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DIARY - TOULMIN SMITH

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What on earth can those rascals at the Audit Commission be up to? ...
What on earth can those rascals at the Audit Commission be up to?

I was sent an e-mail by a gentleman at the commission with the seemingly innocuous subject line 'public sector risk management is improving'.

I say seemingly, because the missive in question was blocked by the commission's own IT security team. Why? It contained 'language deemed inappropriate for business purposes' and therefore had to be 'quarantined'.

Could it be that the advent of 'strategic regulation' has left some of our friends at the commission with too much time on their hands?

As any fan of Auntie's Bloomers knows, what can go wrong invariably will, and generally at the worst possible moment.

That wisdom was not wasted on local government minister Nick Raynsford, whose eulogy on the government's economic performance to the Local Government Association's finance conference was rudely interrupted by the collapse of the boards around his lectern.

But the unflappable Mr Raynsford did not miss a beat.

'Even if the LGA's boards don't stand up, the government's economic record does,' he said.

Sefton MBC may have spluttered over its collective cornflakes if it had happened to glimpse the Boundary Committee for England's draft recommendations for local government in the North.

As a metropolitan authority it is not directly affected by the two-tier review and did not submit any proposals to the committee, so it would no doubt

be surprised to find itself well and truly volunteered by the committee

to expand its reach into parts of Lancashire.

It must be heartening to witness such faith in your change management abilities - a case of: ask not what your local government system can do for you, but what you can do for your local government system.

Whenever the sun comes out, local government seems constitutionally incapable of rolling up its trouser legs, knotting a hanky over its brow and enjoying the nice weather while it lasts.

West Sussex CC's highways team say the unusually dry wea ther the rest of us so selfishly enjoyed over the summer means roads are cracking up - and even produced photographic evidence to prove it.

The improbably named Lieutenant Colonel Tex Pemberton, cabinet member for highways and transport at West Sussex, is building a case to bill

the government for the damage.

I wish him the best of luck. But, in the meantime, the cracks will be filling with rain, which will no doubt seep into the underlying road structures and destabilise the whole county.

It could be that Lt Col Pemberton's problems are only just beginning.

If you are stuck for Christmas thrills in your neck of the wood,

I recommend a seasonal visit to Herefordshire.

Next Monday sees a visit by Posh and Becks impersonators, who will be 'sampling the best Hereford shopping has to offer', a Herefordshire Council press release informs me.

The couple, celebrity lookalikes Matthew and Nerys Middleton, will 'give the city a real buzz on Monday', says a hopeful Juliette Coard, manager of Maylord shopping centre.

And if that were not excitement enough, try this: 'Another breathtaking event will see the mayor, Mrs Ursula Attfield, abseiling down Marks & Spencers.'

Everything Eric Pickles knows about the fine art of public consultation, he learned from local government.

Mr Pickles tells how, as leader of Bradford City MBC in the late 1980s, he watched from his office window as irate protesters burned him in effigy.

'As my deputy leader said, at least you don't need any focus groups to understand how you stand with the electorate.'

ODPM director of local government finance Bob Linnard was asked whether he was still confident that his job was a cushier number than his previous calling in what was the DTLR.

'I was doing railways, so yes I am,' he said.

Local government finance might not be everybody's cup of tea, but it's reassuring to know it has established itself higher up the civil service pecking order than the role of keeping the Strategic Rail Auth ority in order.

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