Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Fastest with the Mostest

I was over at the council offices today, meeting with the different departments and teams that fall under my new customer services and IT portfolio.

For those that may be interested, we have several IT projects that are 'work in progress' and have the objective of achieving a more efficient and cost-effective, 'joined-up' approach to the way the council deals with its different silos of information. This is particularly important in meeting the business needs of Revenues & Benefits at a very challenging period in our history.

I was struck at how hard the team are trying to educate claimants and potential claimants on the scope and levels of benefits that are actually available. Apparently many people experiencing difficulties don't claim their full entitlements under the system and the Revs & Benefits team are constantly looking for new methods and new ideas for reaching out to those parts of the community which need their help most.

Looking at the statistics, the impact of the recession is as visible here at the sharp-end of council services, as it is to the Citizens Advise Bureau data, which I reported some weeks ago.

Local unemployment is rising, families are struggling with an insurmountable burden of personal debt and rental defaults are growing; the picture is the same in Thanet as it is elsewhere. I looked at several examples of where the council is trying to help but when debts fall into the several thousands and where no member of the family is working, one wonders how far the Government welfare budget can stretch in the face of such enormous recessionary pressures and a public sector debt the size of Everest.

On local Blogs you read about the council "flogging" it's assets but consider for a moment that this is not only the instruction of central Government but the preferred option for the raising of funds when Government support has been slashed.

Ignoring the standard Labour self-justificatory bull***t that got us in this mess in the first place councils everywhere need to find the money to deal with the unprecedented social and financial crisis that lies ahead. Thanet is more deprived and challenged than most.

I have been corresponding with Michael Child who has been very helpful in making suggestions on improving the council's web presence and I have already explored some of these with officers. I can whip something up on a weblog, as can Michael or ECR or Tony Flaig but local Government is constrained by a technical straight-jacket of standards, regulations and policies and so changes can't be instant.

One further thought for you when resources are tight and priorities lie in streamling and improving service areas that focus our welfare challenges. Would you rather see the two specialist programmers pulled-off the priorities to re-work the website or should they concentrate on developing the tools and integration features that surround the 'sharp-end' of services?

I think I know the answer and I'm sure you will agree that we need to pick our priorities carefully, which in this case is getting as much help to as many people as possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible within the budget and the resources available.

This is a challenge that goes beyond local politics. It's about calling on a very dedicated and professional team of people and their resources to help as many people as possible at a very difficult time and applying a shrinking budget where it can do the most good or to use a well-worn American expression, 'getting there the fastest with the mostest!'


Tony Beachcomber said...


How much did the empty Marks and Spencers building cost the council ?

tony flaig bignews said...

Simon here is a simple IT project for you and it should only take about five minutes to sort out.

Broadcasting recordings of council meetings.

I understand that the council already has the ability to record video, so why not just get someone to ring up, Kent TV as I have done some months ago, and see if they can confirm, what one of their staff told me which was that they would be able broadcast such video.

When this subject was bought up previously I seem to remember you waffled on about bandwidth this and that but as far as I know this would not cost us the taxpayer more than the cost of uploading the video or even sending them a DVD.

Any comments I think you and your colleagues don't wish the great unwashed like me to witness what goes on.

DrM. said...

I would be delighted to see recordings of council business available across the internet and once all the process boxes are ticked and the proper democratic approval is given to broadcast, I'm sure it will happen.

As you will have gathered by my last column, it's not an immediate priority, as I would be surprised if out of the entire population of Thanet, more than 100 people are itching to watch our rather hum drum political equivalent of 'Match of the Day' at Cecil Square. After all, you can watch the live action with a front-row seat by simply turning up and if you had attended the annual meeting of the council last week you would have had the entire gallery pretty much to yourself, such was the public interest in an occasionally lively game of two halves; the AGM and the extraordinary AGM!

Michael Child said...

Simon I think the problem here is that neither Tony nor I can understand is what the impediments are to getting some of these things done.

One of the things that I have suggested is that the council puts a blog in a frame on their press release page so that council press officers can publish directly to it, to set this up would at most be an hours work and once done would mean that the IT bods at TDC wouldn’t have to publish them, thus saving them a considerable amount of work.

Obviously they are under considerable pressure of work as the press releases often take as much as 10 days to appear without feeds which are an essential part of press releases, by which time they are often irrelevant.

Are you saying that there is some sort of legislation that means the council can’t use Google hosted Blogger embedded in their website? They are already using Google hosted Youtube to host their promotional videos that are embedded in the TDC website.

I have also suggested that as the councils web search facility on their homepage doesn’t work properly they should use the one provided free by Google, I am pretty sure that his is ok as several other councils use it already click here for an example.

This would also only take a maximum of an hour to set up and would leave the people who have been trying for ages to make it work free to get on with other work, of course should a time be reached when TDC discover that they have produced better technology for searching webpages than Google they could switch back to providing their own search facility.

Would say replacing a search facility that doesn’t work properly with one that does need to be decided by some sort of committee or something?

DrM. said...

What I am saying is in a large and complex public sector organisation their are both processes and standards that need to be followed and the work properly scheduled against a list of competing priorities.