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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Nothing to fear ...
Nothing to fear

Your report on neighbourhood governance (LGC, 13 February) confused a number of issues.

First, new forms of neighbourhood governance are not a threat to councils - instead they provide opportunities. Over 40% of people feel their council is too remote and local services, such as street cleaning, can be unresponsive to local needs. These problems can spill over into wider negative perceptions of councils. New neighbourhood approaches could improve perceptions of local democracy and free up the town hall to focus on strategic areas of business.

Second, the debate about neighbourhood governance needs to be distinguished from the one about direct elections to bodies like police authorities. While there might be an argument for giving neighbourhoods some power over policing and criminal justice, this has no bearing on the quite different question of whether the police agencies should be accountable to local government, regional government or some other single-purpose body. Local government does not have anything to lose from neighbourhood bodies.

Ben Rogers

Senior research fellow,

Institute of Public Policy Research

Investing in Scottish skills

Economic growth is the Scottish Executive Partnership's main objective (LGC, 6 February). That is why investment in skills is bound to be the top priority in this year's review of spending plans.

What holds Scotland back is not the number of graduates or bright school-leavers. It is the large numbers of low-paid and unwaged people who have no skills or qualifications and very low productivity.

Seventy per cent of the workforce in 2020 are already of working age now. If we want that workforce to meet the challenges of global competition and of providing high-class services, we cannot rely only on new recruits and the fast-stream from school to university.

Scottish ministers need to set and follow a Scottish programme. We will not be prosperous by trying to be a little England.

Tom Kelly

Chief executive, Associa tion of Scottish Colleges

Accentuate the positive

Further to your item 'NDC tensions over vague role' (LGC, 13 February), it is a pity you left out the positive points made by the National Audit Office in An early progress report on the new deal for communities programme.

In particular that the New Deal for Communities programme has been held up as an example of international good practice and that the office also recognises it is starting to help disadvantaged communities. The new deal is a radical way of attempting to deal with long-standing issues which I would have thought LGC was well aware of. You must know the old way has not worked.

The office reported the five representative NDCs they looked at achieved a higher level of community engagement than any of the other approaches reviewed in US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands or India. This is a unique and innovative programme that deliberately sets out to give local people a say in how their neighbourhood is regenerated. Community engagement is a prerequiste to creating sustainable communities and making urban renewal work in areas with long-term problems.

The audit office estimates 50,000 local people have been engaged in the new deal process. I think we should congratulate all those people for their hard work in achieving so much early success.

The report also only covers the first three years to 2002. Since then, the government and the NDCs have taken action to address many of the risks and problems identified. In particular, specific guidance clarifying the role of accountable bodies was issued in August last year.

Jeff Rooker MP

Minister for regeneration, ODPM

The service we deserve

In response to your story 'Executive rejects call for police convenors' (LGC, 13 February), police forces should be more accountable to elected representatives of their community. The existing trend for increasing centralisation in policing through the use of central targets will work no better in relation to policing than it has in oth er public services. This is because they cannot take account of local circumstances and priorities.

The public need to know where the buck stops with regard to their local police force. That is why we have suggested police board convenors should be directly elected at the same time as we elect our councils.

The boards themselves will still be made up of councillors drawn from the councils in the police board area, but a directly-elected convenor would improve local accountability and increase public awareness of the performance of their local police through regular publication of local crime statistics.

This will help deliver the police service our people demand, deserve and pay for.

Annabel Goldie MSP

Deputy leader and justice spokeswoman,

Scottish Conservatives

The flat-pack approach

My friend Bill is a motor mechanic. He used to give my car the odd once over - he would lift the bonnet, I would babble on about it being this, that and the other. He would tell me to shut up so we could listen to what was wrong.

Bill has now moved on, and my car is serviced by other men who simply replace what they think is wrong.

Councils are learning organisations. The improvement/intervention model appears flawed, as councils are diverse organisations and there is no successful flat-pack approach to improvement.

There appears to be a network and regular dialogue between civil servants & chief council officers - this sometimes includes ministers. Does it ever include people with current or recent council leadership experience?

Sir Bill Taylor (LAB)

Leader, Blackburn with Darwen BC

Would he?

Even in these strange days the sheer unadulterated cheek of Steve Cooley's letter takes the biscuit (LGC, 13 February).

When an associate director of our largest local government recruitment agency primly states there should be no top job stability in the forthcoming regional reorganisation those immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies come ringing down the years. 'He would, wouldn't he? '

It apparently does not matter if vital public services are once more thrown up in the air, or yet again people who actually have engagement with communities and know 'how to' are lost. No, there must be unlimited recruitment for 'new talent' and more 'identification of skills'.

There seem to be parallels between public service recruitment agents and that curse of the beautiful game - football agents. Once neither existed and football and local government did not appear to suffer. They were then both cheap to use, stable and, not only within reach of the common person, but vital parts of local communities.

Maybe Talk Sport could look at banning agents from both local government and football recruitment? Maybe the ODPM could come up with a strategy?

David Coleman

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Negative standards

I refer to last week's article in my name 'Falling standards' (LGC, 13 February).

I applaud LGC for wanting to become involved in the debate about whether the new ethical framework is achieving its original objective of reconnecting councils with their communities. However, the debate needs to suggest how this objective can be achieved rather than apportion blame.

The intention of the article I originally wrote on behalf of the Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors was to promote debate and contribute towards developing good practice in implementing the ethical framework.

It is a pity you chose a headline that emphasised only the negative.

Claer Lloyd-Jones

Director of law and democratic services, Hackney LBC

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