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DIARY - SCENES FROM A MUNICIPAL LIFE

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Tony Elliston finds the truth behind the census and Standards Board figures...
Tony Elliston finds the truth behind the census and Standards Board figures

News that the Audit Commission will be moderating the comprehensive performance assessment formula to ensure the results tally with its prior expectations will only confirm the view that inspection owes more to grubby political prejudice than objectivity.

The scores are supposed to be confidential, but they have become the subject of much municipal tittle-tattle. More than a few eyebrows were raised when it was discovered that an endemically rotten London borough had managed to attract a higher score than a well-regarded county council in the south of England. Well, we can't have that, can we?

One wonders why the Audit Commission doesn't simply dispense with the assessments altogether and publish the league table it cooked up earlier. It really is disturbing that an organisation that is continually wittering on about best practice has not managed to pick up a few tips from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The Standards Board for England has revealed it has received nearly 1,000 complaints against councillors in the last four months.

It will surprise no one that the majority of these complaints have been about abusive and disrespectful behaviour, with a significant proportion being lodged by other councillors.

The board is already struggling to cope and it does not take a genius to realise that, with the number of new complaints received exceeding the rate they can be resolved, the situation can only get worse. The government may well be tempted to bring in one of its friends from the private sector to run this murky enterprise, so it can blame someone else for the backlog.

But a more practical solution might be to suspend those councillors against whom the complaints have been made until their cases are heard.

This may sound harsh, but, given the fact most councillors are abusive and disrespectful by nature, the chances of any serious miscarriages of justice are slight. Moreover, with so many councillors suspended, the number of new complaints generated is likely to decrease.

I was surprised to read recent reports of the results of last year's census.

Like most people, I had forgotten about this latter-day Domesday reckoning - apart from a dim recollection that I had become a convert to the Jedi religion which was established to confound the priests and pollsters in equal measure.

Perhaps unsurprisingly there is not a lot of confidence in the results. But several councils who have suffered a significant drop in population and grant entitlement have been muttering darkly about the reliability of the figures. Merrick Cockell (Con), leader of Kensington & Chelsea LBC, described the situation as 'another A-level fiasco' and demanded a recount.

Some years ago I was in Venezuela on national census day. The entire population was required to stay indoors while the enumerators went round entering the 24 million or so residents on their hand-held computers.I spent a pleasant day on the roof garden of my hotel overlooking a deserted Caracas. Then at 6pm the curfew ended, the bars and restaurants opened and normal life resumed. The following morning the results of the census appeared in all the papers and I am willing to bet there were not too many whinges about grant distribution.

The Confederation of British Industry has upset the devolution

lobby by suggesting the government's plans for elected regional assemblies will just lead to mediocre politicians subjecting the regional development agencies to unhelpful party political interference.

The Campaign for the English Regions has predictably risen to the challenge. 'What does this say about all those involved in the decision-making process at a regional level?' ponders a deeply insulted campaign secretary Jane Thomas. Quite so.

The latest piece of night sky thinking from the Audit Commission is the creation of a customer focus unit.

Lewisham LBC is one of a number of pilots for this initiative. Members of the unit will be waylaying citizens in Catford and asking them for their views on the value of public audit. Unless there are some follow-up questions it could be a very short interview.

If you have any gossip to disseminate, please e-mail me on

tony.elliston@lgc.emap.com

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