Something seemingly inconsequential but nonetheless rather strange happened this week; the Guardian changed the name of the Guardian Local Government Network to the Guardian Local Leaders Network. I’m sure many of you are reading this and saying a little ‘so what’ under your breath but I think the name change is significant and not universally positive.
To provide a little context it is probably helpful you share the introduction the Network’s new editor, Jane Dudman, made upon announcing the change:
We're changing the name of your network, to become the Local Leaders Network. Why? Because we know it's tough out there and there's never been more need for leadership at all levels - political, professional and frontline - for all local services. Local government leaders are at the heart of shaping local places and our coverage will reflect this, and also bring you the wider picture. Let us know your views on local leadership at the usual address.
This is, in many ways, a really positive thing. We, on this blog, have long said that seeing local government as a separate entity, divorced from the local area it exists in is a mistake. Local leadership does not just come from local government officers or local councillors but from a wide range of people. This includes people from local community groups, faith groups, housing associations, charities and of course the local business community.
All of these are equally important to a local area and all of them are equipped to provide local leadership. The fact that the Guardian network recognises this and wants to include all local leaders is a massive positive.
However, competing with this real positive is a minor concern; by focusing specifically on leadership is the Guardian doing what many other similar local government networks have done historically and focused solely on the leaders. This is a real shame; there are over 1.5million people working in local government and not that many of them are in what could be called a ‘leadership’ position. Splitting out the leaders from the rest of the staff does not, in my mind, make for the best network nor reach out to the many many staff who don’t really have any other alternatives, even more so now that the k-hub has closed down.
Now, the Guardian might argue that all staff in a local authority have the potential to be, or could be considered to be, local leaders and thus this name change is still inclusive, indeed by adding in more than just local government staff, it is more inclusive.
This may be the case but I do worry about the precedent. Too often the membership organisations of local government fall into the same trap of focusing on the ‘leaders’ and not the rest of the staff; it’s one reason why the LGA felt ok to propose killing the k-hub and one reason why many local government staff feel isolated from the LGA and other similar organisations.
I’m probably reading too much into a name change but I really hope the future of the network is more in line with the wider understanding of local leadership than a narrow focus on just the leaders!