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DIARY - SCENES FROM A MUNICIPAL LIFE

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I was recently telephoned by a former colleague who was recruiting an assistant director and wanted my opinion on o...
I was recently telephoned by a former colleague who was recruiting an assistant director and wanted my opinion on one of the candidates. I was rather surprised when he told me that he did not know his or her name. He explained that the council's equal opportunities policy stipulated that the panel was not allowed to know the candidates' identity before the interview to avoid 'premeditated discrimination'.

Undeterred by this pea-brained ritual of political correctness, we managed to work out that our candidate must be one of two section heads in an authority where I had worked. It was either Mark Tomkinson or Pratima Sohal (names changed). I recalled Pratima was a rising star whereas Mark was a tosser. I asked if there was anything in the candidate's history that might shed light on who it was.

'Well, the candidate took a two-year career break after having children. It also says the candidate's first job was with the family business in Bombay.'

After several minutes someone picked up the phone in the district housing office.

'Can I speak to the manager?'

'Is it a personal call?'

'No.'

'I'm afraid the office is closed to the public on Wednesdays and we can only take personal calls.'

The director of finance of a London council was unwell and unable to attend the executive committee meeting. The next day the head of committee services wrote to him:

'The executive committee has instructed me to write to you to wish you a speedy recovery. This resolution was passed by six votes to four with three abstentions.'

The plumber cornered me at the party. 'Things would be a lot better if you got rid of the shower engineer,' he announced. Slightly taken aback, I asked him to expand. Social services determined that a resident was entitled to a shower and contacted the shower engineer. The shower engineer visited to decide what sort of shower should be fitted and placed an order. The plumber then installed the shower.

The plumber said: 'It takes weeks for the shower engineer to visit and then there is a further delay while he raises an order. I know of one 80-year-old woman who had to wait over five months and all that time she couldn't have a shower.'

I suggested setting strict timescales.

'I don't think he needs to visit the property at all. I've been doing this job for over 20 years and I know all there is to know. The only thing that the shower engineer does is to decide what type of shower to install.'

'And you think you could make this decision?' I asked.

'Of course I could,' said the plumber. 'Particularly as in all the years I've worked for the council, we've only ever installed one type of shower.'

The citizens' panel had been in operation for a year.

'It's been a great success,' said the head of policy. 'There are six hundred panel members and during the year we have consulted them on eight separate issues. The overall response rate has been 87%.'

'What has happened to the results of the consultation?'

'We've filed them in case anyone ever wants to see them.'

The head of human resources at one authority has finally nailed the calumny that personnel folk are hard-nosed misanthropes.

At a recent induction course he told a group of new recruits that his target for the year was to reduce the number of staff suicides to an acceptable level. Presumably a procedure manual will follow.

If you have any municipal anecdotes you wish to share, please e-mail me on tony.elliston@lgc.emap.com

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