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ENTRE NOUS - THE STORIES BEHIND THE HEADLINES

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London mayor Ken Livingstone is not running the Greater London Authority as expected - he has some outsiders in his...
London mayor Ken Livingstone is not running the Greater London Authority as expected - he has some outsiders in his cabinet.

This raises some ethical issues. Do they have to sign up to the same code of conduct as councillors? How will the rules on declaring interests work?

Consider the mayor's regeneration adviser, architect Lord Rogers. His influence on development policy could bring him long-term benefits. He may be able to attract briefs because he has the mayor's ear.

Expert outsiders in cabinets are a good idea - it could be copied by other councils -but the ethical issues involved require more discussion.

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Waterworks for Yorkshire

Water privatisation gave the government a windfall from the sale assets originally paid for by ratepayers. Birmingham City Council made a heroic, but unsuccessful, attempt to reclaim the proceeds.

Now a third way has been found. Kelda, owner of Yorkshire Water, planned to transfer its reservoirs, sewers and pipes back to the consumers. A mutual company would buy them at their regulated value -£2.4bn.

So Yorkshire consumers could find themselves once more owning the assets seized from them in 1989, but saddled with a£2.4bn debt. For consumers it would be an expensive circle. What's more, Kelda plans to appoint the directors of the mutual company.

Ofwat regulator Sir Ian Byatt gave the plan the thumbs-down, but the idea is certain to be revived. Deciding on the issue will be new water regulator Philip Fletcher, deputy secretary in the Department of the Environment when water was privatised. Now he will be able to reverse the process.

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By Rodney Brooke

At last councillors are to be properly rewarded. Independent panels are recommending reasonable rates. Even in Scotland the Kerley Committee has proposed£12,000 a year for backbenchers and£40,000 for top leaders.

Councillors will now get pensions. The government had planned to confine them to cabinet members. But, already smarting over the stripping of their powers, backbenchers revolted over this further separation into sheep and goats. The government caved in.

Expect scandals about abuses. The local government scheme is based on final salary. After 30 undistinguished years on the council, old Bill will suddenly find himself elevated to the cabinet for his last year's service. Officers have worked this dodge for years. It's standard practise for hospital consultants, whose merit payments arrive in time for pension calculations.

Meanwhile the government looks set to strip councils of social services and education powers. How ironic that councillors will be adequately paid just when there's nothing left for them to do.

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Spin attracts public scorn, but the more it's discussed, the more important it becomes. Lobbying and PR agencies are the place to be. Taking the message on board are Rob Colmer and Brendan Murphy.

Mr Murphy left The Sun to become the Local Government Association's chief press officer. He brought with him a tabloid newspaper perspective. Mr Colmer turned the LGA's Conservative office into a professional operation. Now both are leaving the LGA to join the sultans of spin at PR consultancies.

Rely on LGA public affairs chief Phil Swann to use the growing local government diaspora. Networking has always been part of his strategy.

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Westminster's animal magic

Press officers at Westminster City Council have much to do with the animal kingdom. Pigeons in Leicester Square are just the start. In the days of Dame Shirley Porter the City Hall press office launched the pooper-scooter. People detecting dog poo sent an SOS and a motorbike would vacuum it up.

Sadly, the dogs overwhelmed the capacity of the motorbikes. The trial was abandoned.

For its new communications director, Westminster has recruited Alex Aitken from Conservative Central Office. Before the last general election he acquired fame by tackling the headless chicken sent by the Daily Mirror to annoy John Major.

The pigeons in Leicester Square had better watch out.

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