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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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It's not my party ...
It's not my party

Your editorial does a disservice to the cause of attracting new councillors when it perpetrates the myth that the only way to become a councillor is through a local political party branch (LGC, 22 February).

There is no need to attend meetings for years, tailoring your views to fit in with your party's; you could put your own views before the electorate. Even in today's world of spin and party machines, it is still possible to be elected independently of a political party or interest group.

Even in large, multi-member wards, a single person can deliver leaflets to every house and, maybe, even knock on every door. Limits on election spending prevent independent candidates from being grossly outspent by party candidates.

Getting elected through the party system may be easier but it carries a price - towing the party line.

This may prove irrelevant under the new structures and the central controls on local government. Most people who examined the new role of councillors and their influence on the running of the council might conclude there is no point even being a councillor. If we do not find ways to increase their influence, we will not be able to keep the ones we do have, let alone attract new blood.

Paul Martin (ind)

Chelmsford BC

Don't be so gloomy

While the national survey of councillors (LGC, 22 February) is disappointing, it is important to note that there are pockets of excellence. Where councils and parties make an effort, such as in Blackburn, Islington and Chichester, chambers can be much more representative.

We should acknowledge that the vast majority of councillors are dedicated individuals who work hard to represent all interests, regardless of their own backgrounds. The erosion of respect and support for public service in all forms is beginning to take its toll.

Change is possible. The good employer award is beginning to change the perception of councillors at a national level. The Sex Discrimination Act will allow political groups to redress the poor gender balance from next year. You are right to challenge the parties to change the way they select candidates and ensure small vested interest groups cannot subvert the democratic process.

Let there be no doubt of the potential interest. Since the publication of the census and announcement of the fast track scheme, I have received dozens of e-mails and telephone calls from people under 40 interested in becoming councillors. We now have to connect this new blood to the local political process and we are developing an ambitious programme to do this.

With commitment and goodwill from political parties and others we can begin to make a real change in the diversity of councillors in time for the third census.

Paul Wheeler

Assistant director, IDeA Solutions

Worldly wisdom of voting

David Clark (LGC, 15 February) is right to say that increasing people's opportunity to vote is not in itself a panacea.

We would do well to draw on what has happened in other countries.

In New Zealand, when postal voting was introduced, though there was an initial increase, turnout plateaued at around 50%. Clearly, changing the ease of voting was not enough to boost turnout significantly.

In South Africa, where the majority of people were denied the right to vote until the ending of apartheid, local elections have shown a turnout of over 50%.

In Bangladesh, since the introduction

of reserved seats for women in the council chamber, turnout has increased, reaching 80% among women voters at local elections.

The Commonwealth Local Government Forum will be publishing case studies the day after Commonwealth Day, 11 March.

Len Duvall (LAB)

Chair, Commonwealth Local Government Forum

Member, Greater London Authority

Bureaucratic madhouse

There certainly are lots of us out here, including countless officers, who think it quite normal to be rung up by the public on direct lines. How unlike most sectors.

I really don't see how councils can be made much more accessible. I therefore ask myself what exemplary bodies the critics are comparing them with (LGC,

22 February).

I judge from my own experience. I don't know Manchester City Council as a service user, but I do know both Dacorum and Cheltenham BCs pretty well, having just moved house from one to the other.

The service from them was not perfect, but both were streets ahead of the private sector and central government.

By far the worst were the privatised utilities. Most hide behind maddening call-centres and answer phones. Their middle-tier managers, if traced, profess not to be allowed to reveal their own direct line numbers.

Moving house gives you a spectacular view of the bureaucratic madhouse created by competition for gas and electricity, especially for anybody like me who has no contact with the previous house owner. To find out which company is providing your gas, for example, you have to ask Transco. My first half dozen calls to that self-effacing body elicited the same ratty voice saying sorry, all our advisers are busy, ring again later.

Banks and insurance companies are all far more friendly, but no more efficient. None appears to have any arrangements for communication between their many subsidiaries and divisions spread around the country (no doubt in the interests of efficiency). So you have to communicate your change of address to each division. Even this doesn't get all the junk mail sent to your new address. The junk mail eventually catches up, and then you have to ask if it really is junk mail, or the real thing; unfortunately this is not immediately obvious, because so many computer records look like junk mail anyway.

So, for my money, councils knock spots of them all.

Will Werry

Chair, CIPFA-CJC (Competitive Joint Committee)

Welsh überalternative

Your editorial on überinspectors (LGC, 15 February) would have been enriched by mention of the alternative in Wales - no ironic over-layer of inspection here but stringent self-assessment incorporating all the existing inputs, including the views of audit.

Sandy Blair

Director, WLGA

Governance fails the public

Labour Party chairman Charles Clarke is right to call for voters to be connected to local services 'more directly' (LGC, 8 February). It is now widely accepted that a gulf exists between the governed and their governors and 'politics as usual' does nothing to address this problem.

Referendums on council tax and other issues of local democracy are only part of the story. Politicians at both local and national level need to come up with more imaginative ways of engaging the public and devices such as citizen-initiated referendums, citizens' juries and citizens' scrutiny committees are viable ways.

Peter Facey

Director, New Politics Network

Attractive to graduates

The notion that local government is not an attractive career (LGC, 15 February) is certainly not borne out by our experience in Wigan. For the past three years, the council has run a very successful graduate recruitment programme. The last time we advertised we received some 500 completed applications.

Each year we take on five or six graduates - from a remarkably wide range of disciplines - and each year we are delighted by their calibre.

It's a win-win situation; they get the chance to be fast-tracked, quickly picking up a wide range of skills, while we get intelligent and creative young people at a cost we can afford.

Frank Costello

Deputy chief executive, Wigan MBC

Beware complacency

The title of Tom Peters' work In search of excellence (LGC, 8 February) implies excellence is something to be pursued, but may never be reached. I fear Mel Usher of the Improvement & Development Agency is missing the point.

Anyone who listens to a guru or reads a book and blindly follows the advice given, without considering the context, is a fool. Mr Usher considers there are no management truths that hold good today, tomorrow and forever. Mr Usher is 100% wrong. The problem that most have encountered is complacency. The truly excellent organisation is one that sets its sight on being excellent in all respects.

An excellent organisation is one that is considered excellent all of the time, and one that, when times are really tough, is still a great organisation in every respect.

Mr Usher is right when he says that to be excellent you have to be consistent. You have to consistently get better. If you believe you have achieved excellence, then you will never get there.

Rob Roberts

Consultant, Yell Group

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