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Taking Paternity Leave

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

20th March 2014

Today is a pretty strange day for me.

Later this afternoon I will walk out of my office and know that I won’t be returning for three months. I am not resigning, taking a long holiday or going on sabbatical. Instead I am taking three months of paternity leave as my wife goes back to work.

When my wife was pregnant and we were discussing our childcare options for the first six to nine months or so the idea of my wife taking the first six months and then me taking three seemed fairly natural. My wife loves her job and wanted to get back to it and the opportunity for me to bond with our son just seemed right. However, the more we looked into it the more we realised that our decision was fairly unusual.

Not only am I the only man that we know taking additional paternity leave but when I made the request at work I found that I was the first man to do so since the law allowing it came into force three years ago. Indeed, the TUC recently reported that less than 1% of eligible men have taken advantage of the opportunity since 2011.

All of this means that I have a weird sense of entering uncharted waters.

Let’s start with the professional element of this. Many small business owners are not too keen on the paternity leave provisions (and certainly not Nick Clegg’s proposed changes to them) and I can sort of see why. Whereas my wife was going to be off for six months and was given a short-term replacement my three month period is a bit awkward for the council; not long enough to get someone in and for them to usefully do anything but not short enough to be easily ignored.

Thankfully, I work for a local authority (thus not a small employer) and my work will be covered within the management team with some additional project support but nonetheless there is a small part of me that is worried that a) I am putting a lot of pressure on my colleagues, b) that they’ll manage my workload easily without me (with all that entails) or c) that some of the projects and pieces of work I really care about will flounder without me there. Logically, I know that each of these is overblown but nonetheless this represents an odd feeling. I know I am leaving but I’ll be back soon.

Personally, I also have an element of trepidation. Although I like to think that I done my fair share of child care duties since our son was born I am self-aware enough to recognise that my wife has definitely been in charge. It’s my wife who has worked out when to increase the amount of milk he has, chosen new activities for him to try, introduced new food, purchased new equipment and clothes, checked on his ailments, researched (with the aid of the Mumsnet gang) every baby related query and generally just been in charge.

That will now fall to me. I am really looking forward to it but the extra responsibility does feel a bit daunting.

Finally, there is the more prosaic concerns that I am sure all parents face; what to do all day. My wife has a bunch of mother and baby activities in the diary, many of which (mother and baby yoga and buggy fit for example) I am not sure I’ll be taking on so I’ll need to replace those activities and make sure I don’t fall into the trap of just staying in all day. I also think that, and I know this is going to sound odd, that I am going to miss work a little; the mental stimulation, social element and generally just the sense of achievement that comes from my job.

The above reads a bit negatively but I would not want it to seem that way. Whilst this does feel like uncharted territory for me I am really looking forward to it. I am particularly looking forward to spending time and bonding with my son which is by far the most important element of this period of leave.

I am also going to take the opportunity to explore my local area a little (and perhaps take a few trips) and spend some time with other members of my family (such as my Mum and Grandparents) who are, as you’d imagine delighted to have a new addition to the family.

 

I am also glad that I am the first person at work to do this; hopefully it will help publicise the opportunity to other men in a similar position. It won’t work for everyone but at least they’ll know about it.

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Central – Local 10: Testing the assumption

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

19th March 2014

Over the past six months or so we have been running a series of posts looking at how the relations between central and local government can be improved. Underpinning all the posts has been an assumption, which we still stand by, that relations between central and local government are less than optimum. Indeed, we believe them to be downright broken.

However, what if this is not the case?

At the recent ‘Yes Minister; Yes Councillor’ event I asked the four panellists what could be done to improve local and central relations and, realising that I’d stated my prejudice without caveat, whether they agreed with the premise of the question. Surprisingly to me, most of the panel disagreed with the premise and said that, on the contrary, they thought that relations between central and local government were good. What’s more they were of the opinion that there was actually a lot of movement between the two sectors.

Now, a panel speaking at an event about working in local and central government is always going to more aware of the cross-fertilisation between the two sectors but nonetheless it is important to consider the assumption that we’ve been working with for the past few months.

There were three key arguments that I picked up from the panel against our presumption:

1) There are lots of people in the civil service that have previously worked in local government and vice versa

This has not been my experience at all but the more I thought about it the more I wondered whether the reason was due to seniority. The panel were fairly senior and perhaps there is more movement between the sectors at the more senior levels (a point that intuitively makes sense due to the closed nature of civil service recruitment at the more junior levels).

If this is the case then perhaps this mitigates some of the lack of cross-fertilisation further down through the civil service and town halls. However, I still believe that this relationship between local and central government and their staff needs to happen far earlier in individual staff member’s career.

2) Consultation between central and local government is actually fairly good

Again, my experience is very different but then again it would be. You can’t expect central government to engage with all 400ish local authorities on every policy. Instead they rely on relations with a few trusted contacts and peak organisations such as the LGA.

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The death of policy?

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

11th March 2014

A few years ago, when we were churning out a new post every day, we wrote a post about the collapse of the corporate centre within local authorities.   In that post, which was three years ago (how time flies!), we commented that roles like ‘policy officer’ were being reduced rapidly as council’s were looking around for savings.

I had forgotten about this whole debate until, whilst at the recent, and excellent,Yes Minister; Yes Councillor event at the Cabinet Office one of the speakers mentioned that the big difference between local and central government was how well central government did policy (the implication being that local government wasn’t quite as good). Thinking that this disparity was only going to grow as the teams that do policy are reduced I tweeted it out.

We got a couple of responses from clever local government policy types and then received this tweet from Dominic Campbell - he of Futuregov fame - who said:

‘Way too much policy, mostly bad IMO’ (sic)

Ann Griffiths replied saying:

‘depends what you call policy. To me it’s as much relationships, evaluating, innovating as process and docs.’

I tend to side with Ann but wonder whether the difference between Dom’s comments and Ann’s reflect a recent change in the way that policy is being delivered in local government.

As the size of the central ‘corporate’ teams has shrunk and the need for policy directly linked to actual delivery has increased the old fashioned ‘reports and templates’ role of the central policy team has, in all but the largest local authorities, seen a massive overhaul. Thus, instead of policy work being delivered in a way similar to that of central government, local authorities have been forced to develop an entirely new model; one based more on practical application, relationships, innovation and crucially, implementation.

Indeed, if this is the case then it would fit more neatly with the type of role identified by Richard Vize in this piece where he described the role of a future local government officer as evolving to be more one of an entrepreneur.

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Different Votes for Different Folks

Written by Glen Ocsko on . Posted in Our blog

Writing this blog over the years has put us in the very lucky position of occasionally receiving advance sight of different reports and papers, which often spark a chain reaction of ideas often ending up with our thoughts being recorded for posterity. Today is one of those days, as we have the chance to discuss a subject very dear to our hearts; local elections.

A paper released today (Friday 7 March 2014) by Democratic Audit makes for very interesting reading, highlighting a number of key points which affect voter turnout and attitudes at elections in the UK. It's not massively long nor overly complex, and is well worth a read if you have even a passing interest in the democratic process, and has indeed sparked a chain of thoughts which I'll share in no particular order.

Overall, the report addresses three key areas which it sees as fundamental to the take-up of the right to vote each and every one of us has:

  • Minimum voting age
  • How we vote
  • How we publicise election information

I'll avoid going into too much detail as the report does this better than I could (seriously, go have a look!), but I will share my thoughts on each of these in turn.

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World Book Day: “South Riding” – a novel that casts local government as the hero

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

6th March 2014

Today is World Book Day and who better to write a guest post about local government and books than Hard Change author Dawn Reeves. Here, Dawn talks about her favourite local government novel and makes a pitch,to make contact with others who write about local government to form a group which we think is pretty cool. 

An edited version of this post was previously featured on the Guardian Local Leaders Network.

In celebration of World Book day I’d like to convince you to pick up a novel about local government. I realise it’s a tough ask. If you work in the public sector you may not fancy another dose of harsh reality; and if you don’t you could be among the many mistaken souls who think local government is increasingly irrelevant or even boring.

What also makes it difficult is that there aren’t many books about local government to choose from, and it’s clear many writers, and publishers, prefer the more well-trodden corridors of power in Whitehall, missing the significance and the sharp edges of what my recommended novelist called “world tragedy in embryo”.

“South Riding” by Winifred Holtby is a bold, expansive story that draws you into the life of a whole community at a time of austerity. Local government is “the first line of defence thrown up by the community against our common enemies… poverty, sickness, ignorance and isolation”. The compelling plot includes a darkly motivated public-private scheme and a scandal centred on building on flood plains. It portrays the stark choices to be made about budget cuts and offers brave alternatives such as investing in infrastructure to create jobs, all wrapped up in a tale of dreams, love and death.

And all this was written around 80 years ago, in the long shadow of the First World War. Published posthumously in 1936, the book is still totally relevant, and hasn’t been out of print since. There are great characters, especially the 70-year-old first female Alderman of the County Council (loosely based on Holtby’s mother), the idealistic early feminist teacher and the Machiavellian councillor.

But the magic of the book, and the meat of it, is in the politics. It’s brave enough to show us the complex tangle of motivations behind the public decisions and their unforeseen consequences. Ultimately it has faith in the system to make positive change and its powerful human content, small triumphs and painful tragedies, lift it above any novel about game-playing in Westminster.

The reasons I love this book are the reasons that also motivate me to write. As the first-time author of “Hard Change”, a gritty but optimistic town hall thriller, I used a murder as the driver for similar, but contemporary, dilemmas. Like Holtby, I wanted to use fiction to get underneath the surface of power and politics in its widest sense, and local government allows you to get up close and personal. 

I’m also aiming to follow in the footsteps of other great authors who have written about what’s important in difficult times. In the 1940s George Orwell wrote, “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics…’ All issues are political issues. The idea that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” I feel the same now. Local government is constantly being undermined and it’s important to me that we generate more stories which explore and make sense of what’s happening, particularly as the range of narratives on offer in the mainstream at the moment is depressingly limited.

I know these stories are there. Lots of people have said to me that in local government, “you don’t have to make it up,” but I think we do! There’s so much doom and gloom surrounding the future of local government, and I think we need to fashion some new endings.

Using what I’ve learned from writing “Hard Change”, I’ve developed creative workshops that use story-telling techniques to explore leadership and challenge colleagues to reflect on the endings they want to see. The sessions are about thinking imaginatively and seeing the world differently, about exploring possible directions. Participants have found the sessions highly energising, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and alternative stories are emerging.

I’m also keen to hear from other writers – anyone reading this who is interested in writing about public life. Let’s share and support each other to get more stories out there, so that when future World Book Days come around there’ll be a wealth of local government novels to choose from; books that build on the fantastic legacy of “South Riding” and that look to the future.

You can contact Dawn as follows: Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Web: www.dawnreeves.com Twitter: @futuredawn 

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