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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Don't manage to lead ...
Don't manage to lead

I agree with Mel Usher (LGC, 5 April) that leadership is different from management. The trouble is few managers recognise the difference, other than theoretically.

They assume that leadership comes with the job title. Then they try to exercise their leadership by managing people. Occasionally, this works, if the manager is one of those people with inherent and instinctive leadership abilities. But such people are rare. Weak leadership results in uncertainties, a vague feeling that something is missing or not quite right, or life is harder than it needs to be.

And the answer? Sign up for a course.

I have nothing against courses, but aren't we treating the symptoms, not the cause?

Good leaders are rare in councils, not because we can't motivate and inspire others, but because the very environment works against them. Good leaders aren't comfortable people to be with, they don't do things by the book or follow regulations to the letter - that's what managers do. What they can do is see the route to a better future, and take others with them.

But in local government, the route is already mapped out. We are hedged around by rules and regulations, form filling and returns. That environment does not attract or keep leaders.

Central government has recognised this difficulty and has addressed it - with more management. Best value, corporate governance - these are acts of a government trying to legislate leadership into place, and it won't work, not in the long term.

It is also about attitude, of both members and officers. What are the real risks of doing something differently, and what are the real benefits? Challenge the assumptions - do we really have to work nine to five in offices, do we really need this bit of information, this level of analysis, do we have to do this frequently or rarely?

We all have to change our attitude - doing what was done before may be safe, but is no longer an acceptable solution.

Rachel Livermore

Managing director, RJL consultancy

Third rate assessment

We all applaud the agreement to change terminology used in the comprehensive performance assessment, something the LGIU has been campaigning for since the launch of the white paper (LGC, 22 March).

I am not yet moved to invest in a thesaurus and enter the competition to choose a term for coasting. It is the act of labelling that is unhelpful, not the label. If we keep the others - high-performing, striving, poor-performing - then the label for the third will always mean third rate.

The unit's concerns are about who does the labelling and how comprehensive their assessment will actually be.

We fear that, whatever the labels, the assessment will be simplistic. The danger is of creating an Alice-through-the-looking-glass world, with the Audit Commission, in the role of Humpty Dumpty, saying: 'When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'

Dennis Reed

Director, Local Government Information Unit

The cost to all of pay cuts

Very few people would gamble up to a third of their pay on the horses on the basis of form. Yet council staff are having to gamble their pay on the basis of the systematic, but no more infallible process, of job evaluation because unions are failing to insist on long-term pay protection.

Councils have to gamble that the adverse impact on morale, motivation and dedication does not undermine the efficiency of service delivery and best value.

The reason offered by the unions is that long-term pay protection is contrary to the Equal Pay Act. Yet the House of Lords (Strathclyde Regional Council v Wallace) has ruled that pay anomalies affecting both men and women are not discriminatory.

A single status survey has revealed job evaluation can increase sickness levels. The need for councils to offer counselling to job evaluation losers suggests this is stress-related. This seems to be the only context in which the unions are prepared to tolerate avoidable stress at work.

The public/private sector union Prospect (IPMS) supports a minimum of 10 years' pay protection plus mark time for job evaluation losers. A similar policy in local government would still produce savings for councils with less detriment to efficiency. If further savings are needed, the Employers' Organisation has suggested phasing in pay rises for the winners.

Councils that cannot afford the financial and employment relations costs of job evaluation should - as many seem to be doing - avoid the process altogether.

John Fricker

TGWU steward, Cornwall

Two levels for London life

London allowances are not as straight-forward as they seem (LGC, 5 April).

As far as council staff are concerned, there are effectively two different London allowances. There is the formal one and then there is the extent to which London grades for the same or similar jobs are higher than those outside London.

Leaving aside the formal London allowances, environmental health officers in London are, on average, paid over£4,500 more than colleagues outside London. For solicitors and receptionists, the equivalent figure is over£3,000. For social workers, it is over£2,500.

So comparisons with, say, nurses and the police, who have rigid national grading systems, are misleading.

What is needed is help for those who have not yet got a foot on the housing ladder, not those who already have a rapidly appreciating capital asset. Locally targeted assistance, not across-the-board payments, is what is called for.

Charles Nolda

Executive director,

Employers' Organisation for Local Government

Cronies on all sides

Lord Tope, who before his elevation worked at Voluntary Action Camden, whinges about London mayor Ken Livingstone's wish to appoint key advisers.

While many will share Lord Tope's reservations about directly elected mayors, Ken's open appointments at least receive public scrutiny. By contrast, we await with interest the district auditor's investigation into the actions of his lordship's political colleagues in Islington LBC where, as well as savaging the borough's voluntary sector, a member of the 25-person clique that runs the Lib Dems nationally has been appointed as an adviser to the leadership, albeit on a mere£94,000.

In view of the narrow Lib Dem majority, and the post's requirement to 'implement Lib Dem culture across the council', no doubt the apparatchik will have a struggle comparable to her string pullers' hopes of retaining control.

Dave Horan (Lab)

Camden LBC

Wales aims for one auditor

I was pleased that you decided to report on the Welsh Assembly's decision to take forward proposals for a welsh audit bill (LGC, 5 April).

The Assembly has approved proposals for primary legislation to be put before

the UK government for consideration. These would create a single audit body

for Wales.

The Commission has put on record our support for the principle of bringing together the national and local audit regimes of the auditor general and ourselves. We have proposed to build on our close relationship with the auditor general for Wales as well as the appointment of a director for Wales, responsible for all commission services.

Rather than being scrapped, best value in Wales has been reformed. The commission will play a key role in supporting the Wales programme for improvement, which is vital to our ongoing drive to improve public services in Wales.

Andrew Wood

Lead manager, Audit Commission in Wales

Prif reolwr, Y Comisiwn Archwilio yng Nghymr

I did it my way

Your article regarding the libel action between Bedford BC and a newspaper stated the council 'is considering supporting an appeal by three of its officers over a lost libel claim' (LGC, 5 April).

The council is not being asked to consider supporting an appeal on behalf of myself. I was successful in my libel claim and it is the other side which is mounting an appeal against this ruling.

You state that I won one of my two claims. I pursued a total of four claims, of which I succeeded in one prior to the trial and in two at trial. I was awarded a total of£52,500 damages plus costs.

The judge found against me in one article on the basis that it was not defamatory of me, in that no-one would have thought less of me in respect of it.

In the Derbyshire CC case, the House of Lords endorsed the right of councillors and officers to sue for defamation stating that 'a publication attacking the activities of the authority will necessarily be an attack on the body of councillors which represents the controlling party or on the executives who carry on the day to day management of its affairs. If the individual reputation of any of these is wrongly impaired by the publication any of these can himself bring proceedings for defamation'.

Shaun Field

Chief executive, Bedford BC

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