That was the localgov week that was
First off is a visit to LGC, where Dan Drillsma-Milgrom shares some thoughts on the way Eric Pickles is treating councils who aren’t agreeing with him about freezing council tax this year.
The announcement of the one-year £675m funding offer that ministers were making available to English councils that keep tax levels frozen contained a simple statement: “The scheme will be voluntary.”
Except apparently it won’t. Quite how ministers intend to punish local authorities that choose to put up council tax is unclear.
Mr Shapps made hints about retrospectively adjusting baselines once the new retained business rates system is implemented. To do so according to whether or not a council took advantage of a voluntary offer would surely attract the interest of the legal profession.
We’re occasionally a little multi-dimensional in our messages, thanks in part to the fact that a group of officers write this blog but also due to the complexities of all the issues faced by local government. The different faces of these issues is well highlighted by these findings from a recent survey which shows that, despite budget cuts and huge protests, morale in the public sector is actually quite high. Not only that, but staff appear to back their managers too.
But the survey, carried out just before last November’s day of union action over pensions and pay, contradicts the perception of a disgruntled public sector workforce.
The survey found that 75% of public sector staff still find their job satisfying, while two-thirds positively support their senior managers – and of those, one in three now trust their managers more than before cutbacks began.
If every cloud has a silver lining, perhaps this is part of it (although a cynic may say that those who didn’t support their managers and had low morale probably left local government some time ago).
We try not to have favourites here at WLLG Towers, but it’s hard not to when certain people keep cranking out the goods. One such person is Dan Slee, who this week brought up the question of whether councils are actually investing too much hope in the power of social media.
Last year, former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell spoke of how engaging with radio, TV and print does not guarantee airtime. “There’s no such thing as dominating the news agenda anymore,” he said. “The agenda is more chaotic but that’s a good thing.”
We need to recallibrate how we do things. For now, we need to be good at the old things while making ourselves busy doing more to learn the new ways of working. We need to obsess at how to create a range of good content across a range of platforms, not just be obsessed about social media.
We are fans of social media ourselves, but this point also was reinforced by another great post at the increasingly impressive Comms2point0 blog, which highlighted that despite appearances to the contrary, council magazines actually do a great job and should be supported.
Instead of scrapping the magazine altogether we looked to the web to help save the day and used our growing social media following to drive traffic to a new online version, hosted by a digital publisher.
To cut the costs and help cater to residents without good internet access (Northumberland is predominantly a rural area) we printed a small number of traditional, hard copies that could be collected by the public from libraries, leisure centres and other council buildings right across the county.
We had our doubts about the new system – would people used to hard copy, straight through their letterbox, go online? Would social followers more used to 140 characters or less bother with a 32 page online magazine?
Well, after three issues we’re finding that people are really taking to the new format and spreading the word online. Residents are still interested in getting local stories from their council about key issues that affect them.Our magazine has had more than 402,000 downloads so far, and social media has been a key way of delivering the news to the public.
Mark Braggins has been incredibly helpful once more and shared some brilliantly detailed notes from the recent localgovcampNW. Particularly interesting was the reference to moving council website data to Wikipedia, as well as how social media can support those involved in training.
Lots of councils have many thousands of pages on their web sites but are under pressure to reduce the volume. Andy suggests that, instead of deleting content, it could just be moved to Wikipedia instead. It does mean giving up control of the content, but the old saying: many hands make light work, applies.
Over to the LGIU blog now, where another hot topic of the week was discussed when Jonathan Carr-West brought up the High Court ruling around prayers before council meetings. The short term ramifications may be plain to see, but there could be more to this long term than meets the eye.
…the Bideford case does raise (albeit tangentially) one further issue that stands in the way of this local democratic debate about values. The councillor who objected to the prayers did so on the basis that they felt “outdated, antiquated and a turnoff”. For many in the community this description would apply to much of the way councils do business. A way of operating that is still largely based around minutes, meetings and motions. We see some local authorities responding to this by taking meetings out of the town hall and into the community, but their capacity to do so is limited by the statutory requirements placed upon them by central government and the forms of meeting that these mandate. This remains a barrier to local democracy. Until Whitehall stops prescribing what sort of issue the council must meet about and how often, a local debate about what sort of community people want to live in will always take place within a more limited framework than we might like.
And finally, a tongue in cheek fake tender which is sadly based on truth, which invites bids to teach staff advanced leadership skills in just one day.
Learning outcomes: by the end of the workshop delegates will
- Refresh current skills.
- Be able to develop their empathy, trust, strategic insight, communication, candour, resilience, patience, ethics, personal hygiene and time management skills.
- Move to higher level leadership skills to engage, influence and/or reach agreement or compromise without upsetting anyone including local councillors, community activists and the Daily Mail.
- Use more creative leadership techniques (including juggling, high wire walking, appropriate clowning about and diving into a bucket from 20m high).
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