That was the local government week that was

A week gone, two weeks work done

As we near the end of January it is fair to say that life for the WLLG team continues to be mighty busy. We’ve all had manic weeks at work and with cuts to make and services to keep going, and even improve, and less staff to do it all things don’t look like they’re going to slow down any time soon.

The big news story this week was not Eric Pickles describing local authorities as immoral over council tax but the debate over the benefits cap. People I work with find the debate about the benefits cap deeply frustrating, feeling that there is little or nothing to be gained, for example, by turfing single mothers (who make up a large proportion of those in our social housing) out of their homes just to save some money on the benefits bill. These feelings were shared and brilliantly summarised on the not so big society blog. As the excellent Ermintrude2 points out:

Politics of envy is easy but it is ignoble. By encouraging the population to envy those who have less rather than those who have more (i.e. the class of politicians) they are diverting our attention from the real battles we should be fighting.

However, when I got home and had a chat with Mrs WLLG about all this she made the point that whilst I might understand the intricacies of the benefits system for the normal member of the public this seems ridiculous and we should be more willing to identify those examples which just aren’t right. The debate will continue – and not just in the WLLG household!

Meanwhile, on the issue of Eric Pickles and Council Tax morality this press release from Surrey Council caught our attention:

Surrey County Council is set to take a stand and save the county from a financial black hole by declining the Coalition’s council tax freeze.

The council’s Cabinet is set to discuss proposing the authority reject the Government’s freeze because it would lead to a £70m financial black hole over five years. The sum is equivalent to wiping out Surrey’s road maintenance budget for more than two years.

The Government has offered all councils a one-off grant of 2.5% for 2012/13 if they freeze council tax for another year. But it means that Surrey would be £14m down in every subsequent year when the one-year grant ends.

Well put sir!

We do like the Guardian Local Government Network so imagine our surprise when we found an article written by the authors of this fine blog up there. Discussing the way councils interact with bloggers we mentioned the case of a Barnet blogger who the council had apparently tried to shut down. Twitter tells us that there is some dispute over the veracity of the story so, as is our usual style, we’d prefer to focus on the substance of our argument and if we got any facts wrong we can only apologise. The rest of it still stands:

Whether or not the law could be interpreted in this way, local authorities are not going to last long if they use the tactic of threatening to prosecute anyone who disagrees with them. Rather, councils need to think carefully about how they should engage with bloggers in their area.

Some blogs are like newspapers; they are well read, and base their success on raising and commenting on real issues that their readers care about. They influence and inform, and take an interest on behalf of others in their community. Aren’t these exactly the sort of people councils would want to engage with, even – or especially – when they are being critical?

Not every blogger is worth responding to: there are many out there who are pure vitriol and should be avoided. Why not ignore them? Those that are mad won’t be influencing anyone, and by taking them to court or responding to them publicly, councils are at risk of giving them more publicity than they deserve.

Some of us were at Govcamp 2012 just a week ago and whilst time will pass and memories may fade thankfully there are hundreds of really good summaries all over blog land. We linked to some of them on our post this week and one of the non-attendees amongst us was taken with this post from a self-described ‘suit’ which has convinced them to make a special effort to attend similar events in the future. After all, if those who aren’t especially technical but understand the value of it don’t go then they’ll miss on being a part of something which seems eminently positive.

We’ve spoken about non-jobs from time to time on this blog and every now and again we check in with the wonderful taxpayers alliance ‘non-job of the week’ section. This week they are upset about a Strategic Director, a Head of Communications (apparently, the problem is both that they are needed but bad at their job and that they are not needed) and some Business Improvement Advisors (apparently they should have already improved the business?!?). I almost feel sorry for the TPA; with less jobs around and lots of people being made redundant it must get harder and harder for them to find new jobs to get really upset about!

So much happens each week and we miss most of it so if you see anything that we should include please drop us a line.

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

Explore posts in the same categories: We love the Council


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