'Portillo orders team to try life at the sharp end,' announced The Daily Telegraph. If Mr Portillo wins the Tory leadership, every frontbenchers will be 'expected to go out and experience the life of public sector workers'.
No sneering jokes about cups of tea in dusty town hall offices please. As we all know, public sector service delivery is now slap bang at the front of everyone's political plans. So much so the FT's Alan Pike reported from the Local Government Association's conference that 'campaigners for elected assemblies in the English regions may find hopes of early progress dashed by the government's determination to make improved public services its top priority'.
This should be great news for local government - the spotlight is on, now dance, damn you. But recent coverage demonstrates we still have a long way to go. Apart from some pre-publicity thanks to the usual suspects like The Guardian, the large public service conferences of the LGA and the NHS Confederation received scant media attention.
Meanwhile, the news was dominated by local government-related stories like the tragic death of Bunmi Shagaya while on a school trip organised by Lambeth LBC; the case of the teenager in the care of Wrexham CBC who was offered a place at Gordonstoun in the face of alleged opposition within the social services department; and the murder of Jill Dando - suggestions that Hammersmith & Fulham LBC failed to act on Barry George's case.
Perhaps the initiative shown by a couple of individual councils holds the key to showing councils' positive side. PR Week reports Camden LBC has upset its local paper the Camden New Journal by creating a page on the council's website called 'What the papers didn't say,' designed to rebut inaccuracies. And in Merton LBC, the council has decided to pay£100,000 for two pages of advertorial each week in the South London Guardian to avoid seeing its good news stories consigned to the news in brief columns.
Neither solution is without its downside, but they do at least demonstrate a refusal by councils to take negative publicity lying down. If this was repeated nationally, what kind of profile might local government enjoy?