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Social care caution ...
Social care caution

Your survey of social services directors' views on the disaggregation of social services departments (LGC, 24 October) is an important early pointer to some of the many debates which will be held over the coming months.

It is significant that your sample of directors are said to be 'cautious about the assumption that merged education and social services departments - and later, children's trusts - will provide better outcomes for children.'

This is very much in line with the message that the Association of Directors of Social Services has given to government. There is no evidence that such organisational rearrangements will have the desired effects, and we have all listened closely to the shadow chair of the Commission for Social Care Inspection when she warned against undertaking major structural changes without the evidence that such changes would be effective.

These are messages that all of us, including councillors and ministers, should take very much to heart.

Andrew Cozens

President, Association of Directors of Social Services

Swindon's swinging

You published a short article in last week's LGC under the headline 'Swindon education begins to turn corner'. This does scant justice to what has been a remarkable turnaround in a very short time.

Over the past year Swindon Solution has been comprised of several elements. The management of the education team has been replaced, with Hilary Pitts now director of education. Private sector company Tribal has a three-year contract with responsibility for the management of the education department.

Coupled with the management change has been the creation of the Educational Partnership Board under an independent chairman. The board has a wide-ranging membership - representatives of primary and secondary head teachers, school governors, unions, the Department for Education & Skills, councillors and others involved in Swindon education - all meeting regularly to debate and agree policies and proposals. The board has undoubtedly been a key ingredient in the turnaround and has contributed to a much greater degree of trust and confidence between all parties.

In summary, it is a remarkable improvement for a major council service and a tribute to all those involved.

Simon Birch

Chief executive, Swindon BC

Striking a balance

The government's recent announcement to expand the eligibility and types of housing available under the key worker housing programme is a step in the right direction.

However it is important to remember that a balance must be struck between key worker and more traditional social housing.

Increased types of housing support should attract and retain vital key workers and it is hoped the initiative will prove a success in this respect. There is, however, a wider spectrum of housing need affecting many moderate and low-income workers who fall outside the key worker definitions, but who are also vital to keeping local services and the economy going.

The National Housing Federation, which represents 1,400 housing associations in England, has long argued that to create sustainable, prosperous neighbourhoods good quality housing must be available to the community at large. The types of support made available to key workers are excellent means to promote access to housing and could be extended to tackle general housing need. Housing associations, as part of the iN Business for Neighbourhoods initiative are, making a commitment to neighbourhoods, customers and excellence, and this means promoting choice and diversity for all.

James Tickell

Deputy chief executive, National Housing Federation

Kent speaks out

Your readers may be interested to know that in a survey by Kent's largest local newspaper, The Kent Messenger, 80% of readers said they oppose Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart's (Con) pensioner rebate.

This is not because of a lack of sympathy for pensioners, but because most people understand it would not solve the problem.

Council tax is unfair, because it is not based on income. Council tax is too high because all governments since Margaret Thatcher's have withdrawn money from councils and deliberately forced council tax up - the famous 'Red Books' of government budgets show this openly.

Council tax is wrong because poorer people pay a greater part of their income than richer people. It is four times more expensive than income tax to collect, and the benefit system is degrading.

Kent's proposed rebate system solves none of these problems. In fact, poorer families end up paying more, while rich pensioners get a rebate. For this reason, Kent Conservatives have already conceded their proposal is only a quick fix which cannot be sustained.

The only fair solution is to replace council tax with a system based on income. But Kent Tories told government only last month that 'council tax should stay'. So they are not interested in long-term fairness, just a quick fix gimmick that will be nicely in place for their supporters by the 2005 local elections

Trudy Dean

Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, Kent CC

Undermined by Blair

So far I have been encouraged by the level of real debate taking place in the balance of funding review. I have particularly appreciated the open way in which local government minister Nick Raynsford has been conducting the review.

I was disappointed therefore that the day after Mr Raynsford announced the review would include the option of a local income tax, the prime minister should make a personal statement against it.

Perhaps we should not be so surprised that our prime minister fails to understand the problem caused to others by council tax. He gets a very good deal. Tony Blair's council tax bill is £1,140 a year, which is 0.6% of his salary £175,000.

The average council tax is £1,102, and the average income £20,000 - so on average people pay 5.6% of their income on council tax. Ordinary people pay more than nine times as much council tax as Mr Blair, as a proportion of their income.

Pensioners an d the low paid are crying out for a tax system based on ability to pay. We hope Mr Raynsford can convince the prime minister of the need for real change.

Chris Clarke

Leader, Liberal Democrat group, Local Government Association

Cleveland confusion

During the failed struggle to retain some semblance of a sensible local government structure in the area still usually referred to in the media as 'Cleveland', my colleagues and I became accustomed to the idea that the rest of the country seemed to think it knew our needs and history better than we did. But it takes the biscuit for you to confuse a scandal arising from the abuse of vulnerable children - the pin-down scandal, Staffordshire - with a crisis arising from efforts to protect children from abuse - the Cleveland child abuse crisis (LGC, 24 October).

A case, I suppose, of not knowing your Levy from your Butler-Sloss, and a mistake I know will not be made by the estimable David Behan.

Colin Farlow

Cleveland R&I Unit, 1986-96

Back in the saddle

Toulmin Smith may need to be concerned about the standard of English closer to home than the Local Government Association (LGC, 10 October). Your feature on previous winners of the LGC Awards in the same issue mentioned Sir Andrew Foster's '10-year rein' at the Audit Commission. We already know the auditors have the whip hand, but is this proof the inspectors are in the saddle?

Ian Miller

Chief executive, Denbighshire CC

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