That was the local government week that was

New year and yet the same old picture

As we enter the New Year the people in WLLG towers are filled with optimism. The first week of the New Year has provided it’s usual mixed bunch of headlines and despite everything we are determined not to let it get us down and to follow the lead of the excellent Guardian Local Government Network and be more positive in 2012.

So, starting with the heavy stuff (that we shall not let get us down) the Daily Mail kicked off 2012 with a story about local government pay (quel surprise). This one was about local government pay increments, a topic we have discussed in the past. Here, the Mail ‘discovered’ that:

The survey of 188 councils shows that a shocking 72 per cent use annual increments to reward staff.

It means many Government employees are given more money on the basis of experience rather than performance.

These increments, known as ‘time served’ payments, are usually awarded either in April at the end of the tax year, or on the anniversary of the employee joining their council.

Local authority pay rates published by Unison, the public services union, show there are 49 distinct salary increments for staff earning between £12,145 and £41,616, no matter how well they are doing their job.

It’s hard to get as upset as the Daily Mail did about this but it does raise a pretty serious issue for local government. Are we serious about pay cuts and pay freezes including those for people with less than four years in a particular role with the understanding that this is fairer than just freezing the salary of those with long service?

And secondly do we believe that paying increments based on service time is better than putting in increments based on performance? I favour the latter but I think it is part of a fundamental decision that local government still needs to make.

Similarly, the first local government story to come through my radio on Tuesday morning was one that reflected the real fears faced by councils up and down the country regarding the upcoming budget cuts. In the Daily Telegraph a number of leading social care thinkers joined together to write that:

As a society we face a growing care challenge. We should celebrate the fact that we are all living longer lives, particularly disabled people and those with long-term conditions. But the unavoidable challenge we face is how to support the increasing number of people who need care. It is a challenge which we are failing to meet – resulting in terrible examples of abuse and neglect in parts of the care system.

It’s a challenge to us all and one we are going to find gets more acute as the year goes on.

Talking of challenges, Rick over at Flip Chart Fairy Tales wonders whether 2012 will be the year where street lights go out as councils opt for reducing street light coverage in order to save money. Although I’m not sure that the ending of some street lights is as bad as Rick does this point certainly rings true:

So far, the cuts have been invisible to many people. If you don’t use libraries and social services and your children’s school has, as yet, escaped the accountants’ scrutiny, you may not have had any direct experience of austerity. But this may be the year that the reduction in council spending becomes visible to all. Unmended and unlit streets are hard to ignore.

Meanwhile, the National Trust have been expressing their concern about the Government’s Neighbourhood Planning regulations. The NPPF andthe surrounding debate about the future of our planning system is going to be a huge issue in 2012 so I consider this an opening salvo in the resumption of a big and important debate. As the national trust say:

We’ve not heard much noise about this consultation, which is worrying, given the importance placed on neighbourhood plans by Government to deliver Localism.

They’re given a prominent place in the draft National Planning Policy Framework, and according to the Right Hons Eric Pickles and Greg Clark, they’re the planning panacea.

As reported in the Guardian on Monday, the Government’s housing strategy cites neighbourhood plans as the key “to promote imaginative, locally distinctive, well designed new homes and neighbourhoods, and offer residents the chance to shape their areas”.

We’ve been enjoying a little bit of New Years innovation and right on that track is Dan Slee’s ‘EPIC CHANGE: 12 predictions in digital in local government for 2012‘ which is a must read and includes:

5. Someone will do summat reely stoopid and it won’t matter. In 2008, a rogue tweet could have closed down a council’s social media output. As it gets more embedded it’ll be more bullet proof.

And many more good bits of advice besides.

Finally, we’d like to give a plug to a longtime friend of the blog, and regular read in WLLG towers, FOI man who took the bold New Year’s decision to unmask himself saying:

Over time, the anonymity which originally seemed so liberating has started to restrict the development of FOI Man. Whilst I receive many positive comments about the content here, some are reluctant to use it or draw attention to it as long as the author is unknown. I’ve had to turn down offers to speak at events in order to preserve my anonymity. And there was always (acknowledged) irony in the idea of a blog about freedom of information and transparency being written by someone who chose to keep his identity secret.

There are important debates about the future of FOI in the UK that will be had this coming year. As long as I remain anonymous, there will be those who will, not unreasonably, question my motives and identity as I take part in those discussions.

Fundamentally, I’m proud of this site and the reputation that it has built up, and in future I’d like my name to be associated with it.

Let us hope the blog continues to deliver the high quality work it has so far.

We do love hearing from our readers so if there is a piece you think we should feature in our weekly round up or you’d like to write something for the blog please do drop us a line and we’d be happy to accommodate.

See you next week.

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:

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