Archive for the ‘We love the Council’ category

Hello World

June 28, 2012

Yesterday was a bitter-sweet day for us, when we announced that we will no longer be maintaining this blog and crafting a daily addition to our future back catalogue. While this was a hugely difficult decision, we are still sure that it was the right decision, made at the right time and for the right reasons.

However, this leaves us with a quandary; we still have opinions of our own and a desire to share them, yet no blog to do so through. After a little debate, we’ve decided that the only option that remains in this case is to finally remove our ninja masks.

Therefore, with no further ado, meet the We Love Local Government team.

Glen Ocsko

Creating this blog and then co-writing it has been one of the most amazing things I’ve had the privilege to do in my professional life. When we agreed in the corridor to do it in the first place I had no idea at all that it would end up anything like the benevolent beast it has become, and I am humbled by the comments, trust and opportunities it has provided along the way.

Having worked in engagement work for most of my professional life it always felt natural to discuss my ideas and engage with others who have a passion to do the same. Also, having a passion about all things digital meant that it was in retrospect strange that it took so long for me to attempt to discover my blogging voice. I’d like to think that I’ve started to do so, and hope that my own learning, questioning and development has perhaps sparked an idea or thought for someone else along the way.

There are many people I want to thank for their thoughts, guidance and support whether they have known that they were giving it or not, but foremost (and in true Oscar fashion) I need to thank my wife for her forebearance and understanding. When I have had to regularly cancel planned evenings in front of the tv or return early from nights out to put a new post up for the next day I’ve had nothing more than rolled eyes and a slightly mocking smile directed at me, fates I’m now able to handle. For someone who confesses that she has no interest in local government whatsoever she has put up with my scribblings and ramblings, helped proof read and critique them at times and tried to act as inspiration as often as possible: simply put, without her support I would have given up long ago. My thanks, love and appreciation go to her.

It would be simply impossible for me to finish on anything other than the biggest thanks for my partner-in-crime, Gareth. I don’t know if he is the McCartney to my Lennon, the Zippy to my Bungle or the Shearer to my Sheringham, but without his constant work, blogging attitude, quality of his work and analysis and simply his friendship, I would not be the person I am now and wouldn’t have such fond blogging, working and other memories to look back on.

I am constantly amazed at his ability to consider more angles on just about any policy than a human kaleidoscope, his depth and breadth of knowledge is stunning and were I ever to be in a position to recommend one person in local government for just about any job, his would by some way be the first name on my list.

Thanks Gareth!

It’s been an honour and a privilege, and something I’ll never forget doing. This may be the end of one blogging journey, but I hope it’s the start of many adventures yet to come.


Gareth Young

When Glen suggested the idea of a blog I genuinely didn’t know what to expect. At first it seemed like a rather strange way to spend our time; writing words that no-one would read for basically just our own entertainment. However, the more we did it the more I enjoyed it. The act of writing was actually therapeutic; providing the opportunity to debate issues that we don’t get to discuss on a day to day basis. I also learnt the value of blogging and discovered a whole world of like minded people out there in the social universe.

The blog provided me with an outlet for my frustrations and a chance to look at a broader group of topics than my job ever would. It enabled me to try out ideas and start debates. It also gave the opportunity to start some debates and to be actively curious in a fairly safe environment. Finally, and this is going to sound crazy, it was really fun. All in all I’ve loved every minute of it and am really glad that we did it.

This might be clichéd but as this is my last time writing for a while, like Glen, I’d like to thank some people.

First things first, I’d really like to thank my wife for putting up with what is a pretty random hobby. I remember one Saturday when we were meant to be going out. She was ready to go and found me sitting on the sofa reading the cabinet papers from a council hundreds of miles away looking for some information for a post I was writing. She might have laughed at me a little but was always really supportive. I tried not to let this blog interfere with family life but it is undeniable that she has put up with this obsession for the past three years with typical love and support.

She is amazing and I genuinely can’t imagine life without her.

I’d also like to thank my friends and colleagues for their support, inspiration and friendship and in some cases for not exposing the anonymity of the blog over the years. You’re all awesome. There are also tonnes of people who we’ve met anonymously through twitter and through the blog and whilst I’m not going to name them all individually I hope that we can be friends and colleagues and fellow instigators now that the anonymity is gone. I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to have come into contact with so many talented and inspirational people.

Finally, and this might sound sappy but I must thank Glen.

There are very few people you meet in life who inspire you to be better than you are. Glen is one of those people.

Glen is an innovator, a thinker and a wonderful writer whose work I really enjoyed reading. He has high standards, cares deeply about involving people in public services and is the exact definition of an early adopter. Every organisation needs people who will help break the mould, challenge pre-conceptions and turn these ideas into reality and Glen is that man. I’ve worked for him and worked with him and would happily do either again. He’s also a great friend and someone who will hopefully continue to be so for many years to come.

I am pleased that we wrote this blog, am proud of what we achieved and am a little sad that it has now come to an end. Nonetheless, it’s the right time to conclude and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity whatever that might be.

I look forward to catching up with you all sometime soon.


Welovelocalgovernment was a blog written by two UK local government officers called Glen and Gareth. We’ve stopped blogging now but you can always contact us individually through our e-mail addresses or on twitter.

So long and thanks for all the fish

June 27, 2012

Today is a big day in WLLG towers; after three years of taking a slightly sideways look at the world of local government we have decided to call it a day.

Over the last three years we have penned over 500 posts, received over 200,000 hits and, although this is an estimate, written over a quarter of a million words.

We’ve written pieces about Government policy, drafted thoughts about the future of local government, started debates about the way local government operates and tried to make our readers smile with the occasional light-hearted post.

When we started this blog we did so, in part, out of a sense of frustration. We were both enthusiastic about local government and the work we did and yet there seemed to be a lack of debate and reflection happening, either in our own council or in the wider world. We would spend lunchtimes debating policy and the way local government operated or, more often, making fun of the more stagnant parts of the sector.

Despite our best efforts to locate another outlet for some of this desire for discussion there wasn’t really anything out there. It was at this stage that we decided to do it ourselves; although admittedly for the first few months it was mainly for our own entertainment!

Over the years the blog has developed as we have. We’ve addressed bigger topics, written longer and more serious pieces and expanded our understanding of local government.

We strongly believe that the blog has got better as we’ve gone along and hope that, if only in a really small way, it has contributed to the wider debates and thinking going on about our sector. We also hope that we have entertained people a little.

Reading the above you may be wondering why exactly we are closing the blog.

First things first: it takes a lot of time to write this. We’ve dedicated quite a large chunk of our evenings and weekends to make this a daily blog with what we hope is a consistent standard and we reached a moment where perhaps we have other priorities.

Some have suggested that we just reduce the amount of posts we write each week, thus keeping the blog but reducing the workload. We did consider some sort of stripped down version but felt that the strength of WLLG was its daily nature. We either wanted to be doing it properly or not doing it at all.

Alongside this, we’re not naturally good at the whole anonymity thing. The blog started out anonymous almost by accident and in the long run one of its strengths was that no-one knew who wrote it, therefore people were judging the work on the content not on how it reflected back on the local authorities we worked for. This is not to say that we would not be happy to write what we wrote under our own names. We are proud of what we write and try to do so with an openness and humility that allows for disagreement, encourages debate and doesn’t appear either mean spirited or ignorant.

However, if we are not to run the blog on a daily basis then I think we’d rather not be left skulking in the shadows and cease the whole anonymity thing. We won’t be starting a new blog but we’re certainly not averse to writing a few words every now and again.

Before we go we do need – and want – to say thank you. We want to thank our readers without whom this whole enterprise would have been pointless. We’d like to thank the people who have sent us guest posts (you know who you are), have commented on our posts, those who have tweeted us and those who have inspired us. We’d like to thank our colleagues who have inadvertently given us ideas for posts and everyone we have worked with over the past three years. When local government is full of people with the ideas, enthusiasm and talent of some of the people we know in local government it is in safe hands.

So, that’s it…

It’s been an amazing time, but it’s now time to walk away while the smile is still on our faces and in our hearts.

There’s just one more post to come from us, and for the more curious of our readers you may want to come back tomorrow, but before you do we’d like to leave you with a paragraph from a previous post which we hope sums up what we were all about:

We Love Local Government because:

Within the catch all term ‘local government’ is a diverse, complicated, at times bizarre and yet dedicated, brilliant and innovative organism. At it’s best local government can make a lasting difference to the lives of the residents it serves and even at it’s worst you can guarantee that the motives will be good and that there’ll be something interesting to talk about. It’s a place where things done perfectly go unnoticed, whilst the slightest hiccup makes news columns big and small, which attracts some of the greatest thinkers and doers working today along with more than its fair share of those whose only purpose in life is to serve as a bad example to others.

Like any relationships, our love of local government has its ups and downs, its highs and lows, its moments of pure inspiration, its moments when the acronym WTF?! is the only way to describe things.  It may drive us mad at times, but if nothing else it will always drive us someplace interesting.

Local government is all this and so much more.

Welovelocalgovernment was a blog written by UK local government officers.

From the Vaults

June 26, 2012

Yesterday we shared some of our very favourite blogs out there, which between them cover a massive range of areas and focuses from so many angles and in so many different styles that we enjoy the struggle to keep up.

All this got us thinking about blogging in general, and some of the posts between us we ourselves have unleashed upon the world over the last few years.  Some of these have been good, others not quite so good, but overall we’re fairly satisfied with the overwhelming majority of our outpouring of thoughts and theories.  With that in mind, and to round off our introspective series with a retrospective and nostalgic post, here’s our own personal, non-scientific and entirely subjective pick of the We Love Local Government blog.  If you’ve got any personal favourites we’ve missed we really would love to hear what they are, if not then why not take a look at some of these and see how the blog grew from humble beginnings to where we stand today.

In the beginning…

It was way back in 2009 when we decided that some other people may enjoy some of the things we spoke about, so proceeded to set up this very blog and post up our first ever post, ‘How to walk in three easy steps‘.  This first toe-dip into the water made us smile enough to continue, so before too long we had added to it.  When we found out that we weren’t allowed to walk up the stairs we’ll admit to double taking, and when Christmas time rolled around we explored some of the health and safety implications it entailed.  And it was good.

It was 2010 when we decided to help the world to Meet Dave (no, not that one), and he soon became a recurring presence over the years.  2010 was also the year when we first featured a sort-of guest post, when one of our colleagues forwarded on an e-mail protocol that seemed just a tad on the over-the-top side not to share.

Having focussed up until that point on rather more minor issues, at this point in our evolution we made a small but important step by starting to think a little beyond the boundaries of our office with this initial look at shared services.  Of course we still delivered some more lighthearted messages (such as when a resident made a Members Enquiry in order to get some pigeons off their veranda), but this balance was one which soon became the norm for us.

It was one of the more lighthearted posts which began to prompt people who didn’t know us to start reading – a simple little post entitled “You know you’ve worked in local government too long when…” went around the office and was also picked up by the Guardian (some of the comments on there are worthy of inclusion!).  Soon after we went against the then-current grain and didn’t get upset when the Audit Commission went away, and we started seeing some silver lining appearing in the growing economic crisis facing local government.

Of graduates and jargon

The NGDP scheme was always an area close to our hearts, and over the past few years we’ve covered it from a number of angles.  To begin with, we began by asking where graduates might be able to find employment in local government, before taking a look at the graduates in question through two different pieces.  We think graduates are a good thing by the way, even if sometimes we rant about some of them!  We even tried to offer some advice to those who are new to local government, although it’s as true for anyone as it is for graduates.

Jargon and Councilese has always been something we are interested in, starting way back with our first pick of the litter.  Do you even remember when the word ‘efficiency‘ wasn’t intrinsically linked to ‘cuts’?  We’ve also tried to reveal some of the secrets of local government language (slightly tongue in cheek perhaps, but perhaps not far off the mark), as well as starting the biggest game of bingo in local government history.  That being said, sometimes having a strategy is a good idea, as long as you don’t just have it criticised of course…


It’s not been easy being a public servant, and we’ve been attacked by the media on a regular basis.  Whether it’s Panorama making comparisons with the pay of the PM, Channel 4 on sickness levels, the TPA on senior staff or ITV just having a go at us for, well, not much really, frankly we deserve more.  We also expected a bit of backlash when we had a pop at lazy journalists, going so far as to name our top three FOI-ers, but happily it was the good ones who actually read it and seemed to agree.

And it’s not just the media which we like to have a good rant about either.  When a ‘colleague’ took credit for another’s work we felt justified in making a point, although it didn’t appear to get through as we had to return to them later.  Even our DCLG masters have felt content to stick their boot in, from Grant Shapps to Eric Pickles himself.  We don’t always disagree with Mr Pickles however, and will pay him his dues when we think he’s got something right.

Localism and the cuts

It would have been wrong of us to not share our thoughts on Localism, which we started to do by declaring that it’ll only ever work when people accept that some areas will be different to others; seems a little obvious to us, but not to others perhaps.  Of course it always helps to have a good benchmark to measure against.  Local approaches to other things have borne fruit, not least the local approach to the big clean up after the riots, which showed all that is good in our communities.

The cuts have had a monumental effect on us all but have been reacted to in different ways.  Some, such as children’s services, declared that they couldn’t be cut for reasons as grand as ‘a child might die‘, whilst some individuals have considered how the whole situation affected them mentally and emotionally.  It’s also not easy when the focus of the cuts has been local whilst the debate has stayed national – shouldn’t people be thinking of us and the challenges we face a little more?  However, our favourite analogy of the situation remains a guest post comparing local government to life on the high seas.

Moving on

Some of our blogging team moved around and shared their stories. Whether writing about feelings of survivors guilt, concerns over one guest-blogger’s feeling that they have a non-job (whatever they are) and another’s lack of really caring about their job (despite doing it very well), telling your job that you are leaving them or the live blogging final-day-in-the-life-of post, we’ve been through the mill and will no doubt do so again.  We’ve even begun wondering whether or not we’ve reached the glass bottleneck, and whether actually we needed to find some sort of specialism if we were to have any chance of moving on.  Of course, sometimes you find yourself thinking actually, perhaps I do need a new job, especially when your boss asks you to handwrite their notes for them

The interwebs

Another area we’ve had particular interest in has been around ICT.  Social media has been a regular topic of conversation, although sometimes we concentrate on things somewhat more mundane such as our propensity for demanding constantly changing and complex passwords for our multiple systems.  We’ve attacked intranets and proposed i-pads for councillors, and discussed whether or not we should be happy blurring the working lines through regular updates.

Christmas time

As we said above, Christmas time is always a lot of fun, and we managed to have some with a little caroling wordplay (and a bit more for good luck)and some local government jokes.  We nabbed Eric Pickles Christmas letter to Santa, mused on what to buy for colleagues through your secret Santa process

And finally…

At the end of the day, this blog is all about the good things in local government. Whether it’s sharing a little appreciation for some undervalued colleagues such as accountants, saying all of the things we love about local government or that our friends love, celebrating our own successes or our failures we’ve always tried to have something to say.  Sometimes things have gone wrong.  Sometimes we’ve written things and found that not everyone always agrees with us, especially when it’s a tough situation, but that’s fine; as long as the discussions are being had we’re happy enough.  And of course, should our own big idea – of a day/week celebrating all that is local government – ever come to pass then we will be happy that our hard work is paying off

And finally, here are a few of our favourite random funny posts, for no real reason other than because we like them.

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

What a wonderful world (of local government blogs and blogging)

June 25, 2012

Last week we wrote a number of different posts exploring themes within local government. There was one area, in particular, that we didn’t cover and that was local government blogging.  Today, it’s time to rectify this.

When we started our blog there didn’t seem to be a lot of other local government blogs out there. There were of course some that we have now discovered but equally the quantity and quality has grown over the last few years. Thus, when we sat down to write this post it was a real challenge to narrow them down to a short enough list to fit in a post. We’ve tried our best to catch all of our favourites but if we have missed you out we can only apologise. Now without further ado let’s get to it:

Guardian Local Government Network 

Why? What can we say? Whilst we have our occasional disagreements with the Guardian it is surely hard for local government professionals, of whatever stripe, to challenge the notion that the Guardian Local Government Network is an invaluable resource for all local government staff. The posts are captured from a range of authors and cover a vast range of local government specialities. If you’re not a member then make sure you sign up.

One to read: It’s impossible to pick one post but if you want a feel of what the GLGN is about why not read this piece about the new homes bonus.

Richard Vize column: 

Why? Whilst we’re talking GLGN it is worth mentioning their contributing editor, Richard Vize. Richard’s weekly column is unique amongst local government writers in that it gets right under the skin of some of the major issues impacting the sector and is always worth a read, even on the rare occasions when we disagree with him.

One to read: Richard’s take of Eric Pickles’ high street plan is well worth a read: 

Flip Chart Fairy Tales 

Why? Because it is one of our favourite blogs and although not about local government it does address issues of public sector reform and even when it doesn’t we are yet to find a post we didn’t enjoy reading.

One to read: There is so much to choose but a post entitled Culture eats strategy is always worth a read; a little provocation for those of us embarking on transformation programmes 

Not so Big Society

Why? This is a blog about health and social care written by members of staff who work in social care. Reading the blog no-one can be in any doubt how much the authors care about the people they work with and the policy context they are asked to work in. Anyone interested in these areas should check out this blog as a fantastic counter balance to whatever else is being reported.

One to read: The integration of health and social care is increasingly a hot topic in local government and this post tackles the issue from the first had perspective of mental health.

LGIU Blog: 

Why? We really like the LGIU; the slightly scrappier alternative to the rather staid LGA. Plus, they have a blog and they aren’t afraid to use it. The blog varies between policy blogs, extracted from the wider reports they specialise in (and which should be a key part of your working reading), comment pieces, guest posts and extensive coverage of local government elections. Always worth a read.

One to read: Why not check out this post about Health and Well Being boards and the ever changing health agenda?

Comms 2 point 0: 

Why? Becuase if you are a communications professional working in the public sector this is a blog and information hub just for you. It’s written by communications professionals and always has an interesting thing to say. Plus, it gathers up lots of other interesting links and highlights them for the discerning communicator. Plus, their twitter account has links to five interesting articles almost every morning.

One to read: This post about what comms teams should look like in 2012 seems eminently sensible and is well worth a read.

Dan Slee Blog

Why? Because we are massive fans of Dan Slee and so should you be. A contributor to Comms2point0 Dan’s a local government communicator and as far as we can make out simply a top banana. His blog is about social media and digital communications in PR and local government and is well worth reading.

One to read: 11 Golden Rule for Social media in an organisation. Does exactly what it says on the tin.


Democratic Localism

June 20, 2012

The least worst option…

On first glimpse this post title is not too different to the post about politics we posted on Monday. Isn’t democracy and accountability just another element of the political context local government is facing?

We don’t think so.

The long term future of local government is far more dependent on what we do with the structure of democracy and accountability it operates in than any policy change dreamed up by this or any other Government.

Local Government, as it currently exists has elements of success and failure pre-programmed into it. On the success side of the ledger local government has proven to be the most responsive and quickest changing part of Government. It has, especially in recent years, proven able to make quick cuts and rapid investments, to commission imaginatively and to provide a series of complex local services to its communities in a fairly well received way.

On the other hand, local government is becoming increasingly less democratic at the local level. People don’t vote for their local councillors in anywhere near the numbers they vote for their MPs (we don’t even get levels as high as the Voice!). Even where local people are turning up to vote my perception is that in many areas the effort expended to capture that vote, by the local politicians, is rapidly decreasing.

What’s more in many ways it is not hard to understand why the voters don’t care and the politicians don’t try as hard as they once might have. Whilst Governments of all stripes might declare their support for localism the reality is that national politicians fear losing control, and the postcode lottery that might follow, even more. This leads to ring fences, legislative controls, guidelines, targets and other requirements dominating the public service provision. The current Government have done a little to reduce these but with 25% budget cuts coming it is very hard for local authorities to really do much more than the statutory services they are obliged, under the law, to provide.

Equally, local government in theory is predicated on the idea of local difference. This is fine in theory but we are also a universalist sort of country. I’m pretty sure members of the public would be ok with different street cleaning routines in different parts of Britain but the three biggest services in a local authority are all ones which many would consider needing a consistent approach; those being social care for children, working age adults and older persons .

So, in many ways it can be argued that local government is overly centrally driven, lacking in democratic legitimacy and whilst innovative and nimble lacking in a unique mandate.

The above is an intentionally negative view and laid out to spark debate; we love local government but are genuinely fearful that in twenty years local councils will just be glorified quangos or foundation trusts without the real democratic underpinning so crucial, in our minds, to what government is meant to be. We are, despite everything, passionate supporters of true democracy.

One of the reasons for out optimism is that there is light on the horizon in the form of two clear broad alternative visions currently being posited for this organisational and political malaise. Option 1 is broadly Steve Hilton localism, captured within the context of the Big Society and option 2 is empowered municipalism, as proposed by the ever energetic Graham Allen MP.


The political context

June 18, 2012

The political context – on a mug

At a recent WLLG catch up we decided that we’d like to mix it up a little and try something different with the blog. So for this week we will be presenting five short posts looking at five elements of the local government sector and where we think we are right now. Today’s post is the first in the series and looks at the political context. We hope you enjoy this and the other pieces this week and look forward to hearing your responses to them.

When we stumbled upon the idea of writing a week long themed version of the WLLG blog taking on board some of the broader issues impacting local government I signed up to write this post thinking it would be a rather simple localist treatise plotting the future for local government in a new environment. This was not the case.

The more I think about it the more I am reminded of the innate complexity of the local government policy arena we all work in. Councils operate hundreds of services and each of them is governed to a greater or not quite a great extent by the Whitehall machinery. Thus, there is little that local government does that is not deeply impacted by central government.

This post then, has a danger of being central government focused which is precisely what I had hoped to avoid. However, despite my misgivings we do need to start with the coalition.

The recent Queens Speech was a bit of a waste of time and effort and seemed to many to show a Government that had run out of ideas.

I differ a little.

I suggest that the reason the Queens Speech was such a letdown was that the Government has already cast its dye in most key areas and is basically just in an implementation phase. The true impact of these changes will have a much greater effect on the perceived success, or failure, of the coalition than anything the Queen read out in 2012.

In most key areas of Government activity the coalition wisely used the first few years of the term to get their reforms out of the way.

Austerity and the accompanied dramatic cuts to public spending are definitely an ideological approach to our economic malaise but they provide a consistent, if controversial, base to the coalition’s economic plans. Whatever ‘Plan B’ ends up looking like it will be based on the austerity foundations. Whether this succeeds or ends up failing dramatically will probably define the success or otherwise of the coalition. Meanwhile these cuts are probably the single biggest risk facing local government now and in the next five or more years.

The changes to the welfare system will have an even greater impact on the local government finances. This is not least because the government has cynically told local government to cut council tax benefit by 10% whilst protecting all sorts of people and then at the same time said that if local government wants to not make the cuts they can just cut other services. Of all the Government changes this is the one that annoys me the most as it is brazen, cynical and most of all cowardly.

Other welfare changes will also impact local government and put more pressure on our services.

Meanwhile the major changes the Government is making to Health and Education are already underway and each impacts local government. Free schools and academies no doubt undermine the influence of local authorities over local education but many councils are more vexed with the Government’s attitude over funding for new school building or renovation. Structures are important but what matters to teachers, parents, students and local politicians more is whether the schools that everyone is working in are in a fit state.

Mr Gove and his colleagues should make sure this problem is fixed, and fixed soon.

The changes to the health service have possibly wide ranging impacts on local government. Although the NHS has basically reconstituted PCTs in another form with the Commissioning Support Organisations for now, in the long term it seems more logical that local authorities might provide partnership to their Clinical Commissioning Groups. From a place perspective isn’t this more sensible than what is currently being offered in many areas? The Government seem keen to push local CCGs to operate tendering processes between local councils and the private sector thus ensuring that CCGs either go NHS or go private but I hope the Government will change their tune on that one.

Meanwhile, the challenges of localism and the Big Society will continue to bring new players into the local service provision. This provides a unique challenge to local government, not least as this will probably mean that local government has to get better at change; services may change providers every few years, services may fail and commissioning will have to be imaginative to meet ever changing local needs. The risks of this are huge but there are opportunities to exploit as well.

All of the above examples provide challenges for local politicians. No longer are they at the top of a command and control structure where their every word is implemented by somewhat star struck council officers. Instead, increasingly their direct influence is declining, to be replaced by an influence based on their ability to negotiate on behalf of their communities. I would argue that this makes councillors infinitely more important as without this democratic accountability or local consent we are left with services that have no connection to the communities they serve.

However, it is a real challenge and will involve councillors upping their collective game. Whether we have provided them with enough support to play this new role I am uncertain but seeing the development of it will be fascinating over the next 5-10 years.

Whilst most of the Government’s legacy is already put in train there is one area where we don’t yet know the impact or indeed whether the Government is going to have the courage to put in place a long term sustainable solution; funding of Adult Social Care. As the Barnet graph of doom shows, if this issue is not addressed soon the entire council budget could be taken by funding adult and childrens social care within a decade. An unfathomable amount of people support something equivalent to the Dilnot report and the fact that the Government have yet to put forward a Bill to implement the recommendations is a peculiar example of either Government feebleness or civil service intransigence or both.

As you can see, a post that was meant to be a localist treatise ended up being a quick trot through the impact of the coalition government on local government.

This is, of course, not totally fair. Local government is still the most innovative and fast moving part of the Government structure in the UK. Thus, whilst austerity is the unifying feature for all local government and the changes being made by the Government represent the context in which local government is operating right now, the changes being made around the country differ depending on the council concerned.

I’m going to be honest; I don’t know what’s happening in over 350 councils around the country. I could probably not do much more than ten. However, every time I visit a council or speak to more enthusiastic and forward thinking members of staff there is always something interesting and innovative happening.

Local government’s ability to continually flex to the changing contexts we face is central to the Government being able to introduce its radical and wide ranging policy prospectus. Our role is also crucial to ensuring that services provided locally that so many people rely on are provided in the best way possible.

Local government will rise and meet this challenge and it would be nice if the coalition recognised this once in a while rather than always being on the attack.

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: 


June 15, 2012

Weakness can be a strength… But perhaps not at the Olympics!

If there is one thing I have learnt in my local government career it is that we are collectively really poor at identifying personal weaknesses.

By this I don’t mean that we are bad at identifying mistakes or errors. On the contrary we are excellent at this and many authorities have cultures of hanging people out to dry without giving them support or identifying why the problem occurred.

Instead, what I am talking about is our individual inability to be self-reflective and recognise that we have some weaknesses. Equally, the managers in our workplaces seem to have difficulty identifying the weaknesses of those below them and focusing on them as areas of improvement.

I don’t think that weaknesses are a bad thing. Weaknesses imply other areas that are strengths and we should be proactive in accepting that people have a bit of both. If not then we are probably accepting mediocrity across the board or expecting universal brilliance or incompetence, both of which are equally unlikely.

This inability to identify weaknesses impacts the organisation in a number of ways.

  1. In the workplace we often set staff up to fail by asking them to do things which they are not comfortable doing. We then run the risk of assuming they are poor performing rather than just someone with strengths and weaknesses (like all of us).
  2. People become defensive when mistakes are made or performance is low instead of asking for help as soon as they realise things are going off track.
  3. We fail to improve our staff due to our focus on what they do well. Thus, a member of staff could be in an organisation for ten years and never take action on an area, or be told, that they really need to improve in certain areas.
  4. Teams are rarely ever planned with complementary skills. Indeed, as we fail to recognise weaknesses appropriately we end up with teams with shared weaknesses.
  5. On a slightly different but related note, projects are often reported as being green because people are reluctant to admit that there are weaknesses in their project and would rather pitch it as green than admit failings and ask for help.

The problem doesn’t just exist in individual staff members or an organisational culture that doesn’t encourage this sort of critical self-awareness; it also rests with managers.


We’ve had an idea…

June 14, 2012

If we’ve said it once we’ve said it loads of times: everybody loves an arbitrary milestone.  We here at WLLG Towers are no exception to this rule, and way back in the dark and distant past (well, October last year anyway) we celebrated breaking the 100,000 hits barrier by asking some of our favourite local government types to tell us why they too love local government.

Well, we’ve just sailed past the 200,000 barrier with barely a glance over our shoulders, so it’s high time we celebrated another marker along the way with something a little different.  An e-mail which began with the words “I’ve had an idea…” started winging its way between us, and we thought we should share it with you as we think it’s got legs.  Short, stumpy legs perhaps, but legs nonetheless.

Local government has a rough deal.  We do more things than most give us credit for, better than most know and all without much in the way of reward past job satisfaction.  We do all we do for pride and for the local people we serve.  We would say this is a noble endeavour, and worthy of wider recognition and – perhaps – even appreciation.

With this in mind, we’d like to propose that we take the route of so many other issues and entities out there, and declare an arbitrary day or week as ‘Local Government Day/Week’. (more…)

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 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.


Are officers or members really in charge?

June 12, 2012

Any excuse…

One of the many criticisms targeted at local government is that councils are not really run by the locally elected politicians but instead are just run by council officers. Some council officers agree with this sentiment but instead of seeing this as a criticism believe that councils would be better if councils were indeed truly run by their officers.

It’s often been said that if you annoying people on both sides of an argument then you are probably doing something right.

However, although the truth probably lies in the middle of the two positions it is still an issue that is worthy of further debate. And unlike the relationship between civil servants and ministers (thanks in part to Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn) the relationship between officers and members is comparably under-studied.

There are two questions that need to be answered:

  1. Are members or officers really in charge?
  2. Does it actually matter?

To answer the first question there is both a technical answer and a practical answer.

In the technical sense councillors are mostly in charge. All major decisions need to be made by the council or cabinet and whilst smaller decisions can be made by delegated officers (usually senior officers) the delegated authorities that allow for this are constitutional, controlled by the councillors anyway and can easily be removed.

Anyone who has worked in a local authority can also attest to the fact that councillors can and do interfere in almost every area of the council, even if sometimes they focus disproportionately on smaller areas. However, and this is a big however, the extent to which a local authority is truly run by the councillors is open to debate.

Technically, the councillors are in control and practically they do get involved in all sorts of areas but the extent of their control is limited to their capacity, and desire, to be in charge.

And this is where the debate really begins.

Because, in all areas where the councillors, for whatever reason, choose not to be in charge officers are left holding the baby.