Style Council?


Yesterday I had a meeting in the Civic Hall.

I walk past the place every day and like most of us really have no idea what goes on in there. It’s just where the council do whatever it is the council does. Let them get on with it. None of my business.

I was going to see a Very Important Person. I don’t generally get to see Very Important People in the council, especially ones I have been belligerent and obnoxious toward, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m very rarely rude in person, of course, but sit me in front of a laptop and give me an email address and I’m the devil incarnate. Though it’s never personal. Usually I get all worked up about stuff that other people consider trivial – bullet points, for instance (you should be shot for using them, and I know I’m in the minority with that opinion), misusing “that” and “which”, or putting two spaces after a full stop! On this occasion I had been rude about a document – this document. The person in question had written it and I had been rude about some of the language.

The gist of my rant was that it was a bit boring, uninspiring, insipid. There was a lot of talk about engagement, civic entrepreneurship, empowering communities and “game-changing times”, but it was written in the language of old school bureaucracy. It talked about engagement, but didn’t engage. It was about us, but not really for us. And I couldn’t really relate to how the document described what some of us were doing in our towns and cities; “civic entrepreneurship” … what the hell is that when it’s up and dressed?

Fortunately the person who wrote it didn’t take offense and she didn’t whack me round the head with a copy of the council rules and regulations when I entered her office, as I was half expecting. We had a good hours chat about what public service was all about in these difficult times and I offered my honest opinion about what most people still thought about the council – it’s a wet blanket; you have an idea and the council is there to put a stop to it, sharpish. This is obviously only a perception (and I’m talking about Leeds here, it would be good to know the experience of other cities) but perceptions do affect behaviour.

I left the Civic Hall with quite a few questions. How much do most of us know what goes on in places like that, what people do there, and exactly how it affects the rest of us. I was talking to the guy on the door and he was telling me stuff I’d never even heard about (Lord Lieutenant? … I have no idea.) And is it just because I am incurious – the very word “transparency” makes me anxious that they want to invite me into their meetings and shove reports and minutes in my hand, and that’s my idea of hell! Do we need to know exactly what they are up to in order to trust them? And what if we don’t agree with how they describe us? I’m not sure that I care to be called a “civic entrepreneur”, ta very much. How do we have a conversation with our councils? What should the style of the council be?

Anyway, I’m going to leave the last word to my mate Mike Chitty who wrote some lovely words yesterday. I wish he’d written them before my meeting, I wouldn’t have waffled as much.


  1. Nice piece Phil. It is always difficult for the leopard to change it spots.

    I think we need to note that this was about the future of local government – not about the future of our communities and how we, as a community organise ourselves to make things happen.

    The report clearly suggest that civic enterprise is a new leadership style for local government, which is just plain wrong! Civic enterprise is folk taking bold actions to make the world a better place. This blog IS civic enterprise, Rob Greenland’s work on Leeds Empties IS civic enterprise, Homage to Fromage IS civic enterprise, Disrupting Poverty in Leeds IS civic enterprise. Citizens acting boldly to make the city a better, richer, happier one.

    The challenge to the council is how to make itself relevant and helpful to such projects and what can it do to stimulate many more.

  2. So let me get this right. According to this report, for civic enterprise to work we need institutions to create the framework?

    1. You read the report? I’m not sure you were supposed to do that …

      And I think Mike’s right (as annoyingly he’s wont to be) that civic enterprise happens anyway, no matter what the think tanks want to call it, no matter what the council want to do about it.

      Personally, I don’t like the phrase and you won’t catch me using it. And whether this website is or isn’t civic enterprise is anyone’s guess.

  3. Phil

    At the risk of taking a lead from you, are you saying that (a) by your own admission (braver than moat people I will admit), don’t fully know what the Council does yet (b) you don’t rate the Council.

    I don’t get how you can reach conclusion (b) based on the information in (a). Not least as you choose to exclude yourself from trying to find out: “It’s just where the council do whatever it is the council does. Let them get on with it. None of my business.”

    Like you I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs of the Council. What I do see is their exceptional ambition, the struggle to deal with swingeing cuts and their senior officers making themselves available online and off.

    Then again, I have alwys been a glass half-full person, and believe positive reinforcement more usefully irons out negative performance.


    1. Morning David,

      I’ve always been a glass half empty person – if it’s half empty I’ll be the first to volunteer to go to the offy…

      Obviously my post wasn’t entirely serious. And I agree with you about the council’s ambition and willingness to engage. My only quibble is over what the council expects from us, the people like me who just want to get on and do stuff.

      I don’t identify with this civic entrepreneur stuff. It’s a phrase I’ve never used – especially about myself – and I’m not really sure what to make of it. None of the people I know who are getting on and doing stuff have ever used that phrase either, so I was simply wondering who had come up with it and how useful it was.

      I am curious though. And I am actually doing a bit of a project around the idea with the council because I want to find out what’s going on and if it’s really any help to people who are doing stuff. Maybe I’ll come and have a chat to you too?

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