That was the local government week that was
What a week; you’ll never believe what Pete in accounts said about Tracy in Transport and we got new pens in the civic centre and the cafeteria started serving hot sausage rolls… Oh yeah, and George Osbourne announced his budget and the health bill passed.
Speaking of the budget we were indebted to the Guardian Local Government Network for their local government budget tweeting on the day and this summary on the site from Sir Merrick Cockell is worth a read; especially in light of the opening paragraph which puts it all into context:
Today’s confirmation that public spending will continue to fall beyond 2015 has to come with a recognition that councils have already delivered extremely demanding cuts that others have failed to match. For the sake of hard-pressed local residents, it’s time for other parts of government to face the choices councils have been making for some time.
Local authorities are seeing their government grant cut by 28% over the current funding period. In comparison, Whitehall will trim budgets by just 8%. It is simply unsustainable to go on cutting council funding when the adult care system is dangerously overstretched and the country’s roads need a £10bn upgrade.
Sticking with the budget yesterday’s post failed to properly link through to the LGIU site so in the spirit of making up for past mistakes this piece on their blog makes an interesting point about the budget’s focus on cities, possibly at the expense of the rest of local government. As director Andy Sawford says:
The budget had a noticeable emphasis on the role of cities in driving economic growth, with announcements of a new ultrafast broadband deal for cities, new infrastructure focussed around cities, and emphasis on the 24 largely city based enterprise zones. It is good to hear about the City Deal for Greater Manchester, which could open the door for many more localised deals with the Treasury that help councils to innovate. Inevitably though the rest of local government will be left wondering when it will be invited to the party to agree local deals, develop further enterprise zones, and get support for ultrafast broadband.
It’s also worth checking out the other comments and briefings on the LGIU site.
Just to give a glimpse of something different, if you ever think that your local councillors are not what you would hope for then you may want to check this out from Sri Lanka where the President has felt the need to warn the countries local politicians to act responsibly, and with good reason as this article points out:
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa concerned by the recent reports on the involvement of politicians in high profile crimes, has asked the country’s politicians to act responsibly. The President has said there were many disturbing reports about the behavior of some local government politicians.
The comments had been made in reference to a series of incidents where local politicians have been implicated in incidents ranging from murder, robbery, rape to extortion during the past few weeks. According to President Rajapaksa, reports about the politicians have created a negative image about them in the country and should therefore be mindful of their actions.
Err, yeah, I think that might be fair.
Freedom of Information is under attack, with Prime Minister David Cameron considering watering down the legislation on what can be requested, how much time can be spent on it and perhaps even introducing a charge for requests. According to this piece in the Telegraph, this isn’t right.
Paul Gibbons, a FOI officer and blogger, worries that the inquiry could see the end of FOI as we know it. He has teamed up with fellow campaigners to create the Save FOI campaign.
Gibbons said: “Many politicians like FOI while they are in opposition but find it an irritant when they are in power. Watering down the act or introducing a charge would be a backwards step.
“Freedom of information is particularly important during the cuts. People have the right to understand how these decisions are being made and where money is being spent. Do we want to be seen as a secretive state?”
Anything which features one of our favourite FOI bloggers can’t be wrong, so we’d urge you all to join the #saveFOI campaign sooner rather than later.
Flipchart Fairytales is one of our favourite blogs (and one which if you’re not subscribed to yet, you need to do so today!), and this week it asked a simple question: why is the public sector so much more complex than the private?
It’s not really surprising that he has discovered relatively high levels of complexity in the British civil service. Government departments are full of clever people and, left to their own devices, clever people often make things complicated just because they can.
That aside, though, public sector organisations are always going to be more complex than those in the private sector. I wrote about this at some length last year. The public sector has a triple complexity whammy.
Firstly, it is made up of service organisations. It is more difficult to improve processes in service organisations than in manufacturing ones because the customer is part of the process. That’s why, in the decade before the recession, private sector manufacturing companies improved their productivity at twice the rate of private sector service firms. Furthermore, because of the services they offer, public sector bodies tend to have customers who are more difficult to deal with. Consider, for example, the process of receiving supplies in a manufacturing plant compared to the process of checking a new patent into a hospital. The former will be the same in most cases and take a similar amount of time. The latter will vary depending on the patient. Patients who are drunk, distressed or who don’t speak English will take much longer to check in. The neat box on the process map marked ‘receive patient’ conceals a process that can vary wildly in time and complexity.
We’ve spoken often in the past about council’s potentially making use of technology to cut down on paperwork, so kudos is due to Surrey Council, who are taking the leap and developing an app for their youth workers to help cut down on paperwork.
The app will allow youth workers to update the personal details of young people while on the move and, according to Surrey, the app should save between £75,000 and £100,000 annually by cutting down on the time spent completing paperwork.
In-house IT staff are developing the app, which will be launched in June, as part of a drive to ensure that all 16 to 19-year-olds in the area are in education, training or employment by 2015. The BlackBerry devices and app are expected to be rolled out to around 40 youth workers.
Admittedly there will be some initial development costs, but if this works then there is no reason at all why other departments can’t then make use of it, not to mention other councils. Surrey Council, we salute you.
Okay, so it’s not strictly an article focussed on local government, but this advice from Inc.com is well worth a read for anyone making the subtle move from operational to strategic. We all get a little bogged down focussing on the important here and now issues; how can we break this cycle and focus on some of the wider, more long term targets?
If you find yourself resisting “being strategic,” because it sounds like a fast track to irrelevance, or vaguely like an excuse to slack off, you’re not alone. Every leader’s temptation is to deal with what’s directly in front, because it always seems more urgent and concrete. Unfortunately, if you do that, you put your company at risk. While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you’ll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you’re on is leading off a cliff.
This is a tough job, make no mistake. “We need strategic leaders!” is a pretty constant refrain at every company, large and small. One reason the job is so tough: no one really understands what it entails. It’s hard to be a strategic leader if you don’t know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.
And finally, we thought we’d share something we were forwarded which put a real smile on our faces. BDO Local Government (@BDOlocalgov if you’re interested) have put together a neat little video looking at social media and how local government should be paying attention to it. You can read the full report here and it’s well worth doing so, but do watch the video as well if only for the simply excellent pie chart they use.