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LGC - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Throwing down the gauntlet ...
Throwing down the gauntlet

Sir Jeremy Beecham claims I am unduly dismissive of the local government white paper (LGC, 25 January). He is wrong.

Defenders of the paper must answer the questions I posed (LGC, 18 January):

-- If democracy thrives when a higher level of government determines 75% of local spending, why does the government not transfer 75% of its financial power to the European Union?

-- Where is the evidence that counters the research carried out for the Layfield Committee, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the House of Commons environment sub-committee and the Fabian Society? This large body of research and analysis shows local accountability and responsiveness are linked to tax-raising power

-- Where in the world is there a dynamic local authority exercising effective community leadership in the absence of reasonable tax raising powers?

-- Why is the public perception of UK local government on the slide? Is it not because councils no longer have the power to make a big difference to people's lives?

If the white paper is on the right track it should be an easy task for ministers to ask their civil servants to write a short article for LGC refuting these four points.

Prof Robin Hambleton

Associate dean, faculty for the built environment, University of the West of England

Critical friend

I was concerned to see a quote from me on the front page (LGC, 25 January).

While I would be one of the first to admit the public service agreement process has taken longer than I hoped, I would not seek to openly criticise government departments for lack of progress on targets. Rather,

I would like to think there is room for improvement on both sides.

I did not say I had not seen the Department of Work & Pensions since the general election. I simply stated the department was newly formed and there had been a high turnover of staff. This made it more difficult to establish an ongoing dialogue and make good progress.

To counteract this we have built up relationships with the Employment Service. We soon hope to produce results which will provide clear evidence to the Department of Work & Pensions of how we need to go forward on freedoms and flexibilities.

We must concentrate more on the positives and move on. While we could all think of ways of doing things better, Middlesbrough Council is totally committed to the process and will make it work.

Jan Sinclair

Corporate strategy manager, Middlesbrough Council

What lies beneath

ICL's Dave Denison was right to point out that our report did not conclude outsourcing costs more (LGC, 25 January).

Our research finds those councils which commit significantly to outsourcing ICT services spend 25% more per user on ICT than those which do not. The explanation may be that outsourcing does cost more, but there are other possible explanations.

Unfortunately, he goes on to counter a point we did not make - that outsourcing does not bring benefits to users. Data from 21,000 users in 133 UK councils shows there is no difference in user satisfaction levels between in-house and outsourced services. This, of course, does not imply individual councils do not experience direct benefits from outsourcing.

Both these questions require more research. The Society of IT Management will be doing further analysis in order to ascertain what does lie behind this data.

Martin Greenwood

Programme manager, Insight,

Society of IT Management

Nothing but the best

We recently carried out a journal evaluation survey and I thought you would be pleased to know LGC was rated as one of the best.

The journal evaluation questionnaire was sent to department managers asking for comments about each journal they received and whether or not the reader wanted to continue receiving it.

Comments received about LGC include: 'very useful'; 'a core journal'; and 'one of the best journals we get'.

Journals like LGC helps us stay informed of the key issues in local government.

Catherine Holland

Acting assistant director, business services,

Dudley MBC

Staking a claim

I am flattered Margaret Eaton portrays the Improvement & Development Agency's view of Bradford City MDC's leadership as a description of herself (LGC, 25 January). She quotes from a report compiled when the council was under Labour control.

IDeA praised the council for approaching modernisation from a public perspective, for its commitment to community involvement and for the 'impressive' development of 2020 Vision which Ms Eaton publicly derided at its launch yet now accepts as the key document underpinning council policy.

Bradford is the focus of investment because of the efforts of Labour. The incumbent administration has delivered no investment that does not originate in Labour policy. We did not get everything right but we are learning.

The council's existing leadership was heavily criticised in the report from Lord Ouseley (LGC, 21 September 2001). Instead of trying to claim credit for the work of others, perhaps Bradford's Conservatives could learn from the mistakes they have made slavishly following Tory dogma.

Ian Greenwood

Leader of the Labour group, Bradford City MDC

White paper vs grey area

I would like to thank LGC for its continued and detailed coverage of issues in Wales. But I would point out that your report on the differences between the English local government white paper and the Welsh proposals was somewhat over-enthusiastic (LGC, 25 January).

As your report recognises, the Welsh paper will not be published until 1 March and what you reported in the LGC was a wish list of proposals from the Welsh Local Government Association. We would obviously like to see all these demands included in the forthcoming Welsh Assembly document, but they have neither accepted nor rejected them at this stage.

The exception to this is accurately reported in your article - the performance assessment framework for England is not included in the Assembly draft guidance on the Wales Programme for Improvement.

Steve Thomas

Head, corporate affairs,

Welsh Local Government Association

Capital expenditure

The budget adviser for the mayor of London, Neale Coleman, claims the Association of London Government is misleading people over Ken Livingstone's proposals for a 35% hike in his part of the council tax (LGC, 18 January). This smacks of desperation.

Mr Coleman tries to hide behind the excuse that the boroughs' spending makes up most of the council tax - of course it does, most of the services Londoners receive are provided by the boroughs.

This excuse suggests neither Mr Coleman nor Mr Livingstone has any defence for the mayor's unacceptable precept demands.

London boroughs have a good record for keeping any increases in their share of the council tax down to an absolute minimum. Over the past four years the average has been just 5%.

In contrast, if the mayor goes ahead with his proposal to increase his share of the council tax by 35% on top of the 23% he imposed last year, it would see him increasing his share by 65% in two years.

Mr Coleman should stop trying to mislead the people who will have to dig even deeper into their pockets to pay for the mayor's apparent inability to budget and make the best use of his resources.

Sir Robin Wales (Lab)

Chair, Association of London Government

Resigned or redesigned?

It is good to know I am still remembered as a chief executive (LGC, 18 January). I do remain a keen supporter of modernisation. However I did not 'resign after the council replaced the committee system' - I chose not to apply for the redesigned top post in a management restructure.

Sandy Blair

Director, Welsh Local Government Association

That's that then

Since leaving local government, I have been impressed by the innovative work of many pioneering councils.

But I was amused to read that my old Lambeth LBC colleague, Graham Collins, is intent on preserving the fine tradition of pedantry for which local government is famed (LGC, 18 and 25 January).

The sense of the words can be readily inferred without imposing an unnecessary 'that'. English is a vibrant language which continues to develop. And I say the same to anyone who contemplates taking me to task for starting a sentence with a conjunction.

Les Smith

Head of executive office,

Institute of Chartered Accountants

That really is that

Graham Collins' letter (LGC, 18 January) reminds me why I escaped from committee services.

Sioned-Mair Richards

Scrutiny adviser, Rotherham MBC

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