Archive for May 2012

In need of inspiration

May 17, 2012

If only creative juices were available by the bottle

Some articles we write come easily and flow from mind to fingertips.  Other times however, things are a tad more difficult.  It was as I sat down to write today’s post that I found I was in need of a little inspiration.  I found myself browsing the web, rereading things others have written and researching a few leads I had in the back of my mind.

It was at this point that I was struck by the resemblance of this process to that which I face regularly whilst sitting in the office.  Being known as someone who is ‘creative’ and ‘comes up with ideas’ is both a help and a hindrance, and there have been many times when I’ve found myself in meetings merely to act as a catalyst for thought and discussion or been looked at with expectant expressions after a problem has been presented and a solution requested.

It can feel akin to being told to dance on demand, or demanding that a comedian makes someone else laugh.  The expectation that because they are able to act in a certain way at certain times means they can switch it on or turn it off on demand is overwhelming, and can limit the creativity on offer.  It also puts all onus for creativity or inspiration on a small number of people, taking the burden and expectation off of others to do so.

Often we need a little help to be creative and innovative, and it’s easy to turn to those people you know who fire out ideas (good or bad) like OK magazine throwing out scandals.  But where else can we go for inspiration?  What else is out there to inspire or guide us and to then support us to do things differently or approach a problem from a new angle? (more…)

Lies, damned lies and dodgy statistics

May 16, 2012

Disraeli; credit where it is due…

There are some stories that are too good to pass up without further comment; even if they have little relationship to local government.

This from Yahoo news is one such gem. Under the headline ‘25,000 men need an obstetrician or gynaecologist every year’ the story, originating from the Telegraph, reports that:

Official figures from the NHS appear to have proved that old adage true, as they show that Britain has tens of thousands of ‘male mothers’. They discovered that 17,000 men were recorded as having been admitted to hospital for obstetric services -a specialism for pregnant women and their babies – and 8,000 to see a gynaecologist; while another 20,000 apparently needed to see a midwife.

They also identified a steady increase in the numbers of children and teenagers attending geriatric services, to over 3,000 between 2009 and 2010, and more than 1,600 adults over 30 using child psychiatry services.

The problem for the NHS, and for other public bodies who use statistics like this to run their services, is that bad data like this can then lead to bad decisions. Increasingly public services rely on large quantities of statistics.

This is entirely rational. After all, public services don’t have profit to base their decisions on and the other ultimate means of determining success are elections and they are fairly blunt instruments.

(more…)

The Local Government Bucket List

May 15, 2012

35 things to do before you leave local government

Let’s face it, nothing ever last forever. For some of us unfortunately the end is more nigh than for others, but whether you have been a stalwart of local government circles for 30 years or if you’re just coming up to the end of your first six month tour of duty, there are a number of things we recommend you do before your time runs out.

Some of these things are inspirational, some are a little hard to achieve and some are just somewhat amusing. Keep this handy list in the bottom of your drawer and schedule in as many as you can before you open the dreaded P45 or receive the Golden Carriage Clock of doom.

  1. Send a compromising e-mail from a colleagues account
  2. Storm out of a meeting early
  3. Shout down the phone at someone whilst in an open-plan office
  4. Hide song lyrics in a significant report or strategy draft
  5. Take your tie off/unclip your hair mid PowerPoint presentation (more…)

LGAging behind

May 14, 2012

The Leader of all Local Government?

The WLLG team have been known to be fairly critical of our friends at the LGA. In a time of severe strain on the local government sector and when public understanding of local government seems to be reaching all time lows the response of the LGA has been, in our opinion, insipid.

As we noted on Friday the response to the Queen’s Speech was not a howl of outrage but a reminder that:

  • The LGA will continue its parliamentary lobbying work to ensure the best outcome for our member councils.
  • Councils have already shown remarkable resilience in coping with the spending cuts and local government is already the most efficient, transparent and trusted part of the public sector.
  • Within our legislative lobbying work we will be campaigning to ensure there is sustainable funding for local government going forward.

This is not to say that the LGA has been totally inactive. The letter organised by Sir Merrick Cockell pushing the Government to act now on Adult Social Care funding reform was a pleasant example of what the LGA should be doing. The fact that it was roundly ignored by the Government was a subtle reminder of the ineffectiveness of local government to influence the national agenda.

This is not the only example of failed leadership.

(more…)

That was the local government week that was

May 11, 2012

More content than the Queen’s Speech

It was the Queens Speech this week. The WLLG bloggers were a bit disappointed with the Government’s progress on any number of key issues with the localism agenda and social care reform agenda seemingly ground to a halt as the Government prioritise other issues. As much as we try it is very hard to get excited about the Government legislating to complete the abolition of the Audit Commission they announced two years ago.

There were some good bits within the speech and some relevant to Local Government and you can find them summarised on the LGIU blog:

It is good to hear that there will be a Bill to create new powers for the Children’s Commissioner and improve services for children in care, both things that the LGiU has been campaigning for. Similarly, we welcome mention of legislation on the future funding of adult social care although we are concerned that the plans are vague, and we would urge the government to confirm that legislation will follow the forthcoming White Paper.   Chances of a lasting settlement on social care funding seem greater to us if the momentum is maintained and if we are far enough away from the next election.  The lessons of 2010 are that once an election is on the horizon any political consensus will break down.

And whilst checking out the LGIU do check out Andy Sawford’s alternative Queen’s Speech which is very sensible and includes:

  • The Community Budgets Bill
  • The Localism and Statutory Duties Bill
  • The Social Care Funding Bill
  • The Children’s Services Bill
  • The Primary Justice Bill

Meanwhile, whilst we were disappointed by the Government’s programme we were equally disappointed by the LGA’s response where their key messages were:

  • The LGA will continue its parliamentary lobbying work to ensure the best outcome for our member councils.
  • Councils have already shown remarkable resilience in coping with the spending cuts and local government is already the most efficient, transparent and trusted part of the public sector.
  • Within our legislative lobbying work we will be campaigning to ensure there is sustainable funding for local government going forward.

Talk about burying the lead!

Meanwhile, in non-queens speech blogging we really liked this piece from Flip Chart Fairy Tales about the battle between the younger and older workforce. Apparently, some commentators are arguing that we need older workers to stand aside to make space for those younger staff who have no jobs. Instinctively, this sounds like nonsense but Rick dissects it with characteristic verve:

Calling on older workers to retire and make way for the young might sound like a good idea. It is no way to solve youth unemployment though. As ever, keeping as much of the population as possible economically active is what makes for a prosperous and stable society. If a greater proportion of people are over 65 it makes sense, therefore, for the over 65s to stay in work. Given that people in their sixties are healthier and fitter than in previous generations, that is now possible. The same factors that make people live longer also enable them to work for longer.

If we are to counteract the costs of ageing, more older people will have to carry on working. Far from taking the jobs of the young, the working elderly are more likely to keep spending and creating jobs for the young. Accusing older workers of  job-hogging fits in neatly with the fashionable generational warfare narrative but it is nonsense. If we are to deal with the consequences of an ageing population, that ageing population will have to keep working. And that will be better for all of us.

On the topic of the fate of the young this piece from the Guardian Local Government Network could not be more unhappy with Kate Davies arguing that we are now facing a housing crisis for young people that is perhaps not going to ever improve:

Call me naive, but I had always assumed that things could only get better; that progress was what happened over time. My parents’ life was a big improvement on their grandparents, and mine on theirs.

Scientific advances, greater freedom, less poverty and more opportunity would – I thought – ensure that each generation would do better than their predecessors. I had taken the onward march of mankind for granted.

But now the evidence shows that we are going backwards.

A bit too pessimistic for my liking but the housing crisis for young people is certainly real and not being addressed properly by any politician (see Queen’s speech above).

Who would have known that there was a website called public sector travel? Well, there is and they had an interesting article this week about the endless pain caused to local government by EU procurement rules:

The Local Government Association has called on Whitehall to roll back what it sees as needless complexity in procurement flowing from the European Union.

In a procurement pledge for the local government sector, the Conservative-controlled LGA said: “Public procurement is highly regulated particularly by the European Union and over the years the European procurement rules have become more and more complicated.

“We need help from government to put the power of procurement back into the hands of local government.”

We tend to agree that there is need for reform but are not holding our breath!

And finally my favourite tweet from a council twitter account for quite a long time is this classic from Surrey Matters:

Nut lovers, did you know nut shells make great compost? #6thingsyouneverknewyoucouldcompost

Is this genius… or madness?

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

A Royal Let-down?

May 10, 2012

Speak up for local government

It’s been quite a week for local government.  We’ve had elections, Mayors and scandal, and it was yesterday topped off with the Opening of Parliament and the traditional Queen’s Speech.  After the events of the last weeks, months and years I found myself waiting for this year’s offering with baited breath.  Just how far would localism be pushed now?  How would the Health and Social Care developments be developed over the coming session?  What exciting new areas would be on the horizon and find policy wonks up and down the country furiously debating until the early hours?

To be honest, I was left feeling just a tad deflated.

Don’t get me wrong, there is lots of good stuff in there.  The changes to the Audit Commission set-up which we have ourselves looked at before way back in 2010 are worth unpicking further at some stage and proposals around the Draft Care and Support Bill (amongst others) will be far reaching, but throughout the whole thing and whilst reading follow-up articles I was reminded of a line from a great piece by the LGiU’s Andy Sawford:

Time was that local government promoted legislation in Parliament. In the late 19th Century in particular major bills, such as on Public Health, were initiated by councils. When the Queen addresses Parliament this week, it would be good if those words “my government” meant local as well as central government.

In his piece Andy proposes an alternative Queen’s speech, and includes such gems as ‘The Localism and Statutory Duties Bill’ (aiming to cut through the 1000 or so statutory duties places upon local government, regardless of actual requirements for them) and the ‘Community Budgets Bill’ (aiming to build on the work undertaken previously with community budgets in their many forms and Total Place pilots).

These haven’t made it through to the version read out today by Her Maj, but the difference between these and those which were is that these are focussed solely on local government.

It feels very much like we’ve become the Cinderella of the piece; locked away in the dungeon and forced to do the dirty work as ordered by those upstairs, making sure everything runs as well as it can do, taking the blame when things go wrong and having responsibility for fixing them while others get to go to the ball regardless of whether their virtues (or lack thereof).  Trouble is, we don’t seem to have a fairy godmother on the horizon. (more…)

Strategy

May 9, 2012

A strategic photograph?

Last week the cuddly entrepreneur and TV personality Lord Sir Alan Sugar fired the pleasingly accented Azhar from the midweek warm up act for Dara O’Briain’s ‘You’re Fired’, the Apprentice.

What was Azhar’s crime? Well, according to the editing crew at the Apprentice it was using the word ‘strategy’ one time every five minutes when everyone knows that the Apprentice is a seat of the pants ‘JFDI’ sort of experience.

In fairness to Azhar he took the firing fairly well and then proceeded to drop the ‘s’ bomb about fifteen times during the much more enjoyable follow up show. He also revealed that his knowledge of strategy is built from his rather successful refrigeration business which seems to be making him a fair bit of money.

As is often the case this got me thinking. To what extent does having a stated strategy actually matter? After all, as Jade (Azhar’s surviving project manager) would often point out, what’s the point of all this strategy if it prevents you from making decisions and getting on with it?

In local government we often struggle with ‘strategy’. This is for a number of reasons:

Strategies are easily forgotten and many councils end up using strategies as a way to launch new ideas or generate a buzz in the council. This leads to the local authority having multiple different strategies, none of which is particularly unique and none of them providing quite the impact that one would expect.

(more…)

Update this?

May 8, 2012

Update this.

For those who don’t know me, here’s a little information about my recent activities. Over the bank holiday weekend I took my family out to the park, went to a museum and also caught the new Avengers movie (for an unrepentant geek like me, it’s a fantastic film). At various points over those three days I found myself checking out Twitter and sometimes posting a short message or two about what I was up to, commenting perhaps on the great sporting events which were on offer or just RTing something random I found interesting or amusing.

Usually this activity was accompanied by a familiar discussion between my husband and I: who on earth is interested in any of that?

My other half has accepted that my online activity is something that professionally I get a lot out of. I am not as prolific a personal tweeter as some, but usually post something up a couple of times a day, and invariably these missives are work related. I have a small but growing network whom I swap thoughts, jokes and links with, and sometimes I also tweet about things in my life which take place outside of te regular 9-5. But should I? Should I be mixing the two in some strange life/work cocktail which results in a sore head and regrets, or should I instead invest in some bricks and mortar to build a bit of a chinese wall between them? (more…)

That was the Local Government week that was

May 4, 2012

It’s the morning after the election night before – let the counting commence

That was the local government week that was is meant to provide people with a nice round up of the week that has just gone. Unfortunately, most of the exciting stuff going on in local government happened overnight and whilst we like to be topical we’re not THAT topical.

However, whilst we do not have the election covered in any substantial way we know the people who do (and doubtless have spent much of the last night checking out their site). So before you read any more do get your morning election fix from the excellent LGiU site:

Although they are still working on the content you can check out all sorts of bits and pieces including:

  • information on when most counts are taking place and results expected to be declared – bit.ly/IjynMt
  • 70 Count Correspondents at the counts feeding us local insight and analysis –bit.ly/IjlnMj
  • collected and mapped data for all authorities holding elections – bit.ly/Irk2wK

Plus, check out their blog which will have been updated throughout the night and then whilst you are blog checking do check in with our friends at the Guardian Local Government Network whose liveblog in partnership with the (yes, you guessed it) LGIU has been a source of much local election happiness over the past 24 hours.

The LGiU share our passion for democracy and we’re really pleased they cover the local elections in the detail they deserve, including those that aren’t in London! Nonetheless, it’s always worth checking out their previous post on the 50 councils to watch to see how accurate they were.

The elections this time round are quite varied with mayoral elections, council elections and mayoral referenda. It is therefore interesting to see Harry Phibbs from the Conservative Home Local Government Blog admitting to doing a full about turn on his approach to Mayors:

In the 1998 referendum on setting up a Greater London Authority with a Mayor of London and London Assembly I voted No. This was despite the encouragement of the Conservative leader William Hague for Londoners to vote Yes. I thought that it would be another layer of bureaucracy. That despite the assurances of Tony Blair that it would prove a GLC Mark II – there would be inherent empire building.

Despite the eight years of Ken Livingstone, which in many ways confirmed my misgivings, I think that it is better to have accountability for services such as transport and policing rather than have them run by Quangos. Localism should mean that where possible powers should be devolved from City Hall to the London boroughs. But there is a need for a Mayor of London. So I think I was wrong to vote No.

Always good to see a politician admit to a mistake in the past and as he argues later in the post this is not a party political issue but an issue for each and every voter to make their own mind up about. We agree.

One other slightly worrying election related issue comes from London where apparently police are to guard voting booths:

Police officers are to be stationed at every polling station in Tower Hamlets after the Met launched an official investigation into allegations of electoral fraud. Officers will man all 70 polling locations in the borough on Thursday alongside borough enforcement officers to prevent voter intimidation.

The measures come as the Met launched an investigation into “unprecedented” evidence of voter fraud in the key London borough less than 48 hours before the mayoral polls open.

Police sources today admitted the measures were unusual.

Very unusual and really concerning for local government as the body responsible for making sure our elections operate as they are meant to. Definitely something worth watching on election night.

It is also worth remembering that whilst many news organisations will report the elections in a way similar to Reuters:

Conservatives face local polls backlash over recession

These are actually local elections and not a referendum on the Government. We’d all do well to remember that.

So, what about the rest of the goings on in local government land?

We liked this piece on the Equalities Act from the ever excellent Guardian Local Government Network which rather optimistically concluded:

The Equality Act, however, could offer the chance to place equality at the centre of local government work. “It’s not seen as an add-on any more. It’s work that people do, day in and day out,” says Mohammed Ilyas, policy officer at Harrow council. “I think we have definitely cracked it this time.”

I think the article summed it up pretty well and really hope local government will manage to make the most of the Equalities Act and not just see it as something they need to ‘comply’ with.

An interesting new site reached our notice this week. The Independent Local Government site, although we’re not quite sure where it has come from seems to be quite interesting. As they argue:

In England today local government is little more than an executive arm of central government implementing policy and budgets sent down from Westminster and Whitehall. Many would argue that this inhibits local growth and development. The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, chaired by Graham Allen MP, and the Local Government Association, are campaigning for independent local government. This Information Daily Focus Report covers all the issues and provides a valuable interactive resource, free to access, thanks to sponsorship from Boilerhouse Media Group

Again, not quite sure we agree with them in total but really glad these issues are getting a wider airing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the site and the wider campaign.

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

Election day in the jungle

May 3, 2012

The polling station is always quiet early in the morning

Welovelocalgovernment has built up a network of contributors from around the country. It was therefore no surprise when one of our local government friends sent us a transcript from a local election campaign headquarters.

The following briefing allegedly took place in the campaign headquarters of Simba the Lion in his campaign to win the local ward of Jungle East. The other voice in this transcript is that of his advisor Nyoka the snake.

S: Nyoka, what’s the update? Am I going to manage another term looking after the vines and managing the gradual decline of the forest due to logging decisions made nationally that strip my resources?

N: Wow, you’re in a cynical mood this morning

S: Must just be election blues; I’ll be alright in the morning. So how’s it going?

N: We’re right on track Mr S; as always the main concern on election day is getting out the vote. As usual I’m having a little trouble persuading the campaign volunteers to just talk to people they know are going to vote for us.

S: Ah Nyoka, now who is the cynic? Part of the joy of politics is the debate about issues with people who disagree with you. Should we be relaxed about tourists coming to gawp at us? Should we support limited destruction of our habitat if the rest is better protected? Should we be stricter about the local residents who throw their own faeces at passing animals and then hide in trees? What is my position on birds being given equal rights to animals? And what about the insects? These are the debates that matter and why people come out and vote.

N: On the contrary sir, those are the debates that matter in the weeks preceding the vote. Today, only turnout matters. We want our voters to show up and we want the Chuwi (Simba’s main opponent) supporters to stay at home.

S: Go on then; how is our get out the vote effort going?

N: Well, it’s the classic problem; we have pledges but I have no idea whether the animals were telling the truth. We’re particularly strong in the eastern section of the ward where the monkey vote looks firmly in your camp. However, you know the monkey’s; young, free-spirited and not particularly interested in politics. As always, we’re really concerned that they won’t turnout. However, we’ve got some really enthusiastic young female monkeys on staff and they’ve pledged to spend the whole day in the trees persuading them to come to the polls.

S: What about some of the hard to reach communities within the jungle?

N: A classic problem. I suppose there are two theories. Take the leopards for example; one is that we’ve just done a really bad job at reaching out to them but on the other hand maybe they just don’t really care about politics at all and don’t want to be reached. We’ve tried a bit this election but when push comes to shove we’re going to focus on the community that turns out.

S: So, how are we going with the tortoises?

N: Well, as you know we could manage nearly 100% turnout from the tortoises. For some reason the elderly members of the junlge have always had good turnout rates. My campaign volunteers are out there offering them lifts to the polls as we speak.

S: Lifts?

N: It’s best you don’t know the details sir but it involves monkeys, vines and tree trunks.

S: Erm, ok… So tell me; how did we do with the community leaders?

N: Well sir as you know we’ve had quite a robust community campaign; focusing on those individuals who are influential within their community. In particular we’ve focused on the elephants this year.

S: Always a success; they can be very hierarchical.

N: Well, it does seem to be shifting a little. The younger bulls are less likely to simply follow the advice of their seniors. We’re still trying but we might need to reach out to the whole community in the future.

S: Good advice Nyoka, we shall make a real effort on that in future years. So what about the bird community?

N: Well, your twitter account has been very successful at reaching out to them. (Boom boom!)

S: So, what do you think are my chances? Am I going to be returned as the councillor for Jungle East?

N: As always this will probably depend on the turnout of the small mammals; they are the classic swing voters and tend to vote for the candidate they think is going to win. Which is confusing as we never know who that is going to be. Nonetheless, we both know that Chuwi offended the antelopes with his ‘all look the same to me’ comments so I think we should be ok.

S: So, let’s move to the more important question. Will I get a cabinet position on the jungle council?

N: I’m working on it….

(Nyoka winked at his master and slithered out of the HQ.)

S: (whispered) Plausible deniability…

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