Archive for November 2011

Today I strike

November 30, 2011


Today I will be standing on a picket line.

But why?

Instead of giving you the Union line, or trying to make sense of what the media and politicians are saying, I thought I would give you the reasons of one simple local government officer as to why I’m striking.  This isn’t the view of the whole Local Government workforce, it isn’t even the views of all the WLLG crew, but it is why I’ll be outside my office and not in it.

So my reasons:


A while back a colleague put forward an argument that the difficulty with this strike from a Local Government point of view is that our scheme is noticeably different to the other public sectors schemes.  They are right.  Importantly our scheme is funded.  Though this isn’t a reason not to strike.

The pension negotiations have been going on between Government and the Unions for about a year.

Both sides seem to have recognised that the LGPS scheme should be dealt with differently.  However, like the other schemes we will be affected by these proposals.  Though I haven’t made my mind up about career salary average based pensions, it is clear we will have to pay more.  But really this isn’t the issue for me.  I’m of an age where 65 seems a long way away; I’ve kind of accepted that by the time I reach that age my pension will change due to politics, economics and population.

The issue instead for me is the stance the Government seems to be taking.

The constant message from them seems to be that the public sector is lazy, expensive and crippling the country.  The Government seemed to start these pension negotiations on the attack (changing, with little consultation, our pension increase linked to the CPI instead of the RPI).  Negotiations have been going on for a year and little has changed (alright there are two parties in any negotiations, but you see the point?).  This doesn’t feel like they want to change our pensions because of Lord Hutton’s report or the economy, it feels, to me at least, more like an attack on both our pensions and pay.


I’m not striking but for once I sort of wish I was

November 29, 2011


Or not...

This blog is written by a group of people with different experiences and therefore different perspectives.


Tomorrow one of my colleagues will have a piece up explaining why he, and many others, will be striking. I imagine his perspective will be representing the vast majority of local authority workers and rightly so. With that in mind I thought it would be appropriate to put the view of someone who won’t be striking now save it interfere with the rightful coverage of a large amount of public sector workers who feel pretty badly treated.


Normally, not striking is fairly easy. In fact, the main reason I am no longer a member of a trade union is that a lot of the previous strikes have been for reasons I just don’t think justify a strike. Indeed, the last major strike over pensions, in defence of the “rule of 85” if I remember correctly, was exactly that type of strike; elitist and a little stupid.


However, this time it’s different. Rather than feeling opposed to the strikers I actually have quite a lot of sympathy with them.


In Local Government there are three issues that make up this strike and I’d like to cover each of them in turn:



Beeny’s council nightmare

November 28, 2011

More free publicity for Mrs Beeny

Spending a bit of time at home with Mrs WLLG is usually a local government free zone. I figured this was set to consider as we tuned into the last in the series of Sarah Beeny’s restoration nightmare.

For those who like me haven’t watched Mrs Beeny on television since his flatmate had an unusual crush on her during the first series of property ladder, this latest series sees Mrs Beeny, her husband and children trying to renovate a huge country house.

So far so tediously Channel 4.

As those who have watched the drama unfold over the past few months will be able to attest unfortunately this programme is anything but a local government free zone.

In fact for some reason it has almost turned into a pitched battle between the local authority and the Beenys. You see, the Beeny clan had, over the course of ten years rebuilt the house and were planning to live in it (shock horror). This was against the ‘rules’ as the property was currently zoned as a school.

Even worse they then wanted to open it up as a wedding venue (woah, we’ve only just approved you to live in it) thus making it a business and not a home. More permissions needed. What’s more, (and here I’ve relied on the Daily Mail’s more detailed description of the story) the crazy developers had broken more planning laws:

The Welsh slate used for the roof had been replaced with European slate and she had erected some gate posts without any permission.

And we wonder why local government gets a bad name!


That was the local government week that was

November 25, 2011

Our favourite blogs of the week

Yep, you guessed it: it’s time for our weekly round up of our favourite blog posts from the week.  With so many great posts out there it’s sometimes tough to pick just a few, so if you’ve got some great links to share with us then leave a comment or tweet us (@welovelocalgov) using #localgovblog

We know it was last week, but this piece on some open data apps appeared after our round-up so it’s a bit late.  The Guardian take a look at open data in all its glory:

The Appathon, a marathon for app developers, is a techie testing ground.

The idea was to give UK students some government data to play with, and the results provide yet more evidence that our talent and entrepreneurial flair is alive and flourishing, to match that in Palo Alta.

It is unacceptable that you have not read this yet (unless you have of course, in which case well done) – a simply brilliant transcript of Chris Chant’s thoughts about the way IT in the public sector is done.  Of course, we agree with it all 100%, and appreciate that overall our current setup is not where it should be.

It is unacceptable at this point in time to not know the true cost of a service and the real exit costs from those services: the costs commercially, technically and from a business de-integration standpoint. So, how do we untangle our way out of a particular product or service. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the discussion that says, we need to get away from that, and we can’t because of the complexity of getting out from where we are, and of all the things that are hanging on to that particular service, that we can’t disentangle ourselves from. (more…)

The joy of admin

November 24, 2011

A love of admin - via my computer

When I was a few years longer one of my colleagues did the unthinkable and managed to hurdle a few layers of the bureaucratic ladder and got a job as a manager in another authority. Naturally, we thought this was great but still worthy of a little light ribbing. You can only imagine how much the ribbing increased when we discovered that she had, as part of her new job, a secretary.

Now, admittedly this was only really part of a secretary (and doubtless the job title was something more glamorous such as a business support officer) but nonetheless we decided that this made our friend a grand cheddar and said as much.

A few year’s later and I was in a similar position. I had just received a job at the very bottom of the management ladder and after about a week in my new job my manager apologised that I wouldn’t have any administrative support (much too junior) but asked if I wanted to put in a request for some support from one of the central teams (maybe a day a week was suggested).

I thought about it for a few minutes and literally could not think of a single reason why I would ever need any admin support.


Quaint, or obsolete?

November 23, 2011

Do some things have no place in a modern Local Government Office?

Yesterday a piece of paper appeared on my desk.  It had been folded into three sections, and then placed inside another, larger piece of thicker paper which had been specially folded and glued together to hold this first piece of paper, before being sealed with a gluey gum.  My name and address had been put on the front.

Apparently, this is called an ‘envelope’, and inside it was a ‘letter’.

Somewhat confused (I thought an envelope was the amount of cash that a service had available to it and a letter was any of the squiggles printed on my keyboard), I opened it and read the contents.  Imagine my surprise to find that it was an invitation to a meeting taking place just a few hours later that day.  I already had the meeting invite in my Outlook calendar, had e-mails discussing the agenda items and knew where and when it was, but the letter was sent nonetheless.

It was a little strange to think that one day, not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, this was perhaps the way these things were done.  These days written invitations like this have little place in the modern office, even if it did for a few seconds make the meeting – and by extension my involvement in it –  more important than it actually was.  And it got me thinking about some of the other things that still appear from time to time which really should have been put out to pasture many years ago.  Here are a few.

The Fax Machine

Before the days of scanners and e-mail, the only way to get handwritten comments, signatures or even basic information from one place to another almost instantly was to send a fax, and the remnants of this time can be found on most local government officer’s e-mail signature.  Many of us still persist in putting the office fax number at the bottom of our messages despite not knowing where said fax machine actually is, nor how to use one.

Some teams still insist on faxes being sent when a signature is required for approval.  Even without getting technical with all of the many other options available, most photocopiers these days also double up as scanners.  A quick scan, or even a photo of a document on a smart phone, does at least as good a job as a fax machine and has the added benefit of actually being able to be used by officers without waiting for the tell-tale schreeching so reminiscent of the iconic Commodore 64.

White Board Team Rosters

Once upon a time, this was a really good idea.  A simple whiteboard was displayed which laid out the names of your team, and then you simply filled in the space next to your name to say where you were and when you would be in the office.  In fact, it was such a good idea that Microsoft and other software manufacturers developed tools like Outlook and shared calendars, allowing you to fill out your daily comings and goings as required as well as seeing those of your colleagues.

Not only does this have the added side benefit of removing the need for dog-eared paper diaries (although these will persist for some time yet), it also takes away another process to be done every day, and assuming you keep your diary up to date has the bonus of always being accurate.

Admittedly, it is harder to draw phallic pictures on your Outlook calendar.

Secretary/Typing Pools

Finding a new corridor in the Town Hall recently (well, new to me anyway) I noticed a room with a handful of desks and staff tapping away at keyboards, each with a piece of paper stuck to a clipboard stuck to the side of their monitors.  Upon inquiry I found out that this team of people were our administration pool, who essentially spent their days typing up notes from senior managers into e-mails or documents.

I understand the need for adminstrators; indeed, in my m,ind they are some of the most important people in any office, and are fonts of knowledge and contacts who can turn whimsical ideas of others into reality.  So using their time to type, a skill which should be literally at the fingertips of any self respecting manager, is perhaps not getting best value from them.  When typewriters were the norm there was a place; these days it is probably quicker to type yourself than to handwrite, pass over, have them type, read it, make some changes, let them retype it, read it again and then forward it on.  Stop being lazy.

Hand Drawn Paper Maps

A while ago I did some work with our parks and open spaces team, looking at revamping some of the borough’s parks.  This involved getting a lot of information from the public and then using it to create some potential plans to take back out to people who used that space.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that these maps are hand drawn using easels, pencils, rulers and protractors, before being coloured in by hand using wax crayons.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but surely the same thing produced using a computer system would be better?  Repeating elements such as trees and bushes would then be simply cut and pasted rather than repeatedly hand drawn, clouring in would take a couple of clicks of the paint bucket, and perhaps the data could even be uploaded onto a GIS map.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually love a good map and appreciate a draughtsman’s skill, but in these days of computer aided design it was a shock to see these things still done by hand.


As ever, we’d love to hear about anything you see in your office which just seems a little, well, 20th Century.  Via Twitter (@welovelocalgov) or the comments boxes below, you know where we are.

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

Known knowns

November 22, 2011

An unlikely local government inspiration?

We love local government loves a guest post and today we are delighted to have one from an old friend of the blog. Today’s (s)he channels Donald Rumsfeld to ask how often we, as local government workers, really ‘know’ what we thing we know. It’s a good challenge and one well worth five minutes of your time. Enjoy!

I was reminded this week of the time before Miss Guest Blogger and Master Guest Blogger came along that Mrs Guest Blogger and I used to enjoy a lie in on a Sunday morning and listen to Eddie Mair presenting Broadcasting House on Radio 4.  My favourite part of this was always the Donald Rumsfeld soundbite of the week, which amazingly you can find archived here.  The most popular one of these was his known knowns quote which you can see here and here.

It is funny to say but he had a point which I was reminded of when listening to the coverage of the Euro crisis at the moment and the over use of the word uncertainty.

This led me to ponder; how much do I actually know as opposed to how much I think I might know? To quote Rumsfled what are my real ‘known knowns’?

Too often we think that we know more than we do.  The best part of the PRINCE2 Project Initiation Document proforma for me was always the ‘assumptions’ section, and it was largely the worst completed as people struggles to think about what they already thought.


Moving money around

November 21, 2011

Fifty here, fifty there; sooner or later it'll be real money

As councils prepare their budget savings for the year ahead they are often forced to do some quite ridiculous things in order to meet their savings targets.

I was put onto this topic by the excellent Richard Taylor who writes an extremely detailed blog looking at the detail of decisions made by Cambridge Council and other public bodies. In this particular piece he was commenting on the local leisure contract being awarded by the council. This particular contract was delivering savings of £500,000; all of which were coming from the fact that the outsourced company had charitable status and could therefore claim an exemption on local business rates.

As Richard pointed out:

It is obvious to me that we need to elect MPs who will exempt local councils from paying rates on swimming pools and libraries. It’s bonkers that when such facilities are run by councils they have to pay rates, but if run by others they can be rate free.

This surely that can’t be right. The company aren’t doing anything different to that which the council could do; the only difference is that they get an exemption on a tax which eventually comes back to the council in its funding.

The change being made is not making a real benefit to the overall health of the nation’s finances. The £500,000 saving is simply a £500,000 reduction in money being spent by local government and received by local government.

And yet local councils up and down the land are considering making similar changes as it helps them protect their bottom line. Apparently, even the Government’s proposed reforms of NNDR do not address these issues.

I had a bit of a rant about this being ridiculous in the office and was met with a number of raised eyebrows. Apparently, this is all too common.


That was the local government week that was

November 18, 2011

Same picture; different stories

It’s a bumper crop of local government blogging and other news this week so without further ado:

One of our favourite blogs is flip chart fairy tales and this week’s discussion of local government cuts, and the ‘great local government fire sale’ that is accompanying them, was particularly accurately put. As the author (Rick) points out:

Councils desperate to get costly services off their books may well grasp at such offers without thinking too hard about the longer-term implications. In some areas, smaller firms and social enterprises might not even get a look in.

This is the sort of thing that happens in all distressed organisations. Companies that are facing bankruptcy tend to slash and burn in a breathless struggle to dump their costlier activities. Sudden and drastic budget cuts will have the same effect on local authorities.

The ever excellent Simon Parker has written a helpful post about the Public Account Committee’s report on local government finance. As he says:

Reviewing the formulas is necessary but not sufficient. The problem with changing the rules is that it redistributes money: some councils get more and others get less. That requires a government with the political guts to shift funding around the system. And that is where things get tricky.

He’s not wrong and as he mentions later on it’s going to take real courage from central Government to do something about it.


The hidden perils of tea making

November 17, 2011

You might have to read this one twice...

Some e-mails sent around an organisation are pretty important, sharing vital information about policy changes, procedural issues or internal news to be shared.  Some are more practical, detailing things to be aware of, or less important goings on in the council

Then some are simply madder than a snakes armpit.

When this glorious missive was forwarded on to us by three different members of the WLLG press pack we knew it was worth sharing more widely, so here it is in all its anonymised glory.

After receiving your report/photographs of an incident where a colleague fell down some stairs whilst heavily ‘loaded’ with a tray filled with various items of crockery, as Chair of the H&S Committee I took the following steps:

  1. requested confirmation on whether H&S were investigating
  2. requested details of usual practice in conveying cups/drinks/etc
  3. visited the site of the incident to personally inspect all stairways and steps (internal) (more…)