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ENTRE NOUS - THE STORIES BEHIND THE HEADLINES

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By Rodney Brooke. ...
By Rodney Brooke.

The public sector is besieged by an army of inspectors. Winning the prize as most unpopular is Ofsted's Chris Woodhead.

But the Department for Education and Employment argues his tactics work. After an Ofsted inspection things happen. A bit of naming and shaming prompts action. Not so, they say, with the kid glove approach of the Audit Commission. Look at eight successive critical district audit reports on Lambeth LBC. Despite them nothing changed for years.

So far the Audit Commission has worked in partnership with local government. But how will the new Best Value Inspectorate behave?

Its bureaucracy makes CCT look positively slimline. Head of the inspectorate, at£125,000 per year, is former Newham LBC chief executive Dr Wendy Thomson. Under her will be five regional directors earning around£80,000. Under them, 20 lead inspectors - to co-ordinate activities locally - receiving£52,000. And this is only the management superstructure.

Councils used great ingenuity to evade CCT. Could they do the same with best value? The Best Value Inspectorate has enough firepower to make sure they do not. Expect the mailed fist inside the velvet glove.

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Analysis of the Greater London Authority count has concentrated on the low turnout and the number of spoilt papers. Professors John Stewart and George Jones point out that the 33% turnout was lower than at the last London borough elections. And in one constituency there were more spoilt papers than votes for Frank Dobson.

But note that in the north-east constituency, which includes Tower Hamlets, the British National Party received 10% of the votes. And the BNP second preference went almost entirely to Tory candidate Steve Norris, who certainly wouldn't have wanted them.

The most disastrous happening was a last minute decision to plasticise the cardboard ballot boxes to make them look nice. The shiny plastic took on an electric charge from the green baize cloths, puzzling the counting machines and causing a six-hour delay.

But despite the problems in London, the most enduring legacy of the millennium elections looks like being universal electronic counting. Say farewell to nerve-racking recounts by human beings. And to the excitement which made election nights so memorable.

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One of the stranger decisions of the last government was to privatise the civil service's fast stream recruitment process. Fast-streamers are the jewel in the civil service crown. Earmarked from the day they join for rapid promotion, they are given jobs in a minister's private office and work on high-profile Bill teams. It seems odd to surrender your brightest and best to Capita.

But next year the Capita contract expires. The service will be taken back in-house. New premises are required. So where will they be?

35 Great Smith Street, former offices of the old Association of Metropolitan Authorities, has been earmarked. It will be used to decant the Cabinet Office until its new accommodation at Admiralty Arch is ready.

In spring 2001 the building will become the assessment centre for the Civil Service

Fast Stream Recruitment Team. I like to think the bright young civil servants will have a certain kinship with the ghosts of the old AMA. And I have in my possession the old 35 Great Smith Street nameplate if the civil service wants to buy it.

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After years of struggle, Mrs Thatcher all but destroyed the Tory Party infrastructure by her attacks on local government. Disenchanted with the party and rejected by the voters, Conservative councillors packed their bags and took to growing roses.

Could Mr Blair do the same? Already the London Labour machine is in tatters after the Livingstone schism. Up north, Liberal Democrats have taken over Labour Party strongholds such as Liverpool, Sheffield and Oldham. Respected politicians like John Battye, long-term leader of Oldham MBC, lost their seats.

The Labour Party has an immediate hurdle. When should Ken Livingstone be readmitted? In London, it can't come soon enough. Breaches can be healed and a party administration put together.

But instant readmittance would damage the party's national credibility - and go down like a lead balloon in the regions. In several councils like Barnsley, deselected Labour councillors stood and won as Independents. Admit the strays too readily and say farewell to party discipline.

But Ken outside the tent is too dangerous to have around for long. If he behaves himself in the run-up to the general election, expect the five-year ban to be shortened.

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Ministers expected directly elected mayors would appeal to a wide spectrum of opinion. They could be above party politics. Ken Livingstone has demonstrated the prime minister was right, though not quite in the way intended.

But what was all the fuss about? So far Mayor Livingstone has behaved with great decorum. The Queen has been saluted. Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens have been incorporated into the administration. City boss Judith Mayhew is advising on business.

Remarkably, the mayor seems to be planning to run the Greater London Authority on council lines. He will not appoint the 10 posts in the mayor's office, but rely on the assembly.

But there is a hitch. While a crumple-suited mayor conciliated the black-tied London government bigwigs at the Mansion House dinner last week , the City of London's franchise reform Bill is being blocked by Labour MPs.

Who is leading the blockers? None other than John McDonnell, former Greater London Council deputy leader and Association of London Government chief, newly appointed by the mayor to mastermind relationships with the boroughs.

Nor is Mr McDonnell the only GLC veteran to be rescued from obscurity: Dave Wetzel, ex-GLC transport chair, GLC transport chief Bob Lane, and GLC industry chair Michael Ward can be seen at Romney House.

There is an air of nostalgia about this recreation of the GLC's glory days. How about bringing back Ken's old Labour Herald comrades Ted Knight and Matthew Warburton?

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