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LGC LETTERS PAGE

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Regionalisation - District councils can still play ball ...
Regionalisation - District councils can still play ball
Don Price, National campaign officer, Campaign for the English Regions.
I read with some surprise that local government minister Hilary Armstrong has hinted that the creation of elected regional government threatens the future of the district councils (LGC, 18 May).
I have to ask the question - why? Regional administration exists now and does a completely separate job to district and indeed county councils.
Elected regional government would scrutinise and direct the existing tier of regional administration, including the regional development agencies, the government offices, the Environment Agency and other quangos. It is reasonable to expect other powers would be devolved down from Whitehall to the regional assemblies, but no one is proposing to take powers up to the regions from the districts.
So I ask again why should the democratisation of the existing regional tier of administration have any impact on districts?
Perhaps Ms Armstrong is simply using the issue to chivvy up local government and to perform better in her view - a completely separate ideal to the emerging regionalism.
-Still man's work
Becky Gill, Campaigns Officer, Fawcett Society.
We were disappointed, but not surprised, by Manchester Business School's findings on the appointment of women to public sector bodies (LGC, 18 May 2000).
Our own research on women in local government shows the length, frequency and timing of council meetings, combined with the male culture and the voluntary nature of local government, prevents many women from standing for council seats.
While more women are entering the paid workplace, they are still responsible for the bulk of the unpaid domestic work - including caring for children and dependent adults - which impacts on the amount of free time they have available for demanding voluntary posts.
Fawcett's interviews with local councillors in England shows many councillors are personally out of pocket because of the poor expenses system.
Fawcett believes that unless local and national government are willing to address the long-hours culture and voluntary nature of local government, women will continue to make up a minority of councillors in the UK.

-Just ruling
John Wadham,Director, Liberty.
It is important to remember that the failure of the social services department to intervene to prevent the abuse suffered by the children in Z and others v UK amounted to a violation of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (LGC, 18 May). That is, the absolute prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
On the facts of the case the European Court had no hesitation in finding the system had failed to protect the children.
In situations where a breach of human rights has occurred the Human Rights Act 1998 will provide a remedy. Surely this is just.

-Proceed with care
Nigel Roberts, Chair, Law Society Local Government Group.
'It is entirely proper for children to have the right to a remedy where they have been seriously failed by an authority in dereliction of its statutory duties.' (LGC, 18 May).
Unfortunately, this ruling on retrospective child abuse cases may have other less desirable outcomes.
It is an established principle not only that councils should work in partnership with parents but that a court should only make an order if it thinks it would be better for the child than making no order at all.
Decisions on whether a child's interests will be better served away from the family are finely balanced, with potentially catastrophic consequences. To attach legal liability seems to go against the enshrined principles and it cannot be in the best interests of children for decisions to be made against that background.
Only time will tell whether or not there will be exponential growth in litigation in this area, though the influence of European jurisprudence on English courts is increasing. It will be regrettable if significant sums of money are diverted away from the provision of social services to fund legal fees and compensation payments.
Care must be taken that cautious decisions are not made, simply to minimise the risk of a claim.

-Smooth talking
Richard Lander, Director of environmental services, Wiltshire CC.
Last week, you published the headline: 'Sodexho ousts Wiltshire DLO' (LGC, 18 May). It is unfortunate you did not check with the county council as to the correct state of affairs.
The DLO has struggled to maintain market share in recent years, so the county council decided to externalise the service.
The DLO has worked closely with the short-listed contractors to achieve a smooth hand-over, together with a transfer of staff.
We see this as a new partnership opportunity for the county council and for those of its schools which have joined in the contract, and look forward to working with Sodexho over the next seven years. There is no question of anyone being 'ousted'.

-Open forum
Mary Southcott, Development consultant, South West Constitutional Convention.
The South West Constitutional Convention raised many questions on the issue of devolved English government. It showed how difficult it is to organise democratic discussion.
Of the over 240 people attending, at least 50 were an UK Independence Party grouping insisting regional devolution puts an end to Westminster government. They wanted to prevent the convention's role as a forum for the exchange of ideas.
Orchestrated barracking neither allows information exchange nor converts people to their point of view. Individuals who come to learn are alienated by those who think they have the answers.
For democracy to work, we need guidelines so illiberal groups cannot break up open public discussion. In the case of the UK Independence Party, they need to know their tactics are not helpful to British democracy.

-Information overload
Kevin Stephens (Lab),Leader, Gloucester City Council.
With the referendum for a directly elected mayor approaching, Gloucester City Council is concerned residents do not confuse these information leaflets with election material.
Along with Cheltenham BC, we are the first councils to hold a voluntary, all-postal referendum and are sending out bright green leaflets to inform residents about the voting process.
The future of our city is in the hands of local people. We are all concerned our residents should read the leaflet, understand the process and vote on 28 June.
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