EZ council my RS

There was a lot of fuss last year when Barnet council announced that it would be adopting a ‘no frills’ service. An ‘Easy’ council if you like. Residents would get a very basic service and any extras would have to be paid for. Many services would be outsourced from private companies while council staffing is cut.

 But the peasants are revolting. Barnet residents haven’t taken this lying down- there have been a series of demonstrations and meetings calling for an end to the cost cutting, especially when the most vulnerable members of society –the elderly and very young- are involved. There is a campaign to keep libraries open after it was suggested that reading real books was a rather outmoded idea and that residents who wished to cling to their old ways could pick up their books in Tesco’s and pop along to Starbucks to have a read.

 Meanwhile Lambeth council have announced plans to become a cooperative (I hope they do those nice fairtade chocolates) and encourage local community groups and individuals to help run things. Well that’s me sorted out after redundancy from my own council then. Perhaps I’ll pop along to Brixton town hall and offer my services to housing. Maybe take a broom with me and give Rush Common a little sweep on the way.

 I wonder how many other councils will choose the no frills option or the cooperative route after the Comprehensive Spending Review and whether this is the future model for council services.

 This summer I went on holiday with EasyJet. I took my own snacks (£4.50 for a buttie? You’re having a laugh), I packed light so I didn’t incur luggage penalties and I queued. And I queued and I queued. There was rather a Dunkirk spirit about it as we swapped horror stories. A mother travelling alone with three children under the age of seven told me how she was separated from her kids on the flight over because there weren’t four seats together. The mum pointed to her toddler who was sucking her thumb and clutching a blankie.

‘They wanted her sit on her own!’ she said.

 Well the flight- perhaps like the easy council model- did what it was supposed to do and got me quite nicely from A to B eventually.

 An adequate, basic service.

 But I’d rather travel BA.

 Wouldn’t you?


Teenage dreams

I feel like a teenager again. That’s not to say that I have an overwhelming desire to drink vodka in the park, wear a hoodie or frighten old ladies on a bus but my emotions are all over the place.

 Being a teenager was hideous the first time round so I’d rather not go through it again. Us adults are supposed to be able to manage our emotions with a little more efficiency than when we were younger (people that go Jeremy Kyle don’t count. Come to think of it, Jeremy Kyle doesn’t count) but I’d really like to get off this particular roller coaster and it’s all because of my work situation.

 I’m a grafter. I’ve only ever left jobs when I’ve had something better to go to. I’m rubbish at being ill and can’t remember the last time I took sick leave. I’ve never been unemployed and I’ve never claimed benefit so this being made redundant thing is way out of my sphere of knowledge. I have to deal with stuff called consultation and business case and I’ve got an appointment to speak to a nice lady in HR.

 Today I’m feeling depressed because the letter to all schools and head teachers has gone out telling them the ugly truth about the future of my programme. And that I’m ‘leaving.’ It would be a little harsh to say that I’m being ‘deleted’ which is what I’ve actually been told. Deleted. This is what the cybermen do to humans isn’t it? The letter didn’t look anything like the one I wrote. It was far more business like and less soppy. As it should be. Stiff upper lips and all that, what?

 At times the prospect of freefalling without a job is so heady that I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement and the thrill of an as yet unformed future.

 A few minutes later I’m in a meeting where I have to tell everyone that I’m being deleted leaving. Some people are sympathetic and ask what I’ll be doing next (‘see you down at Jobcentre plus ha ha’) and the occasional person says something supportive like, ‘well we’d better hurry up and get that done before you go!’ Depressing.

 Then I think about the huge pay rises that council chief executives all over the country are getting and I’m so angry that it physically hurts.

 Unfortunately, today I have been mostly grumpy. I even grouched at Mr. Citizen R over my muesli this morning (luckily he was very understanding). I have a meeting this afternoon where I’ll have to break the news to another bunch of people. Miserable.

 Guess how I’m feeling for the rest of week. No go on, it’s a game.

 Today: sending that letter and wondering if anyone will send me a kindly e-mail.

Weds: working with a new teacher at her school.

Thurs: attending a managers’ forum at work.

Fri: meeting with a colleague who is also being made redundant.

Saturday: spa day with the girls.

 The prize for guessing correctly is a warm feeling of accomplishment. But don’t talk to me for the rest of today in case I yell, ‘That’s sooo unfair! God! I didn’t ask to be born. You just don’t understand! I hate you!’ and strop off to my room to watch Twilight.  

Quick update: we’ve been told that the heating in the office is broken and won’t be fixed until November and that we should ‘dress accordingly.’ This has not made my day any better.

A tale of two academies

I’m in two minds about academies. There seem to be two types at the moment: those that are run by consortiums with huge amounts of money to throw into their schools and those that think that changing their name from Shankem Comprehensive to The Gove Academy for Young Ladies and Gentlemen will somehow magically raise attainment.

 The former type of academy like the Harris consortium or the Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) charity set up by French billionaire and Mr. Uma Thurman, Arpad ‘Arki’  Busson, have a strong set of values and beliefs as well as a bulging wallet.

 ARK now run eight academies in England, with six of them in London. Take, for example, the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton. Although the school has been running since 2004, it has just moved into a £50 million building designed by Zaha Hadid, who comes fresh from designing the 2010 aquatics centre in Stratford.

 The school’s motto is ‘excellence, endeavour and self-discipline’ and there is a strict code of conduct as well as a clear teaching and learning structure and a programme of extra curricular enrichment.

 The first photos of the new building look incredible- a cross between an airport lounge and a P&O cruise ship, the school is designed to maximise learning. I’m wondering if I donned a uniform (blazer smartly pressed, top shirt button done up and shoes polished) they’d take me in for a couple of years.

 But not all academies are like this. Most remain in their tired old buildings with their tired old grounds and their tired old staff.

 With outstanding schools being encouraged to become academies by the coalition government I worry about future academies. Mr. Gove is keen for new academies to be released from the evil grip of their local authorities who only exist, of course, to make trouble for schools and to badger head teachers.

 Boo to the HR department!

Down with legal services and admissions!

Off with advisers, consultants and IT support!

Stuff your catering contract and your school library service.

 Some current academies continue to churn out poor GCSE results and improvements are made at snails’ pace.  A rose by any other name does not always smell so sweet.

 In my experience there is one major factor in any school improvement, be it academy, primary, secondary, special or PRU: inspirational school leadership.

 This means that a modern Head has to be business minded as well as wise about education. They need to have charisma, a firm handshake and skin the thickness of a dehydrated rhino that doesn’t moisturise.

 Heads need to be able to drum up support from business, from parents, from local communities and from pupils.

 They need to be able to manage a budget, mop a floor, write a business plan, fend off a ranting parent, take assembly, meet the chair of governors, praise a good piece of work and write the admissions policy.

 At the same time.

 Before break time.

With a smile.

 I couldn’t do it and I’m in awe of anyone who can.

 So let’s turn our focus to what makes a really good leader (no, Hitler and Pol Pot don’t count) and ensure that our children have the best school leaders possible with the best support possible from the government.

 Academy or not.

A design for loaf

I found my new mantra in a recipe for rosemary focaccia:

“Knock back and leave to rise again.”

PS the foccccia was lovely.

Pay checked

More than 9,000 public-sector workers earn more than the prime minister, according to a new analysis of public-sector pay.

Ah, the prime minister’s pay, that great British benchmark. Up there alongside ‘as big as x football pitches,’ ‘the size of Wales,’ and ‘as big as golf balls.’

My local newspaper was indignant at the levels of pay of the various local authority chief executives and so it should be. The head of Wandsworth in London earns a salary of £299,925 including bonuses of £54,000. Many other chief executives are not far behind.

Fair enough for a demanding job in difficult times but it transpires than many of these CEOs have been awarded massive pay rises in the past year, just as many posts are being made redundant and costs are being cut to the bone. There has been a lot of whingeing from them about pensions and bonuses being added in to these salary figures and cost of living and take home pay being reduced but it’s a bitter pill to swallow for the rest of us.

In hard times we look to our leaders and we want them to support us and stand up for us- the drones that don’t receive prime minister-busting salaries. And as for bonuses…obviously we’re not talking banker bonuses here in the public sector but perhaps naively I didn’t realise that council leaders even got bonuses. When you work for the council you accept that you are duty bound to give council taxpayers best value for money and not grab it for yourself. The biggest bonus I got last year was a couple of biscuits left over from a training meeting. And no, don’t worry, tax-payers, we don’t supply tea and biscuits at training any more.

If I earn some consultancy money for the council then it goes into their pocket not mine. Last year I was set some hideous Local Area Agreement targets.  If I reached my targets, I’d be earning the council a great deal of money. I sweated, slogged and struggled but eventually met the targets and the money came flooding in. I had hoped for a tiny bit of this dosh to go into my own budget for use with my schools but it got swallowed into the great melting pot.

Now I can’t help wondering if any of that pot went into the pockets of the executives.

It’s not you it’s me…

Dear teachers,

 We need to talk so I think I’ll just come out and say it.

 It’s over, I’m leaving you.

 No, don’t look like that, it’s not you, it’s me.

 It’s been a great few years, and we’ve had some good times but it’s time to move on. I’ll miss you of course but it’s the children I’ll miss most. They’re great kids and we’ve watched them grow into funny, feisty young people full of enthusiasm and life.

 You think we won’t be able to manage without eachother but we will, you’ll see. I wish we could carry on as we were but things change and we have to change with them. It’s not easy, I know.

 It hurts so much right now but we’ll heal and we’ll be able to look back over our time together and smile at the memories we shared.

 Meanwhile I’m here if you need me. Please don’t be angry, it’s a situation that was just too big for us.

 We’ll get through this.

 Always yours.

Adventures in catering part one

Wednesday’s vegetarian option is liver and onions. Sigh.

 Welcome to public sector catering. Saint Jamie of Oliver, your work here is not yet done.

 Let me share some stories with you. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin with the story of the vegetarian Christmas gravy.

 It is a truth universally acknowledged that a nut roast in possession of all the trimmings must be in need of veggie gravy. I don’t often venture down to the canteen as the resulting week-long indigestion isn’t really worth the effort. But last Christmas my colleagues and I decided the drop the bah-humbug attitude and join in with the office Christmas lunch. After queuing for a couple of hours (the catering assistants don’t do fast) I arrived at the servery and asked politely for my delicious vegetarian dinner. The assistant sighed heavily and went off in search of the nut roast, which she plonked onto a plastic plate.

 ‘Gravy?’ she demanded, wielding a meatily dripping jug.

‘Um, do you have vegetarian gravy?’ I asked, aware of sounding faintly ridiculous. 

‘We’ve got gravy,’ she growled, swishing the jug. I’m now aware of starving colleagues fidgeting in the queue behind me.

‘But it’s meat gravy, ‘ I said, ‘and I’m, um, well I’m a vegetarian.’


 She shifted her bosom up under her pinny.

 ‘THIS ONE,’ she bellowed into the kitchen, hooking her thumb at me, ‘WANTS VEGETARIAN GRAVY.’

 Everyone in the queue turned to glare at me. I slunk away, gravy-less.

 A few minutes later when I’d eaten most of my dinner, a catering size jug with a couple of litres of yellow-coloured water was plonked by my side.

 ‘It’s your vegetarian gravy,’ snarled the assistant. ‘Enjoy your meal.’

 Usually I bring my own packed lunch when I can be bothered to make one. Pity the participants of our courses who have no choice in the catering but are so intimidated by the huffing and puffing from behind the counter that they daren’t complain.

 I’d rather not have obsequeious staff in the kitchen (I’m British after all and I can’t be doing with all that have a nice day nonsense) but I’m sure we can do better that this. Can’t we?

 What have been your experiences of corporate hostility hospitality?

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