I spent some time with fellow Chief Executives from around the country this week. The group included both city and rural colleagues. Throughout the discussions we had it became clear that what ever the type of environment served, or the scale of the organisation, all of our councils were facing pretty much the same challenges. Slightly different flavours maybe, but basically the same dish. It was good to hear we aren’t alone in driving forward necessary changes, or in receiving some adverse reaction from time to time.
Of course we shared budget woes. That’s where it always starts these days. But a lot of other ground got covered. One thing I noticed was how colleagues were concerned about the way what we are doing to balance the books while improving services is being treated in their local press.
We have always been the target of negative press in local government. Council bashing sometimes seems like a national sport! It’s also very odd how services get praised – schools, roads, trading standards, social work and so on – but the organisation that provides them is bad mouthed all too often. As if the two are not in fact one and the same. Few would buy a car from a manufacturer they thought was pants? Would you?
I once worked with a boss who said “forget what the papers say” – and we had been having a very rough time in that council over a particular issue – “people will be wrapping fish heads in it tomorrow”.
The truth – understatement alert! – is that most of what we do at Angus Council is pretty good. But, as the adage runs, good news doesn’t sell papers. The work we do everyday speaks for itself. And personally I think we get a reasonably fair deal from our local media, but I can see how sometimes a kind of “siege mentality” can emerge based on the perceptions that “they” are out to get us. And maybe sometimes “they” are. One of the attributes of good public services in a democratic model must be openness to criticism…but sometimes is it unreasonable to ask if we could just have a little more praise and celebration? Space where the 99% good or better is recognised more fully?