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DIARY - TOULMIN SMITH

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Paul Kirby, scourge of government inefficiency and red tape, has left Whitehall for the BBC. ...
Paul Kirby, scourge of government inefficiency and red tape, has left Whitehall for the BBC.

Mr Kirby changed the face of local government by establishing comprehensive performance assessment while at the Audit Commission, then went on to head reform strategy at the Cabinet Office. He quickly moved again to take over as lead civil servant on the review of government efficiency by Sir Peter 'I can get Gordon Brown out of very deep hole' Gershon. But even before Sir Peter has finished his conjuring tricks Mr Kirby has gone to the BBC as 'head of value for money'. Are Birtist efficiency reviews about to return to the battered Beeb? Will the weak-rated Rugrats look with envy at the new freedoms granted to excellent Basil Brush?

Barry McQueen is forced to head for the hills to practise on his bagpipes, fanfare horn and ukulele.

His musical talents have seen him perform at the G8 summit in Birmingham and at the wedding of footballer Robbie Fowler.

But even in his day job, there is little peace to be had - Mr McQueen is also town crier for Tameside MBC.

There may be comfort for the likes of Coventry City Council and Walsall MBC in the knowledge that comprehensive performance assessments can be even odder when the private sector gets its hands on the rankings.

A coalition of business groups and assorted interests in New Zealand, ranging from Business Roundtable to Federated Farmers, decided to fill an inexplicable void in government policy and rank the country's councils. Criteria ranged from rate levels to spending discipline and resource management.

Unfortunately, their announcement of Westland DC as 'the hottest council' prompted howls of derision all round.

Locals pointed to a series of scrapes or shortcomings, including three successive years of deficits, the loss of£260,000 on a plastics factory venture and the squandering of a further£450,000 on the international stockmarkets.

A journalist for The Press, the country's second-largest newspaper, observed:' The Hot Council 2004 Awards melted into a puddle of wax on the floor.'

The Local Government Association is rightly proud of the masterpiece of political compromise that is its combination paper to the balance of funding review. A great deal of dancing was done between the political tulips to produce a solution that was agreeable to all parties.

Unsurprising then that the association's Sarah Wood (right) was heard offering to meet CIPFA's Steve Freer outside after he forced her to admit the paper was 'a bit fudgy round the edges'.

Could this be the end of a beautiful friendship? Or a signal that yet more fancy footwork will be needed by the LGA before the review reports back in July?

Local government folk are a talented bunch, and none more so than Adur DC chief executive Ian Lowrie who is, I have on good authority, a talented a cappella singer.

Another doo-wop expert, Jeff Pipe, formerly of Birmingham City Council and now at Transport for London, recently topped CIPFA's council election poll, while the man who came second, local government ombudsman Tony Richmond, apparently knows something about ballet.

I was impressed to see the turnout of delegates at CIPFA's high-powered balance of funding seminar, which had billed as its keynote speaker junior ODPM minister Phil Hope.

I tend to insinuate my way free of charge into these kind of shindigs, so I was even more impressed when I realised that other delegates were paying up to£440 to be there.

In any case, Mr Hope, inconvenienced by one of those things that inconvenience ministers, dropped out, leaving director general for local government Neil Kinghan to fend off the tricky questions.

I was tempted to point out to the people sitting around me that they could have gone to a similar event organised by the Institute of Public Policy Research last week, which was not only free but had local government minister Nick Raynsford as a main attraction.

But, of course, I didn't.

And finally If the Fat Controller audits the railway lines along which Thomas the Tank Engine and friends travel, does National Audit Office head Sir John Bourn's audit of Network Rail make him the Fat Comptroller?

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