Miserable Camden?

ONE of the most striking things from the local papers over the two weeks I was away was the letter from a council officer, albeit writing anonymously, who claims people are leaving Camden Town Hall in droves because it has become a hellish place to work.

The New Journal ran parts of the letter, but it appeared unadulterated in the Ham and High… the extra words claiming that the “council is a miserable place since the change of leadership and some people at the top need to learn some manners”. To illustrate the point, the Ham ran a cartoon of ‘hell’ and joked that it had been twinned with Camden. Despite the usual gossip in the corridors up at Judd Street, I was surprised by the bluntness of the letter. This is officially not good press for Camden Council – and for once there is no journalist or editor to simply blame for authoring it. The tone is sharp as it gets for letters published in the local papers.

After the turbulent, well-discussed change at the top of Camden’s Labour party this year – and the full letter in the Ham pointedly makes reference to ‘Dear Leader’ – reading this must have felt like a biff in the chin to those who supported the coup, if that is not too dramatic a word, which effectively removed Nash Ali from the group leadership earlier this year.

Of course, at the end of 12 months, the group’s new leader Sarah Hayward will have to tell the group how Camden Labour has been different under her control, that there is a marked improvement in the way it performs. The group will expect her to show that her move to the top was worth the internal pain and she will have to explain a list of successes. Letters like this, however, become weapons for anybody in the half of the group who voted for somebody else to lead the party in May and may still be saddened or even angry about how things all panned out.

It is important to say that this is just one letter, just one, and the claims are not verified. People leave local authorities even in the happiest times. The old story about Camden was that people would develop so well there that they would seek natural promotions elsewhere as it became crowded at the top. Some say it is simply not true that there is a big rush for the door in recent weeks.

Amid the top tiers, there is even apparently the idea that the letter was rustled up by a councillor suffering from sour grapes and that the ideas in it have no real credence among the actual workforce.

Still, four months into a new regime, it is not the best thing to see in the local press. These kind of letters have been a rare thing in Camden in recent years.


2 Comments on Miserable Camden?

  1. Or you can take the view that if you aren’t upsetting anyone at all, and unless you think the council was perfect to start with, you must be doing a something wrong. Oftentimes a good manager just doesn’t get to be everyone’s friend. Without knowing whether the author of the letter is a star, or retired-in-post, its difficult to judge.

    What would tell a tale will be overall staff turnover figures. Until they spike or someone goes on the record, as you say, it might be anything or nothing

  2. Keith Sedgwick // September 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm //

    Is it all coming to tears so soon?!

    The sad truth is that, whether we like to admit it or not, Camden attracts some of the best talent in Local Government because of its tradition of being at the cutting edge or progressive governance. Sure there is dross out there, but there again the same can be said of private organisations.

    My time as a Councillor revealed to me that generally speaking, Officers working for Camden had made a positive choice to work in Local Government and on the whole, were very accomplished individuals, in that field. Yes, they do have a habit of getting above themselves, but mostly only in the absence of strong leadership and a clear strategic vision.

    The problem with this current Labour administration is that it has no clear strategic vision other than ‘Motherhood and Apple Pie’. Their whole approach to date has been formed in reaction to Central Government’s policies rather than by clearly thought out goals and objectives. In the absence of these they have turned to a series of commissions, enquires, panels and public meetings to try and divine a course of action. In the meantime, Officers have been left twiddling their thumbs, whilst elsewhere they see their contemporaries in other parts of the country blazing a trail of initiatives, whether controversial or not.

    Up close, Sarah Hayward is nothing but bluster. She just doesn’t have the skill set to action remedies of her rather ill-defined list of social grievances. She has not hit the ground running, but rather the void groping.

    By the time she has worked out a plan of what she is going to do and how and when, it will be too late and the election will be upon her. She is the essence of this labour administration; griping so much, but doing so little.

    Engrossed in their navel gazing they haven’t noticed that their most talented Officers are voting with their feet and choosing to move to authorities lead by Councillors who know what the hell they want and how to get it. Hell for a Council Officer is not ‘doing’.

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