That was the local government week that was


What we have been reading

And what a week it’s been.  Up and down the country, local government has been at the centre of the news over the past seven days, with column inches galore debating its merits and the work it does, all through the lens of the ongoing debate over the pension scheme negotiations.  Here are our pick of the blogs which look at things from some rather interesting angles, as well as a few blogs which mention less polarising issues.

We’ll start off with a post from Citizen R on her I Was A Public Sector Worker blog, posted on the day of the strike.  It neatly sets out why one person supported the strikes, even though they were no longer part of the public sector, showing how deeply many feel about the issues.

I’ve mentioned before that when I went into the public sector it wasn’t for the pensions or the perks or even the holidays. I wanted to be a teacher and make a difference in children’s lives. I felt I could best do this in the state sector.  As a new teacher of 22 I didn’t care about a pension because it felt like retirement was a million years away (it still is now that the age of retirement is getting higher and higher) and took a big chunk of my wage each month that might be better spent on having fun.

But now after a whole career spent in the public sector I’ve been left high and dry. I don’t pay into a government pension any more because that jo has gone and I have no job to strike from today. But the public sector is where my heart lies so I’m with everyone who strikes today. Good luck and maybe just maybe the government will listen for once.

It’s with mixed feelings of joy and disbelief that we unfortunately get to read a new post from the simply superb Redundant Public Servant (if you don’t know why we rate him so highly then you’ve never read his blog – so do it now!).  Joy because we loved reading his brilliantly crafted and bewilderingly regular posts detailing his own battles around his impending redundancy, disbelief because it looks like he may be going through it all again.  In this guest piece for Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog he points out some of the incredible numbers being thrown around.

Readers familiar with redundancy from the private sector will recognise these traits from their own experience. I make no special claims for the public sector worker in terms of these virtues. In that sense we are truly in this together. But my thought goes back again to that figure for public sector job losses; 710,000.

Extraordinary.

The practical implications of this for public servants is all too familiar. And this is not a political point. It means trying to meet growing demand with fewer people and smaller budgets. In many ways however the public sector is not so much a fearful place but an exhausted one.

Patrick also delivered a piece looking at these numbers, pointing out just how massive they are:

Losing 300,000 more public sector jobs is equivalent to closing down 10 local authorities the size of Birmingham council (Britain’s biggest), or 30 NHS hospital trusts the size of Guy’s and St Thomas’s. Sacking the entire staff of the Ministry of Defence would give you just a fifth of the extra job losses envisaged in this latest estimate.

There were understandably a lot of articles, blogs, pictures, records and more covering the #n30 strikes and we’re sure you’ve seen many of them.  However, this post from the Online Journalism Blog (which we’d not seen before but will be keeping an eye on from time to time) links through to many of these whilst discussing the rise of the ‘live blog’.

On a day like today you do not need to be journalist to take part in the ‘liveblog’ of #n20 [sic]. If you are passionate about current events, if you are curious about news, you can be out there getting experience in dealing with those events – not just reporting them, but speaking to the people involved, recording images and audio to enrich what is in front of you, creating maps and galleries and Storify threads to aggregate the most illuminating accounts. Seeking reaction and verification to the most challenging ones.

The LGIU have announced a series of focus groups over the coming months which will look entirely at innovation in the public sector.  Dubbed the Civil Society Innovation Network (everyone loves a good network after all), it aims to highlight the good work that councils are doing in driving forward innovation with civil society and also think about how councils and communities can move forward with the challenges ahead.  According to them;

Authorities have been asked to join by invitation, and the objectives of this Network are to:

  • Identify and promote the positive role that leading councils are playing in strengthening civil society;
  • Identify barriers that councils and communities have already overcome in taking forward this agenda and the barriers that still remain;
  • Enable learning between councils on how to achieve their vision by linking to practical outputs, to improve their practice.

We honestly look forward to hearing what this new network comes up with.

The NLGN have also eaten their Innovation Weetabix, as they talk about an innovative idea to reward those who display socially responsible behaviour.

There is a direct correlation between residents’ behaviour with respect to waste creation and disposal, and the amount of tax paid as a consequence. There are numerous other examples which we could explore – supporting families, neighbourhood watch, keeping healthy, increased volunteering – to name but a few. Our idea is to create a scheme whereby savings generated are shared with those participants – incentivising behaviour change, reducing costs, and helping residents to better understand the impact of their behaviour on our costs and theirs – through the taxes they pay.

A quick hat-tip to Rick of Flipchart Fairytales fame for pointing us in the direction of this gloomy but worryingly believable piece regarding the future, and how basically we shouldn’t expect the silver lining to peek through for another two decades.

“There was a view at the turn of the year that if we could get through the next four or five years, it might not be back exactly to milk and honey, but life would be more predictable,” he said. “All the general economic stuff now suggests we will have a decade of this, arguably two decades.”

Ransford is right. If you look at the economics, it is very unlikely that we will ever see the levels of funding we once regarded as normal again. A combination of high government debt, low growth and the rising cost of an ageing population will put severe pressure on public finances.

Meanwhile of course, Rick had something as pertinent and interesting to say himself about the basis for this weeks strike action, asking should we really expect to retire at 65?

All of which means that, if we are to avoid stagnation, people will have to stay economically active for longer. This is not as frightening as it sounds. People in their 60s are a lot healthier than they were. Look at some of the old film footage of the 1920s factories. Many of the stooped old men and wizened old women coming out of these places were only in their 50s. About the same age as Madonna is now.

An extreme example perhaps, but old people certainly ain’t what they used to be. The factors that are making us live longer are also making us capable of working longer. I’m not suggesting that people should hew coal or dig ditches until they are 70 but there are jobs that people can do later in life without needing the physical strength of a 30-year-old.

And finally, the Guardian Local Government Network (which you really should sign up to if you’ve not done so already) has begun exploring the area of Neighbourhood Planning, which is in it’s formative stages.

Neighbourhood plans are approved if 51% of local voters back the local strategy. Even in a town with a population of more than 5,000 people, a neighbourhood plan can be approved by 260 people if 500 turn out to vote.

Is this democracy? It’s a rather different picture than the one painted by Pickles. Rather than ushering a new era of local engagement, perhaps we are simply granting power to those with deep pockets and a lot of spare time on their hands.

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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