154 – “If it is easy or there is a budget, councils are probably doing it”.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                                          400 words

easy peasy lemon squeezy

The flip side of this statement is that if it is difficult or there is no budget, councils probably aren’t doing it. This is one of my most common bits of advice to residents. The reality is that councils can really struggle to do difficult things. It isn’t that they don’t want to. It is just that the system militates against it. It is worth thinking about the hallmarks of something that is difficult for local government.

It is often something that is new – something that the council hasn’t done before that has to be learnt. This takes time and effort, and can be risky. Someone could be upset by it. You might make a public mistake. I once worked for a council that wanted to be recognised as a leader, but only by doing things that other councils had already proven would work.

It is probably cross functional. There will be no person responsible for doing it. Even if someone does see the need and want to do it, unless they get cooperation they will not succeed. The ability to ‘gain cooperation from others’ is a common criteria in recruitment, especially for senior roles, that is seldom required or supported once the person has the job. Much cross organisational cooperation relies on individuals and their relationships with others.

It will have both supporters and detractors, sometimes in equal numbers. I have heard of situation in which a council involved in making changes to a street where half the people wanted the change and half wanted no change. Both groups felt entitled to have what they wanted because it was ‘what they paid their rates for’.   Making a decision under these circumstances, particularly for politicians, is hard. Problems with more than one ‘right’ answer are called ‘wicked’ for a reason.

The degree of difficulty then impacts on the availability of a budget. If there is no clear, risk free and popular way forward, it can be difficult to get funding. Bidding for budgets is a protracted process. There are ‘business cases’ to fill out. You have to say what the benefits will be from the expenditure, how risks will be managed, how it fits into the current planning or policy framework. Sometimes simply being able to fill out this form is a show stopper when something is really new and hasn’t been contemplated in any existing plans.

The next time you are asked why something isn’t happening, ask yourself ‘is it difficult and is there a budget?’

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