Posted tagged ‘cuts’

Ooops!

February 3, 2011

Sometimes you just have to accept blame

I messed up.

A few weeks before I joined my new team I produced a report.  It was on the budget and how it affected local people, and was drafted by one of my old team.  I then edited it, made a few additions and sent it on to the service head responsible for that area, who added it as an appendix to a cabinet report.

The trouble is, the report didn’t pull punches.  Many local people had told me directly that there was one service in particular which they saw as not delivered well and which was ripe for some cuts; the service I have just joined.  Some people did think it was good and wanted to see it kept, but even those wanted to see it reduced and refined.

So yesterday I come back from lunch to find my new boss fretting about it and trying to work out if anyone might actually read it and if so what to do about it.  Not perhaps the first impressions I was hoping to make.

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Guilty feelings

January 18, 2011

Feeling guilty about guilty feelings

Today I properly start my new job.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I started it yesterday, but this is the first day when I’ll actually be sitting at my new desk.  Effectively I’ll be doing the same thing as I was before, but in a different service and inexplicably at a higher grade.

And do you know what emotion is coursing through my veins?  Surely I should be happy to be employed when so many others aren’t; relieved that I can continue to support my family; excited about the new challenges ahead perhaps, or even chuffed that I’m valued by others.

Nope.  I feel guilt.

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Schapp Attack

January 11, 2011

Is he really helping here?

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about Councils using stealth taxes and raising charges in order to pay for the salaries of their Chief Execs and other senior managers.  Normally I would ignore such things as the tripe that they are, but over the weekend and the beginning of this week some fairly big names have waded into the debate.

On Monday I heard Grant Shapps discussing this on BBC London, and listened to him trot out this and other lines such as how local authorities should need to do nothing more than a bit of restructuring to save the 4.5%.  He happily glossed over the fact that many Councils are facing a cut of much more than this, with some having to make 8.9% this year and then keep on cutting until they’ve saved over 25% over the next few years.

He then spouted the old faithful: “how many chief execs earn more than the Prime Minister”.  We’ve spoken about this ridiculous argument before, but it seems to be the default position when it comes to anything to do with money and local authorities.  This arbitrarily set wannabe high-water mark should be something that the Daily Express came up with and championed, but instead it appears to have gained traction with the impressionable masses.

The trouble with all of this talk is that it paints local government in a universally bad light.  Central government seems to be positioning itself to blame local government should anything go wrong, and in examining the pay of a handful of executives has a quick and easy tag line to stand behind.  They ignore the fact that even if these execs went down to a fraction of what they earned, this still wouldn’t even make a dent in the amount that has to be saved and would be nothing more than a political statement.

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If a job’s worth doing, do it properly

January 6, 2011

Let's see some proper ideas for a change

I noticed this article recently, which discusses the fact that most Chief Execs won’t take a pay cut as demanded by DCLG.  I can imagine Eric Pickles’ rage and fury that an edict he has issued has been summarily ignored by those in the field.

To be honest, and I’m not going to make friends here, I can see the Chief Execs points.  The cutting of their salary by 5% is hardly going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, and is nothing more than a token gesture of solidarity.  In fact it’s not even a very good gesture – if I saw my own chief exec taking a 5% cut I’d still be aware that their remaining 95% was ample to support their lifestyles.

This is typical of the small-mindedness and headline grabbing attention that is getting local government nowhere.  People aren’t worried about whether their chief execs get paid £142,500 or £150,000, they are worried about whether or not four out of five of their team will be made redundant within a few months.

This spending review, and the restructures that go with it, are a chance for us to really look at what services local government should actually really be providing, and to what standards.  We should be looking at the things people need rather than the things people want, or even the things we want to deliver because either they sound good or because we have always provided them in the past.  If a service is needed – and I mean really needed, not just desired – then we should be keeping it and delivering it to at least acceptable if not good standards.  If not, then let’s look at other ways of providing it or simply letting it go.

Instead, from my own experience we are doing none of this.  We are looking at the people in our teams, picking those that we like or those projects which have received a positive response from the media or our bosses and also looking at power bases.  Senior managers are not doing anything which will jeopardise their own status or job security (as demonstrated by Camden in my opinion), and in fact are doing all they can to be the last ones standing.

If we keep focussing on easy targets, like how much a single member of staff is getting paid, we are missing whatever chance we had of making something positive out of this awful financial situation.  Let’s stop looking at a single twig and look at the whole forest.

Council Christmas Carols

December 21, 2010

It’s official: Christmas is here.  The X-factor final has been and gone, the Coca Cola advert has appeared on the tele and we have all been and gone from our local government Christmas parties.  This year we thought we’d bend our minds and those of some of our friends to the task of creating some very special Christmas Carols which have been tweaked for local government just a little.

And if we forget to say it:  Happy Christmas to all in the public sector!

“Jingle Bells”
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh
Oh jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way
Subject to Health & Safety checks, a Trading Standards license, and undertaking an EqIA

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Fearing the (Danish) Butcher’s Knife

December 10, 2010

A rather strange metaphor for local government?

Today a guest post from a correspondent who wanted us to write about the ‘phrase de jour’ in Local Government right now: the ‘salami slice’. We went one better and got them to write the piece for us. Enjoy:

In these austere times, I, like most people, wander merrily into work each day wondering whether today will be the day that the brown envelope will land on my desk, and I can at long last bid adieu to the 1960’s concrete monstrosity, we affectionately refer to as ‘the Civic Building’. Sadly that day is still yet to come, and in many ways I fear that I may actually survive to become one of those lucky few who have to achieve the same output with 25% less staff.

If yours is anything like my authority, you will have undergone previous savings programmes, which involved bringing in the dreaded consultants from one of the big firms. These have sought to skim that 5 or 10% off the top of every budget, only for the programme to finish and everyone realise that the savings aren’t actually achievable because the work these teams do still has to get done.

This can’t be the way to solve the current budget cuts and we simply don’t have the margins of error this time. While I am partial to a little bit of Salami now and again, slicing of this variety has no place in creating a ‘Council of the Future’.

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Dumped by text

December 2, 2010

Any excuse to put a picture of Eric Pickles with a knife!

Sometimes there are stories from our Local Authorities which we choose not to write. There are many reasons for this; we don’t want to embarrass our employers or give the impression that we don’t both enjoy our jobs and believe that our local authority is providing excellent public services that people really value.

However, where a story is indicative of the problems facing the sector right now and where we can keep the authority and ourselves anonymous it makes sense to tell it; even if we do so rather cautiously.

Today is one of those days.

As the more observant of you will have noticed most of us who write for this blog have found our way onto the redundancy list of our respective local authorities. However, in my case this happened in a somewhat less than conventional way.

As has been mentioned in other places the cuts to local authority budgets have come deep and fast. My authority had planned to announce the details of our restructure at a series of all-staff meetings. However, there was too much work to do so the announcement was delayed for a few days. It was then delayed again and again and as is natural the rumours circulated over when we would find out.

When we did find out, it happened in a slightly unconventional way:

We were told of our possible redundancy by e-mail.

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Meetings, watches and time wasting

November 24, 2010

 

Meetings with graphical characters; that would make me turn up on time!

 

An e-mail in our inbox (welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com) tickled me so, following the success of the drunk senior manager, I thought I’d reprint it in full…

If you have similar or better stories please just send them along. We might even have to make this a weekly feature if we keep getting so many good ones.

A funny story that I should share with you from this morning. I was sat in the programme management office, which leads onto the meeting room. One person turns up at 8.45am, says that he has a 8.30am meeting which I know nothing about. He shrugs his shoulders and wanders off. Another person arrives at 9.05am claiming that they are there for the 9am meeting. I said the other guy just left and that he thought it was at 8.30am. She stays for some idle chit chat, shrugs her shoulders and wanders off. Another person arrives at 9.20 claiming the she is also there for the 9am meeting. I said she should wait and I will call the others however she could only stay until 9.30am and therefore left. Finally the fourth member of the 9am meeting arrives at 9.35am. I thought about explaining the situation but didn’t bother.

It was amusing the fact that a) no one actually turned up on time even according to the time they thought the meeting was and b) no one seemed to care.

But fear not, these are the people who are going to lead the Council to a bright new future!

Fear not indeed; with people as concerned about time keeping as that a few budget cuts should be no problem at all. You’ve just gotta love local government.

Reflections on a bonfire

November 5, 2010

In France this would be a riot; in Britain, it's a celebration

It is bonfire night; a strangely British celebration of one man’s attempt to blow up our Parliament. If you think about it, the whole event seems to be a peculiar celebration of terrorism.

Most years bonfire night seems to pass me by but this year the whole event has a strange imagery; not only are we celebrating an attempt to blow up parliament at a time when the cuts are inviting people to consider how they feel about their politicians, as perhaps not seen for the past twenty years, but in addition I can’t help but reflect on the so-called bonfire of the quangos.

Not only are quangos being ‘burnt’ but right now it feels like the whole of the public sector is at risk of being placed, at least in part, upon the Government’s metaphorical bonfire.

With this in mind I was wondering whether it is possible to extend my local government bonfire metaphor. Here goes:

The guy: The obvious answer would be George Osborne but I’m going for Nick Clegg; the person who ends up taking the flack for a wider conspiracy.  Poor old Nick often looks like he’s taken a good stuffing these days, and despite being full of potentially good words it all looks like it’s going to go up in smoke very easily.

The dry wood: Probably the public sector workers  themselves; chopped up to pay for the sins of others.  On current experience there is the the odd bit of rotten, wet pap that might be difficult to burn away, but that won’t stop it being thrown on anyway.

The cartwheel: Eric Pickles; a man in perpetual motion, essentially going nowhere, singing everything around him whilst everyone else is waiting for him to burn out a little.

The sparklers: The Big Society; sparkly things which allow individuals to take control of the delivery of public fireworks; the problem is they fizzle out a little too quickly.

The rocket: George Osborne; blazing a trail across the sky before making a massive explosion.

The dying embers: Public sector reform as salami slicing takes over.

On a more serious note, this evening when we stand there watching the fireworks, eating baked potatoes and warming ourselves on the bonfire, we’ll also be reflecting on the jobs of public sector workers suddenly at risk, on the public services that will no longer be provided and on the shift in emphasis in the way we think about the State.  Is it possible that this is more of a revolution than that attempted by Mr Fawkes?  Maybe not, but the bonfire will mean more to me this year than it has in the past.

When is an efficiency not an efficiency?

November 1, 2010

A bright idea in an efficient age...

I had an eventful day last week and for some reason it has taken me ten days to process it into actual thought. I was being trained as part of our council’s commitment to identifying waste and delivering efficiency within services.

The word ‘efficiency’ here is the important one. When most people us the word efficiency they usually mean doing the same thing with less inputs. This common understanding allows the Government to constantly claim large ‘efficiency’ savings without the public asking the question; ‘if services are £25 billion cheaper what are the Government not doing any more?’

George Osborne announced £4 billion worth of savings in central Government administration as part of the CSR. I’m sure most neutral observers thought ‘Hurrah, more money for the NHS’ or something similar.

The problem with all this ‘efficiency’ is that the sheer amount of it tends to devalue the term a little. No-one really believed that Gordon Brown’s pre-election efficiency commitment and to be honest I doubt that many people believed George Osborne with his £4 billion. (more…)