Sorry, It’s Not My Department


...For anyone not familiar with the way local government works, or looking to get into politics, this is a must-read....

While Rob Tape has worked for a number of councils, his examples come from counties all round the country. This is an interesting, sardonic, and sometimes frankly depressing look at the workings of councils, written by someone who has been on the inside for twenty years. It points out the problems with target based culture, with party politics meaning some councillors have no say, with officers not providing information, and councillors suggesting they massage it. It covers the issues with Whitehall tying the hands of people trying to be effective, and of people who aren’t trying to do anything but collect a pay check.

A surprising number of policies fall victim to the law of unintended consequences, or are implemented with an eye to actions taken not results, such as the bizarre conflict between a cycling strategy that says officers should ride to work and an HR strategy that says they must have their cars on hand at all times or a police officer saying they are allowed three more crimes over the weekend and they can still meet their month’s target. HE is similarly sceptical of public/private partnerships for reasons that quickly become clear.

While it is, at least in my experience, a pretty accurate portrayal of working for a council or civil service, its hard to see how this will change anything. The book lists a lot of problems, many of which I’ve encountered in my own time working with government. What it doesn’t give is many solutions that local people can do to solve the problem. At the ballot box voters can’t vote that they think a position is unnecessary, or have any power to reduce the number of councillors. The suggestion of not permitting councillors to be part of or have any affiliation to political parties is one that I remember from the Nineties, and while it might well work, the parties are too entrenched to allow it to pass. This is the problem – most of the solutions would require the people to want to make changes, and few of them would.

On the other hand, for anyone not familiar with the way local government works, or looking to get into politics, this is a must-read.

This book was featured in the newspaper column - click for details
Rating: 4
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Discussion

rz3300 (18 September 2016)
I am so so excited for this, because this really has the makings of something like a "Bartleby, The Scrivener" like attitude to it, and that is one of my all time favorite stories. Sometimes I do not really enjoy reading about government, but if it has that sort of mockery to it, I am all in. Thanks for this one.

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