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BACKCHAT - TOULMIN SMITH

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Our mate Jamie...
Our mate Jamie

A pattern is emerging with councils' sentiments towards Jamie Oliver's school dinners TV series. Just like Marmite, you either love it, or you hate it.

Not only do some councils think the show is giving school meals services an uncalled-for bad reputation, the ones which haven't been graced with Jamie's presence are feeling hard done by. As one councillor told us: 'I'm not bitter or anything, but I hate it when we see councils gloating that their school has been visited.' No, not bitter at all.

Task force twins

Does new Chief Executives' Task Force chair Rob Sykes have football in his blood? Perhaps so, considering the Worcestershire chief executive's resemblance to suave presenter Des Lynam.

With luck he might fill us in on how the goalposts will move when the Treasury makes efficiency targets even harder.

Joined-up mix-up

Isn't it great to see 'joined-up' government in action? Two reports emerged on the same day about London's 7/7 bombings. One by the London Regional Resilience Forum and the other by the Home Office. The Home Office study says there is more that needs to be improved, including the communications equipment used by the emergency services, meanwhile the forum's release was headlined: 'London better prepared than ever'.

Minister's own goal

Whatever happened to 'education, education, education'? In a Tory-bashing section of his Labour conference speech, education secretary Alan Johnson recounted how Kenneth Baker complained that being reshuffled to the job from environment was like 'moving from Arsenal to Charlton'. 'Charlton are in the premiership now,' Mr Johnson beamed.

As he spoke Charlton were second from bottom with just one league win all season.

The Clinton effect

Sir Michael Lyons had to shout above a noisy street rumpus during a meeting in a marquee at the Labour conference.

'It's a protest by people who want to pay more council tax,' he joked, laying on the irony for those still wanting to soak the middle classes.

Fellow panellist, Lucy de Groot, the Improvement & Development Agency's executive director, was unconcerned by

the commotion.

'I'm still feeling quite physically emotional after hearing Bill Clinton,'

she swooned.

The rum Mr Brown

As my valet serves me my daily glass of Woolas' Patent Tonic, I conclude my perusal of Mr Gordon Brown's speech, in which he has declared himself a localist.

I am amazed. It is rather as if my sovereign lady Victoria had suddenly announced herself to be a pole dancer, so improbable is his claim.

This is the same Mr Brown who has turned the Treasury into a veritable octopus of Whitehall, with tentacles reaching into every department such that not a farthing might be spent without his approval.

Members of my club (The Ringfencer, St James') tell me that Brown's say-so is needed for every decision from the colonising of Tanganyika to granting permission for urchins to descend from their chimneys on Sundays.

I have often urged my council to buy a great public clock, so that my factory workers might be more punctual, only to be told, 'my dear Mr Smith, we would need Treasury PFI credits, and I fear your employees would all be dead before those came through'.

I call Brown's claims rather rum.

The benefits of gruel

I am intrigued to see that burghers of South Gloucestershire Council propose a nationalised school meals service in the interests of healthy eating.

But how would they ensure that all children received an equally healthy meal?

Perhaps a great kitchen could be built in the Midlands and meals pumped to every school through underground pipes.

Fresh fruit, brown bread and nourishing gruel would speed beneath the land.

I once suggested such a system for the distribution of water, but was told it would never work.

Sir Michael doffs his cap

While driving in my carriage, I see Sir Michael Lyons atop a soap box telling an excited mob of his plans for local government finance.

'What about capping then,' a ruffian shouts from the back.

The gist of Lyons' reply is that while he in 'not an enthusiast for capping', he understands that the government values it 'as a safety valve', alas he has no powers to recommend its discontinuance.

Mark my words, this man will go far.

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