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BACKCHAT - TOULMIN SMITH

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Silent treatment...
Silent treatment

Why is Manchester City Council so ashamed of its officers?

The council has banned its staff from speaking to the press, even LGC which by its very nature is hardly badly disposed towards local government.

Only interview requests deemed acceptable by the press office are approved but, sad to relate, by the time numerous calls have been made between the press team and officers, LGC's deadlines have often passed.

We like Manchester. Let's talk.

Northern jungle

Just to prove LGC loves positive Manchester stories, we are delighted to learn its city council is transforming its reputation for miserable weather.

Employees are planting a range of semi-tropical trees, including figs and pineapple guava trees, in town centre parks.

Global warming combined with the heat island effect of being in a built-up city mean tree officers believe the exotic species will flourish, banishing that reputation for rain and cold.

Toilet testers

Here, surely, is the job opportunity that may have eluded all those senior officers who retire early to seek a portfolio career. What about becoming a toilet judge? Westminster City Council says these estimable people 'rigorously inspected' its public conveniences, with six gaining five-star ratings.

I am intrigued as to the qualifications and experience needed to become a toilet judge - perhaps one of our newer universities offers a course?

Wine of enquiry

I am intrigued by a parliamentary question from Tory shadow communities and local government secretary Caroline Spelman, who wanted to know how much wine had been transferred to the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister from the government wine cellar in 2005-2006.

'None,' was the curt reply.

Does this mean that poor John Prescott had to go without a drink while in office, or that there was so much wine in the ODPM already that no more was needed?

Dark knights

What do Preston, Edinburgh and Bury St Edmunds have in common?

Answer, they are all places where the Knights of St Edmund have laid curses on plans by property developer Centros Miller. The dispute began in the Suffolk town but the curse has since followed the company elsewhere.

I learn from the 'curse counter' on the knights' website that it has now been in force for 249 days.

Whether 'divine vengeance' has yet hit the firm remains less clear.

Fond farewell to Wast Hills House

The name Cadbury might be the curse of salmonella sufferers but to many local government officers it still brings about a more pleasing internal glow.

Many moons ago the Cadbury family proved its dedication to local democracy by donating Wast Hills House, a jewel in the Worcestershire countryside, to the Institute of Local Government Studies.

The institute became part of the University of Birmingham but budding officers continued to enjoy their education there.

Sad to relate, the university is selling the house to the private sector. No more will the future great and good of local government grace its precincts.

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