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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Making progress ...
Making progress

Usually we welcome the chance to read about the good and challenging things happening in local government, but your front page (LGC, 11 January) left us in

some doubt about the veracity of some of the other stories.

We cannot comment on the Ofsted report as it has not yet been published. What is clear is that much of your criticism is lifted from the previous report and much has improved since then.

We are the first to admit we made insufficient progress in improving education services during the year after the last inspection, mainly because we were unable to find a partner for our proposed outsourcing at that time.

However, in April we entered into a strategic management partnership with Capita. The inspection came too soon after the start of that partnership for us to be able to assess the full benefits. We are nevertheless sure this arrangement is beginning to deliver substantial improvements in quality and performance.

In other areas, your comments are also inaccurate or out of date. Far from rejecting the Improvement & Development Agency's involvement, we welcomed their help and the subsequent peer review concluded: 'Much of what Haringey is doing deserves appropriate acknowledgement and praise

. . . but there is still much to do.'

We know we have much to do to build up public confidence in our services, but we are making progress and believe we have a solid foundation on which to build a council our communities can be proud of.

George Meehan and David Warwick

Leader (Lab) and chief executive, Haringey LBC

Tips for the top

Just because an ambitious international appointment fails, it hardly means there is nobody else in the country with the ability to undertake the Birmingham chief executive job (LGC, 11 January).

It is a bit of an indictment on all the other chief executives, a small number of whom made the Birmingham shortlist.

However, three issues come to mind. First, perhaps some chief executives

are staying put until the issue of elected mayors becomes clearer - does the government want political appointments

or doesn't it?

Second, we all know a chief executive's role is complex and demanding so, at the very least, the higher salaries now being offered reflect this.

Third, we still talk about chief executive 'burn out' as though it is something to be expected. We really need to think more about the support infrastructure around chief executives and how to resolve their own worklife balance.

I am pleased your report picked up on the work the Society of Personnel Officers is carrying out with the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and other

bodies to address executive-level skills shortages. This is very important for the future of local government and necessary

if we are to combat the current recruitment issues.

We should not forget there are

already a lot of very talented individuals

in local government, and we need to

make the very top posts more attractive

to them.

Keith Handley

President, Society of Personnel Officers

Soaring salaries soured

I was pleased to see LGC acknowledging that councils can no longer take the recruitment and retention of a chief executive for granted (LGC, 11 January).

The language used in the headline, however, was a bit odd - 'Salaries soar sky high'. Are they really? A private sector director with the responsibilities of the chief executive of Birmingham or Sheffield City Council would laugh at the idea. Share options alone would account for more.

But I would agree with Tim Rothwell's view - perhaps we do not have a skills shortage, but a mature realisation that the job is not always very rewarding. Often this is not about wages as much as the perception that complexities of local government are simply not worth it.

If I was a relatively low-paid council worker reading this, I suspect I would have little sympathy. But chief executives are like the rest of us - they want a job worth doing. Any industry loses managerial leaders at its peril. It must be time for local government to at least think about the issue.

David Clark

Director general, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers

That's that, then

Whatever has happened to the word 'that' these days? I was always given to understand that if a sentence needs to be read more than once to obtain the meaning, this must mean that the sentence is inadequate. That the LGC is an offender is something that I find regrettable. Some examples that I have identified (LGC, 21 December 2001) are typical of those appearing over past months.

I have inserted the missing 'that':

Page 1: '. . . it is likely that the final set . . .'

Page 2: 'The survey found that 20% of councils thought that the target would be 'difficult to achieve' (The survey did not find the councils)

Page 4:'Two thirds of respondents agreed that an elected mayor would make it easier' (Respondents could not agree an elected mayor although they might wish to agree with an elected mayor)

Page 7:'But there is a real fear that the framework will be used as a rod'

Page 8: 'I understand that the chief planner is now enjoying his new career' (Did the writer understand the chief planner?)

Page 9: 'It has been acknowledged that councils cannot be treated like the NHS' and 'the government has understood that its own success depends upon it' (The government no doubt readily understands its own success).

I suggest the LGC be invited to admit that it is the proper use of the word that that makes reading LGC that much easier.

Graham Collins

Committee secretary, Wandsworth LBC

A comedy of manners

Unpopular though it might be with some sections of your readership I found myself nodding in agreement and smiling as I read Tony Elliston's item on epidemic insolence (LGC, 21 December). In between swiping at architects and planners he made a very important point.

While organisations may not deliberately set out to nurture dysfunction, this is often what happens. Dysfunction is part of the natural order of things and in many cases it arises through our efforts to transform organisations. However, the trick is to manage it, not ignore it.

Both the organisations Mr Elliston refers to are clearly sick, although to what extent is unclear. That such senior executives passively presided over such proceedings is, however, not a good omen. And while both organisations are probably failing to manage the dysfunction, they no doubt have glossy brochures espousing values such as treating staff with dignity.

As in this case, the uncomfortable truth is that funny stories often come with less than funny implications. But whether funny or not, stories can provide a powerful means of facilitating organisational learning and transformation. Hopefully this is one story that is not lost on us.

Chris Keady

Head, exchequer services, Brent LBC

Dirty work cleanly done

Your light-hearted report in Toulmin Smith's diary last week no doubt makes entertaining copy, but it also serves to highlight an important issue (LGC, 21 December 2001). Many principal best value authorities tend to pay only lip-service to consultation with councils.

Guidance issued under the Local Government Act 1999 makes it clear that best value authorities are expected to embrace the concept of partnership with other public bodies, including councils. There is a statutory obligation to consult with other best value authorities when carrying out best value reviews.

Too often the opportunities to improve services and make savings are lost when proper consultation with councils goes down the pan. The partnership between Llansawel Community Council and Carmarthenshire CC may not seem much to get excited about, but the councils concerned should be congratulated for a job well done.

James Sheerin

Partner, local government, Hodgson Maggiore

Size is everything

Why are so many people stuck on the counties vs districts argument when it comes to the regional debate? If districts are too small and counties too big, perhaps we should look at what comes in between.

Other public services - the police, for example - in this part of the country are county authorities but operate through divisions larger than district council areas. These incidentally line up roughly with the social services areas.

Looking at what would suit the public best might lead us to organising ourselves to meet their needs. Those who pit counties against districts clearly want to see the argument run and run. Surely we can do better than that.

Irene Macdonald (LAB)

Leader, King's Lynn and West Norfolk BC

Correction

In LGC last week, we failed to mention that Chris Oulton, head of UK institutional business development, works for Investec Asset Management.

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