Archive for the ‘Big P Politics’ category

Officers and Members – A response

June 13, 2012

Two days in a row for the same picture… Gotta love ‘Yes Minister’

Sometimes a post we write generates a little debate. Often this debate takes place on twitter or on the comments section of the post but sometimes one of our readers is inspired enough to write a more lengthy response and sends it to us direct. When this happens we like to, with permission, publish the response and see what the rest of our readers make of it. Today is one such day; yesterday’s post about officers and members argued:

Do councillors or officers run local authorities? The rather messy answer is both, and rightly so. In my experience councillors should be in charge but officers must be freed up to make the decisions that councillors do not have the time, capacity or inclination to make.

I hope you enjoy today’s post, join in the debate and if there is anything you’d like to contribute do comment below, tweet or drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com but not before you’ve enjoyed this:

When I was a relatively junior officer, I was told by my boss that officers run the council despite the members, and I think that there are times when this is true. This might charitably be characterised as protecting members from the consequences of their intentions or actions, particularly when they have not taken the initial advice of officers.

Of course I understand the democratic accountability argument, but the reality is that most councillors are selected by a handful of party hacks who are generally struggling to find anyone to stand, and are elected by 40% of the 33% that can be bothered to vote. That is hardly a ringing mandate to do anything, so let’s not get too teary-eyed about it.

Before you write me off as a cynical bureaucrat, let me say that I have worked with some great councillors, who have a clear vision about what they want to achieve, and the ability and intelligence to drive it through. Generally they understand that the minutiae of actually running the organisation should be left to the officers, whom they rightly hold accountable for delivering their objectives. As your blogger says, things are achieved then that would never be achieved without that political intervention. This is when democracy really is working. More needs to be done to persuade people of this calibre that local government is something in which it is worth them investing their time.

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Do we employ the right people in local government?

May 23, 2012

Answering questions…

Our good friends at the Guardian Local Government Network deliver each Friday a local government careers e-mail. The e-mail includes a link to their ‘working lives’ blog where local government employees describe what their job entails; a section called ask our members where local government people can ask for career advice and links to jobs and helpful career based articles. If you haven’t signed up before now you should.

All of this is by introduction to today’s post which seeks to answer the GLGN’s career question of the week:

Is local government employing the wrong type of people? Does it need to think about bringing people in from a much wider group, rather than focusing on people with previous public sector experience?

This is a common question and one that is often asked of the Whitehall civil service; an institution that generally employs policy generalists at the age of 25 and then at 45 after twenty years doing just that expects them to run departments, mange substantial IT systems and deliver complicated projects. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, was particularly scathing of this element of the civil service and I have no doubt that the debate over civil service skills will continue under the current administration.

But how does this work for local government? On face value the two shouldn’t be comparable. Whereas the whole civil service is, and here I am stereotyping for effect, basically one big policy team, local councils usually have a small policy team outside of the Chief Executive’s office. The rest of the staff on the council are carrying out front line service delivery.

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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.

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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…)

Independance

May 2, 2012

Independent of the politics but can she escape Sir Humphrey?

Election fever is all around; can you not feel it?

Ok, so maybe the election has not quite caught the imagination of the great British public in the way more national elections have done. However, there are always some interesting things going on and one of them is in London.

Now, as someone who doesn’t live in London I found it easy to assume that the battle in our capital is simply between our old friends Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone. Indeed, according to the polls that is exactly what it is and today’s post was almost about their entertaining rivalry.

However, according to one of the same polls I saw the candidate in third place is an independent former civil servant named Siobhan Benita. Admittedly she is languishing on 6% of the vote and in another year might have been just another afterthought on the ballot paper. However, amongst some of my Londoner friends the idea of the independent Benita has really caught on. They look at the sideshow that is Boris and Ken and think that perhaps there is a real need for an anti-politician to run things.

Indeed, apparently this is one of Ms Benita’s campaigning issues, as her campaign says on her website:

She is not a politician. She is a successful working mum who has resigned from her senior Whitehall job to run in the Mayor election.

She believes that the Mayor of London should represent people, not political parties and she will ensure that all voices are heard.

She is independent, honest and inclusive.

I’m sure she is all of the above but in trying to understand why she has only 5% of the vote I’m just not so sure she is right to focus so strongly on her being non-political.

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All politics is national

April 4, 2012

But not in Britain it ain't

The Americans have a saying that: ‘all politics is local’. By this they mean that unless a politician really understands what is going on locally they will ultimately be unsuccessful. In Britain, George Galloway apart, our politicians seem to have totally forgotten this maxim and follow the principle that all politics, not matter how local on the face of things, is national.

To be honest, nothing annoys me more than sitting down for my annual local government election Dimbleby all-nighter and being greeted with Nick Robinson explaining to his hapless voters that ‘whilst these elections are local elections, and we should remember that, it is a massive night for (insert name) as he seeks to demonstrate that his party should form the next Government.’

And it’s not just political journalists but politicians as well. Local elections have become, at least in the minds of those that operate nationally, simply a proxy in the ongoing war between the two and half main parties we have in the UK.

Every year I as the election period approaches, alongside trying to remember what Purdah means, I have a secret hope that our elected politicians will treat these local elections as what they are; local elections.

This year seems likely to provide me with yet another disappointment.

On Monday Ed Miliband launched the Labour campaign for the local government elections. Did he mention how Conservative or Liberal Democrat councils were not delivering good services or praise Labour councils for their innovation? Did he at least mention any of the big issues that affect local government?

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Budget takeaways

March 22, 2012

More nutritious than the budget?

People far cleverer than us were making their pronouncements on yesterday’s budget almost as soon as it had left George Osborne’s red box. We were never going to match that so instead have produced our budget takeaways:

False promise of the day:

The Chancellor announced that he wants a ‘simpler tax system where people understand what they need to pay’… Perhaps he was going to announce a bold new proposal for the design of local taxes that links payment locally to service delivery? Nope, he just meant publishing a pie chart similar to the ones in local government council tax bills… At least we’re trailblazers right?

Sort of good news announcement of the day:

From the LGIU:

The Government will provide £30 million to local authorities in England towards the transitional costs to new local support schemes for council tax’

But won’t provide more money to meet, you know, the benefits that are being cut. Helpful for local government; no respite for the people who are about to lose their benefit.

Unfathomable thought of the day

Did we just witness a budget where the individual in my council who benefited the most from it was my Chief Executive? Really? No, really?

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