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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Tipping the scales ...
Tipping the scales

I am not sure where Sir Robin Wales got the idea for his article on London weighting, that any research done by Incomes Data Services would indicate 'pay is not the most important issue for workers' (LGC, 17 May).

In fact, the opening sentence of a feature we did in April on pay in London states 'serious staffing problems in public services have brought the issue of London weighting back onto the pay agenda'.

It would take a very particular reading to draw the conclusion that pay is anything other than a central issue, either from this article or the submission we made to the inquiry on London weighting being conducted by the Greater London Authority.

Alastair Hatchett

Editor, IDS Report

Read between the lines

Your story on the Audit Commission's report on public libraries (LGC, 17 May) perhaps over-emphasises the more gloomy aspects of it.

It is true it contains tough messages, particularly with regard to the quality of the book-stock and the accessibility of library services and buildings. Both do need attention and this will be a challenge for many libraries. But it is also indicative of consistent under-resourcing.

But there is some good news. The People's Network is available in 70% of the nation's libraries and is on course to be available in all 4,000 libraries by the end of the year.

The report praises library services for their work in reader development and notes the high regard in which library staff are held by the public. Also, 40% of inspected library services were found to offer good or excellent services, and over 50% of services perceived as improving or likely to improve.

The fact remains that libraries are the most popular cultural institution on the high street. They will continue to have an important role in helping councils address key issues of lifetime learning, social inclusion, and the development of citizenship and e-government.

There is a need, as the Audit Commission report suggests, to get some of the basics right and that is why the government issued the public library standards last year. We believe a modest increase in the investment in public libraries would reap disproportionately large benefits in areas such as lifetime learning and community cohesion.

Guy Daines

Principal policy adviser, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals

Fullick and frank?

It was with a mixture of amusement and cynicism that I read Leisha Fullick had announced her resignation as Islington LBC's chief executive (LGC, 17 May).

If, as you stated, she always planned to leave after the local elections, could leader, Steve Hitchins, confirm whether or not she will be receiving a golden handshake?

Perhaps Mr Hitchins could also explain why, if he really believes Ms Fullick 'has assembled an able and talented team of directors', a number of them 'resigned' over the past few years, including the very recent departure of the director of finance?

Vaughan West

Branch secretary, Islington GMB/APEX

Simple justice?

The chief executive of Chorley BC says postal voting is 'extremely simple, constituents could just open it, vote and send it back' (LGC, 10 May).

Of course, so could non-constituents, a relative of the voter, or indeed anyone who happened to come across the envelope containing the ballot paper.

Chorley BC did away with the declaration of identity so there is simply no way of knowing whether the vote was cast by the voter who was entitled to it.

With police investigations into postal vote fraud ongoing in Pendle BC and Wakefield MDC, investigations likely in Birmingham City Council and arrests already having been made in Bradford City MDC, it may be too early to judge postal voting a success.

Raising turnout is important for democracy, but so is having an electoral system where people believe the result to be free from fraud and intimidation. In an increasing number of areas in the UK, that is simply no longer the case.

Hywel Morgan

Campaigns and development officer, Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors

Attack of the clones

In a recent article on the elections in Lewisham LBC, LGC suggested Labour gave the Liberal Democrats 'almost a free hand' in Downham ward to ensure the two British National Party candidates were not elected (LGC, 10 May).

This was certainly not the case. Labour ran an aggressive campaign in Downham, directed against its sitting Liberal Democrat councillors.

Labour's leaflets accused us of 'carping and complaining', 'shirking responsibility', 'wanton neglect', 'lies and hypocrisy', 'snubbing the people', 'degrading Lewisham politics', 'betraying Downham', and being a 'disgrace'.

We believe the basis for this attack is the fact, when the mayoral system was introduced on an experimental basis, we decided not to take up the cabinet seats the law of proportionality allowed us. Instead we formed a united group on the scrutiny side. Perhaps Labour's attack indicates what the party leadership really thinks of scrutiny work.

How ironic that a Labour mayor, elected on the basis of this campaign, should set up a single-party cabinet.

If anyone is wondering why people are turned off electoral politics, or vote for extremists like the BNP saying the rest of us are 'all the same', doesn't the nature of Labour's campaign in Downham give an answer?

Matthew Huntbach (Lib Dem)

Lewisham LBC

Resisting the rhetoric

Francesca Okosi laments the gender gap at the top of local government and wonders why the 'promise' of women in high-profile appointments in the late 1990s failed to establish a bridgehead for the female workforce (LGC, 10 May).

Ms Okosi may be right in saying a concerted effort is required from human resources professionals, the Society of Personnel Officers and headhunters such as the Employers' Organisation.

The question is why that effort has not been made over the past quarter of a century? Could it be something to do with the failure of those organisations to reflect diversity in their memberships? Or couldit be to do with an underlying resistance - despite the rhetoric - to diversity?

The apparent progress for women in the late 1990s is reminiscent of the apparent watershed in the success of black chief executives about a decade earlier.

Similarly, what appeared to be progress turned out to be a safety valve. Making a few appointments has defused surface validity of the demands made by female and racial minority council workers.

An alternative to waiting for the old players to change their game may be suggested elsewhere in the same edition of LGC. For example, the election of Stuart Drummond (aka H'Angus the monkey) as mayor of Hartlepool BC.

Maybe understanding what is happening suggests we need to work with innovators to build councils which mirror the communities they serve.

Denise Robinson

Bolton MBC

Your final answer

Empirical research shows, on average, it takes around 21 questions before we start to understand someone's views on any given issue. With really good questions, it can be fewer. With just one question, as in the LGC Question of the Week, it is unlikely that any real insight will result - especially if that single question is ambiguous.

Take the past two LGC questions as examples. First, 'Are we doomed to have more mavericks and opportunists as mayors?' is clearly biased. It implies a maverick is a bad thing, when many would argue we need more mavericks in local government.

Second, when LGC asked: 'Will regional assemblies make any difference to service delivery?', the possible answers were yes, no and don't know. In reality, legitimate answers should include 'Yes, it will improve service delivery' and 'No, but improving the delivery of existing local government services is not the purpose of regional assemblies'.

All in all, it makes the Question of the Week rather meaningless, though I am sure there will be some readers who appreciate having a bit of data to support their particular prejudice.

Paul Vittles

Managing director, RBA Research

Inflexible foes

What did not come across clearly in my letter last week was that we are all, men and women alike, limited in our career opportunities by our commitments outside of work.

The effect shows more for women, because, in our society, they are likely to have more responsibility for such duties, but it applies equally to men.

To solve this we need increased flexibility in working arrangements for all, not just an emphasis on removing the barriers for women in management.

Rachel Livermore

Managing director, RJL Consultancy

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