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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Tories' tactical error...
Tories' tactical error

The speech by shadow to John Prescott David Davis last week in Bournemouth about the prospect of elected assemblies made good copy for the journalists, but it fell well short of a coherent policy for the Conservatives (LGC, 11 October).

Mr Davis worried that decisions were being taken away from people, but failed to explain exactly what powers would be threatened by the proposals outlined in the white paper. He failed to acknowledge the existing tier of regional governance that lies with the government offices, the regional development agencies, regional assemblies and the myriad of quangos. Nor did he address the duplication and complexity this has created - a factor mentioned by a recent Confederation of British Industry report.

This was a missed opportunity for the Conservative leadership to make new links with the broad consensus in many regions that favours elected regional government - a consensus that includes elements within his party.

The Campaign for the English Regions welcomes the fact people from all parties are talking about decentralisation. We will continue to work with people from all parties to ensure there is a genuine shift of power from the centre.

Don Price

National campaign officer, CFER

Tax must not fund politics

The Institute for Public Policy Research has raised the prospect of taxpayers funding political parties. Unison rejects this call.

Unison does not believe there is a case for taxpayers to fund political parties. Taxpayers could end up funding extreme racist parties and other disreputable political organisations.

State funding would undermine the role of the trade unions as an important part of the Labour Party. Unions are members of the party and not just donors. These plans would start to untie the party's organisation and links with the unions.

We believe the rules brought in recently to limit election spending should be allowed time to bed down before changing the system yet again.

Keith Sonnett

Deputy general secretary, Unison

Cash for kids

The Safeguarding children report's findings, released this week, have shown children's services coming under increasing pressure with recruitment and retention of staff a key concern. These - and other issues - can only be tackled if the government starts listening to local government's concerns over social care funding.

For the last two years, recent surveys conducted by the Local Government Association have shown councils are having to spend far above government provision on social services. In the last year, councils spent£1bn above the government's standard spending assessment. The LGA survey showed two thirds of this over-spend was on children's services.

We are sending a warning to the government that social care - including children's services - needs a larger injection of funds if we are to do justice to the findings of this report.

David Rogers (Lib Dem)

Health and social affairs spokesman, LGA

Adopt a report

The joint chief inspector's report on children's safeguards confirms all Unison has been saying for years. There is a huge problem of recruitment and retention in social work which leaves many vulnerable children at risk.

The report says inadequate resources and shortages of skilled staff are to blame. This is what our members have said time and again, and it is now time for the government and employers to find the money to put things right.

We know one of the contributing factors when things go wrong is that agencies do not communicate enough. We need to strengthen the area child protection committee system to ensure no agency lets down the others by failing to participate fully in joint work.

Inter-agency training should be mandatory and procedures standardised, so all the groups understand their role and how they should work with other agencies.

Unison is calling for all staff to have formal training needs assessments - linked to the system for allocating cases - to avoid staff taking cases of a type they have not been trained in.

Finally, we regret that the report does not say anything about the star ratings system. How is this blame culture going to improve anything for vulnerable people?

Owen Davies

Senior national officer, UNISON

Put your powers on the table

I was pleased to read LGC gave fair space in its conference coverage to outline Conservative feelings towards regional government.

One of the busiest fringe meetings at this year's conference was the Local Government Association's fringe debate on regional government. The room was packed and even then delegates listened from the corridor. Conservatives are interested in the regional debate because far from devolving power, regional assemblies will pose a fundamental threat to local democracy as we know it. Power will be taken away from local communities to decide their own affairs and transferred to some regional body situated many miles away and actually representing no one.

Let us be in no doubt, the government's regional plans are about taking power away from local government, not about devolving power down from Whitehall and Westminster. I challenge the government to set out precisely what powers it proposes to devolve down.

Gordon Keymer

LGA Conservative group leader

Census counts for little

I am feeling a little bereft and I know I will not be the only chief executive. Over 120 chief executives have just been told by the Office of the National Statistics that their populations have fallen by more than 2%.

My own population just fell by 16.5%. This is not one in six fleeing poor services - we have modest hopes of Sir Andrew's Christmas verdict - but the result of the census being significantly different from the last advice given by the same office (LGC, 11 October).

We contribute to the office's missing 900,000 - the gap between the predicted figure and the census 'actual' figure. But is the census reliable?

The world has moved on. We live in a more complicated and less compliant age. In Kensington & Chelsea LBC, only 64% of census forms were ever returned.

We know we have a huge rate of local population churn. For example, over 80,000 council tax bills are sent out in April but each year we have to process 130,000 in-year changes in circumstances.

A once-a-decade count might work for settled communities where loyalty to bureaucracy can be assumed.

I am sure the ONS does not want to get these figures wrong, but wrong they may be. The census is not working.

Derek Myers

Town clerk & chief executive,

Kensington & Chelsea LBC

Walking the talk

Councils have begun a love affair with communications. The comprehensive performance assessment has ensured top teams take a close look at how they give or exchange information.

I wonder, however, how many senior officers will take the leap of faith needed to put councillors and the public together more frequently. Many councils, including Worcestershire CC, have beefed up information support given to councillors - but how many have made a sustained effort to step into the public gaze?

Campaigns such as Local Democracy Week have helped raise awareness of the pivotal role councillors play. But isn't democracy a 52-week thing? In Australia it is. Executive services and human resources manager Judy Charlton, from Albury City, New South Wales, said during a recent visit that their members had a Saturday rota for one of them to be available for residents' questions.

Kevin Galloway

Public relations manager, Worcestershire CC

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