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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Hitting the flaw ...
Hitting the flaw

Your report headlined 'Urgent action demanded over serious flaws in EO' (LGC, 28 November) might make an interesting front-page editorial, but it draws conclusions that are not supported by the Work Foundation's summary report on the Employers' Organisation review presented to the Local Government Association.

The report confirms the EO is generally 'fit for purpose'. There is no 'demand' for 'urgent action to address serious flaws' in the summary report and no suggestion that the EO suffers from such flaws either. The 'structural weaknesses' referred to concern the relationships between the Local Government Association, the Improvement & Development Agency and the EO as national bodies.

The initial view from the LGA is that the report is 'a vital and timely contribution to the growth and development of the EO'. However, the LGA executive is not due to consider the full report until 11 December.

LGC does the local government community no favours by sensational reporting that presents an unbalanced, untrue and unsupported picture of the EO.

Sir Brian Briscoe

Chief executive, Local Government Association

Proof positive

Michael Emmerich's article (LGC, 28 November) criticised the government for not making 'deep' interventions in failing councils and for being indecisive. The facts do not support his argument.

I make no apology for recognising that long-term recovery is more likely to be sustainable if the councils concerned accept the need for change and take responsibility for it. By working constructively with them to build capacity and confidence, the government can, and does, help to ensure a sustained and lasting recovery.

Our approach to councils like Walsall MBC shows we are willing tackle all the elements that contribute to poor performance not, as Mr Emmerich suggests, only some. The government is also committed to ensuring local people receive the services and leadership they deserve. Our recent actions in Hull and elsewhere demonstrate t his.

Nick Raynsford

Local government minister

Going down the Tube

Now he has accepted the top job at Jarvis, Steve Norris should step down as the Conservative mayoral candidate.

Being chair of a company that is part of the consortium responsible for maintaining much of the London Underground poses a clear conflict of interest.

Furthermore, taking the Jarvis shilling would put him in an impossible situation if he had to deal with them as mayor. There would be too much baggage for him to ensure Londoners get the best possible deal out of the impossible public/private partnership regime.

He must be very pessimistic about his chances of being elected mayor next year. Why else would he have accepted the job?

Lynne Featherstone (Lib dem)

Transport spokeswoman and chair of the transport committee, London Assembly

I can see clearly now

The Audit Commission's investigation of recent council tax increases (LGC, 21 November) is welcome. But, why look in the crystal ball when you can read the book?

New research on trends in local government funding to be published by the Local Government Information Unit traces the origins of the council tax crisis. There are some stark findings:

??? Of the new money going into council services since 1997, a high proportion has been earmarked by central government for particular uses, overruling local priorities

??? Whitehall's direction over spending priorities has not been fully funded. This has distorted local spending and placed more upward pressure on council tax

??? With councils raising only a quarter of their revenue locally, this has resulted in the gearing effect. Meanwhile, ministers threaten to cap councils, but are unclear about what services they would reduce

??? Since 1990-91, NHS spending has risen by 140%, while local government spending in England rose by 130%. With the services delivered through local government accounting for a quarter of total public spending in England, this gap is significant

??? In 1989-90 the National Non-Domestic Rate covered 31% of local authority spending. By 2003-04 this figure had fallen to 22%. This reflects the falling proportion of spending borne by the business rate since 1997.

I hope this research clears some of the fog of complexity surrounding local government finance and helps overcome the blame mentality that plagues the debate.

Dennis Reed

Chief Executive, Local Government Information Unit

Random acts of capping

Okay, we all know motorists have it tough, but consider this. You are planning on driving into town. You know you have got to drive 'reasonably', but there are no published speed limits, so off you go.

Sometime later, the police knock at your door and tell you you were speeding. In reaching their decision they not only considered your speed for that journey,

but your speed on the same journey last week.

Does this sound ridiculous? Could it ever happen? Well, just look at local government minister Nick Raynsford's council tax capping proposals. We know governments want to control council tax - as they do speeding - but if you are going to cap, Mr Raynsford, be open about it and give councils a clear framework around which to set their tax.

Paul Wenham,

Farnborough

High finance?

I read with interest Rob Whiteman's article on the role of the director of finance (LGC, 14 November). His concerns about the future of this job encapsulated worries I have harboured for some time. There are a number of reasons why local government is not attracting sufficient high-calibre staff who could aspire to the role of director .

First, of course, many councils have already removed the s151 officer from his automatic right to sit at the chief executive's table. We now have s151 officers reporting to the director of resources instead. In my view, this reduces the importance of the role of director of finance. It also reduces the salary being offered for that post and depresses the salaries offered to other finance staff.

Second, we are now engulfed in a plethora of audits, inspections and the like, not to mention secondary legislation. This makes the job of director of finance much more dull than it should and, certainly, than it used to be.

Working in a small unitary, I am almost continuously wondering if there is not something I have missed. When allied with a culture of long hours, relatively

low pay and a constant squeeze on financial resources, the job hardly

seems inviting.

The going rate for a qualified CIPFA officer in my area is at least £300 per day and they can take holidays. The best people are bound to seek rewards elsewhere unless something is done to restore both the image of the public sector and the finance staff who are so important to it.

John Taylor

Henley-on-Thames

A modern hero

Toulmin Smith seems to be living in a different age to the rest of us when it comes to his views on the local government lawyer (LGC, 14 November).

The role of chief executive has not been the sole preserve of the lawyer, though we claim a reasonable proportion of such posts.

Lawyers are integral to the improvement of local government services and are valued by councillors and other officers. We have led modernisation and play a key role in areas such as code of conduct, regeneration and public safety.

As for the so-called 'Whitehall observer' and his reference to the Iron Age, I think this tells us more about the observer than it does about lawyer chief executives.

John Polychronakis

President,

Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors

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