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Force is not always the answer ...
Force is not always the answer

From Janice Robinson, director of community care, The Kings Fund

The government's NHS Plan includes many initiatives to bring the NHS and councils closer. But it is still unclear on what terms that new relationship will work - or if it will work at all.

The decision to make Partnership in Action powers compulsory for social services and the NHS should help overcome the reticence with which they have been received so far.

But threatening to impose mergers where health and social services do not co-operate might actually blight partnership development as agencies hold back and jostle for position.

Vulnerable people need consistent support to help them live independently, securely and with dignity. That requires action from a whole range of public services, including health, housing, social care and the police. By themselves, mergers between health and social care will not achieve the integrated services people need.

What councils need is a clear sense of how they stand in their relationship with the NHS. How do their proposed community plans fit in with health improvement programmes? Will the government's proposed changes to long-term care financing remove the incentives for the NHS to shift responsibility to councils? Until these questions are answered, the partnerships that can make a real difference cannot truly be created.


Confidential dispute

From Stefan Cross, solicitor, Thompsons.

I was delighted to read (LGC, 4 August) that the head of Labour's Local Government Unit, Howard Knight, believed the practice of confidential settlements of legal disputes was 'an affront to open and transparent democracy and insults council tax payers'.

Unfortunately this practice is not confined to Broadland DC. During the past 12 months I have been involved in settlements with Cumbria CC, Durham City Council, Newcastle City Council, Sunderland City Council, Middlesbrough Council, Hartlepool BC and Darlington BC.

All Labour controlled at the time and all insisted the details remain confidential. My understanding is that in all these cases the majority of members had not known the details let alone been 'gagged'.


Let's be honest

From Howard Knight, head of the Local Government Unit, Labour Party

The report 'Labour furious at gagging order' (LGC, 4 August) may have left readers with the impression my criticism of Broadland DC's actions related to a desire to disclose confidential information.

That was not the case, but I do believe tax payers are entitled to an explanation of the costs of the chief executive's early retirement. They must wonder how an officer who was suspended for six months during an investigation into allegations of gross misconduct leaves with a back-dated pay rise and an increased pension.

The real concern related to the council's improper attempt to prevent councillors drawing attention to those parts of the chief executive's record not in the press release. The acting chief executive said: 'We didn't write the letter to stop people doing anything.' Perhaps, he could tell your readers the real purpose.


Unfair fee freedom

From Brian Miller, chair of the education committee, Richmond upon Thames LBC.

I was interested to read school standards minister Estelle Morris's reply on the Greenwich judgment and school funding as reported in your Westminster watch column (LGC, 4 August).

I am disappointed the government refuses to revisit the inequities the judgment has created. But I am pleased Ms Morris recognises help may be needed to 'knock the unfairness out of the system'.

I am heartened the government is moving to help clusters of schools as well as whole local education authorities. This is a step forward for Richmond upon Thames LBC, where financial assistance for a school cluster in need would be beneficial.


Beacon bonanza

From Graham Forshaw, vice chairman County Councils Network.

Despite a decrease in the overall number of beacon council scheme applications received by the DETR (LGC, 4 August), the second year has seen a substantial increase in bids from the English counties. Forty county bids were received Ñ up from the 27 submitted last year.

In year one counties won beacon status for social services, education and waste management, but were generally disappointed by the narrowness of categories. The County Councils Network lobbied hard for an expanded range of topics.

Eleven themes are on offer this year compared with seven in year one. The broadening of the themes and the wider opportunities offered have enabled more counties to put in bids across a much wider range of activities.

Young hearts

By David Bates, support services manager North Shropshire DC.

The article by Michael Frater (LGC, 28 July) talks about electoral apathy. We need to strengthen local democracy as Mr Frater says - but how?

Shropshire's People Panel survey set out to examine the level of local knowledge and views on local government at county and district level. Eighty per cent of people felt they knew little about county council services and 72% felt they knew little about district council services. Young people were more likely to lack knowledge.

The good news from the panel is that there was considerable interest in becoming more informed about local government. Encouragingly, this interest is strongest among younger people. Our challenge is to get in touch with young people. Local Democracy Week 2000 provides an opportunity to begin this important task.


Home truths

From Tim Stanley, deputy for social inclusion, Hammersmith & Fulham LBC.

The letter from Bert Schouwenburg (LGC, 4 August), concerning Lakefield old people's home is a thorough misrepresentation of events.

The home is owned and run by Hammersmith & Fulham LBC and accommodates a small group of very frail elderly people. The council programmed the closure of the home for 2002, when alternative nursing home provision would have been provided within our borough.

Now we have an opportunity to provide the alternative within this municipal year.

Those meeting on the night of Mr Blair's visit decided to consult on bringing the closure forward.

The proposal has nothing to do with the dismantling of local government infrastructure or with cuts by Westminster. It has to do with the modernisation of our services for older people.

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