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LGC-LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Measure for measure ...
Measure for measure

Local government minister Nick Raynsford's indication that top councils will be rewarded with radical freedoms from Whitehall (LGC, 19 October) is good news.

Councils with the passion and ability to improve must be allowed to realise their full potential. Earned autonomy will allow councils to innovate and experiment.

Clearly there will need to be some work on how such a scheme could operate, especially around how performance will be measured.

Comparisons between councils are very difficult - no area is identical to another. Ideally, each council should be required to identify a range of performance measures that reflect the main issues of local concern. Through a process similar to that adopted for public service agreements, the government could legitimately ensure national priorities are properly reflected within these measures.

Overall, from what we have heard so far, the white paper appears to be a step forward. Local government should embrace the opportunities on offer.

Sir Robin Wales (LAB)

Leader, Newham LBC

Sticking together

Having heard Nick Raynsford's speech on the white paper on local government and the comment from the Local Government Association (LGC, 19 October), you may be interested in ITNet's view.

Like the LGA, we welcome Mr Raynsford's speech. As a private sector supplier working with a number of councils, we recognise the need for all councils to deliver top-quality services and provide strong community leadership. We are also delighted the white paper addresses public/private partnerships.

A key criteria for a new model of partnerships would need to promote a 'togetherness' between both parties in which public and private sector suppliers are equal. Commitment to projects needs to be equal with performance penalties written out of the contract.

Our experience tells us the higher the level of councillor involvement, the more successful the partnership becomes. The key to the model of partnerships is to ensure both parties understand and share each other's objectives.

Of course, the ultimate aim of the partnership is to deliver effective results in the services councils provide.

Paul Johnson

Director of sales and marketing, ITNet

The great debate

I usually go along with pretty much everything Tony Elliston says, and see what he means about the scrutiny role being a redundant appendage (LGC, 26 October).

But I do not support Mr Elliston entirely over auditors having no useful role, although once again I know what he means. If Mr Elliston manages to get a debate started about what auditors are really for he will have performed a great service.

For my money, the universally accepted role of auditors is to tell other people things they do not already know. To do this, auditors have special powers, and auditees and taxpayers give them the necessary resources fairly willingly.

I doubt if there would be the same willingness to pay auditors merely to

make their own judgments about things anybody sufficiently interested can find

out for themselves. Judgments are 10

a penny.

If local government auditors are going to be required to make judgments about the performance of others, so be it, but this turns auditing into a quite different job. What does it take to do such a job to the satisfaction of all the people whose performance is being publicly judged ?

My own antennae tell me most auditors are sensitive to the dangers of this job, and that they do it surprisingly well. But the role of auditors does need a good trenchant debate, instead of being dismissed as a subject unsuitable for polite conversation.

So thank you, Mr Elliston. I look forward to your next comments on the subject.

Will Werry

Chair, competition joint committee, CIPFA

Mutiny over scrutiny

In his dismissal of overview and scrutiny (LGC, 26 October), Tony Elliston seems to have overlooked the fact the Local Government Act 2000 does give overview/ scrutiny the role of policy development.

This is a proactive, forward-looking, think-tank role, and not just the 'reviewing and assessing' inertia he seems to imply.

Mark Palmer

Southampton

All over bar the shouting

The announcement that 'the Donnygate scandal is over' (LGC, 19 October) has come as a great surprise to many of us here, not least the police, who have a number of major trials coming up.

It is the dearest wish of politicians to 'draw a line under Donnygate'. But the Donnygate scandal is merely a sideshow to the real issue of a corrupt political culture corroding the body politic. I made a list at the outset of the Donnygate investigation of people who had received or deployed favours, and I do not know the half of it.

The problem was not down to a few rogues - I believe much of what went on was widely known, and winked at because the people who should have done something about it were themselves compromised.

DS Graham Johnson, the man in charge of Operation Danum, said: 'There's a lot that is criminal - we will deal with that. There's a lot more that is just plain wrong, and that's down to the Labour Party.'

Sadly, the Labour Party has done nothing. To date, there has been no proper investigation, locally or externally, into Donnygate and no attempt by those charged with leading the council forward to discover how and why it went so wrong.

The Donnygate scandal has implications across the country. Despite a manic attempt to dress all news emanating from the council as good news, people in Doncaster have found corruption and bad services go hand in hand.

Perhaps while at White Hart Lane, [new chief executive] David Marlow might reflect on one of his previous jobs with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation committee. You do not get reconciliation until the truth has been fully investigated and acknowledged.

Ron Rose

Doncaster

More than a mouthful

As somebody who has been battling for ordinary people to play a part in local politics for 30 years, I was delighted to hear local government minister Nick Raynsford's announcement that councils should be 'standing up for and empowering communities' (LGC, 19 October). I hope councils will recognise the role plain English can play in this task.

When one council advertised a 'Meeting of the community safety and neighbourhood safety/human resources spokesperson decision group meeting as a sub-committee' last summer, it was not just a case of having a good laugh about the chief executive swallowing a dictionary.

Instead, local residents got the impression this group was only for councillors used to the bureaucracy. It was not until the council switched back to the title of 'area board' people began reclaiming their rightful role in democracy.

Chrissie Maher

Founder Director, Plain English Campaign

Closed friends

The assistant secretary of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Howard Price, has accused the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of District Councils of being stand-offish. The Local Government Association, he says, is more open (LGC, 26 October).

The LGA is certainly friendly and open, as was the old AMA. But with only one-third of the resources of the LGA, it was severely limited in the matters upon which it could consult professional bodies.

The old council associations set up the LGA for two reasons. One was to create a single voice for local government. The other was the more effective use of resources.

Rodney Brooke

Former secretary,

Association of Metropolitan Authorities

Animal rescue

The front cover photo of the flock of sheep stranded in a field during the recent floods, (LGC, 26 October) served to highlight the importance of councils ensuring animal welfare is included in their response to emergencies.

Last year, the RSPCA dealt with cases

in which entire herds of cattle and flocks

of sheep were drowned. Inspectors were involved in providing feed to animals abandoned by evacuated owners.

Similarly during the foot-and-mouth crisis RSPCA staff provided helped farmers and set up a brokerage scheme.

The society is responding to the Cabinet Office consultation document on emergency planning. We will be making the point that councils must work with other agencies to ensure the impact of emergencies on animals is minimised.

No one wants to see a repetition of last year's human and animal disasters.

Joceline Tran

Local government campaigns officer, RSPCA

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