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DIARY - SCENES FROM A MUNICIPAL LIFE

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Tony Elliston finds inspectors move in mysterious ways ...
Tony Elliston finds inspectors move in mysterious ways

It is often said the best way of improving a service is to seek the views of those who provide it. Unfortunately some of the worst suggestions often come from the same source.

After the installation of a suggestion box at a London council, the director of environment had to call a highways officer and tell him why they could not discontinue the Streetscene hotline on the grounds that too many calls were coming in from the public.

Later that day he received the following e-mail: 'I am disappointed my suggestion has been rejected. Would you please put the reasons for your decision in writing and notify me of the procedure for lodging an appeal.'

The theory that objectivity is in the eye of the inspector has been given further weight by the recent publication of the social services league tables.

Haringey LBC was always going to end up starless after the Victoria Climbie fiasco and Walsall MBC is now automatically included in any list of poor performers.

But these two political selections have been joined at the bottom of the pile by several councils with no previous form.

Interestingly, all the 14 councils that were named and shamed by health secretary Alan Milburn last year have escaped the ignominy of a zero stars verdict. Are we supposed to believe every one of the 14 transformed their social services in less than a year? Perhaps they weren't so bad to begin with.

And what are we to make of the likes of Birmingham City Council which is claiming the league table reflects the situation a year ago and things have improved? If this is really the case, why was it not fingered by Milburn last year?

Magical money

The reality of mayoral government has finally dawned on councillors at New Labour's favourite London borough.

Sir Robin Wales' first act as elected mayor of Newham LBC was to create his own empire of spin doctors and advisers. One backbencher accused Sir Robin of 'creating a politburo which will exclude us from making any key decisions'. Got it in one, councillor.

Mayor Wales explained the£200,000 cost of his private office would come out of the chief executive's budget, so there would be no additional cost to the council tax payer. One can only wonder why someone who can make such large sums of money disappear so convincingly actually needs a spin doctor.

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