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In for the count...
In for the count

Pat Watters (Lab) claims electoral reform 'is about fixing perceived problems without defining what they are' (LGC, 4 October). Here are a few problems facing local government and how the single transferable vote system, recommended for Scotland, would help to solve them:

First, low turnout. The lowest turnouts under the existing system generally occur where the ward is safe for one party and the highest where it is a closely fought marginal. By getting rid of the concept of safe seats, STV makes every vote count and therefore makes voting worthwhile.

Second, one-party dominated councils. Far too many councils are dominated by a single party. This denies a voice to smaller groups and leads to weak opposition and scrutiny.

Third, lack of connection with residents. Far from allowing councillors to build a strong bond with the people they are elected to represent, the single member ward system means voters have no choice about who to approach for help. This is especially a problem for people who are not a supporter of the councillor's party.

Proponents of electoral reform do not do so out of some ill-defined desire for fairness - we do so because we have studied the problems and truly believe a change in the voting system will help alleviate them.

Alex Folkes

Press and campaigns officer, Electoral Reform Society

The plot thickens

I read with interest your report that Royal National Insititute for Blind People chief executive, James Strachan, is favourite for the post of the chair of the Audit Commission (LGC, 4 October), and that the appointment of Lord Norman Warner collapsed because of his links with the Labour Party (LGC, 8 March). Is it not strange that Mr Strachan's link with the Labour Party through his partner - minister of arts Baroness Blackstone - is acceptable?

Raymond Lee

Head of research and publications

British Deaf History Society

A new parochialism

The government's proposal to the School Teachers' Review Body that schools should decide their own pay rates is groundbreaking.

There are at least three arguments in favour of this proposal. First, the existing national approach produces vastly different regional outcomes. It is now far more difficult to recruit and retain staff of the right quality in some areas . Second, it can be slow and divisive using national frameworks to solve local problems. And third, there is a growing consensus that the public sector has become over-centralised. Responsibility needs to be devolved if services are to improve. National pay gets in the way of this.

But staff - or at least their trade union representatives - seem to believe that only national pay determination is fair. Further, they appear to believe the inevitable purpose of devolution would be to drive pay rates downwards.

The assumption that local decisions will drive pay down is not borne out by experience. There are few, if any, examples of councils pushing costs down by paying less for local reasons. This is simply too difficult, de-motivating, and possibly illegal.

The government's proposal to devolve pay could be the mechanism through which local service providers will regain the responsibilities which ought properly to be theirs, and which they say they want. This may well be one of the main keys to real public service reform.

Philip Cohen

Director, Hay Group UK

You were right, I was wrong

Chris Keady was right not to equate best value with value management five years ago and I was wrong (LGC, 4 October). While there was absolutely nothing in best value not already known or provided for in value management, too much was left out. Thus best value, like a clock without the clockwork, failed.

Mr Keady is right to say 'too little meaningful learning is occurring'. This is now seen in value management circles as due to an insular culture unwilling to learn from the outside world that starts at the very top.

Blame has no place here. But the powers that be should recognise how things are seen by people with world-class value programme experience who have sought to advise on best value.

Clive Bone

Bone & Robertson

Worst website

Chris Mahoney (LGC+, September) should consider himself lucky he at least could contact his council electronically - even if he was getting little or no reply to his queries. The Wyre Forest DC web site has contained the following message for almost two years: 'We have removed our web pages and are in the process of developing a completely new website which we hope to have available shortly.

'If you need to contact the council, please use the main switchboard telephone number above.'

Is this the poorest performing council website in the country?

John Wright

Committee group leader (scrutiny and regulation), Bromsgrove DC

E-dares wins

I read your article Silent enemies of the state (LGC+ September), discussing resistance to the delivery of all government services online by 2005, with much interest.

But what is really needed to deliver the 2005 target is a leap of faith. Councils need to take a who-dares-wins approach to

e-government. Once there is widespread anecdotal evidence of people taking the leap, then others will surely follow.

There are already some good examples of investments paying off. For example, Epsom & Ewell BC presented a business case for£500,000 investment,£500,000 per year running costs, with payback by 2003. The council has achieved 90% of that target in just three months.

E-government is no longer untested water.

Neil Hollins

E-business product manager, ITNet

Air mail

Recent reports suggest ministers are considering giving councils the power to hold referendums on burning local issues in an effort to re-engage the electorate (LGC, 4 October). Not jumping the gun, but seizing the importance of the moment, Uttlesford DC is doing just that.

The government's consultation on the future of air transport in the east and the south-east has potentially fundamental implications for the character of thisrural corner of north-west Essex.

The council is keen to be sure it fully represents the views of local people on such a significant issue and has therefore decided to undertake an all-postal referendum of the 55,000 voters in the district.

This is a very important step for our district and demonstrates our commitment to involving our community in an essential topic for the future of this area. I hope the turnout will show this to be an effective way of gathering the views of the electorate.

Elizabeth Forbes

Chief executive, Uttlesford DC

Streets ahead

Your piece on the state of the country's streets by Environmental Campaigns, organisers of Keep Britain Tidy (LGC, 4 October) was illustrated with a photo of Camden LBC's Boulevard Project street cleaning machines. It was a pity that you did not acknowledge this in the story - especially as the£24m street improvement programme was commended in LGC's own awards for excellence for its innovative approach to bettering the street scene this year.

LGC likes to celebrate local government successes. This time you missed the opportunity.

Arman Alan Ali

Press officer, Boulevard Project, Camden LBC

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