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Diary 10.01.08

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Ring out the bells

“The bells, the bells!” They plagued the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and must plague others too, since the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services has issued exhaustive guidance on them.

Church bells are a fine tradition, it notes, but statutory nuisance provisions forbid noise that “ordinary, decent people would consider unreasonable”, so ringing within earshot of the extraordinary and indecent is presumably fine.

Still, “finding a compromise solution is something that comes naturally to council officers”, LACORS says optimistically.

Taste of the Orient

Keen to build on the success of their hugely popular Frankfurt Christmas markets, Birmingham City Council chiefs are planning a summer Chinese market.

The stalls outside the city’s Council House in Victoria Square will be part of a cultural festival timed to coincide with the run up to the Beijing Olympics.

They will also give shoppers the chance to buy the few Chinese goods they can’t get from Poundland, Tesco, Argos and the city’s other markets.

On second thoughts

Alongside a distinguished list including singer David Bowie, actor Albert Finney and painter LS Lowry could almost be added Derbyshire CC councillor Dave Wilcox (Lab).

Cllr Wilcox, who also serves as the chairman of the Local Government Information Unit think tank, toyed with the idea of entering the ranks of people who have turned down honours.

He told the Derbyshire Evening Telegraph that he “agonised” before finally accepting an offer of an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List.

“I always feel that it’s not just me who makes things happen in local government,” he told the paper, with remarkable modesty.

Life’s a fag

Licensing officers should be wary of an ingenious plot originating in Germany to bypass the smoking ban.

The owner of the Maltermeister Turm bar in Goslar, Lower Saxony, has cut three holes in the wall after the council banned smoking anywhere food is eaten.

Customers can stick their head through the large hole and their hands through the other two to enjoy a cigarette outside without leaving the warmth of the bar.

Proprietor Michael Windisch insists his solution is legal.

Wake up London!

Is the demise of the Labour party in the capital gathering pace? There was a distinct lack of reaction from Labour leaders after the vast majority of London’s boroughs were condemned to the grant floor last month.

Voices welcoming or complaining about the meagre allocations were nowhere to be heard. Even London mayor Ken Livingstone’s office was uncharacteristically silent about the matter.

Now, while calls to the head offices of Labour in London are picked up by an automated answering service, enquiries to the London Councils’ Labour group are met with a message informing callers that the office will not be staffed until 21 January.

Good job there aren’t any big elections in the capital this year.

Oh, hang on

Toulmin Smith: oh no we haven’t!

Over the festive break I attended the pantomime Hazel in Boots, at which an extraordinary event occurred.

The thespian playing our secretary of state told the audience “the concordat is the most important document in the history of everything”, at which we all chorused back “oh no, it isn’t!”

Ms Blears then said we had issued a ‘community call to action’, since there were more than 250 of us present.

“Oh no, we haven’t!” we shouted, but to no avail. We had inadvertently triggered Ms Blears’ new petition mechanism.

As I understand it, this means that a councillor must take up our request with the council. If the councillor’s entreaties are ignored and an unsatisfactory response made, they can trigger a scrutiny hearing on the matter.

If the conclusions of that hearing are also then ignored by the council the whole process stops and nothing happens, leaving matters as they were in the first place.

I’m not sure how this will work in practice, but it meant a tedious interval in the pantomime.

Extra history lessons needed

Walking across my Cheshire estate, I was surprised to find my way barred by a wall bearing the initials DDR.

It turns out local government minister John Healey has decided to end all disputes about his decision to split Cheshire into two parts by buying a surplus wall, formerly the property of the East Germans.

This structure is so solid that no officer of Cheshire CC or even the formidable local MP Gwyneth Dunwoody who vehemently objects to the split is able to traverse it.

Mr Healey should perhaps remember that history suggests that places unwillingly split will eventually coalesce.

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