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COMMENT-HACKNEY'S STRIFE WILL BE A TEST TOO FAR FOR BYERS

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The Audit Commission has recommended local government secretary Stephen Byers intervene in Hackney LBC. ...
The Audit Commission has recommended local government secretary Stephen Byers intervene in Hackney LBC.
Though Mr Byers said he is considering the commission's recommendations, it seems certain this will be the first time a government minister has used the powers of intervention contained in the Local Government Act 1999.
Little has been done to address Hackney's problems and the financial position is far worse than anticipated in November. Not enough progress has been made in finding different service suppliers, and the council does not have the management capacity to procure services effectively, says the commission's report.
Hackney's reliance on selling valuable assets means there is a risk the council's finances will not be balanced for some time yet.
The council's managing director Max Caller reacted angrily to the suggestion intervention is being forced on the borough, saying: 'The issue for us is not whether we are directed by the secretary of state to do these things, but how we can work together.'
As the financial accounts were finalised, he added: 'It's time for the screams of agony to stop. We just want to be part of the norm. We are making a difference. We are not complacent or even content, but internal improvement is a slow process.'
Some wicked souls would love to see central government take responsibility for Hackney and take the subsequent flak when no miracle occurs. But the answer is not to parachute in Mr Byers.
It must be time to apply the government's 'what works is what's best' philosophy - though private finance is not necessarily the answer.
The answer is for council managers at Hackney, who have not yet had time to sort out a massive financial deficit, to work with the private sector, the local government family and central government where needed.
There are going to more 'screams of agony' - even Hackney insiders believe its financial situation can only get worse before it gets better. But we are also witnessing the rooting out of some deep-seated cankers. This may look painful, but it is the first step to a cure.
The fact is there are no magicians in central government, let alone anybody ready and willing to manage a council. The only hope for Hackney is a mature local politics coupled with the very best and most determined of local governments' career professionals - albeit working in partnership. Hopefully this is what it has got.
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