Posts Tagged ‘local government’

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evidence based or intelligence driven policy?

May 8, 2009

OK, so I may be the only one to care about whether we talk about evidence based or intelligence driven policy, and I’m very aware I stand to be accused of campaigning for replacing one piece of jargon with another. but I keep on wanting to return to this theme in various pieces of work at the moment.

here’s a short paper I did for Kent to accompany a workshop which the Social Innovation Lab for Kent ran with a mix of policy people from across the council. Basically I argue that human and social factors need to count for as much as data and trends when it comes to taking account of ‘evidence’ in policy work. Sounds so simple and yet the barriers to embedding this kind of approach are many. Culturally, the public sector still prefers rational analysis to emotions and experiences. Skills-wise, very few councils have the research know-how or methods at their fingertips to do this kind of work well. Organisationally, research and policy functions are rarely co-located…

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bins and mainstreaming

January 29, 2009

today I spoke at the New Local Government Network annual conference. Thankfully no need for slides at this one, but I’ve written up what I said here. Mainly about bins (thanks to M for that particular flash of inspiration).

There were some great contributions from other speakers – Victor Adebowale, chief exec of charity Turning Point, told a powerful story about his experience of co-designing a service on an estate and then trying to get the council to see that this might be a new way of commissioning for outcomes (they didn’t get it). Jeremy Beecham and others made a big bid for local government getting more control over how to deal with housing issues in the current recession – I would agree wholeheartedly with this.

And we heard Gordon Brown (who he??), whose eloquence on the global financial crisis was impressive, although the consensus amongst delegates was that it was still problematic to translate this into specific action that local councils could take, given how many of the things – tax, benefits, business advice, skills, job centres – remain national services, delivered locally, but whose priorities are determined by Whitehall. Still, he managed to promote the Cabinet Office’s latest document on this several times over – Real Help Now – worth a read to see what government is thinking about getting businesses and families through the recession. I fear it won’t be enough…

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devolution: easier to say than to do

January 16, 2009

last night I went to the Tenants’ and Residents’ Association AGM for my estate where the topic of conversation was mainly around the proposal to transfer all the housing stock from Lambeth Council to a housing trust. This has been a source of some controversy for the last year or so – perhaps not that gripping unless you live round here – but I have three wider reflections on our journey here in SW8.

First, when we had the ballot last year, the result was that 51% of people voted to stick with the council. I find that astounding in the face of Lambeth’s honest assessment that they would be unable to invest anything in the estate until 2014. Last night’s debate had a deep tension at its heart: people were furious with the council for repeated failures to mend broken boilers, maintain the estate, replenish windows and install insulation. But at the same time many were deeply suspicious of the new housing trust. We would much prefer that the council looked after the estate, but we want them to do it well.

Anyway, the second thing that really amazed me is that government department CLG (or ‘Clog’ as they are fondly referred to) are now involved in what’s happening here. Why? Well, we collected over 400 signatures in a petition to re-ballot residents and tenants after the first ballot was managed very badly: for example, the telephone voting line got re-allocated to another ballot before ours had closed; and no provision made for the postal strike meaning that many votes were not counted. It transpires that CLG have the power to decide whether or not we can re-open the ballot, despite this overwhelming request to do so. This strikes me as evidence that on the ground, there is still a very long way to go before Hazel Blears’ vision of self-governing neighbourhoods becomes reality.

Finally, a positive after this minor rant. I realised that one really excellent outcome of this protracted year of debate and discussion is that it’s been an opportunity to actually engage people in meaningful conversation. We all understand more about what may or may not happen as a result of the transfer. We have a better grasp of the process, and our opportunities and rights to intervene. That’s a real leap on from this time last year, when the bureaucratic and legalistic letters we were receiving about the transfer question were baffling and confusing.

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salami slicers: 0, radical innovators: 1

October 28, 2008

As part of the Innovation Catalyst’s remit to support – you guessed it – innovation in local government, we occassionally host dinners for local authority chief execs and leaders. The idea is that they come together, have a workshop on a hot topic, and then settle down to a swanky dinner that Odgers kindly pay for. They’re invariably more intesresting events than they should be, and last week’s was the best yet. The theme was the credit crunch.

I guess if I’m honest I was expecting people to be very focused on the short-term and the small ‘Kerry Katona’ problem (that counts as a joke in local government. seriously). Instead there was a very upbeat mood, with the majority of people there saying that this was a chance for us to do away with an unsustainble growth model, which was creating terrible approaches to regeneration, skills, housing and unemployment.

I was also struck by the fact that most councils claimed, at any rate, to be on board with the view that in times of incredibly tight budgets, dwindling tax income, and rising demand, simply searching out efficiencies in existing services won’t be enough: something bolder is needed. So rather than shaving little bits and pieces off budgets – meeting biscuits here, car allowances there – the strategy has to be to search out much more radical and game-changing innovations.

Of course, there’s a big difference between saying all this and doing something about it, but I do think it’s very interesting to contrast this appetite for recasting what government does amongst local councils, with the dominant mood in Whitehall. In the offices of central government, the recession seems to have led (in my view anyway) to a retrenchment in their position: we’re back to the bad old days of efficiency savings and productivity, with no room to question whether we’re doing the right thing in the first place. Of course I want my money to be well spent, but that for me must include some space for more serious exploration of whether there are fundamentally new ways of organising public services.