Amongst my group of friends are a nucleus of people who work in Local Government, the Civil Service, the Health Service and Education. Sometimes we joke with each other about “Joined Up Government” not really existing; In truth it often frustrates all of us that it often doesn’t!

In Harlow we are about to break that mould!

We are proposing to share our Revenues & Benefits service with neighbouring Uttlesford District Council, to our north. Cllr Jim Ketteridge, the Conservative leader there and I see eye to eye that the future of Local Government is shared services between councils, making savings that we need without dropping service quality and so we have been keen for our two councils to work closer together.

Both Harlow and Uttelsford Councils are recommending to their members, that in principle a joint partnership for the administration of Council Tax, Business Rates and Benefits is started. The issues is going to be discussed at Uttlesford’s Full Council on 19th October and Harlow’s  Full Council on 4th November.

A feasibility study was commissioned in the summer to identify costs and benefits (including savings) of the Councils working in such a partnership. Staff from both Councils have been involved in the feasibility study. That study has identified the potential for the Councils to save around £635,000 a year (Harlow £390,000 & Uttlesford ££245,000)

Now to most people who live in the “real” world, this sounds like a really obvious idea, and some would probably question just why this hasn’t been done before. Local government is tribal and councils often have not thought like this in the past, but given the financial situation that faces all councils at the moment it makes sense to start thinking differently.

Working with other councils is part of my plan to help the finances of Harlow Council and I hope that all members of the council, regardless of political persuasion will feel able to support this, as obviously its going to be good for Harlow!

At the moment, those of you who follow this blog will know that there is a by-election campaign going on in the ward of Staple Tye in Harlow. The election is on Thursday (30th)…. so thats about 42 hours til polls open. Which kind of explains why I have not been blogging much in the past week. Apologies.

My days have been mostly:

Go to work (for those who don’t know I work in the Health Service as a Business and Performance Manager for a large London hospital trust, mainly looking after contracts with a lot of PCT’s and trying to get as much money for the trust to work on as possible)

Get home and spend a precious half hour or so with my daughter

Go out and knock on doors / deliver leaflets

Get home and eat

Then help write more leaflets / phone people to get extra deliverers/canvassers/organise other events.

In the odd gaps that can be found in that I have been doing my role as leader of the council and answering emails/calls through the day on my blackberry.

Most nights with all the council emails etc I have been getting to bed vvvvvery late…..

The thing is, I do actually enjoy it. I will however be looking forward to the Bank Holiday weekend as a relaxation post by-election and before the County Council/Euro election month hits us!

If you are in or near Harlow on Thursday and want to help the conservative party win a by election please do get in touch.

After my back to school experience yesterday, I headed to the civic centre.

I try and take at least one day a month, but often more, annual leave from work to spend time in the Civic centre.

Council politicians, contrary to popular myth are not well paid for the role they undertake; at least not in Harlow. The allowance that councillors receive is a small recompense to cover the time that they spend doing council “work”. Frankly it works out far less than the minimum wage for the time we all put in. But we don’t do it for the money! If I was just interested in money, my full time job would not be in the Health Service, and I certainly wouldn’t spend so much time in public service.

It’s an interesting debate though, If you rely on “volunteers” which is essentially what most councillors are, then you get people who have availability in the evenings and at weekends, which is why so many council meetings are in evenings.

However there is a strong argument to have councillors, even if only the senior ones, as professionals, working in their town halls 9-5 every day. This has the benefit of being there when the officer corp. are, being able to give strategic direction directly, instead of in the evening to the few, or via telephone and email. This happens in some local authorities now, but invariably as its not paid highly, becomes the preserve of those who are retired or have their own means of supporting themselves. Hardly representative of the people. I know I could not afford to make the Civic centre my “day job” without a reasonably pay packet attached.

Businesses are supposed to give time off for council duties, but this can be unpaid and very few “professionals” would risk even asking for this time, for fear of showing a lack of commitment to the job which pays their mortgage. So it comes down to should we pay councillors salaries?

The disadvantage of paying salaries to councillors is that you risk inventing the role of the professional politician, a career path all of its own, with people leaving university and seeking election, before gaining any life skills in the “real world”. I think also that the general public already view the political system as corrupt – “they are all just in it for themselves” is a comment I have heard many times, usually inspired by the misdeeds of just one or two individuals around the country hyped by the national and local media. Very few councillors are “just in it for themselves”

Sometimes I am sure that all councillors wonder, like me, when sitting at a late night meeting of the tedious variety (there are a few) or looking at their annual leave at work and knowing that they wont be able to take a two week summer holiday this year because of the amount of time they have taken to spend in their council role, why they do it at all.

The truth is that most councillors, and in this I include those from all different parties, really do enjoy and want to keep serving their communities.

I know I do.