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Be proud about asking tricky questions

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What are you proud of?

This question has been much on my mind recently as I have been working with staff on service reviews, all of which have been looking for new ways of doing things and most of which are designed to reduce the burden on the taxpayer.

In triborough land we have unlocked the doors to a rich treasury of information. We can make comparisons in a way that I have never managed to do before, in 30-odd years.

We can now ‘deep-compare and contrast’ (one of our triborough mantras), between two and sometimes three councils. And all of this information provides honest, unspun detail.

Of course, this is not based on an assumption that councils’ spending ought to be the same. It is, however, a fascinating way of opening up debates about what we spend, what we get for it and how we measure success.

We often ask staff running services to describe these issues and show intellectual curiosity in different options.

Pride is a huge strength and a potential weakness in this process.

Professional public servants want to be able to take pride in their work.

They can easily convince themselves that the way hey do things now is commendable. In easier times, they may have worked long hours, invested their own creativity, managed well and improved standards.

To then have to get used to the fact that their council cannot - or chooses not to - continue to back that work is tough.

And so the task of leadership is to get staff to be proud of asking tricky questions. It is also about being open to different ways of thinking and prioritising.

Even more importantly, we want staff to believe in our cause and to work towards falling real tax levels, lower management costs and a reduced burden on taxpayers.

We want staff to be proud of their council’s services but the challenge is to ensure that they are proud of their council’s budget too.

Derek Myers, joint chief executive, Hammersmith & Fulham LBC and Kensington & Chelsea RBC

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