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Improving inspections ...
Improving inspections

In reporting the welcome news Improvement & Development Agency executive director Steve Bundred is to move to the Audit Commission, Richard Vize cited the need to demonstrate that inspection improves services (LGC, 13 June). They jury is out on this - Ofsted seems to have worked whereas best value inspection did not.

It appears to depend on there being a shared body of knowledge on which to base and respond to inspection - recognised good teaching practice in the case of Ofsted. Yet successive reports and white papers have revealed a lack of performance capacity in local government leads to poor monitoring, procurement and productivity.

But an Economic & Social Research Council report entitled High road/low road: skills and innovation in Britain's workplaces speaks of training, empowerment and teamwork, and the creation of social partnerships to improve performance. Maybe the Audit Commission will adopt this sort of approach.

Clearly some fundamental change of method is needed. I for one am increasingly optimistic that this will happen.

Clive Bone

Senior partner, Bone & Robertson

Hip hip ... boo hoo

Elected regional assemblies will mark an important first step in reducing the micro-management that is damaging public service reform.

Yet the decision only merits two cheers. Labour's regional democracy plans are timid, leaving ministers with far too much power to interfere.

The huge array of regional quangos and agencies with billion-pound budgets must be made democratic and accountable to local people.

Deputy prime ministerJohn Prescott should boost the Yes campaigns for regional democracy by ensuring that powers are properly devolved from Whitehall, and regional assemblies are given real power over quangos like the Environment Agency.

This decision also leaves the Conservatives in a complete mess, forced as they are to argue the case for unelected bureaucrats and the inefficient, costly quango state they created.

The Tory defe nce for Conservative cronyism will not be a pretty sight.

Edward Davey

Liberal Democrat ODPM spokesman

Credit where it's due

I read your comment piece on Kingston upon Hull City Council's restructuring (LGC, 6 June) with interest. I was leader of Poole BC for the duration of Jim Brooks? stint as chief executive. During that time he earned widespread admiration from people in all sectors of our community, including the private and voluntary sectors

Poole is also a unitary council and one which was brought into being under Mr Brooks' guidance. The result prompted our district auditor to proclaim it as 'local government at its best' soon after its formation and it came within one point of gaining an excellent rating in its comprehensive performance assessment.

Credit must, of course, go to all our staff for their achievement but most would agree that much was due to Mr Brooks' role in leading the council's management of the council and setting its style. I do hope Hull will be able to resolve its difficulties. It would be sad if the opportunities presented by such a dedicated public servant were thwarted by what appears from a distance to be a falling-out among politicians.

There is much talk about management structures and the one we pioneered in Poole is similar to the one Hull has been introducing. I am convinced by its merits but also sure the culture of an organisation is more important than its structure.

If staff feel valued and respected they will respond with respect and be more dedicated to serving the community. Hull head-hunted Mr Brooks because they were in difficulty. The Audit Commission's report on its corporate governance makes sobering reading, particularly for any councillor who might be tempted to cross the boundary into officer territory. Hull would be well-advised to allow Mr Brooks to complete the job they employed him to do - they will find no one with more professional competence.

Brian Clements (LIB DEM)

Councillor, Poole BC

Equal pay for all?

I would like to add to Paul Vittles' letter (LGC, 6 June) on the arguments put forward by public sector managers that they should be paid the same as private sector managers.

The responsibility private sector managers have in generating income far outweighs their responsibility to manage the expenditure which, as Mr Vittles states, is all public sector managers have to do.

To develop a product that meets the market needs and can be sold at the right price in competition with others is so demanding it makes managing the expenditure look like child's play in comparison.

It seems to me public sector managers supported by their professional bodies are doing a grave disservice to the taxpayer and the recipient of public services by arguing their pay should be comparable.

So I ask, on behalf of all nurses, social workers, teachers and others whose service to the public is seriously underfunded, that public service managers and their professional bodies refrain from using this false argument. This claim can mislead those in charge of setting pay levels, encouraging them to believe comparison with private sector managers is a justified yardstick entitling public sector managers to more money.

John Barber

Mitcham, Surrey

Leading the protest

The picture of Clay Cross councillors (LGC, 13 June) brings back memories. It was remarkable how a small urban district council led by a group of obstinate councillors managed to upset the political applecart.

Yet it is Graham and David Skinner, the brothers of the more famous Dennis, who are featured, not Graham and David Cross.

Roger Backhouse

Ilford, Essex

I refer to your news story 'CHCs cling on to life for another three months' (LGC, 13 June).

It has been nearly three years since the government announced its intention to abolish Community Health Councils. Throughout that time CHCs have fought to ensure the replacement system them would be at least as good as the one being abolished.

Let us not forget, under the government's ori ginal proposals, there was to be no independent complaints support for patients, no national body and the planned Patients' Forums were lacking independence. It is largely thanks to the efforts of CHCs so much has been improved in the government's proposals.

It is tragic CHC staff and members feel they have been given no part to play in the roll-out of the new system. The most significant danger facing the new system is losing the knowledge base built up by CHCs over nearly 30 years, as well as the skills and experience of CHC staff and volunteer members.

Many in the world of CHCs feel the three-month reprieve they have been given will simply be used to paper over the cracks in the new system.

We hope the new health minister and the Commission for Patient & Public Involvement in Health will regard the reprieve as an opportunity to put into place genuine transition arrangements which recognise the value of the reservoir of experience they are in danger of losing.

Murray Benham

Communications manager, The Association of Community Health Councils for England & Wales

At the art of the North

I am delighted by Liverpool's triumph in being chosen for the European Capital of Culture in 2008. This honour will transform the way people think about the city in the same way that Manchester's reputation was elevated by the success of the Commonwealth Games.

The region is brimming with confidence, and we can use our reputation to attract investment and growth. Liverpool will once again be seen as one of the great cities of the world and I am very proud the North West Regional Assembly was one of the organisations backing the successful bid.

The creativity and impact of Liverpool's bid will also compliment the regional cultural strategy produced by the North West Regional Assembly and North West Cultural Consortium.

Tony McDermott (LAB)

Vice chair, North West Regional Assembly

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