…who asked me to join their LinkedIn network

Dear X

Thank you for the e-mail asking me to connect with you on LinkedIn.

You didn’t include a personal message with your request so I’m not quite sure why you want to add me to your network.

I remember you left the council I worked for in, was it 2008? Crikey, that’s five years ago and I haven’t heard from you until now.

You’ve gone on to greater things since then, the parliamentary seat, party spokesperson on (let me be coy) Topic Y, probably much more I’ve not noticed. Good for you. All that stuff in the council must have been helpful – the single-minded pursuit of your own area of responsibility, the loyal support of officers who promoted your agenda and, let’s be frank, the war of attrition with your party colleagues.

As for me, I took a voluntary package to leave – no hard feelings, it was time for a change – and as my LinkedIn profile says I’ve morphed into a creative writing student. Well, between studies at the moment, but with one or two pieces published, like my story in the New Writing Scotland anthology, although I don’t expect that’s your sort of thing.

Truth is, apart from the creative writing, I’m sort of retired as far as paid work’s concerned.

So I’m not quite sure what sort of business it is we might do together through LinkedIn, unless you’re looking for some creative writing to support your political activities, heaven forfend.

I noticed, perhaps you did too, that I live in the area you represent in parliament, so the only other thing I have that might be of interest to you is … no, it couldn’t be, I was going to say an occasional vote.

Oh well, in the best traditions of the public service, this has been a rather more long-winded way of saying something quite simple, no thanks, or as LinkedIn rather unkindly puts it ‘Ignore request.’

All the best.

Yours sincerely


TeletubbiesIt’s always interesting when a human touch breaks through the corporate identity.

On a trip to Edinburgh yesterday, I saw two construction vehicles personalised by their respective employees.

The first was a private builder’s flatbed truck. On each of the upright corners of the grill behind the cab a Teletubbie had been impaled, one green, one purple. They looked as if they’d been retrieved from a skip and their limbs flopped around in the truck’s slipstream like miniature corpses. Not a positive image.

The other was a bit closer to home for me and altogether more subtle – a vehicle belonging to the council I used to work for. Most of their vehicles are painted white (it’s cheaper) and sport the council logo in blue. They’re usually well-maintained and look in good condition. This one was no exception. But printed in the corporate blue and apparently professionally in capitals below the window at the rear of the cab, were the words ‘IT’S NAE EASY.’

The message was given added meaning for me because the council’s slogan, short  version, is ‘the very best of Scotland.’ I know because I wrote it. OK, as specified by councillors, but I did write it (a councillor, now out of favour with the majority of his colleagues, suggested adding the ‘very’).

I just loved the conjunction of ‘It’s nae easy’ and ‘The very best’. What could be more true? Striving to be the best isn’t easy and whoever added this discreet adornment to this particular vehicle should be praised. I hope their wisdom is used in that council’s employee induction programme to get over the more profound truth.

There was an interesting if tetchy exchange between UK Government minister and Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps and Clive Betts, Labour MP and chair of the Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday (10 January).

The Committee has just published a comprehensive and thorough report on the future role of councillors which says amongst much else that remuneration and support for local government councillors should be increased. People are reluctant to stand as councillors because the compensation is so low and the average age of councillors is now sixty.

In his loaded contribution to a patchy discussion Shapps described councillors as ‘volunteers’ five times.

…councillors are brilliant volunteers for their community…councillors shouldn’t be on paid terms and conditions…on the basis that they’re volunteers and volunteers aren’t usually paid…volunteering for your community and being involved in the neighbourhood you live in is I think a very important role for people…on the same basis of Clive Betts’ argument you would start to pay volunteerss in every different walk of life…like Scout leaders.

They say everyone writes the history that suits their purpose but this is pernicious nonsense, and Shapps should know it.

The equation of councillors with Scout leaders (and any other sort of volunteer) is complete bilge. Councillors have a role defined in statute, are democratically elected to public office, nearly all spend a lot of time doing the work often at unsocial hours, and are responsible, even in these straitened times, for major spending of public money. They are subject to a whole raft of requirements unlike volunteers. Anyone heard of a Scout leader who publishes their financial interests in a statutory register?

If councillors are volunteers then so are MPs, 100 of whom have just told polling organisation YouGov that on average they deserve a pay increase of 32%! Apparently Conservative MPs thought they were most deserving of more money. Nice money if you can get it guys.

The Shapps rewriting of history – and law – just doesn’t stack up. I hope Conservative councillors up and down the land are having a quiet word in his shell-like ear.

Daniel Nest is a blogger of Ukrainian origin who explains succinctly

I do humour posts and am very affordable.

He wrote recently about the weird search terms used to access his Nest Expressed blog. Inspired by this I checked the strange searches that led some readers to the HelpGov blog. I have tried to understand what ten of these benighted souls might be looking for…

Upside down wheelie bin

Who would want information about an upside down wheelie bin? It’s easy. Bin upside down, waste on ground. End of story.

Business card showing degree example

Ah, business cards with qualifications on. How I hate them. Joseph Soap, M.B.E., H.N.D., B.Sc. (Hons.), M.A., M.Phil., FBACS, MOPIE, ABUM. What’s all that about then? Insecurity I think. The weirdest I saw was the leader of a council I worked for who had no academic qualifications. No shame in that. But as he reached the end of his career he received two honorary Ph.D.s, one from each of the two local universities. So on official correspondence he went within a short time from Cllr. Bob Middleton to Cllr. Dr. Robert Middleton Ph.D. (true story).

Waste-2-value swine

I am completely bemused by the meaning of this phrase. Anyone able to help? The best I can guess is that it’s the inaccurate translation of some deadly insult in a foreign language – ‘You waster-value swine.’ Or maybe it’s a genetically modified pig that produces less waste than the traditional porker so that even the ‘oink’ can be used.

Twitter logo

Why would anyone visit the HelpGov blog to find the Twitter logo? Why not attempt the enormously complex task of visiting Twitter, or even more daring, Google Images?

Pictures of bad teeths not being brushed for weeks

I can assure readers that no matter how hard they look they will not find pictures of bad teeths on this site, although for anyone willing to search there is a middling-to-old story of waste in the NHS involving free but inappropriate toothbrushes for young children. No disgusting pictures of poor oral hygiene though.

Snow happy people

A.k.a. children. Everyone else longs for the warmth of summer.

Solicitores full size

It is well known that solicitores come in small, medium and full sizes, the same as barristeres and lawyeres, but not on this site.

Desain taman kota

Seseorang searchin di Indonesion untuk ‘desain Taman kota’ datang di situs HelpGov. Saya terkesan. Aku tidak tahu mengapa, tapi aku terkesan. Thank you Google Translate

“Meaning of” tressangle

There is no meaning of tressangle unless it’s the angle my daughter’s hair assumes after she subjects it to its regular dose of TRESemmé

Happy birthday in filipino language

Masaya kaarawan – easy!

That’s all. Happy Christmas or as they say in the States to cover all possibilities and none, Happy Holidays.

Under the hashtag #Ilovemyjob one of the great local government tweeps I follow wrote last week

Just spent an hour talking with 12 Albanian Mayors about the local committee structure in Sutton.

This is the sort of random information Twitter throws at you every day. Thanks for it to @GlenOcsko.

Although I have no proof I’m 99% sure of what was going on here.

For many years the UK government and/or European Commission have sponsored people from former communist countries that might be EU member candidates to come on study visits to the likes of Britain and other long-standing EU members to see how democracy can work.

In my day, it was the swathe of Eastern European countries which are now EU members.

A typical trip might be organised by a UK university politics department and feature briefing sessions with academics and visits to two or three local authorities to meet local politicians and council staff, much as I suspect the twelve Albanian mayors were doing in Sutton.

You might not think it an exciting way to spend a week. But for many of the delegates on these trips struggling to come to terms with the upheaval and turmoil in their own countries, this was the first time they had ventured west of the old iron curtain. They were often shabbily dressed by our standards and uneasy at the resources we seemed to have as well as the general UK standard of living around them.

Most did not speak English and there sometimes seemed to be a clear hierarchy within their group although their interpreter was the key delegate if you were to get anything of value across to them.

At the time I was working for a large, mainly rural, council. I particularly remember a group of Bulgarians and the effort I’d gone (pre-Google Translate and Babelfish) to source a grammatically-correct slide to front my presentation that said ‘Welcome to XYZ Council!’ in Bulgarian.

My presentation, filtered through their interpreter’s efforts, seemed to go down as well as an account of multi-member wards and the differences between central and area committees could.

Inviting questions, I sat down to polite smiles and a silence that was eventually broken by a question from the delegate I had identified as the main man in the group, an academic at some institute for government. The interpreter translated

He says who has the executive authority in your villages?

Even now the words ‘knock me down’ and ‘feather’ come to mind.

I won’t bother to explain why. Those in the know will understand precisely the difficulties of where you start to answer such a question in the British context. If you’re not in the know ask yourself the same question – ‘Who has the executive authority in your village or suburb?’ Just doesn’t make sense in the UK does it?

Well, the Bulgarians are safely inside the EU now and no doubt the Albanians are hoping to be in the future (dim and distant I would have thought). I wonder if they asked any interesting questions in Sutton?

Once upon a time, there was a wee girl who lived in a beautiful part of one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

The school she went to was in a lovely new building that overlooked a sea loch near an old village.

The wee girl was very interested in writing.  One day her teacher asked everyone in her class to do a writing project.  She asked her mum and dad for ideas and decided to write a ‘blog’ about her school dinners.

With some help from her dad she started the blog, thinking that her family and maybe the children she went to school with might be interested in it.  Because it was about food she also asked anyone who read it to give some money to a charity that provided school dinners for children in poor countries.

It was a clever idea.  She took a photo of her school dinner each day, gave it a score on something she invented called a Food-o-meter and said what she thought about the food.

Of course, she didn’t like some of what she had to eat, even though she could choose from different things.  But children are like that everywhere.  And sometimes she said things like ‘Lunch was really nice today’ and ‘The fajita was lovely.’

Then some funny things started to happen.

Children from other countries began to send her photos of their own school dinners.  She put them on her blog and said what she thought about the photos.

More and more people started to look at what she wrote and eventually she was asked with her dad to visit a famous chef who was talking about school dinners.

The next day something terrible happened.

A newspaper from a big city wrote about her visit to the famous chef.  They had a headline that said ‘Time to fire the dinner ladies,’ something the wee girl and her dad had never said and was a very lazy and stupid thing to write.

Her school had been happy when she started the blog but now of course the poor dinner ladies were upset and afraid for their jobs.

The council, who ran the school she went to, wasn’t as clever as it could have been and said she couldn’t take photos of her dinners any more.  She was called out of a lesson to be told this, which wasn’t perhaps the most sensible thing to do, because children don’t like that and it might have been a good idea to tell her dad first.

Well, you wouldn’t believe the fuss it all caused.

The TV, radio and other newspapers all found out what was going on.  Suddenly what had happened was news throughout the world.  Millions of people looked at her blog and thousands tweeted about it.  People started to say that the ban on her taking photos was silly.

Within a day the council had to change its mind and said she could still take photos.  Unfortunately, by then people had started to write all sorts of unkind things about them.  Some puppets from Glasgow even sung a song about the council!

An important man from the council called the ‘leader’ said he would meet the wee girl and her dad and ‘seek her continued engagement,’ which was a strange thing to say to a wee girl.

Children, fairy tales are funny things.  They teach you lessons, if you think about them, but they don’t always have happy endings.  This fairy tale hasn’t ended yet.  What do you think its lessons will be?  Do you think it will have a happy ending for anyone and if so, who?

Also worth reading – Adrian Short’s more technical analysis of the council’s original press release on this subject (now disappeared from their web site)

I bumped into an old colleague the other day.  Comparing notes and then checking the published lists I realised that at least six of the candidates in our forthcoming local council election were ex-employees of that council.  And they were all people who had either worked at a senior level (one an ex-director) or closely with councillors.

That’s a good idea you might say – what better way to use the experience and knowledge of those skilled professionals than as elected representatives?

I don’t agree.  This sort of thing often ends in tears.  It’s all to do with expectation and understanding of roles.

Here’s what can go wrong.

  • The new councillor carries their professional baggage with them and thinks they know better than the director responsible for that service of the council.  But they may be out of date, plain wrong, and in any event are elected to represent the people of their area, probably as the member of a political party, and not to be the in-house expert on the subject.  This problem is made worse if their political colleagues say ‘Ooh, you’re a teacher/social worker/engineer.  You should be on the committee that deals with that’
  • This can lead to senior officials devoting disproportionate effort to keeping the ‘expert’ councillor onside (or neutralised!)
  • The councillor and/or their ex-colleagues still working for the council can have inappropriate expectations of each other: it can be difficult to maintain a proper work relationship
  • If so minded, the ex-worker councillor can pursue a grievance against a former colleague/manager through their new role (I have seen a councillor like this pay attention to the performance of their former manager that almost amounted to harrassment)
  • Despite all their experience on the other side of the fence, former professionals do not always understand the fundamental difference between management and politics and can quickly become disillusioned by requirements of the political life.

So there’s plenty of reasons to move on if you’re an ex-council official and not to try for a second life in the same organisation.  Of course, that’s not to say that some won’t be successful as councillors…