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LGC-LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Diverting the drive ...
Diverting the drive

With the TUC conference taking place, there is a huge debate about the role of the private sector in public services.

We believe this debate is in danger of diverting attention from the public sector's own plans for change.

The Local Government Association has been working with eight organisations from across the public sector and beyond to look at practical ways in which local services can be improved. At a conference next week we will be launching a survey suggesting we need a more sophisticated dialogue on how to implement real change.

This is part of a wide-ranging initiative by the LGA and public sector partners to prove we have the ideas and drive to deliver the results people need.

Brian Briscoe

Chief executive, Local Government Association

Running to stand still

The Institute for Public Policy Research report is spot on to raise the question of the sustainability of the teaching profession (LGC, 7 September).

The warning echoes concerns I have been expressing on behalf of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers for many years. Put simply, the three crucial problems are pay, workload and pupil discipline. It is gratifying that more people are coming to realise this and support the NAS/UWT. Unfortunately, it seems the government will be the last to be convinced.

The institute's report is absolutely right to focus on the increased demand for teachers. The government's complacency in quoting the 12,000 additional teachers compared to 1984 constitutes a non-response to the crisis over supply.

The report rightly reminds the government that the increasing demand for teachers must call forth a much more convincing response from ministers than the country has received so far.

Nigel de Gruchy,

General secretary, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers

Step into the real world

The 2005 e-government deadline is unrealistic. The target date is a noose around the neck of every council.

The harsh reality is fewer than a third of British councils are even using direct credit for paying rent allowances to private tenants - let alone being anywhere near the adoption of full e-business.

The majority of councils have neither the knowledge nor the resources to evaluate the potential of online services. Those who are attempting to create a seamless electronic trading environment are faced with overwhelming challenges. It is time for the government to take a reality check.

But there are ways councils can take up electronic communication at a pace that matches their internal processes and the speed the public is adopting the technology. Colchester BC, for example, has introduced technology that allows it to dispatch documents via fax or email, depending on the preference of the receiver. Such small steps will help councils witness the benefits of e-business first hand, while the cost savings can only provide further compelling evidence that this is the right way forward.

While online initiatives should be encouraged within councils, let's not ask them to run before they can walk. There are solutions available to replace selected areas of operation, providing immediate benefits, without the need for wholesale change. Embracing such solutions will bring about the cultural change needed for the next stage of development - small steps on the road to full e-government.

Adrian Stafford-Jones

Managing director, Albany Software

Keeping up with the Joneses

The impact of devolution on the process of government in Wales has been remarkable.

The combination of a devolved Executive, subject to the scrutiny of an elected Assembly, and a small number of wholly unitary councils has produced challenges and opportunities unique in Britain.

As a consequence, the Welsh Local Government Association is in the process of reviewing itself. Before devolution, the Association was free to concentrate on policy development for local government. Latterly its capacity to lead change has been reduced by the efforts needed to keep up with modernisation.

From an Assembly point of view, the association is seen as a powerful player whose potential to secure the compliance of local government is vital to effective delivery of government policy. To our member councils, it is in danger of being seen as just an agency of the Assembly.

The association has been extremely effective in influencing the new governance of Wales, but if it is to maintain that influence, it must change.

This week, a consultative paper has been circulated to all councils setting out the findings of the review and proposing new arrangements for the association.

At the same time, there are proposals to enhance local government's drive for improvement and develop a more focused relationship with the Local Government Association.

Sandy Blair

Director, Welsh Local Government Association

It's a butterfly's life

I am not as impressed as Keith Handley (LGC, 7 September) was with Kevin Lavery's move from Newcastle 'back to the private sector'.

Looking at Mr Lavery's career in LGC's People, I am amazed he has been anywhere long enough to find the toilets.

How does the butterfly syndrome among public service top brass help develop local social inclusiveness and public faith in the system? How are long-term plans delivered and how is accountability measured?

David Coleman

Pembury, Kent

Pay the price

It was no great surprise to read your front page article on pay increases for Scottish chief executives (LGC, 7 September). My experience is:

- The role of chief executives in local government has changed markedly over the past 10 years

- The calibre of people required to fill these roles is greater than ever

- The supply of candidates to fill these complex roles is 'narrowing'

- The reputation of local government and the public sector in general is worsening, and thus the sector's reputation as an employer is becoming 'less attractive'

- In order to fill these jobs, we are fishing in a national (by which I mean UK wide - and increasingly international) pool, rather than just a particular locality. This means we are looking at national pay levels, rather than local pay levels.

I agree with Dave Clark's position on this issue. Different councils face different challenges, have different ambitions, different cultures, different financial contexts and are at different stages of evolution.

It is no longer appropriate to set pay rates simply using some arbitrary national system. The modernised local government world is much more complex than this, and the need to find, attract and, above all, retain top talent of the highest calibre far too urgent.

Hamish Davidson

Partner, and head of executive search & selection PricewaterhouseCoopers

Courting the kangaroos

The proposed new Ofsted inspection system potentially heralds a much more sensible approach than the current model. The involvement of the entire school community is clearly a major step in the right direction, provided it involves a totally open process.

Under no circumstances must it become a licence for uninformed private criticism, otherwise it will be no more than a whingers charter. If heads and their staff feel the new system is no better than a kangaroo court it will be fatally flawed from day one.

David Hart

General secretary,

National Association of Head Teachers

A woman's work . . .

Proposed changes to the education system could mean a step back towards a time when boys and girls received completely different kinds of education.

Though I welcome the white paper's emphasis on maximising the range of subject choices available, proposals to increase the number of specialist schools and introduce new vocational GCSEs could lead to greater differences in the education and careers of boys and girls.

Outdated ideas about what is 'women's work' or 'men's work' seem to have far too much influence on the subject choices young people make.

We won't see more male nurses or more female IT workers without the active promotion of non-traditional choices. The government needs to

work closely with schools to ensure all courses are promoted in ways that encourage young people to question stereotypical choices.

Jenny Watson, deputy chair,

Equal Opportunities Commission

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