Posted tagged ‘snow’

Snow trouble is c-old news

February 6, 2012

No app, but there is a digital map...

What a difference a few years makes. It seems so long and so little time ago that we wrote a piece after the cold snap at the end of 2010, when parts of the country had ground to a halt after an inch or two of snow fell and local government appeared to sit back and rest on its collective laurels.

At the time we called for councils up and down the country to take a little time to think about what had happened and perhaps review the things that went right and wrong and see if there were steps which could be taken to deal with it better next time round. We’d like to think therefore that we are entirely to be given credit for what’s happened recently (although in reality we accept that perhaps others had the same idea as us).

And what may these ideas have been? Well, fast forward just under fourteen months and Britain once again (shock horror) finds itself under snow in winter, and do you know what? It looks like town hall types took our advice and had a good think about what happened. Plans were drawn up, grit ordered and stockpiled and comms plans prepared, resulting in a far, far improved response in 2012.
The media, local or national, are often first in the queue to bash local government when things don’t go to plan. However, this time around I think on the whole things have gone very well. A combination of better preparation and better communication have borne fruit, with not only roads gritted but people more aware of this fact via judicial use of a range of tools, including digital. This has managed expectations better than ever before; I’ve spoken to people about gritted roads and actually heard them mention the words ‘arterial route’ without prompting. (more…)

The Lazy Journalists Tackle Christmas (and other times of joy)

December 8, 2011

Freedom (to ask questions about nativity plays)

It seems like a lifetime ago that I sat at my computer and drafted a post entitled: ‘The Freedom of Lazy Journalism Act.’

The post provocatively claimed that whilst the FOI act is in general a good thing:

The real problem is that many of the requests we receive are not from concerned citizens but from seriously lazy and, dare I say, incompetent journalists.

I continued:

These so-called ‘journalists’ waste hours of council time (ironically often searching for examples of council staff wasting their time) and never are they actually searching for information or investigating a story.

Instead, they pre-write their stories and then use the FoI Act to trawl for a fact or two that will justify their prejudices or exaggerations.

Now, in hindsight I admit that perhaps I went a little too far (and the post received a bumper crop of comment and criticism) but last week I went out for my bi-annual drink with a few friends who work in FoI and other similarly related fields.


Let’s talk about snow!

October 6, 2011

Slip up now and we'll slip up later

As the hot, summer sun beat down over the weekend just gone, with a cool beer in my hand and covered in factor 50, I began to think about snow.

That’s right, snow. Despite basking in record breaking temperatures and ending up with sunburnt feet, it was all I could do not to keep remembering that it was October, despite appearances, and if predictions are to be believed it is only a matter of weeks before our ice creams stop melting and the snow starts to fall.

‘Nonsense,’ I hear you cry, ‘tis months away and we have plenty of time to prepare. In fact, as it’s so warm now it’ll probably be a mild winter anyway and the gritters can stay in the garage.’ It is then that I remind you of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.

Essentially, it boils down to the five ‘Ps’: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Now is exactly the time for councils up and down the country to be doling out the grit, which is precisely what some have begun to do. Plymouth and Sutton amongst others have already got on the case by preparing the snow ploughs and offering free grit to residents, with more hopefully following soon with plans of their own.  But is it worth doing yet? (more…)

Being proud of the failures

June 28, 2011

It really is an optionWe all make mistakes.  Mine have included making decisions above my pay grade, sharing information in a meeting which I ‘thought’ everyone knew and not kissing Katie Patterson when her big sister locked us in the shed together (true story).

Believe it or not, organisations make mistakes too.  We commission projects which don’t do as well as we thought they would, we employ people that don’t end up performing well and we add things up wrong so that our accounts are more entangled than a plate of spaghetti.  And the similarities between personal and organisational mistakes?

We cover them up.

The general consensus is that if you can hide things away well enough or spin it around so that a new set of success measurements are achieved then you’ve won.  There’s always next year after all, and neither you nor the organisation can then be accused of not being good enough – solid reputational risk management, surely? (more…)

In case of emergency… don’t call Eric

December 14, 2010

Lost? Would the DCLG be able to advise?

You just can’t escape the snow; even when it’s not snowing! Here follows our second snow piece in two days; this time from one of our readers who seems a little annoyed by Eric Pickles and the good people at the DCLG.

I spoke to one of my friends yesterday, who asked me to guess how many hours it took for her to get to do her regular journey to work last week… ‘6 she replied, and then 5 hours to get back’, and that included her getting out to help dig a truck that had got stuck in the snow and was blocking traffic.

What I discovered later on, was that my friend has inadvertently acted in accordance with new guidance, helpfully published last week by Eric Pickles and our good friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government… Yes that’s the ‘Guidance on community action during severe weather… The Big Society in Action.’

This provides a helpful guide for those needing additional information about what to do in cases of emergency when dealing with severe weather; except the guidance forgets to include the seemingly helpful recommendation, as proven by my friend, to carry a shovel in the car.

The (not so) subtle message for a society needing to wean itself off local governments’ helping hand seems to be simple, ‘don’t call us – we’re calling you’.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the Big Society ideals that we all now have to pitch in a bit more. And yes, that means you and I need to up our weekly volunteering hours. I’m sure the boss wont mind when you explain the reason you wont be staying late to finish that last minute project.

(As a side note: I wonder just how well it’ll go down with management when people start calling in ‘volunteering’ days, as suggested for those stuck at home in the snow.)

My problem with this sort of guidance is not why have it, but why is this the job of the CLG. Thanks, but actually the CLG publication web page is not the place I would look for the latest info on how to deal with frostbite.

It seems that now is a good a time as any to start to talk about who should be doing what.

The issue of ‘coordination’ seems to be the elephant in the room in all the Big Society chatter. One thing that drives me batty working in local government is the amazing duplication of guidance everywhere. Its seems no-one is quite sure who is doing what, so everyone does everything (and we are stuck reading 100’s of guidance documents, kind of all saying a similar thing, but nothing which succinctly gives you everything you need to know).

I would understand if the CLG wrote a guidance template and told local authorities to update it with the relevant local service information and stick it on their websites.  That would make sense – and, no doubt, be very helpful. Or they could write to volunteer agencies, asking them to promote key safety information and how and when people should contact them.

If the government is going to provide helpful information, surely in the age of austerity, it should do it once and do it well. Not investing in yet another piece of guidance few will know exists, let alone read.

Having said that, thankfully we have now all been reminded…. You do not need a Criminal Records Bureau check to call round and check on elderly friends and neighbours.  So there you have it, now there really are no more excuses for me not to go and introduce myself to the neighbours.

Snow time to rest on our laurels

December 13, 2010

But what about next time?

It’s been just over a week now, a week after the chaos and disaster that was snow in London, a week in which life has returned to normality and the tubes are only late for reasons involving over-running maintenance work.  The standard phrase is ‘a week is a long time in politics’; from the way things are, it looks like a week is also a long time in discussing the way we deal with snow.

Since the white stuff stopped falling from the sky I’ve heard practically nothing about what happened and how well or otherwise the snow was dealt with.  Some boroughs got it very right, spreading grit and news about what they were doing all over the place.  Some didn’t, and were slammed for slippery roads and even more slippery excuses.  However, I’ve not heard much over the past seven days or so in the way of investigations, results or ideas for improvement.

Historically, the media usually takes this time to rip into everything and anything that a local authority does when it snows; the roads not being gritted, the tubes grinding to a halt, no news on school closures or something else entirely; like a drunk looking for a fight in a circus, they traditionally go for the jugular. (more…)