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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Festive faith falters ...
Festive faith falters

Your caption about the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi states this is 'the start of the Indian new year' (LGC, 3 May). This is completely wrong.

India has many people of different religions living in it - Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. Each of these religions has a new year at a different time. The majority of India is made up of Hindus (82%), with Muslims at 12% while Sikhs are 2%.

Vaisakhi is a Sikh festival, so to suggest this is the new year of the whole of India and its peoples is misleading.

Piyush Fatania.

Senior auditor, Northamptonshire CC

Making the virtual real

Steve Baker's article on the fragility of e-government (LGC, 3 May) highlights community training as a key skill issue related to electronic service delivery.

Mr Baker is an invited speaker at the first e-government conference discussing how to build the people skills needed to make

e-government a reality.

The event is organised by the Employers' Organisation for local government, and takes place on 28 May. It will discuss issues of training, skills development and people management and uses for electronic service delivery. It will include contributions from John Blundell of the DTLR's local government modernisation team.

-- To book your place on Putting The People Into E-government, contact Infolog on 020 7290 0850 or email seminars@infolog.co.uk.

Dawn Chapman

Press and PR officer, Employers' Organisation

Shrouded in money

Large format advertising may be polarising planners and providing a lucrative new source of revenue for advertisers (LGC,12 April). But these so-called building shrouds are less welcome to the wider public, and over 40 MPs signed a motion against the increasing advertising clutter in our streets.

Advertisers realise the TV and press are saturated, and that people can switch off, or turn the pages if they so choose. But people cannot avoid the vast advertisements dominating their streets, and many find this objectionable.

Councils like Liverpool City Council that strike deals with advertisers will find it hard to persuade people their planning decisions are unaffected by the lure of revenue.

We are not opposed to all shroud advertisements. Those giving useful advice or which bear local historical information could complement the street scene.

Our urban streetscape is battered enough by poor design, street clutter and advertisements. The Civic Trust will continue to resist any moves to make it easier for advertising to proliferate.

Ben Webster

Policy officer, The Civic Trust

Watching the watchers

While the Association of Directors of Social Services does support the setting up of an independent commission for social care inspection, we must be aware of the further turbulence this could cause, especially for staff members recently transferred from council inspection units (LGC, 26 April).

The ADSS has long argued for rationalisation of inspections. The creation of a single body promises both this and clarity of function. Yet bringing together the two cultures and the numerous staff sub-cultures from 150 council inspection units represents a huge challenge.

There is also the importance of keeping morale high and ensuring quality inspections in the 18 months to two years it will take to set up a new commission.

It is worth pointing out that social services departments are still subject to a wide range of inspections and even without the Commission for Social Care Inspection, there are many other inspection bodies:

-- The Mental Health Act Commission

-- Health & Safety

-- District Audit

-- Joint Review.

It is expected these arrangements will be subsumed within the new system and from time to time various ad hoc groups are set up to inspect, the most recent being the Winter Emergency Strategy Team known as the WEST Team.

My current count of inspections, repeat inspections and monitoring visits over the last 18 months is now running at 16. So rationalisation is welcome and still further rationalisation is urged.

Michael Leadbetter

President, Association of Directors of Social Services

War of independence

Some have found the involvement of a charismatic, controversial and populist independent candidate in the Middlesbrough Council mayoral race difficult to classify within the traditional political set.

While the electorate of Middlesbrough appear to have warmed to Ray Mallon's plain-speaking, the pundits and political managers squirm as they try to rationalise this phenomenon. They feign surprise at the emergence of a non-aligned, community-led independent.

They have tended to portray Mr Mallon's candidacy as some kind of unhelpful intrusion and appear shocked anything so ordinary should dare to interfere in their process.

But the tradition of the independent in local government - and in Parliament - is both long and honourable. Most electors tend to be resigned to the fact political parties fight local elections, but they do not like it. They will support good independents every time - there should not be politics in local government, they say.

The average citizen would much prefer their councillors, mayors and, assembly members when they come, represent their communities and promote democratic governance. They neither want, nor understand, the concept of control as the object of elections, or that winning seats is less to do with policy and all to do with performance indicators.

The emergence of an independent candidate in Middlesbrough is not surprising - it is democratic, and, as I understand it, quite popular.

Bert Biscoe (Ind)

Cornwall CC

Through the roof

Prejudice is a nasty word. In this day and age we are supposed to be more caring and tolerant of our fellow man, yet it is clear that prejudice rears its ugly head when Nimbyism strikes.

Nimbyism - not in my back yard - hit Brent LBC recently when a solution to the ever-increasing gap between supply and demand for decent housing infuriated residents.

Permission has been granted to turn a five-storey office block into a 49-bed hostel for individuals, families and disabled persons who are on our waiting list and living in hotel accommodation.

Unfortunately it resulted in local news stories of residents fearing a sudden avalanche of drinking in the street and, of course, a drop in house prices.

Fortunately Brent councillors took the view that, since there was no legal reason for not giving it the go-ahead, the scheme was a worthy short-term way to provide decent homes.

We all want to see an end to homelessness, we want to see affordable housing and people housed properly, but we need to be realistic. It is no good saying we want these homes and hostels as long as they are not near us.

With the third highest number of people in temporary accommodation in London and 16,000 on the waiting list, it is clearly a case of biting the bullet.

We accept this may be a palliative rather than a panacea to the problem - rather like a sticking plaster. While we seek a more permanent solution to the root cause, we in Brent will look for solutions such as converting office blocks and shops into homes, both temporary and permanent.

Colin Moone

Assistant director of housing, Brent LBC

Don't fear the arbiter

I note from recent articles that both the employers and unions feel they have a strong case concerning national pay negotiations.

It surely follows both parties will have nothing to fear from invoking the arbitration procedure in the agreement instead of incurring the expense and animosity caused by industrial action?

Clive Howey

Financial services manager, Eden DC

Anti-Oldham League

The Anti-Nazi League have criticised councils where British National Party candidates were standing for not making any special arrangements to deal with potential trouble. The criticism was directed at Oldham MBC, among others, where five BNP candidates stood (LGC,

3 May).

This is absolute nonsense. In Oldham we have never worked more closely with the police than we did in preparation for last Thursday's election.

We undertook joint training of key personnel, joint risk assessment of all polling stations and count venues, joint planning of strategic and operational issues in the lead up to polling day and on the day itself.

As a consequence, many of the anticipated problems did not emerge. It would have been helpful if the Anti-Nazi League had contacted us before making such a misleading statement.

Andrew Kilburn

Chief executive, Oldham MBC

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