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LGC-LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Case for the defence pt 1 ...
Case for the defence pt 1

In response to your front page article (LGC, 2 November) let us list some of the reasons we think Derby City Council is not failing and why it is not a candidate for any type of intervention.

Secretary of state for health Alan Milburn within the last two weeks has named Derby's social services as one of the top 10 in the country over the past three years.

The council's housing service has been awarded three stars in a recent best value inspection of private sector housing.

Our external auditor's management letter for 1999/2000 said the council had improved with 'sound financial management and good progress with regard to best value and modernisation'.

Last year we invited the Improvement & Development Agency to carry out a peer review. In the report George Krawiec, the leader of the review team, said: 'We believe Derby is an above average authority.'

In February 2001 we received a poor Ofsted report. It was by no means the worst Ofsted report issued in the last two years and fell short of the intervention you implied.

We have since worked to address the issues raised. The minister for school standards Stephen Timms said in a recent letter he was 'pleased the action plan addresses the majority of recommendations made in Ofsted report'.

Far from being a failing authority, Derby is above average and striving to improve.

Robert Jones (Lab) and Ray Cowlishaw

Leader and chief executive, Derby City Council

Case for the defence pt 2

Just what game is LGC playing? Your front page lead (LGC, 2 November) opens with the statement:'The government is drawing up a hit list of councils it believes have problems severe enough to merit intervention.'

The article ends with a government spokesman effectively dismissing the statement as speculation.

We are not aware of any impending government intervention and are most definitely not a failing council.

I have spoken to reliable, senior government and Audit Commission sources who are as surprised about the story as we are.

Local government is a hugely demanding place for all who work in it and misplaced articles like yours do nothing other than demoralise.

Chris Bocock

Chief executive, Malvern Hills DC

Case for the defence pt 3

I am writing to correct the misleading impression given by your front page item (LGC, 2 November).

Hillingdon LBC has indeed had a corporate governance inspection, the report of which is due to be published

very shortly.

Unfortunately, the report's findings remain confidential until its publication, but I can assure you there is no suggestion in the report Hillingdon is either a 'failing authority' or that it may require intervention measures to be introduced. On the contrary, the general sense of the report is that Hillingdon is an improving and progressive authority.

It is extremely unhelpful that your item has been written in a way that leads the reader to assume - the no-smoke-without-fire principal - Hillingdon must be the one of those west London councils which are 'of concern to the government'.

I need to put that record straight. There is neither smoke, nor fire in Hillingdon. Corporate governance has been an excellent tool by which we have been able to measure our organisational health and development.

Dorian Leatham

Chief executive, Hillingdon LBC

Case for the defence pt 4

You quote the deputy leader of Hillingdon LBC as saying Haringey is 'adrift' financially (LGC, 2 November).

This is untrue. For the record, we have a balanced budget and reserves of£10m; we have recently invested£3m in our front-line services and do not expect to raise the council tax in the next financial year.

We do not expect intervention from government - our recent peer review by the Improvement & Development Agency found we are making good progress in our financial and performance management arrangements. I suspect many in local government wish they shared our robust financial position.

David Warwick

Chief executive, Haringey LBC

A matter of trust

There was a certain irony to Conservative Local Government Association spokesman Peter Chalke's letter (LGC, 26 October).

First, the Nord Anglia contract at Hackney LBC was not terminated as described in his letter. The contract was awarded in July 1999 to run for three years and will meet its natural end in July 2002 at which point the new education trust will take over. Second, Mr Chalke criticised the running of education in Hackney, blaming poor management on the 'woeful Labour council'.

Mr Chalke could do with some history lessons. Labour took outright control of the council in May this year, after an interregnum of five years where the council had no overall control.

The non-profit making trust that will manage education in Hackney will have a 14-member board. The trust board members will have an independent chair who will be appointed by the secretary of state for education and skills in consultation with the council.

Together with central government we have worked to ensure stakeholders can feel confident about the future of the education service here in Hackney.

Jules Pipe (Lab)

Leader, Hackney LBC

Floored by funding

Given the way health secretary Alan Milburn chose to focus on performance in his speech to the national social services conference last month (LGC, 26 October), it is hardly surprising councils have been looking around at where they are in the league tables, why they are there, and the validity of the judgments made about them.

Is it really about management and organisation? Is it to do with funding? Or is it to do with a complex series of factors?

The need for greater appreciation of the extreme budget pressures facing almost every council has been demonstrated by this year's two budget surveys. The impact on aspirations and performance is real.

If the average level of social service budgets has grown to 10% (£900m) it follows something fundamental is wrong. Simplistic assumptions about regional or type of council differences do not stand up.

Different political approaches to level of budget setting above the standard spending assessment, to overspending, to the balance between children services and health-related expenditure on older people, all impact directly on individual council performance.

It may not be good enough for councils to blame all on levels of resourcing from government, but neither can the flawed nature of funding personal social services be put to one side when performance league tables come round.

Brian Parrott

Past chair, resources committee,

Association of Directors of Social Services

Under the microscope

Tony Elliston takes a far too narrow and negative view of what scrutiny can achieve (LGC, 19 October). There is a role for scrutiny to perform in ensuring executive decisions and policies are delivering what they aim to and there is no doubt this role sits alongside other checks and balances imposed on councils.

But there is, additionally, a significant and valuable opportunity for scrutiny to fill a void within modernised structures - namely the ability to give in-depth consideration and thought to the development of policy.

If scrutiny really is viewed as a 'redundant appendage', as Mr Elliston contends, why is local government being entrusted with responsibility for scrutinising the NHS and why are so many authorities, like Staffordshire CC, working so hard to make scrutiny succeed?

Rodger Mann

Scrutiny manager, Staffordshire CC

The worm turns

While appreciating the tone of the article I would like to respond to Mr Elliston's comments on auditors being 'inadequates' (LGC, 19 October).

I would rather be an auditor than a consultant any day. While not wishing to tarnish all consultants with the same brush many people have the view:

- They attempt to sell ideas no one wants in the first place

- Their only successful ideas are stolen from audit reports.

As an auditor I appreciate I have not used any original thought in responding, but my energy is limited and I need to spend the rest of the day obstructing progress.

Richard Howroyd

Chief internal auditor, Swindon BC

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