That was the local government week that was
As is so often the case with our weekly round up; no sooner have we finished writing it than we read something that definitely deserves to be included and so it proved last week with this piece from Richard Vize about councils and council tax benefit reform:
Of all the battles to be fought over local control, council tax benefit is one issue where the government has been delighted to live the localist dream. There were just two caveats when ministers announced that control of the benefit was being handed to councils; it had to be done quickly – by 2013 – and the bill had to be cut by 10%. The current bill is £4.8bn a year and some 5.8 million people in England on low incomes receive it.
Richard’s totally right. Not only is the Government expecting local government to take away a lot of people’s benefits; they are doing so at a time when the amount of people eligible is increasing, at a time of decreasing local government budgets and at a time when other changes to benefits are making local government’s job even harder. The DWP are taking housing benefits back in house meaning that local authorities are left without the economies of scale that processing two benefits gave them. It isn’t getting easier and as Richard says:
Bringing down the welfare bill is a laudable aim, but caught between the rhetoric and the implementation are people with little money.
Ok, so that was a bit depressing but before we move on to things with a slightly more positive bent it is worth taking a quick look at local government pay. As the BBC reported yesterday:
Council workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have their pay frozen for a third consecutive year. The Local Government Association confirmed a pay freeze for 1.6 million local government employees for 2012/13.
Times are tough across the economy so it is unlikely we will receive much sympathy for this but as Public Finance magazine report:
A study carried out for the union (Unison) by the New Policy Institute shows that full-time wages have fallen by 13% in real terms over the past three years, as a result of a below-inflation pay rise in 2009/10 followed by a two-year pay freeze.
Added to this there have been lots of marginal changes to allowances, expenses and overtime which have also impacted on staff. This has probably allowed local government to protect jobs but especially for those on the lowest incomes it has come at a price.
In more positive news, and without reference to number 23 of our ‘lent list’ we enjoyed this video from Hertfordshire county council detailing how far the £3 per day council tax goes. You can watch it here:
We’ve been known to have our differences with the Freedom of Information Act but even when we’re faced with yet more stupid requests for journalists wanting to know about the colour of the fruit squashes consumed in our canteen we still would rather have the FoI Act than be without it. Thus, we welcomed this post from FoI man does it. As he says:
Yes, some individuals abuse the right to access information. Some requests are expensive to answer. It can feel personal when a request affects your work. But the overall benefits, whilst difficult to quantify in hard numbers, far outweigh the problems.
It has forced public authorities to open up in a way that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. It has allowed groups from protesters against library closures to disability rights campaigners to make their case to Government on something approaching an equal footing. It has exposed unfairness and inequality in our country. I believe it is starting to make an impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of some public authorities. In short, it makes the UK a fairer country to live in.
Recently, impower have been doing some work with the NGDP looking at the future of the graduate scheme. This blog from one of their (younger!) consultants accurately captures some of the questions we as a sector really need to be asking:
The NGDP is a highly regarded scheme and is ranked in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers but from my perspective the NGDP need to continue to work to communicate the benefits of a career in local government to graduates. At a time when local government need to challenge themselves in the face of budgetary pressures, working in local government would offer graduates a real opportunity to share new ideas for the future. Not only does working in local government allow graduates to contribute to future thinking, it also allows graduates opportunities to improve people’s lives within the local community.
I don’t think we do a good enough job of selling local government and that might be as important to the future of the sector as what we do with them when they enter a graduate scheme.
As always, we miss a lot of stuff so if you have any suggestions for us for articles to include you know where to find us!
Have a great weekend.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org