Archive for November 2011

Public sector pension separation

November 16, 2011

Is this a Civil Service or LGPS pig?

We haven’t written about the Local Government Pension Scheme for a while but since we last took a stab at joining the intelligent debate about it the Government and the Unions have been doing their best to do the opposite and thwart intelligent debate.

We made a quick note about this last week in our round up post and were pleased to see a very smart reply from Will who said:

I also think that as a LGPS member that it is problematic lashing ourselves to the mast of pensions campaigns of Civil Servants and Teachers. The public do not know that our scheme is funded and I’m afraid we will go down with ship on this one.

I’m also concerned that there might be a determination amongst some in the unions and their political supporters to give the Government a bloody nose on this motivated by matters other than the pensions issue. I think Unison members should be wary of being used as a tool for political ends.

This will be a short post so we’ll stick with the first paragraph of Will’s response (I’m assuming that we’ll have plenty of chances to discuss this further over the coming weeks).

Without being too parochial I do fear that the across the board public sector pension strike will not take due account of the differences between the sectors. In the Local Government Scheme we pay between 5.5% and 7.5% of our salaries into the scheme; our employers also make a contribution (around 10% I think) and the scheme is, basically fully funded although some funds are running deficits at the moment.

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What a change five years can make

November 15, 2011

Predictions, predictions

Five years ago this blogger was in a very different place.  I’d just been made redundant from a third sector organisation thanks to the spectre of organisational bankruptcy, and were beginning my local government career as an SO2 worker (for those of you outside of the wonderful world of local government pay, this isn’t a sum that the Daily Mail would get too outraged by).  With no qualifications post-GCSE, no real experience of anything outside a very narrow and somewhat saturated field of work and no contacts, things were looking a little grim.

Fast forward on and things are looking a lot brighter.  Several career hops, a little hard work and a lot of luck sees me clinging on to a fourth tier role with an exciting team to lead and some very interesting work areas to own, shape and evolve as I see fit (within boundaries of course).  My ambitions in general are similar, but the world and my immediate targets have become very different in a relatively short space of time.

Why this trip down memory lane?  Well, I’ve recently been looking into some of our ICT and digital engagement strategies, which are coming up for renewal.  These are coming towards the end of their five year shelf lives, having been developed initially in 2007 and refreshed in 2009.  Reading through them has shown me just what a different place the online world was back in 2007.  Here are a few examples:

·         Facebook, which had been open to the public for a year, reached its first million users in the UK

·         MySpace (remember that) was the top social network by a fair margin

·         YouTube was officially launched in the UK

·         The first i-phone was released in the US, although the app store was still a year off

·         Twitter saw 400,000 tweets per quarter – today it sits at around 200million tweets.  Per day.

·         Internet Explorer 7 was a year old already (you hear that IT people – IE6 was even out of date in 2007!)

Now, I know 2007 is in the grand scheme of things a very short time ago; it’s not as if dinosaurs ruled the planet, Napoleon threatened the nation’s interests or even Man City were in the second division.  2007 was just a short time ago, yet the digital world has changed and evolved exponentially in the intervening half-a-decade.

Acknowledging this has happened is good, and reviewing how we work digitally is also good, but repeating the process of creating a single strategy that will shape and determine our IT action plans from now until 2017 seems just a tad strange to me, simply replicating the problems I am now coming across. (more…)

Who needs a Chief Executive anyway?

November 14, 2011

By the sea

Here at WLLG towers we are a big fan of local news and so it was with interest when a FOB (friend of the blog) sent us this story from the seaside town of Hastings:

COUNCIL leader Jeremy Birch has been slammed for his management shake-up plan which axes the chief executive and appears to give him more power.

Under the proposal, jointly written with deputy council leader Jay Kramer and published this week, the senior management team at Hastings Borough Council (HBC) will be cut from 15 officers to 10 with a team of three directors taking over the chief executive role.

The story has three very interesting points within it:

1)    Despite the opposition parties claiming that the abolition of the Chief Executive would lead to more responsibility for the leader of the council, this was rejected by the leader himself who claimed that:

There would be little change from current practices

This is a curious position to take. Five of the top fifteen managers in the organisation are going and the leader of the council reckons it will make no difference to his role or the role of his senior staff. Indeed, the top management team is being reduced from four to three with abolition of the Chief Executive.

Does the leader of the council believe that the Chief Executive was doing no work? Does he believe that there is capacity within the top team to take on extra work?

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That was the local government week that was

November 11, 2011

On this remembrance day we remember them…

It is week three of our little experiment reviewing the local government writings on the web so without further ado this is a rather shortened local government week that was. We hope you enjoy it and please do take advantage of the comments section to add a few extra comments in.

Congratulations to the Guardian Local Government Network for reaching their first birthday. As part of their celebrations they put together a little post detailing their favourite blog posts of the year. As they said:

What a year for local government. From scepticism over the ‘big society‘ to public spending cuts and the Dilnot report, there has much for writers, bloggers and commentators to chew over during our first year as a professional network. Here we select our favourite blogposts from around the web in the last year.

They’re not wrong and it doesn’t look as if the next year is going to be any different if the cuts, and necessary reform, keep coming.

Talking of cuts; the debate about the local government pension scheme does not seem to show any sign of abating. One of things that has annoyed us a little is that the funded local government scheme is being considered in much the same way as the unfunded schemes in other parts of the public sector. This letter in the Guardian seemed to cover it:

The local government schemes are funded – ie financial contributions by both employers and staff have been invested by skilled and prudent fund managers in order to provide our pension pots. My own local fund was estimated to be able to meet 99% of its pension liabilities just before the world financial crash (it is now recovering to sound financial health). There is no need for the coalition to effectively raid the local government schemes in order to bolster the exchequer, by an unfair impost on people who had nothing to do with the financial mess we’re in.

The civil service scheme is quite different – there is no fund because no contributions have been made and invested. Mark Serwotka and his members have my sympathy and support, but their argument with the exchequer is on an altogether different basis to ours.

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Advice for the newbies

November 10, 2011

Don't use too many post it notes

I was trailing through our new twitter followers the other evening (@welovelocalgov by the way) when I noticed that a surprising number of them were recent entrants to the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP).

Obviously, I was delighted to see that so many new entrants to local government were a) making use, if only in a small way, of social media and b) that they were taking the time to follow the ramblings of myself and my colleagues.

With this in mind I thought it might be nice to write a post specifically for them and not being able to come up with anything more original here is my top ten tips for any new graduate:

1)      Talk to people. When I first started in local government I was scared of ALL managers. In actual fact I have discovered that if you show an interest almost every person in the authority will happily sit down with you for half an hour and chat through what they do.

2)      Work out where the money comes from. Councils are pretty complex and if you want to have a career in local government it will really help you if you understand how the council is funded. (Clue: it’s not as simple as understanding council tax!)

3)      Work out where the money goes. Understanding how the council sets a budget and how each service manager then works out, and monitors, their own budget is such a central part of being a manager that it is best to get this sorted as soon as possible. There are so many managers who don’t know how to manage their own budget, let alone how the council’s overall budget works, and it definitely holds them back.

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Are councils enviro-mental?

November 9, 2011

Ready or not, here it comes

We noticed that our good friends over at the Guardian Local Government Network are today running another in their series of excellent live web chats, this time on making councils greener. If you haven’t taken a look already, we suggest you head on over there.

This debate was brought to the fore in part thanks to a really good article by Faye Scott, which examined some of the threats and opportunities localism is presenting to the green agenda, we recommend you check it out.

This issue is one which has been troubling some of the WLLG crew recently. Before reading Faye’s article, we had been having similar conversations with coleagues about the way that the funding challenges facing local government are restricting the things we spend our money on, moving away from what we should be doing towards what we had to do.

To quote a couple of stats from the article:

• 37% of councils deprioritising climate change or state that it was never a priority

• 35% remain firm in their commitment to climate change and believe that action could even increase in the context of localism

• 28% are narrowing their ambitions to focus on reducing emissions from their estate and ceasing work on wider environmental issues.

The first of these stats is particularly shocking. Over a third of local authorities, having considered all of the implications, have decided doing their bit for the environment simply isn’t worth it. (more…)

GIS a break

November 8, 2011

Mapping the benefits

It’s a guest post for us today, which is always something we love to be able to say. If you’ve got a topic you’d like to write about (or even something you’d like us to look at from a slightly sideways perspective) you can get in touch at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com. Until then, here’s some words from someone who’s done just that.

In my line of work I meet a lot of different teams from a lot of different places around the Council, and last week I had the chance to expand my network a bit when I met our GIS team. For the uninitiated and non-councilese speakers, GIS stands for Geographical Information System; basically a way of mapping geographical information on a map, with other data able to be overlaid.

To start with I was taken through some maps of the borough, with ward boundaries and key council buildings plotted on it. Next was a layer produced which showed the borough as it was laid out throughout several periods over the last 200 years, before up came a layer which showed satellite images of the borough.

It was nothing that I couldn’t have seen on Google.

I was then taken through a whole load of new maps they had produced – for plotting where cash machines were, where local businesses were and where some other similar resources were located.

It was nothing I couldn’t have seen on Google.

When I asked them about this, about why they had invested so much time and resource on something which to my untrained eyes looked like it was out of date several years ago and which appeared to be slower than a slow motion replay of a snail in a last-past-the-post race, it was as if I’d asked Jamie Oliver why he didn’t serve turkey twizzlers at his restaurant. (more…)

What exactly does Andrew Stunell do?

November 7, 2011

Two appearances on this blog must equal fame right?

Last week an interesting report was published by the Public Administration Select Committee arguing that the number of Government Ministers and those on the ‘payroll’ should be reduced. Whilst serious men like Peter Riddell took a stab at thinking through the implications of this we at WLLG decided to take a look at whether this might be a good idea in our favourite of Government departments; the DCLG.

Now, as many people will have noticed, we are neither scientists nor researchers nor politicians nor journalists and had it not been for Google I doubt we’d be able to comment on such a weighty topic. However, with the help of the internet we decided to run a small experiment. But which minister to choose?

Like him or not it is fairly obvious what Eric Pickles gets up to and both Grant Shapps and Greg Clark come across my radar fairly regularly. Bob Neill is obviously the junior partner in the team so was a possibility and there is Andrew Stunell, the Liberal Democrat in the team and the Communities Minister.

Having previously pondered during the Lib Dem conference how much impact Mr Stunell has on the DCLG I decided he would be the perfect Guinea Pig.

So, what exactly does Andrew Stunell do?

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That was the localgov week that was

November 4, 2011

Some things to read

Welcome to week 2 of our series of Friday review posts looking at the writing, blogging and things of interest out there in the world of local government. In no particular order the following posts interested us:

We often find our posts on the website of the Taxpayers Alliance and wonder if they have read them before they are put up. In this spirit, we would like to recommend the work of Ruth Keeling who has applied some of her characteristic journalistic rigour to their latest ‘open data’ project; this time about plane travel by council employees. As well as busting some myths the post makes the important point:

But the most important point is this: some of these councils did take the opportunity – in their FOI response – to make their case and offer justification of the spending and the TPA decided not to pass that information on to taxpayers.

This is not only wasting councils time, and therefore taxpayers resources, by requiring them to provide this information a second, third, fourth time in responses to queries from local journalists and residents, but it has also stimulated an uninformed and unintelligent debate because only some of the information has been made available.

FOI and open data are fine but there is a responsibility on all of us to use them properly.

An interesting speech from Hilary Benn at the LGIU’s localism and austerity conference. It’s early days but surely Mr Benn cannot be as absolutely anonymous as his predecessor Caroline Flint. The speech doesn’t say much that is new (but I guess he’s only just getting his head around the brief) but this statement pleased us here at WLLG:

Some (Government proposals) are plain incoherent. When money is tight, and CLG has faced huge cuts, to suddenly find £250m to try to bribe councils into changing decisions they themselves have made  – in the spirit of localism  – about how to collect  people’s rubbish is bizarre and smacks of Whitehall knows best.

Meanwhile the effervescent Richard Kemp got it right about adoption in this short piece:

I am not defending poorly performing councils. If there are councils who just cannot cope we need to understand that and do something about them. One way forward is peer intervention and training not draconian take overs.

The trouble with league tables is that they are crude; they take no account of the circumstances of the council and therefore give few guides to the efficacy of the team.

One of my youth work colleagues recommended that I read this piece about the riots and linkages to youth work. It is one of the best things I have read about the riots and well worth a read. It is quite long though so picking out a summary paragraph was tough. I opted for one from the introduction:

As we will see, it is best to avoid notions such ‘Broken Britain’ and simplistic linkages to reductions in government expenditure on young people and youth work if we are to find sensible solutions.

We have our differences with Eric Pickles (I won’t list them all) but this sketch from Simon Hoggart appeared particularly mean spirited. In one short article he mocked Mr Pickles for being northern, southern, fat (many times), thin (once), an alien, slow, dim and a Duracell bunny with an expiring battery. No wonder more people don’t want to get involved in politics. All done with a sneer and just a hint of school-yard petulance.

Just to show that we are not anti-Guardian the Guardian’s excellent Local Government Network (which is 1 year old today: Happy Birthday by the way!) had a really good debate about the council of the future. As always these debates are made by the people who take part and this week was a bumper crop. Check it out.

Could cloud computing really be on its way?

A short post from Simon Wakeman here, but it does link to some very interesting work being done by Westminster Council on comma tracking:

Finally, we want to take this opportunity to say goodbye to one of our favourite blogs which unexpectedly vanished from the web about two months ago. Fighting Monsters was an excellent blog about social care written by someone who not only understood her field but had a real passion for her work, the people she worked for and importantly for making it better. The blog is officially closed but the anonymous author has opened up the archived posts to say goodbye and to allow people to access the resources she had built up there over the three and half years.

The blog is a sad loss to the world of public sector blogging but we wish our anonymous friend well and hope that the projects she goes onto are equally fulfilling.

Do check out her blog whilst you still can.

Getting simple ICT shouldn’t be complicated

November 3, 2011

Keep it Simple

My husband likes, on occasion, to cook. He doesn’t call it cooking of course: it’s culinary creation, during which he somehow manages to use every single herb and spice in the cupboard, even if he is only making an omelette. His opinoins is that because we have a lot of ingredients, to a lesser or greater degree we should make use of them.

I was reminded of this when I sat through a presentation about the latest piece of software being touted to me recently. The salesman took us through what it could do, ring all of its bells and blowing its whistles, and over the course of three hours showed us how his many other customers live their lives by the information they put in and get out of this master system.

Not once did he really think of asking us what we actually needed it to do. (more…)