Local government worker ROB TAPE decided to write a book based on the experiences of his council work career. He called it Sorry, It’s Not My Department. He then wrote to all 70 of Croydon’s councillors. He received not a single reply.
Here, Tape outlines the background to a book which carries the sub-title: ‘Where the money really goes in your town hall and the ways public services can be improved’
After working for various councils across the country for many years, I decided that it was time to write down my experiences about what goes on behind the closed doors of your average town hall. At first I thought it would make a great sitcom – in fairness, that might come next – but instead I opted for a book outlining what it is really like working for some of these public sector leviathans. Sorry, It’s Not My Department is my first published book and covers my career working in the lower and middle echelons of a handful of different local authorities.
The book is aimed at two audiences. The first is any member of the population who has had experience of dealing with their local council. Many of the people who have done so have commented that the title of the book basically says it all. The second target audience are those people who make the decisions in town halls, the councillors and senior officers. My hope is that they will see that there might just be a different way of running our public services that actually benefit the residents, of Croydon and beyond.
The book covers a number of areas:
• Unnecessary and wasteful services you didn’t know you had or needed
• Public consultation overload
• Writing strategy documents and policies for the sake of it
• Needless marketing, PR and events
• The ambiguous role of councillors
• The culture of jobs before public service
• Managing public sector cuts
• Perverse targets that actually decrease the quality of service
Sorry, It’s Not My Department also offers solutions. Rather than just being critical of existing systems and management approaches, it also tries to offer a way forward that will help make boroughs such as Croydon better places to live and work.
One area I explore is helping to make councillors more effective, moving away from party politics at the local level and instead focusing on high quality, independent individuals being elected to a more streamlined political structure.
The book also suggests other improvements, from reducing wasteful services through to having a greater emphasis on quality rather than quantity, and from removing the “gravy train” for staff through to generating a more positive atmosphere of public service.
My hope is that the book starts a wider dialogue among the decision-makers in councils. But more importantly, that anyone who is interested in how local government really operates can learn a little more about where their hard-earned tax money is actually spent.
Response to the book to date has been mixed. The public seem to actually quite like it and are positive about the messages it contains. On the other hand, councillors and council managers seem to be somewhat quieter. For example after sending information to more than 10,000 councillors across the country, most – including all 70 of Croydon’s councillors – have ignored my correspondence entirely.
That being said the number of independent and smaller party councillors who have been in touch has been impressively high in comparison to those from the main two parties. Read into that what you will.
But given that it is the public who deserve a clearer picture about council management, it is the public that I want to read the book.
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