Local - Central 9: Yes Minister; Yes Councillor

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

3rd March 2014

Last week we were privileged to be invited to an event at the Cabinet Office entitled ‘Yes Minister; Yes Councillor’. Organised by three new graduates from the Hertfordshire County Council Graduate scheme - Meinir Jones, Oliver Barnes and Tom Johnson – the event sought to give an insight to young staff in both central and local government about how the other half live.

Here, they sum up the key messages from the event and draws out some lessons about the lessons for new public servants about local and central government.

We hope you enjoy this post as much as we enjoyed the event.

As a graduate starting out on a career in public service, the Byzantine structure of UK governance can be daunting. Yet somehow we have to navigate it, and we Hertfordshire County Council grads thought we should take some advice from people who have been there and done it. Along with a former Hertfordshire grad who know works in the Cabinet Office, we organised a conference, ‘Yes Minister; Yes Councillor’, the theme of which was sharing knowledge across the central-local divide.

Our speakers had a wealth of experience to draw on…

• Caroline Tapster – former HCC chief executive, now at the LGA and a non-executive director at the Home Office

• James Blake – former civil servant in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and at the DCLG, and current Chief Executive of St Albans City and District Council

• Mike Parsons – Former Director at HCC, and now Chief Operating Officer at the Home Office

• Chris Badger – Formerly of Cambridgeshire CC, now Assistant Director for Health and Social Care Integration at HCC, with experience working in the Civil Service and in the NHS on secondment.

They offered intriguing reflections, which have given us all food for thought.

The strengths offered by the Civil Service

The real strength of the civil service is the ability to create policy at impressive speed. A speciality in policy stems from the political control the civil service is subject to. This can mean that civil servants are made to work against their own principles, which they can offset against the idea that they are serving democracy. Civil servants are essential to the enactment of the democratic will embodied in the government; a strong message for new starters to take away.

Overall we got the sense of the civil service being a well-oiled machine; for example, a government department takes a single weekend to prepare for a new minister and get them fully briefed. The good running of this machine is demonstrated by the fashion in which generalist civil servants can move seamlessly across departments.

The strengths offered by Local Government

Local government, on the other hand, was generally recognised as being better at softer skills. One of these is ‘backstaging’; the art of working subtly behind the scenes, to forewarn and reconcile stakeholders. Backstaging puts local government officers at the nexus of the political system, facilitating the flow of information. The role of a local official can become political at a time of crisis, during recent flooding for example, local officials and national politicians vied for air time. This more prominent role stems from the fact that (at the risk of stating the obvious) local officials are tied to a specific area. Consequently, they are steeped in soft intelligence about their locality, and about the impact policy has on the street. They have a useful sense of place.

What does this mean for aspiring young people in government?

For young, ambitious public servants experience of central and local government is essential. Secondments can be a useful tool for gaining real-life cross-sector experience. For generalist policy experts this can be an effective means of breaking out of the corporate centre and moving into service delivery.

‘Yes Minister; Yes Councillor’ was full of fabulous detail, insight, and guidance. But to boil it down to five take home points on the relations between central and local government, and the meaning to aspiring public servants, we might suggest:

• Communication must improve.

• Local government can learn from civil service policy making.

• Civil Servants can learn the ability to manage politicians across the political divide from Local Government.

• We all need to be proactive in seeking out cross-sector experience.

• And; whichever sector we work in, we need a deeper appreciation of what it means to deliver public services on the frontline.


Finally, there was much to be gained simply by pulling such a diverse range of people from across government and the private sector into one room. Ideas were shared, and soft networks established. We learned from each other as well as from the panellists. If for no other reason than this, we hope to see you at our next event.


S**t - I've been hacked!

Written by Glen Ocsko on . Posted in Our blog

Over the weekend I was hacked.

Not all of my accounts, and I have very different and secure passwords for my important things like banking, but my Twitter account for the space of a few hours started telling people how I had found the job of their dreams and all they needed to do was to click on a link. I have no idea how it happened and fixed it asap, but not before dozens of DMs had been sent out to people I would hate to be spamming.

Was this my fault? No. My password was reasonably secure with numbers and letters forming it, and I hadn’t been giving access to any old website willy nilly. However, did it affect me? Yes. I felt a burning need to message everyone who had received spam under my name and apologise, despite the fact that this would both imply it had indeed been my fault and would probably constitute more to my spam count.

Thankfully the link being sent out was relatively harmless (i.e. a link to a supposed job opportunity rather than anything x-rated) and was picked up on within a couple of hours of it happening on a Sunday morning, but it did make me consider the implications of a bigger hack on a council controlled account. What might the implications be? Who would respond? And what would they say?

There are many different severities of hacking incidents and people far smarter than I have spoken about this in detail, especially around the technical side of things. The arguments over whether using a 12 or 15 character cryptographic hash function to generate a salted password is enough is beyond me – I barely understand that very sentence, nor know whether it is correct – but the issue of the more human side of interventions is something I do understand and can grasp with both hands.


Reflections on #UKGC14

Written by Glen Ocsko on . Posted in Our blog

Credit UKGovCamp.comI accept that it would have been useful to have written these the day after UKGovCamp, which was held this year at City Hall on 25 January. However, with a hangover of camping proportions and a house full of children to look after it had to wait a little, which also gave me the opportunity to reflect somewhat on what can only be described as an awesome event.

So, with no further ado here are a few of my UKGovCamp14 take-aways.

Blogging is dead.

Okay, well not dead of course, but it certainly seems to no longer be the cool, new hotness that it once was. After UKGovCamp last year there was a flurry of blog posts within hours of it finishing, with people taking up the challenge of sharing five things they took away from the event. This year however it’s been a bit more sparse, and the style of the blogging discussions has changed somewhat.

Is this because we’ve all moved on to something new? Is it because we are working more closed off than we were? Is it because people simply got out of the habit of writing things down? I don’t know, but it saddens me a bit as I was a keen devourer of all related written words and long for the days of the past when there were more quality local government related blogs than I could shake a committee report at.

If only there was an established blog which was open to guest posts and which would be happy to host any and all related discussions…

Many minds make interesting work


Local – Central 8: Development days

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

21st January 2014

As regular readers of our blog will know we have recently embarked on a small mini-series of posts about the relationship between local and central government and how they can be improved.

This week we wanted to talk about learning and development and how central/local work shadowing could be used as a realistic alternative to conferences or expensive training courses. Recently, the Chief Executive in my authority organised an opportunity for members of staff to shadow their equivalents in some private sector organisations that provide services to our council. It was an opportunity to understand the procurement process from the other side of the fence but also to understand how the service delivery differed in the private sector versus the way we did it.

I genuinely felt, and continue to feel, that the insight we would came from that experience would far outweigh any benefits that could be derived from training courses or equivalent learning and development activities.

Which leads me to today’s post; why couldn’t that model of development also work for central and local government? I know that central government has started to ‘get’ this. Recently, we had some Department of Health civil servants come and work alongside us in local government for two weeks. I think they worked in social care policy and therefore frontline social care experience, or at least understanding how it works in local government, was and is crucial to their work.

Surely, this applies across the board.

So why doesn’t it happen? I think there are two reasons: firstly the narrow way that learning and development is viewed in some local authorities and secondly the lack of openness between our two sectors.


Central - Local 7: Change doesn’t happen unless you make it happen

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

14th January 2014

Over the past few weeks we've been focusing on how we can improve relationships between central and local government. As part of this series we've featured a number of guest posts and today I'm excited to say that we have a post written by someone who has worked in both local and central government; Claire Webb. And she has written a cracking post too with just hint of challenge to us all.

I’d signed the official secrets act and got slightly too excited about the “for your eyes only” option on the email system (I’m a James Bond fan, what can I say); and so began my two and a half year stint as a civil servant, on secondment from Southwark Council.

I had taken the secondment back in 2006 to get a better understanding of central government and make some contacts, which I did.  What I hadn’t expected was to also learn so much more about the space which Chief Executives and Strategic Directors inhabit.

All credit to Communities & Local government for having local government secondees, but one swallow does not a summer make.  The detachment of central policy making from what happens on the ground, was already familiar to me.  Much of this is of course driven by what the politicians ask for and the perceived and accepted tools of central government, to demonstrate they have “done something” - legislation, regulation, and sub-regional contracting such as the work programme, all blunt instruments which rarely hit the mark.  This is compounded by the silo working between different government departments, and even the teams within them.

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