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DIARY - TOULMIN SMITH

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Not the ticket ...
Not the ticket

Much has been made of the St Albans parking fiasco, whereby a bureaucratic blunder has left the Roman city a traffic warden-free zone until October.

Attracted by the prospect of combining a pastry in one of the city's fine tearooms with a burst of unfettered lawlessness, I left my conveyance in a metered bay and wandered off in search of innocent enjoyment.

Imagine my consternation when, on returning to my vehicle, I found a large yellow ticket fluttering in the breeze.

I have no idea where it could have come from, but anyone else planning to take advantage of this so-called loophole can consider themselves warned.

Afford Capri?

I like to go where the in-crowd goes when it comes to holiday destinations. So this year I'm planning a late summer break in Capri - the trendiest place to be according to that barometer of fashion, the Audit Commission.

I understand that much of the commission's upper echelon headed off to the Italian sunshine isle this year for a well-earned break.

Whether this is sheer coincidence or a rather exotic team-building exercise, I couldn't possibly say.

In for a penny

How much should councils pay the chairs of their local standards committees, now that they have to pass sentence on errant local councillors? Should they receive danger money? Or as little as possible to discourage too much activity?

The annual Improvement & Development Agency survey of members' allowances gives some interesting answers.

The wooden spoon goes to the Hastings BC chair, who receives an annual stipend of£133. Chairs at councils like Lewisham LBC and Bedfordshire CC draw a miserly£500.

At the opposite end of the scale is the chair at Shrewsbury & Atcham BC, whose£10,000 per annum dwarfs the£1,000 paid at Leeds City Council, begging the question of what could possibly be so difficult in Shrewsbury.

The standards committee with the toughest job in local government must be in Lincolnshire CC, as it grapples with corruption and the imprisonment of ex-leader Jim Speechley. How does that job fare? According to the IDeA league table, the Lincolnshire standards chair receives top whack of£70,355.

Could this be a typo? It may be a tough job, but for that kind of money they would have had no shortage of applicants.

Political mileage

Since political parties accept nominations from all over the country to run for Parliament, is there any mileage in the idea that the same system could apply for council leaders?

With allowance packages now adding up to a pretty good wage for many larger authorities, the opportunity to lead one would surely be an enticing prospect for many politicians.

The home front

It seems north-east Labour MPs are rallying behind deputy prime minister John Prescott for this November's referendum on regional government.

The latest to commit himself, apparently, is Sedgefield MP Anthony Blair (r), long perceived as a devolution sceptic.

He is due to join Mr Prescott at a campaign launch next month, to press the case for an assembly for his home region.

What 'yes' campaigners - Mr Prescott included - make of this is anybody's guess, given increasing evidence that Mr Blair is not the electoral asset he once was.

One rule for one

I was intrigued by suggestions emanating from the Employers' Organisation that chief executives should be more readily sacked if they fail to perform.

Given the employers' less-then-impressive handling of the fire dispute last year, and their seeming inability to learn from their mistakes this time around, it is to be hoped the same principles will apply closer to home.

Battery row goes on . . .

It is good to see the Local Government Association getting stuck into the real enemy at last. By this I mean the British Battery Manufacturers Association; the cause of the conflict is the EU batteries directive.

The LGA and BBMA have clashed over who should take responsibility for collecting batteries for recycling. The BBMA's opinion that councils should take the lead drew an angry response from the LGA. A spokesperson said: 'We are committed to ensuring the producer responsibility applies fully to batteries, with producers meeting the costs of collection and recycling.'

I would expect to hear a lot more about this particular contretemps in the future.

And finally . . . With bicycles banned from many train services, what's a cyclist to do? David Begg, government commissioner for integrated transport, has the answer: buy two bikes, one for each end of the journey

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