Stress in local government LO11452

Arthur Battram (
Mon, 16 Dec 1996 10:13:45 +0000

Replying to LO11398 -- Was: Depression: an obstacle to learning

replying to -
>To minimize the impact of our common language on our ability to
>communicate, could you be more specific about your project?

Yes, a little, see below...

>[Host's Note: Local "authorities" = police?? Or are local authorities
>entities like town, city, and county governments? Or a local government
>agency. ...Rick]

Aaargh! I was hoping to avoid this! OK...
Yes they are 'entities like town, city, and county governments'

Before I start, I'll just say thank you for the replies I've already had-
thanks to all you helpful 'Lodders' out there.

[Lodder- a subscriber to the digest version, like me; I abbreviate to l-o
digest to 'LOD' hence lodder]

UK local government- some details [and some attitude :-) and please note
that this is a personal view, not the view of my employer ]

We have 2 types of 'local' government , as distinct from central
government which raises taxes on income and purchases, makes laws, uses
our money to buy big things made of metal that can only be used to kill
people...[ :-) look how am I going to explain if I keep letting attitude
in like this?- anyway you get the drift....]

I'm going into some detail, because I'm not sure which details are
relevant to our international readership...

Our local government sort of includes fire and police authorities, but
although they are 'accountable' in some small way to local politicians,
they are funded and largely controlled by central government. To be
honest I'm not totally clear on the specific details, my main work is
focussed on the management and training and development activities of
local government, not its service delivery as such, because that is how
The Local Government Management Board is organised as a central advisory

Local government in the UK is organised on 2 levels [outside of the big
conurbations] [except where it's not] The 2 levels are counties, like
Cornwall or Devon, and districts, which can be basically a town [in which
case its called a borough, but only if the queen said so], or a piece of
country containing small towns and villages, with a name like North Devon
or South Hams. The key distinction is that counties have more local
service delivery responsibilities than districts: that is they also do
education [nursery, 5yrs-18yrs] and social services', [but not health and
hospitals which is done by separate health authorities.] The districts
provide housing waste collection, planning [but the county does planning
as well] [ :-) Look, I didn't design the system , I just advise people who
work in it on how to manage in it...] Oh, yes, before I forget - cities
have 'metropolitan' authorities [Mets for short, we call them, but the
public doesn't] , which combine county and district functions, in the
conurbations: areas like Sheffield, Birmingham, and all the separate
London Boroughs [which aren't boroughs, they're 'Mets', confused yet? :-)

All this 'local government' used to be funded locally from local taxes
[called 'rates'] at about 80% with the central government providing
'revenue support grants' for the difference needed to fund agreed
services. BTW, most people have no idea that this funding is now reversed,
in a process that took about 20 years, so that now most funding for
so-called local services comes from central government, which increasingly
places strings on its funding. At the same time the political makeup of
local government control has changed from a balance of approx 45% Labour,
45% Conservative, 10% other [Liberal, etcetera] to something like 80%
Labour, 5% Conservative, 15% other. Central government has been
Conservative since 1979.

Things like 18+ education, colleges, universities, retraining, careers
advice, etcetera is funded by another set of bodies funded from central

[If there are any academics specialising in local government please feel
free to correct me; I'm pretty sure my main points are OK, but I don't
have all the details]

'except where it's not' - central government has just 'reorganised local
government': a complex process of 'consultation', in some parts of
England and Wales [by the way, I'm not describing Scotland or 'N.Ireland'
which are similar, but differ in terms of their legal systems, for one
thing] has led to the creation of some new 'unitary authorities' which
have the functions of 'Mets', and some look like Mets in that they are
city-based, like Bristol or Swansea and some are based on towns with some
of the surrounding villages, like a small portion of a county.

There is no regional government [except in the sense that some central
government 'programmes' are funded via 'Welsh' 'Scottish' and N.Ireland'

Looking at this, it's easy to see why local government might be suffering
stress: after all the county/district/met set up is only 22 years old...

But we've also had wave after wave of initiatives applied to local
government since the beginning of the 80s: the sort of improvements that
the private sector has been pursuing: downsizing, competitive contracting
out of services, TQM and other quality systems, a total reform of
Vocational Qualifications [please don't start up the debate again, dear
readers], a total reform of public health, etcetera etcetera. 'Doing more
with less' is a commonly heard mantra amongst local government managers...


The task is to produce something on managing/lessening stress, and there
IS a specific trigger: a court case brought against a local authority,
who were deemed to have failed in their duty of care towards a manager in
a Social Services dept who had two nervous breakdowns due to job-related
stress. But please note, the focus will NOT be purely on legal
responsibilities, it will also include more preventative, positive advice.

I can't be specific because it is a proposal that has to be developed,
including the sort of research and consultation that will be used. The
outcome will be advice and information, delivered probably via a
publication [or series of pamphlets] and/or by seminars/training courses.

Phew...that's stressed me out..I'll have to lie down in a darkened room
for a bit :-)

And how do they do it in the Lone Star state, Lon?

Best wishes

Arthur Battram
living in Britain and increasingly speaking American


from Arthur Battram, organisational learning adviser, helping local authorities to apply complexity concepts to personal and organisational learning. 'Learning from Complexity' pack available January '97, approx 110 full price [55 -half price- for local authorities in England and Wales who finance LGMB] for details email me:

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