Posted tagged ‘policy’

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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The collapse of the corporate centre

August 15, 2011

Something not to throw away!

‘Never throw away your old drain-pipes’

My university lecturer was not talking about guttering but about the fashionable uber-skinny jean which had been in and out of fashion many times in his lecturing career. His argument was that if you follow local government you should be prepared to see ideas, structures and policies come in and out of fashion.

Never has a wiser word been said and as goes drainpipe trousers so goes the corporate centre within local authorities.

During the early 2000s the inspection and performance management regimes of the Labour Government were in full swing and the Audit Commission was constantly driving local authorities to improve their ‘corporate capacity’. The rationale for this was that councils were showing weak leadership from the Chief Executive down; decisions weren’t joined up and policy decisions weren’t being made from a structures evidence base.

What followed was a substantial investment in policy and performance teams. Allied to this was a renewed focus on engaging the public so added to this new central function was an investment in community engagement expertise and communications teams. On top of this was a new focus on working in partnership with local providers and a commitment to meet the Government’s equalities agenda so these teams were added to the corporate centre along with the recently amended committee teams now embarking on the new world of scrutiny.

Councils were asked to focus on centralising certain functions and teams like procurement, business improvement and project management were added to the centre; often grouped together with the others in a Chief Execs department or a deputy chief deputy chief execs team in some bigger authorities.
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Invisible You

March 3, 2011

Surely we know what we're talking about?

For Valentines Day my other half gave me a very unexpected and welcome surprise by writing a piece for us on how involved she felt she was and wanted to be with her local Council.  She shared that she had very little to do with the council, instead trusting them to do what was needed as well as they could.  Whilst some people felt that this was an old fashioned view which doesn’t exist any more, I can assure you that it is alive and kicking at home!

It got me thinking about how much time and effort we put into engagement with the public and whether or not it is effort well spent.  I speak with a small degree of knowledge having worked I the public engagement arena for almost 16 years in one form or another, both in the public and voluntary sectors.

In my current workplace we are constantly developing things which affect our residents: action plans, strategies, policies, procedures, and headaches amongst others.  As is the way with any hierarchical organisation the real work is done by operational staff who generally know their onions, and base their thoughts and ideas on extensive theoretical and practical knowledge mixed with a healthy dose of experience.  They rarely suggest anything outrageous, and generally strive to do what is best.

These plans and projects then begin their slow crawl through the bureaucratic process to get signed off and implemented: this often involves a variation on taking it to their team, their line manager, their service head (and their team), their director (and their team) and potentially on to the chief exec and then on in turn to elected members and/or mayors and their advisors.  None of this is quick, and with each new person or group comes a perceived requirement to change a bit here or ask a pointless question there.

And of course at the final hurdle comes the usual phrase: have you done any consultation with the public?  No?  Well, go away and do it and then come back when you have. (more…)