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ENTRE NOUS - THE STORIES BEHIND THE HEADLINES

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It is often said the most important skill for a chief executive is the ability to think on your feet. ...
It is often said the most important skill for a chief executive is the ability to think on your feet.
One well-known chief executive told me he was walking down the town hall corridor one morning when he saw a senior councillor striding towards him, his face contorted with rage.
The chief executive realised with horror he had promised to be the guest speaker at the chamber of commerce's annual dinner the previous Wednesday, but had forgotten all about it.
Without breaking his stride, he marched up to the councillor grasped his hand and declared effusively: 'I'm really looking forward to next Wednesday, councillor. I've got my speech ready.'
The councillor was left apologising profusely for having mixed up the dates.
-There is more than a little irony in the fact that newly-appointed managing director of the Welsh Local Government Association, Sandy Blair - a soi-disant victim of modernisation - should be spearheading the drive to modernise local government in Wales. But he is by no means the only example of a chief executive rising like a municipal Reggie Perrin from the ashes of New Labour.
Many of the government's more frothy initiatives, such as the DETR Modernisation Team, have provided a new lease of life for those who might otherwise be regarded as the excess baggage of modernisation. The flotsam and jetsam of the old order seem determined to come back to haunt the new. It's not so much a case of poacher turned gamekeeper as victim turned assassin.
-The tragic death of Anna Climbie following a series of blunders by Haringey LBC social workers has thrown up some interesting questions about the role of the Social Services Inspectorate. The sisterhood had carried out an inspection of Haringey's social services department before the tragedy and issued a glowing report, which served as an excellent reference for the outgoing director.
But any hopes Haringey might have harboured that this positive endorsement would help deflect criticism were dashed when it was made clear a good report should not be regarded as evidence that children in the council's care were safe. But presumably they had a first-rate children's plan.
-Mayor Livingstone's war of attrition with the Treasury over funding improvements to London Underground is a minor skirmish compared with his attempts to rid Trafalgar Square of its pigeons. Mr Livingstone's strategy for mass avian cleansing seemed to be on course when he withdrew the licence of the square's resident bird-feed seller.
However this left the unsavoury prospect of Londoners being confronted by thousands of starving pigeons. This was clearly a cull too far for the environmentally-sensitive souls at the Greater London Authority. These good-hearted folk ordered a consignment of bird feed to be delivered to Romney House, the Mayor's London citadel, where it was stored in the basement.
They then arranged for volunteers to be despatched to Trafalgar Square to dispense sustenance and counselling to the winged denizens. The intention was to distribute a progressively diminishing amount of food in order to allow the pigeons to adjust to the fact they no longer had a meal ticket for life, a tactic that could usefully be applied to a number of the authority's own staff.
But Ken's plans have been thrown into disarray by the activities of the Pigeon Alliance who have been supplementing the increasingly meagre rations being distributed by the authority. The upshot of all this is that the pigeons in Trafalgar Square are looking prosperous and the only danger they face is obesity.
At least we know what the GLA is for now.
-In these days of sleaze and self-interest, it is encouraging to see Richmond upon Thames LBC has taken a firm stand in support of high standards in public life.
The borough's standards panel recently ordered an investigation after it was discovered a councillor had been using a council-owned computer to surf the internet for pornographic sites. The councill or had logged onto a number of sexually explicit sites late at night 'for quite extensive periods of time'.
It was initially agreed the identity of the councillor should remain confidential. But in an unprecedented seizure of honesty and transparency, the culprit was urged to declare his guilt 'for the good of the borough's image.'
But cynics are suggesting the real reason for this noble change of heart was the concern of the other 33 male councillors about the level of public speculation as to the owner of the soiled dressing gown. One Richmond councillor undoubtedly spoke for his beleaguered colleagues when he said: 'The person needs to own up for the benefit of other councillors.'
And to prove political correctness had not been a consideration he added: 'As representatives of the public we have to be seen to be whiter than white.'
-Tower Hamlets LBC set new standards of political correctness last year when it introduced a policy requiring smokers to work an extra half hour a day to compensate for the fag breaks they were forced to take because they were not allowed to smoke in the office.
Despite some half-hearted resistance from the unlikely partnership of Unison and Forrest - the organisation which protects smokers' rights - this act of petty puritanism is being rigorously enforced.
The borough is now offering smoking cessation counselling sessions for staff. However there is no suggestion staff attending these sessions will be required to work additional hours to make up the lost time.
Now I would not want to put ideas into anyone's head, but it seems to me these sessions provide the perfect opportunity for staff to slip out for a crafty cancer stick without having to prolong the working day.
Mind you, Tower Hamlets still has some way to go before it can match the antics of a certain neighbouring London borough, who back in the early 1990s had the foresight to employ a town hall sniffer.
The job of this municipal equivalent of the praetoria n guard was to patrol the town hall corridors outing furtive smokers. The sniffer's main success was to catch the leader in flagrante delicto with a Benson and Hedges. The sniffer's post was promptly deleted.
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