Thursday 30 November 2006
A civil servant from the Office of Government Commerce comes to visit the office today to talk about construction procurement and reverse e:auctions. He wants us to promote the concept amongst DLOs by getting them to combine their supplies procurement. This is a concept that interests us and we agree to help promote it by inviting the civil servant to participate in our building maintenance workshop at the Performance Networks seminar in Blackpool.
It is interesting that word appears to be getting around numerous Government departments that if they want to talk about doing things then they go elsewhere but if they want to actually get to the people who deliver on the ground then APSE is an excellent conduit to help implement policy.
However, it reminds me of a story of a civil servant from the DTI who visited us about 18 months ago who had cross government responsibility for construction skills shortages. When I challenged him about the fact that Government policy from other departments was actually contributing to skills shortages by reducing the number of apprenticeships taken on in the public sector, his answer astounded me. He said that there was only 3 people in his team and that he had only held the brief for 3 years and was only now getting his head around the issues, but he was due to move soon as civil servants only stay in the one role for 4 years.
All aboard the civil service merry go round then!
Saturday 25 November 2006
Mark Bramah and myself meet representatives of the Audit Commission who are about to embark on a major study into trading and charging in local government.
We have some concerns about their understanding of the subject and some of their definitions of trading and charging are clearly flawed. We also have concerns that they will gain a flawed perception of what is happening on the ground as they intend to survey the corporate centre of authorities rather than the people who actually undertake many of the commercial operations within local authorities.
We put our observations to them and they seem to welcome our views and following a lengthy discussion we agree to get more involved with the study and some actions that we can collectively undertake by involving our membership.
Friday 24 November 2006
Mark Bramah and me participate in the GOVNET conference on the future of local government today. We have been asked to do a workshop on performance management, which is repeated in the afternoon.
There's about 300 delegates there and the contribution from Lyons amongst others are highly interesting. Best quip is from Eric Pickles who accuses Lyons of calling him fat when introducing him and retorts that its time for Lyons to show himself as he and his inquiry have been in the long grass longer than the shiest of Zebras. Top performer however is Barry Quirk the Chief Executive of Lewisham he really understands what local government is about.
Our brief is to make the one hour sessions interactive so I play the facilitator role while Mark does some opening comments on each of the five key themes we identify on performance management in ten minute intervals. Between 40 and 50 delegates turn up for the first session and it is buzzing, they react really well to what we have to say and make loads of contributions when I am firing questions at them. We are on a high at lunchtime and congratulate each other on how well things went. Of course we hadn't counted on the group after lunch when 22 turned up and it was obvious that this was their second choice workshop, probably best identified by the female from Southwark who sat at the front and spent the full hour typing e:mails on her blackberry.
Oh well, back to the drawing board.
Thursday 16 November 2006
The White Paper Strong and Prosperous Communities has been issued by DCLG and like any such publication there is a lot to be welcomed within it and a few items that cause concern.
Recognition of the fact that local government has improved dramatically since 1997 is welcomed as is the notion of local government being the placeshaper and the body responsible for joining up public services within a geographic area. However, here lies the paradox it also contains concepts such as choice, contestability, community ownership which if implemented in a certain way could lead to the fragmentation of service delivery and ultimately the breakdown of a fourth 'c' collective bargaining. To me the formula of strategic leadership = co-ordination / fragmentation doesn't work.
Some of the other positives include the move towards self-regulation and the community call for action, which should reinvigorate the role of the backbench ward councilor so marginalised by the new executive structures implemented a few years back. The amendments to the Best Value regime are also overdue and the recognition of the importance of asset management is promising.
Overall the White Paper sends some positive messages but as always the over used phrase 'the devil will be in the detail' applies.
Saturday 11 November 2006
Helped facilitate a focus group on how local authorities can implement strategies to improve childrens health in Scotland at our Healthy Living conference at Peebles. Some key civil servants from the Scottish Executive were involved along with about 20 handpicked delegates from the event. Think it was a useful event although some delegates moved straight from the blue sky thinking to how things would impact operationally.
The concept is for local authorities to go beyond the obvious school meals and physical activity outlets and to look at what can be done in terms of licensing of premises, planning laws, the local environment, community safety and to merge all of these activities into a co-ordinated plan of action for authorities to follow.
APSE undertook some basic research on creating a baseline as to where authorities are in terms of strategies for children's health, identified some case studies and developed some early draft P.I.s which could be used for measuring progress.
This is something I have advocated as part of my role on the Scottish Executive's Health and Physical Activity Council, so I was only to glad the Association could help out. Hopefully the delegates from the focus group will continue to be utilised by the Scottish Executive as a reference group as ideas develop.
Monday 06 November 2006
Spoke at an APSE Northern Region seminar on shared services today at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. The session I was involved in was with two good friends Steve Cirell from Eversheds and Cllr Ron Scrimgour from Angus.
I opened the session with a context setting slot and despite having delivered this presentation before felt a bit flat. However Steve, who is going through a divorce at present, picked the mood up by telling delegates how he had taken his 9 year old daughter shopping at the weekend for a Barbie Doll. The sales assistant offered him a Showjumping Barbie at £39.99, an Outdoor Barbie at £39.99 or a Divorced Barbie at £399.99. When Steve enquired why the Divorced Barbie was so dear the sales assistant replied that it came with Ken's car, Ken's boat and Ken's house..................boom,boom! Ron closed the session with a valiant attempt to get through 37 slides in 20 minutes.
Overall the event appeared to go well with plenty of good discussion in the workshops in the afternoon.