Putting the local back into local government

Middle Class council service delivery

We love a guest post and today’s asks a lot of questions; the most interesting of which is whether we’re trying to make everyone middle class (which certainly isn’t the focus where I work!). We hope you enjoy this post, think about it, and if you have a post you’d like to submit please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com 

One of the things that I do on a regular basis in my job is to look at what other Councils are doing to address particular issues.

I am one of those rather sad people who can spot the SOCITM organising framework for a website and be instantly able to find my way around.  I am often profoundly depressed about what I find when I look at some documents as I could cross out the name of X Council, replace with Y council, and it would still look the same.

I saw a comment last year which caused me to ponder, and I have been pondering ever since: ‘is the goal of all public policy to turn everybody to be middle class?’

There is a trait within all of us to find homogeneity in as many places as we could.  When my parents used to travel, they would always stay in a Travelodge and eat in a Brewer’s Fayre on the basis that you knew what you were getting.  I can understand that but personally would prefer to stay in a quirky bed and breakfast and take my chances on finding a little restaurant somewhere.  Mary Portas is right about our high streets becoming increasingly identikit and indistinguishable from each other.

There are too many times when we focus on the government element of our role and not enough on the local.

There are different parts to every area and council and these can take some time to get used to: rather than getting frustrated with them, we should learn to acknowledge them, and celebrate them where this is appropriate.  We all live and work in different areas, and I wouldn’t want Toxteth to become Totnes or Moss Side become Bank Side.  There are distinct reasons why areas are like they are and these should be more fully understood.

There is a strong element of change within the remit of all of our organisations: I have yet to read a Corporate Plan that suggests that the area is fine and we’ll maintain it like that thanks.  Do we truly understand the communities we say we serve and how we might effect change that is longed for?  Do we understand what can bring about change in communities?  How on earth can we effect that change in communities when so many Councils cannot adequately change themselves?

Are we trying to make everywhere middle class?  Just because my shopping gets delivered by Ocado, I grind my own coffee beans and we have sun dried tomatoes in the fridge doesn’t mean that I think everybody should: but I do think that we should take a little more time to understand the local areas we serve.

One of the 7 McKinsey elements of organisational culture is story: take a time to find out the stories about the areas in which you serve if you aren’t familiar with the area.  Use that journey with an Elected Member to listen and listen hard.  Take the opportunity of walking through communities, looking at buildings and asking questions of people you meet.

I love local government, not a spatial delivery branch of a national delivery agency.

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

Explore posts in the same categories: The future of Local Govt, We love the Council

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4 Comments on “Putting the local back into local government”

  1. “I have yet to read a Corporate Plan that suggests that the area is fine and we’ll maintain it like that thanks”

    You should read the sustainable community strategies for middle class home county areas… which rather proves your overall point.

  2. On the “[Name of Place] 2020” model West Sussex’s Community Strategy could most accurately be described as “West Sussex 1950”.

  3. “Use that journey with an Elected Member to listen and listen hard.” that’s almost as shocking a quote as listening to the reports this morning that nurses that hate old people shouldn’t be hired. If you don’t ‘get’ democracy don’t work for a Council chaps!

    The greater the control of unelected Officers the more uniform and unresponsive Council services become. It is true by definition.

  4. kriswith Says:

    For most councils the goal is to reduce the gap between the most deprived areas and the rest of the locality. As deprivation is relative rather than absolute it is not technically possible to close the gap – there will always be a bottom 20% – but it is possible to make the gap smaller and improve the life chances of those living in the area. That doesn’t mean making all the areas the same but it does mean trying to give more people a chance to live longer, and happier lives.

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