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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Not all bad ...
Not all bad

Your front page report on serious flaws in the Employers' Organisation (LGC, 28 November) suggests that it must demonstrate an impact on services and show value for money. Speaking as chair of the North of England Pensions Officers' Forum, I can only say that we are fully supportive and very appreciative of the work done by the EO in its representative role for the Local Government Pensions Committee.

Without doubt, the services provided directly to and on behalf of council pensions interests represent real value for money. The support shown by individual councils and the Local Government Association's human resource executive to the stance taken by the LGPC in responding to the ODPM's proposals for the pension scheme, demonstrates it has the full backing of the local government community. As far as improving its profile, focus, impact and stakeholder perceptions I cannot imagine how these could be enhanced further given the significant reliance that councils place on the services already provided.

It is unfortunate that the LGA is unlikely to release the full report so that councils can read the criticisms for themselves. These may, or may not, be justified in respect of the EO's other functions but I can only reiterate that in relation to local government pensions its performance is exemplary.

David Wilkinson

Assistant treasurer, South Yorkshire Pensions Authority

Out with the old

If anyone needed it then the Audit Commission report into this year's council tax increases is the clearest evidence yet that the way councils are funded is not working (LGC, 5 December).

For councils to keep up with the demands and expectations of the government and residents while keeping council tax increases to a minimum they must receive a fair share of funding.

London boroughs have continually strived to ensure they are able to provide the best possible services while limiting the impact on the capital's residents - including many on low incomes - through the council tax dem ands.

The report highlights 'fundamental flaws' in the way councils receive money - through which 'London and the south-east were disadvantaged'.

It was this tough settlement coupled with the fact London suffers from some of the country's worst deprivation that fuelled the problem in London. Despite some people's perceptions, the capital's streets are not paved with gold.

We need to start again and use the balance of funding review to come up with a system that enables everyone to pay a fair share for the services they receive rather those who can least afford it to dig deeper into their pockets than others.

Sir Robin Wales (Lab)

Chair, Association of London Government

A bizarre decision

The Boundary Commission has apparently dismissed Bury MBC's proposed merger with Rossendale BC as a 'high-risk' option because our comprehensive performance assessment was 'weak' and Rossendale's was 'poor'.

But this flies in the face of the evidence. I drew the commission's attention to the positive progress we have made over the last year leading to a double digit increase in service score in this year's assessment- a record I doubt will be beaten by any other top-tier council. They instead decided to rely upon data up to 20 months old. A bizarre decision.

We also have vastly improved our education position. Already 38th best in the country, we expect to be one of the top half dozen this year, outstripping probably all those outside London and the Home Counties.

Instead the Boundary Committee think it is acceptable to give significant parts of Lancashire to metropolitan authorities who did not ask for them, and indeed do not want them. Isn't this rather strange?

Mark Sanders

Chief executive, Bury MBC

Let's talk about mayors

LGC reported last week that the government appears to be reviving interest in elected mayors. Its recent Big Conversation document asks: 'In those places where mayors have worked well, what factors have played a part and could these lessons be applied elsewh ere?'

The New Local Government Network has been working closely with the first eleven elected mayors to understand exactly these issues. We will shortly be publishing a report evaluating mayors' impact in the first 12-18 months, and are also conducting the first detailed public opinion poll in all areas with mayors.

The results are very clear on a number of points - elected mayors increase the number of people who know who runs a council, and those who are aware of the mayor are also more likely to be able to identify council activity in key problem areas. Our research through the Mayoral Forum also suggests mayors have the capacity to join up local priorities and organisations, providing uniquely visible and accountable community leadership.

Mayors are not the only way to re-engage our communities, and they will not work perfectly everywhere. That is democracy. But, as the government recognises, they must not be dismissed on the basis of prejudice rather than evidence. As our report will suggest, the big conversation about mayors has only just begun.

Anna Randle

Head of organisation, New Local Government Network

Sitting on the benchmarks

Paul Wenham uses a witty motoring analogy when asking for a clear framework from local government minister Nick Raynsford in respect of setting council tax (LGC, 5 December). It might help him to know that there are established benchmarks for ensuring value - particularly now that value for money is to be a comprehensive performance assessment issue.

The key benchmark is that a value programme should deliver 10 times the benefits, in cash or kind, compared to costs.

Another benchmark relates to driving lessons - to borrow from Mr Wenman - and today there is the EU value training system supported by the Employers' Organisation. Yet another benchmark is a sort of highway code, namely BS EN 12973.

These are tough benchmarks, but councils who adopt them are unlikely to be nicked by Mr Raynsford for overspending.

Clive Bone

Bone & Rober tson

Policy by press release

It has come as no surprise that Kent CC's Conservative administration has dropped its proposal for a council tax rebate for pensioners (LGC, 28 November).

The legal point on which it flounders is that there was no evidence pensioners are uniquely deserving. This difficulty is a clear by-product of Kent's tendency to make policy by press release rather than through real consultation. There is a crying need for Kent to point out the potential discounts to which those on low and fixed incomes are entitled. The money taxpayers invested in seeking the opinion of a silk would have been better invested in promoting existing schemes to relieve hardship.

Mike Eddy

Labour group leader, Kent CC

Widening the divide

I welcome Dan Corry's concept of an online forum where citizens can lobby local government and express their views (LGC, 14 November).

The internet presents a great opportunity for citizens to put opinions and/or objections forward. It can also address much of the apathy associated with local government.

However, I am concerned that the introduction of such a forum could fuel the digital divide, which remains a major hurdle in e-government initiatives. This type of forum could well stifle some of the people in society who most need a voice. An internet-only forum to submit views and opinions may mean even fewer people have input into policy decisions.

Paul Johnson

Director of local government, ITNet

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