Working for a ‘best achieving’ council

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

Over the past three year we have tried very hard to not write about our own place of work in any way that might be identifiable. This was for good reason; for a long time the blog was anonymous and we didn’t want to reveal ourselves in such a flagrant way.


There was another deeper reason though; we didn’t believe that people wanted to read about our personal comings and goings (we saved that tedium for our wives) but rather were interested in comment and discussion about the sector as a whole.


Today, I am going to break that rule for one day and one day only and with good reason; my council has just been shortlisted for the prestigious MJ Best Achieving Council of the year award. There are of course questions about the validity of a nomination of this sort and indeed about the whole local government awards industry but those should be saved for another day. For today, I just want to focus on the fact that the council I work for has been nominated as one of the top five in the whole country and discuss why I think we have been successful.


Whilst my answer is not particularly ground breaking, indeed in many ways it is the opposite, I strongly believe that Merton is an MJ award worthy local authority simply because of the people who work there. I wrote about this, albeit anonymously, in the past and many of the comments we got were best described as ‘sceptical’ but I am genuinely impressed with many (although obviously not all) of the people I work with.


Election Time

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

If you are anything like us then there is a 50 percent chance that you are a bit of an election junky and what better way to feed that habit than to enjoy some high quality local election coverage.

However, this is one of those areas where we are by no means the experts; for that you want to head over to the LGIU and their live blog covering the local elections. They'll have their network of around 70 count correspondents who will be sending updates from their local count as well as Anthony Zacharzewski from DemSoc, Lewis Baston, guest psephologist, and Jonathan Werran from the MJ to provide some expert analysis. 

And remember, this needn't be an all nighter; many of the counts will happen tomorrow so keep checking back. 

So, what are you waiting for; head over to the LGIU now and enjoy some election fun!


19 things I learnt at the Public Sector Show 2013

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

Yesterday I attended the Public Sector Show 2013. For those not familiar with the PSS it is what might be termed a ‘traditional’ conference; it had seminars, a series of key note speakers, lots of stands trying to see you stuff and there was not a post it note in sight. Fans of the ‘unconference’ format might pejoratively describe this type of conference as ‘full of suits’ and find it incredibly stultifying but I actually thoroughly enjoyed myself.

There is something inspiring, and indeed personally uplifting, about spending a day drinking in the ideas and examples of good practice from throughout the sector and whilst this was a traditional format there was a lot of good stuff to appreciate. Oh, and it was free!

So, in the spirit of Dan Slee here are the 19 things I learnt at the Public Sector Show 2013:

  1. Everyone really does wear a suit; I’ve never seen so many suits in one place
  2. “Without good quality data it is difficult to do…” (insert title of whatever presentation was being delivered; the universal awareness of the importance of data was heartening)
  3. How we get that data is a tougher question
  4. I love numbers and some of them are mental: For example the Government Procurement Service manages £11,333,000,000 of spend per year (and no, I didn’t add on extra zeros for fun!); central government has 5550,000 different suppliers (240,000 with in-year spend); local authorities spend £50,000,000,000 with third parties each year; Hampshire County Council alone have 3336 different suppliers but 80% of their spend is with 8% of them.
  5. The 2 x 2 matrix is alive and well
  6. Going to a conference without a hashtag is slightly disconcerting
  7. Shared services are the hot topic of the moment; the seminar discussing them was so full that even the overflow and the corridor was full. I’m a proper shared services geek and still didn’t get there early enough L
  8. Someone fell asleep whilst sitting next to me… I know the conference was free but really?!? (Nearly everyone else seemed really engaged; as they should have been)
  9. Open data and transparency is an area where this country leads the way; the Argentinians and the Australians (and doubtless countries that don’t begin with A) are interested in using our open source data portal (
  10.  More awesome numbers: has 9,300 data sets and 45,000 files on it… And I bet it doesn’t even touch the surface
  11. Virgin Media are one company who are now making their (anonymised) customer data available; more companies are going to follow
  12. I have tonnes of cool apps/websites I want to have a look at
  13. We spend a shed load on statins and apparently some Doctors still prescribe brand name statins despite the generics being the same and much much cheaper (and we’re trusting them to commission NHS services on our behalf… Scary!). We know this because of open data projects.
  14. During the session on open data the PCS union rep in the room said that many of her members were against the project; and people wonder why Trade Unions are seen as out of touch with the workers they are meant to represent.
  15. All the focus on ‘big data’ should not distract us from looking at ‘small data’; it’s never been easier for anyone to do it (which is similar to punk music… I think you had to be there for that one!)
  16. If you think your organisation has crazy amounts of data just try being the Met Office!
  17. The private sector is encouraged to spend on innovation through lots of different tax credits and yet nothing similar exists in the public sector… Why not?
  18. This is a great FDR quote: ‘It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.
  19. More innovation needs to be at the system level; do people have the skills to do this?

















I feel inspired leaving the conference although as with all of these events there are plenty more questions than answers; the primary of which is ‘now what’.