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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Seriously speaking ...
Seriously speaking

August is renowned as the silly season, but your report that the government will dismiss the recommendations of the Climbie Inquiry (LGC, 16 August) is sillier than most.

The Department of Health takes its responsibilities towards children very seriously indeed. Together with the Home Office, we set up a statutory inquiry into the events surrounding the tragic death of Victoria Climbie. The inquiry, ably and thoroughly conducted by Lord Laming, is examining the actions of the councils, health bodies and police services involved. The DoH has absolutely no intention of dismissing its recommendations.

We work constantly to improve children's services in health and social care. Together with our colleagues in the Department for Education & Skills we are in discussions with Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Social Services, NHS Confederation and with chief education officers about how best to take this forward. The proposals respond to requests from councils and others to find ways of removing the barriers that can get in the way of good children's services.

Your ill-considered report serves only to undermine a very important inquiry and to impede positive developments in our services for children.

Nigel Crisp

Permanent Secretary, Department of Health

Robbing Rhodri?

Now the dust has settled and the spin dissipated after Labour's comprehensive spending review, we can all take a cold hard look at the settlement for Wales.

Labour's absolute refusal to revise the Barnett formula to take into account the real needs of the people of Wales is deeply disappointing. Since the formula was introduced 20 years ago, for one year only, the average gross domestic product per head of Wales has fallen from 90% of the UK average to less than 80%.

In order to tackle the economic challenges we are faced with, it has been calculated that the government would have needed to commit£180m a year towards the much-needed European funding,£100m a year of match funding for EU projects and£130m a year towards regeneration of our railways: a total of£410m a year on top of Barnett. What Wales actually got this year was a total of£164m.

Labour politicians from Wales are failing dismally to put the needs of the people of Wales onto the government's plan. I look forward to the electorate remembering Labour's dismal record when they choose their Assembly members next year.

Colin Mann

Leader, Plaid Cymru - Party of Wales group ,

Welsh Local Government Association

Take it like an adult

While the comprehensive performance assessment process is far from perfect - name an examination or inspection system which is - it was a very positive experience for my council.

The self-assessment is particularly useful. It forces councils to take an honest look at what they are doing and make honest judgments about how they should improve.

I believe the Audit Commission has taken on board many of the views and criticisms levelled at it, which is reflected in the way it carries out its inspections. Our team from the commission was extremely professional.

Why shouldn't we be big enough to accept their findings? After all, we expect our children to accept their exam results throughout their lives. If they do not do well it is because they have not worked hard enough.

Let us forget the excuses and get on with improving our services.

Dave Wilcox (lab)

Cabinet member for external affairs, Derbyshire CC

Taking care of social care

The Association of Directors Social Services is positive about the Social Services Inspectorate's annual report. In particular, the attention it has paid to the difficulties departments are facing recruiting social care staff, and the importance it has attached to improvements being made to the fabric of social services.

The report noted that nearly 70% of

all social services authorities have good prospects for the future, and well over half of the one star councils - based on recent performance assessment figures - are considered to be in the same category.

ADSS welcomes the improvements the inspectorate's inspection teams discovered in services for children in care, and the positive attitudes of people who rely on social services to the quality of support they receive.

Michael Leadbetter

President, Association of Directors of Social Services

Time to work together

Tim Rothwell's comments (LGC, 16 August) have given me cause for concern.

I agree that the strategic direction of an organisation must reflect the requirements of our employment law. I am not certain that employment is the fastest growing branch of jurisprudence - many areas of our law have faced almost continuous change for some considerable time, others have not.

Even some lawyers recognise that the performance of a council is dependent on having committed and motivated staff, and achieving that requires more than simple compliance with strict employment law requirements.

Compliance is the easy bit. What troubles me more is Mr Rothwell's contention that those seeking strategic change will be more frustrated if employment law is left to an organisation's lawyers. It is insulting to lawyers and only reinforces the stereotype, which, if believed, will only damage professional relations.

I accept lawyers in local government may have a reputation for being resistant to change and in many councils lawyers are expected only to help respond to challenges or process legal cases.

Perhaps HR professionals, lawyers and others who recognise the need to change the way we work should all pull together.

Perhaps greater emphasis on organisational, management and personal development is needed in local government. Now which professionals are responsible for that I wonder?

Charlie Adan

Head of legal and corporate services,

Coventry City Council

Play nicely now . . .

A report has been released which reveals children are bored by unadventurous playgrounds (LGC, 9 August).

It has only served to strengthen the council's determination to ensure it provides exciting and challenging play opportunities for the district's youngsters.

When designing the play areas we were keen to make it a policy that an element of risk and excitement were vital factors in children's development.

One of the purposes of play is to enable children to develop their risk assessment abilities, something which is an essential life skill.

If there are no challenges children will simply look elsewhere for them. Accidents inevitably happen but attempts to avoid all accidents would lead to a loss of liberty, which would be totally unacceptable.

Cheryl Flanagan (Lab)

Chair, Warwick DC's play equipment working party

Facing the enemy

Anyone from South America would recognise what the Audit Commission and General Raynsford have been saying about Hull.

The proof of the previous council's inadequacy comes not from the Audit Commissars but from the electors who have voted for change. Local government's response to continued denigration from Whitehall seems to be to bow its head, and of course the political parties can be guaranteed to turn on each other rather than stand and face the real enemy - central government arrogance and control mania.

Trevor Carbin (Lab)

Wiltshire CC

Rights for libraries

The Audit Commission consultation document Comprehensive performance assessment framework for single-tier and county councils proposes giving efficiency scores for libraries and other cultural services only half the weighting given to those for other council activities.

This has been put forward on the grounds that libraries are not national priorities.

I have written to the culture secretary Tessa Jowell expressing great concern at the proposals. Public libraries are subject to minimum standards, specified by the government, and the arts minister Baroness Blackstone is currently undertaking a wide-ranging review of the public library service and will be producing a strategic framework for consultation in the autumn.

The Audit Commission has almost ignored libraries' contribution to lifelong learning, to neighbourhood regeneration, to raising school standards and to most of the cross-cutting national priorities recently agreed by the government and the Local Government Association.

Dr Bob McKee

Chief executive, the Chartered Institute of Library

& Information Professionals

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