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LGC LETTERS PAGE

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Elections - Two-way traffic raises turnout ...
Elections - Two-way traffic raises turnout
Martin Pilgrim, chief executive, Association of London Government.
I have been staggered by the French national press coverage of their municipal elections, the first round of which takes place on 12 March. Each day's papers have several pages about local politics.
Turnout in French municipal elections is 68%, compared with 40% or less in Great Britain.
The French have two-way traffic between national and local politics. Take two examples: Dominique Voynet, the Green environment minister who recently had an altercation with John Prescott, is standing for mayor of Dole in the Jura region; Martine Aubry, former minister for employment, is standing for mayor of Lille and gave up ministerial office to do so.
The French still have a tradition of cumul de mandats, so it is quite common for politicians to be active at local, national and European levels.
Should we have more flow between local and national politics? Lord Bassam, our Home Office minister and ex-leader of Brighton, is already being mentioned as a candidate for directly-elected mayor of Brighton and Hove. What about Peter Mandelson for mayor of Hartlepool?

-Data details
Ken Mulkearn, researcher, Income Data Services.
Your editorial (LGC, 16 February) draws attention to councils' serious recruitment and retention problems. You make the point that solutions may be hampering progress towards single status. Maybe so, but there are other, equally serious, obstacles. Councils cited problems with job evaluation, difficult negotiations with trade unions and competing priorities such as best value.
We found that, in spite of difficulties, councils are beginning to make some progress. Three-fifths said they had chosen a job evaluation scheme and around one in five, including some of the largest local authority employers, had begun evaluating jobs.
As for your flippant remark about Income Data Services 'being in the pay of the unions', we are an independent research organisation. The survey was based on responses from 75 councils. Our summary represents their views.

-Eighties' man
Michael Herbert, Mossley.
A fault appears to have developed in the production of the issue dated 16 February. A column written by a certain Tony Elliston has inadvertantly been lifted from an issue of the Daily Mail circa 1982.

-Regional turkeys
Nigel Waterson MP,Shadow minister for local government and housing.
I see deputy prime minister John Prescott, in his speech to the Labour Party spring conference, is still peddling the myth that you can have regional government with no threat to what he terms 'present democratic structures'.
The government has firmed up plans to impose a layer of regional government.
Ministers are impatient at the apparent inability of residents and councillors to embrace the purported benefits. With the possible exception of the north east, there is no evidence of any significant public support for regionalism.
Despite this, Labour seems determined to press ahead with imposing their blueprint across England, just as they did with local government structures.
But councillors of all parties are unlikely to emulate turkeys voting for Christmas. They realise there is no place for the county councils in any structure of regional government. In the county elections on 3 May, one key message of Conservative candidates will be that a vote for Labour or the Liberal Democrats is a vote for abolition.

-It will end in tiers
Doug McAvoy, general secretary, National Union of Teachers.
Prime minister Tony Blair may say that he 'will not allow' government policies on education to 'be represented as a return to a two-tier system' but the green paper allows no other conclusion.
Derogatory phrases such as 'bog standard' and 'one size fits all' are vital propaganda to the case for 'post-comprehensive education'.
Those able to secure specialist school status will welcome additional funding. Who would not?
But the proposals will lead to a stratified structure of different types of schools. What price parental choice and equality of access to a local school in this situation?
This crusade for structures overshadows the good ideas. For too long teachers have waited for professional development to be an individual entitlement - the green paper makes that commitment. And there are signs the government is easing up on an imposed curriculum, albeit for certain types of schools.

-Ill will on health
Donna Covey,Director, Association of Community Health Councils for England and Wales.
Community health councils have always been clear their aim is to ensure the public has an independent watchdog. We are concerned the government's proposals on health will not serve the public's interest. The fact the government made substantive changes to the proposals at report stage suggests Parliament shares our concern.
To blame health councils for the failure of the regulations to extend to primary care and other areas is to blame the victim for the crime. The government could easily have resolved these issues by changing the statute so that the councils covering primary care had corporate status, but they chose not to.
The Democratic Health Network, with the support of our members, recently submitted a report Old watchdog, new tricks to the Department of Health, to be considered when drawing up the NHS Plan. It proposed radical changes to make the councils stronger, more effective and more relevant. That the government chose to ignore these in favour of an incoherent and ill-thought-out package which had to be substantially revised speaks volumes about the real reasons for abolition.

-Care cannot add up
Paul Farmer, Reading.
The lead member of the local department of social services and the chief executive of the local NHS hospital trust have both claimed 'there is no crisis' in the care of the elderly in Reading. But the NHS has blamed the shortage of local permanent places for the elderly needing nursing - but not active hospital nursing - care on the local NHS hospital trust's£1.7m deficit. I wonder which is correct?

-Stirling work
Gordon Jeyes, director of children's services, Stirling Council.
Ofsted has no authority in Scotland (LGC, 16 February). This is not a function of devolution, this has always been the case. Her Majesty's Inspectorate in Scotland will move to agency status within the Scottish Executive from 1 April following pressure to clarify policy development and inspection functions.
This seems an important point of accuracy, particularly if you continue to seek to grow your Scottish readership.
As LGC is seen as the friend of local government, with a reputation for balanced reporting, it is worth noting Highland Council received a highly commendable report on the same day as East Dumbartonshire Council.
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