrian Beecroft who has argued that unproductive workers should lose their right to claim unfair dismissal.

I’m sure this post is about to prompt a flurry of upset from our readers as a member of staff who occasionally has to work alongside the incompetent (or the indifferent) I simply beg to differ.

One of my good friends still shudders when we mention his first management job in local government. He took over a team which had been radically under-performing and as a young (ish) manager he was managing people older than him who had been in the council for quite a while.

One of them was more than just a coaster; she was chronically incompetent. After spending six months trying to work with her to improve her performance, all of which was thrown back in his face, (including towards the end using the official council procedures) my manager decided that it was time to start the long process of removing her. What followed was a flurry of grievances, the threat of tribunals and intermittent periods of stress related sickness (for her not him). The process lasted a staggering 16 months (I think this included the first 6) and right at the end the member of staff resigned so that she wouldn’t be fired.


What’s the point of place?

October 26, 2011

A place by any other name...

Last week, whilst waiting for a meeting in a local council building, I noticed a map of my local and surrounding area hanging on the wall.  I enjoy perusing a good map, so I found myself wandering over and scrutinising the lines and blobs which set out the places I knew so well.

I then noticed that the intention of this particular map was not simply to show where places currently are, but to show where they will be in future.  I found that the redrawing of political boundary lines currently going through the motions has moved where I live from one area to another, joining my local area with one which, growing up and to this day, is seen by every local person as an entirely separate and distinct place.

Apparently it goes further, also bringing an area from a neighbouring borough, which geographically is on the other side of an A-road and a sizable lake and has an equally distinct and historic identity.

Whilst I understand the rationale behind these plans politically, the results are frankly quite worrying for me as both a resident and an local authority officer, and here’s why. (more…)

Local government meeting etiquette and the laptop

October 25, 2011

'Product Placement' with no payment

I have a colleague who brings his laptop to meetings. He claims he is trying to be paperless, and whilst I am happy to stroke my chin and claim that ‘it will never last’ as he lugs his enormous council issued laptop around the place, at least he is trying.

However, the mere fact of him having his laptop in meetings, and the fact that many councils are moving towards having laptops rather than desktops for their staff, raises a number of ‘meeting etiquette’ questions that we need to de-bunk.

Sitting there typing away in a meeting for some reason seems a little rude but is it any worse than sitting there taking notes on a piece of paper? Well, of course not.

But whilst it is fine to take notes on a laptop what if he uses it for other reasons?

In a meeting last week the discussion turned to a Government announcement and as quick as a flash there was a tap tap tapping in the corner and my colleague had the relevant document on his screen and started reading it out. Although impressed, one of my older colleagues did mutter as we left that:

‘I wonder if that’s what he spends the whole meeting doing?’

Now, let’s move past the fact that what he actually did was damn helpful to the progress of the meeting; what if he did spend every meeting surfing the internet, checking his e-mails and generally catching up on other work? Is this a problem?

There are two inter-related issues here:

  1. Is the member of staff paying attention?
  2. Is the member of staff contributing at the appropriate moments?

If those two criteria are met does it matter? And even if they don’t is the laptop the problem?


Why We All LOVE Local Government

October 24, 2011


As regular readers will have noticed last week we broke through the 100,000 hits ‘barrier’ and celebrated accordingly with a slightly self-involved celebratory post. Obviously, we don’t apologise for that (we’re still bathing in a warm cuddly feeling which is absolutely baffling for our colleagues) but we do recognise that it did slightly miss the point.

The reason that this blog is successful (and we accept that success is a pretty relative term) is because of the subject matter; yes, local government. With this in mind we thought it only fair to have a post devoted to why we love local government and we asked some of our friends to help us.

So, without further ado here is the WLLG and Friends tribute to local government:

I’ve worked in both the private and the public sector. In my experience, per 100 employees, local government has more passion, determination, innovation, hard work, long hours, dedication, ridiculous arguments, office rocking laughter, success in the face of adversity, caring, blue sky thinking, cost focused, patient than any private sector firm. But most of all, very most of all, it has an army of personality and humanity. That’s why I really love local gov.

Louise Kidney (@LouLouK)

Because its where the rubber hits the road for quality of life. It has to make all the tough choices that Westminster politicians make, and really live with the consequences – and according to the public, it has more impact on people’s lives than westminster, whitehall or the EU. And finally the people – there are more cheerful pragmatists in local government than anywhere else in public services.

Ben Page (of Ipsos MORI fame)

I love local government at its best because it’s what makes our local communities work.  Imagine life without it – no social services for vulnerable elders and children, no libraries, no local roads or street lighting, hardly any sports facilities, no way to plan our towns and villages, a hugely diminished voluntary sector, even now hardly any schools, no local democracy, no one saying this is our special place and it’s great.

Roger White (HelpGov)

I love local government because the best councils are bursting at the seams with fresh thinking, and because it’s a place where new ideas can make a real difference to communities.

Simon Parker (New Local Government Network)

Living and working in the same borough. Makes you find out and understand so much more about the community where you live and love 🙂

Antonia Dixey (@antoniadixey)

I love local government because it has given me the opportunity to work with impressive, inspiring people who are passionate about improving people’s lives

Richard Vize (Guardian Local Government Network Contributing Editor)

Despite all the challenges Local Government will face over the coming years, staff will come together and continue to deliver first class services to its citizens. “Challenge, Change and Transformation” is the way forward to reshape services not the re-introduction of “Compulsory Competitive Tendering”.

Cllr David Harrington (Ingleby Barwick West Ward)

Local government does things most folk take for granted but make our communities liveble. We’d be in a worse place without it.

Ben Lowndes (@blowndes)

I Love Local Government because it sets the local context and provides the services, so my family can get on and live our lives.

Neil McInroy (Centre for Local Economic Strategies)

I love Local Government because I can see some of the outcomes of my work on the communities I serve.

David Sommerfeld (@hebdave)

Large Government provides a dizzingly array of services to their communities from the familiar (schools, roads, bins) to the hidden (support for vulnerable families & adults). We get a lot of stick from Pickles, the press and the public when we get it wrong but what I love is that sometimes we are our own harsh critic and no other type of public organisation has the same level of internal challenge and desire to continuous improve.

Will Oulton (@Williamoulton)

I love it because it’s full of unsung people who work tirelessly to do the mundane, the important and the seemingly impossible.
Ben Welby (@bmwelby)

And what about us?

We Love Local Government because:

Within the catch all term ‘local government’ is a diverse, complicated, at times bizarre and yet dedicated, brilliant and innovative organism. At it’s best local government can make a lasting difference to the lives of the residents it serves and even at it’s worst you can guarantee that the motives will be good and that there’ll be something interesting to talk about. It’s a place where things done perfectly go unnoticed, whilst the slightest hiccup makes news columns big and small, which attracts some of the greatest thinkers and doers working today along with more than its fair share of those whose only purpose in life is to serve as a bad example to others.

Like any relationships, our love of local government has its ups and downs, its highs and lows, its moments of pure inspiration, its moments when the acronym WTF?! is the only way to describe things.  It may drive us mad at times, but if nothing else it will always drive us someplace interesting.

Local government is all this and so much more.

We suggest you come back here regularly to find out all about it.

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:

You know you’ve blogged about local government too long when…

October 21, 2011

…You start repeating your posts!

As some of you would have noticed we passed a big milestone this week and it is possible that perhaps we celebrated a little too hard.

With the whole WLLG team out of action we decided that on this one occasion we’d reprint one of our old articles for your enjoyment. The following piece was written before we had a twitter account and before we had any pictures on our site; it was also the first blog entry that received more than 50 hits and subsequently got us the opportunity to write for the Guardian.

So, with apologies to anyone who read this first time through,

‘You know you’ve worked in Local Government for too long when:

  • You see chatting to the person next to you on the bus as a community engagement exercise
  • When a friend offers you a lift you think ‘Ah, the Big Society in action!’….. then you CRB-check them
  • You refuse to recognise a story as news until you’ve read it in an LGiU Briefing email
  • You have to have three separate people sign off approval for you to send an email to your mother, to ensure it has the right policy and community positioning and doesn’t contradict previous correspondence on the matter
  • You write all of your documents in the prescribed corporate font size and type for briefing notes, as anything else just doesn’t look right
  • You put together a project plan for your own wedding and diligently update it until the event
  • You go to a restaurant with friends and wonder aloud when the last Food Safety inspection was conducted
  • You have to get a purchase order signed off by your mum before you can do the shopping
  • When someone asks you what you want for your birthday you provide them with findings from a focus group and an evidence base
  • You don’t talk of your next door neighbour but of a resident
  • You know the exact person to contact when your bin isn’t collected (including which company the collection has been tendered to)
  • You ask your friends to fill in an equality monitoring form when they come to your party
  • You demand Gantt charts and RAG reports from your children’s school teachers
  • You don’t have an invite list for a party, you have a range of stakeholders attending
  • You start spouting jargon that you don’t understand
  • You check out all the parking signs when you travel through the Borough, to check whether they are estates or on-street
  • You smile at anyone in a high-vis vest in any authority doing any sort of work since “we’re all in this together”
  • You set your Children performance indicators for their homework.

And finally:

You know you’ve worked in local government too long when…

  • Your job title is longer than your address
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:

100,000 not out

October 20, 2011


It’s funny what happens when you start moving with no destination in mind.  Yes, it might take you a bit longer to get anywhere worth going, but the journey itself becomes epic.

When we started this blog back in November 2009 we had no real plans; we simply wanted to do something that didn’t already exist and provide an officer eye look at local government. We knew we wanted to provide a slightly sideways glance at local government rather than some of the grander political commentary more widely available, and felt we could provide a view, and commentary, of local government that might otherwise not get into the public domain.

It was a slow start to say the least. It took a while to find our collective and individual voices, a while to get into the habit of regular posting and a while to find things to say.  When we started there really didn’t seem to be anyone for us to pick up tips from, but over the intervening 24 months all this has changed.  Slowly but surely we got to grips with what we enjoyed discussing, discovered other great blogs and even worked out how to put images in our posts (a seemingly minor yet landmark moment at WLLG Towers).

Despite all this, we never really planned for WLLG to be what it currently is. We didn’t plan for it to be a daily blog; we didn’t really plan to have that many readers; we didn’t plan to write pieces for the Guardian (website); we certainly didn’t plan to be in the LGC 50 document and finally we categorically did not plan to have 100,000 hits on our blog.

We had achieved all of them apart from the 100,000 hits and yesterday, we did just that.

So, thank you!

Thank you to all our readers for clicking on our site and reading our daily musings. When we see that people have read, commented on, tweeted about or in any other way referenced or responded to our posts it encourages us to write more.  What’s more it encourages us to do more research, talk to more people, think about more issues and generally expand our horizons. All of us agree that as a result of this blog we are better informed people and better officers; more able to face the myriad challenges of our local government career.

Thanks to Redundant Public Servant, The Local Government Officer, LGIU, Flipchart Fairy Tales, Helpfulgov and more.  Thanks to our ever growing network of interesting people following and sharing with us on twitter (which is another thing we’ve added over the past twelve months).

Thanks to the myriad people who submitted guest posts or took the time to get in touch with us. We’d like to thank those who critiqued our writing; joined in debates we started and tolerated it when we blundered into debates they had started.

And the final thanks in this cringe/Oscar-worthy list go to our families, who put up with this blog taking up chunks of our evenings and weekends, support us when we get stressed about getting it finished on time and most of all put up with their partners, parents and others devoting a lot of time to reading and talking about often obscure local government stories and other ideas for posts.

It’s funny how round numbers make you want to look back on things.  We know that our 100,000 hit mark is nowhere near accurate, but it is an arbitrary target we set ourselves and is now an excuse to celebrate a little and reflect a lot.  It’s been a great couple of years; now it’s time to think about the future and what it may hold.  Do we change the focus of the blog and expand our horizons?  Do we seek out new people to write with us on a regular basis?  Do we sign off with a flourish, walking away content in a job well done?  Or do we simply keep on with our somewhat random topics, varying styles and at times whimsical flights of fancy?

Whatever we do, one thing is certain: for all its peccadilloes, we will continue to love 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:

Go on, you know you want to…

In Defence of Councillor Allowances

October 19, 2011

Simply after the plastic money?

I told my WLLG compadres that I was about to write this piece and they expressed a certain trepidation. In fact one wrote back:

Wow, you’re not going to make friends with that post! 

The exclamation point was a definite sign that I was planning to tread on some dodgy ground.

Because there is nothing that collectively raises the ire of officers, trade unions, the press and the local population to such an extent as the ‘councillor allowance’, or specifically the increase of the councillor allowance.

In particular, it seems that the decision by Cambridgeshire County Council to adopt a 25% increase in their council allowances has annoyed (I love a good understatement) many of the local folk.

The council allowance varies between many local authorities but in most cases provides a pre-specified amount of cash to compensate councillors for expenses incurred in the carrying out of their official duties. This is usually a lump sum that despite being paid for recompense bears no relationship to the specific tasks carried out and is thus not dependant on attendance, contributions, ability or even travelling time. (how that differs from a salary has always been a mystery to me). The allowances are taxable and taken together it is not hard to see why these allowances are seen as basically a councillor salary.

From the way some people speak you’d think that councillors were firmly on the gravy train.

And yet, if we are to consider the allowance to be the equivalent of a salary, and even if we don’t, this is simply not the case.


Measuring up

October 18, 2011

Time for some more measurements?

I started writing this article one Monday morning at 7.21am.  I was at my desk and had finished going through my e-mails, and was just about to dive into one more urgent message when I glanced down and noticed that little fact.  I know I have several meetings in my diary and a full workload, and will probably not leave the office until 6.30pm at the earliest.

This is not unusual.  This is not good.

A while ago I posted here about when I was told that I no longer needed to complete timesheets.  At the time I took it as a good thing, believing that it freed me from a regular chore and one which meant little anyway; I was hardly likely to change my working hours to suit my total working week, was I?

Well, perhaps I should have been.  Since the need to record and track my hours was removed, I’ve slowly but surely found myself working longer and longer days.  I’ve taken far less time off in lieu, and have often gone without lunch as I simply didn’t have time spare.  Whilst some of this can be put down to an increase in responsibility and similar excuses, not all of it can be. (more…)