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DIARY - TOULMIN SMITH

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The 'curse of the A1073' appears to have struck the Conservative party in the Fens. I am not sure what is the matte...
The 'curse of the A1073' appears to have struck the Conservative party in the Fens. I am not sure what is the matter with this hitherto obscure road, but it seems to cause disorder among politicians in its path.

Former Lincolnshire CC leader Jim Speechley (Con) was jailed for trying to divert the road to boost the value of land he owned.

Now his successor Ian Croft (Con) is fighting on several fronts after failing to condemn Mr Speechley in any kind of ringing terms, and trying to prevent whistle blowing chief executive David Bowles from returning to work.

A small part of the A1073 lies across the boundary in Peterborough City Council, where, for quite different reasons, the Tories are also in disarray.

Six prominent Tory councillors have been deselected after falling out with former leader Neville Sanders (Con) and plan to run as independents against their old party.

The improvement scheme for the

A1073 is yet to be built. I just hope for

the Tories' sake that no one decides to extend it through any other council's

The Welsh rumour mill is cranking up again, this time over who might replace Sir Harry Jones (Lab) as leader of the Welsh Local Government Association.

Sir Harry is thought to be on his way to the Lords after 17 years' loyal service as leader of Newport City Council.

Bets are being laid that Russell Goodway (Lab) pictured, lord mayor of Cardiff and WLGA finance spokesman, might step gamely into the breach - assuming he hangs onto his seat in June of course.

Mr Goodway might not be everyone's cup of tea, but a more vociferous champion for Welsh local government

is hard to imagine..

I hear Devon CC is consulting its staff on their need for a 'space for contemplation or prayer'.

As my source observed, this is bound to go down well with council tax payers who are keen, as we all know, for council staff to be well looked after.

The questionnaire asks each member of staff whether they are Bahai'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh , or Other. Do they need a private room to be alone? Will it be a daily requirement, and what equipment do they need?

As my source put it: 'My need for a place to grab a quick kip on a nice comfy bed seems finally to have been resolved.'

Scottish finance minister Andy Kerr, in a reflective mood, suggests the relationship between central and local government is 'a bit like a good marriage, generally good but by the very nature of our roles it is always going to have its ups and downs'.

Asking what the Executive has done for councils, says Mr Kerr, puts him in mind of the scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian when John Cleese asks: 'What have the Romans ever done for us?'

'We haven't built aqueducts or introduced sanitation for the people of Scotland, but we have made huge strides in the modernisation of the way central and local government interact,' says Mr Kerr.

Scottish councils would be only too happy to agree the course of true love rarely runs smooth. But could there be anyone in local government who would gladly suffer death to rid Scotland of the Romans once and for all?

Suppliers are spitting feathers over the ODPM's handling of its£33m capacity building programme for local government, blaming poor organisation and excessive bureaucracy for the fact they have yet to receive any cash.

But the ODPM, which launched the scheme jointly with the LGA last year, is not entirely daft.

In a recent regional roadshow to promote the scheme, the ODPM simply failed to turn up, leaving less than pleased LGA officials to answer all the tough questions.

I have long been a supporter of widening the social base of local government in this country. Which is why I was delighted to hear about the election of former prostitute Sandra Hobson to South Gloucestershire DC.

The under-representation of the world's oldest profession has long been a scar on the face of local government and placed a question mark against councils' pretensions to truly represent the communities they serve.

It is to be hoped Ms Hobson's election fires the starting gun for the introduction of other under-represented professions into council chambers, such as taxidermists, mic controllers from the hip-hop community or mime artists.

And finally I see Lincolnshire CC chairman Peter Bray (Con) and his wife are to spend next Monday on an official visit to HM Prison Lincoln. Are they getting in some practice for a meeting with former leader Jim Speechley?

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