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LGC-LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Race against time ...
Race against time

This week's events in Glasgow have been an unfortunate reminder that, while the general election may be over, the difficulties with asylum are not.

Over the past four years Kent has seen the number of asylum seekers entering the county grow from 50 to 12,000 a year. Undoubtedly the dispersal system is now bringing some help to counties like Kent.

However, the key to the situation is the asylum appeal process. While efforts are being made to deal with applications more quickly, more asylum seekers are simply being granted 'extended leave to remain'.

At the moment, Kent is responsible for some 7,000 asylum seekers, including 4,000 who were dispersed around the country prior to April 2000.

We are grateful to those councils that have helped to make the dispersal system work. But we ask the government to speed up the asylum appeal process - that is what is really damaging race relations.

Cllr Sandy Bruce-Lockhart (Con)

Leader, Kent County Council

Wight wash

So Mr Quoroll, the Isle of Wight chief executive, is 'technically unwell' (LGC, 13 July) in order to head for an early retirement at 53 so as to remove a thorn from the ruling coalition's side.

Is this the right image to portray to the public on how to manage managers in local government? Can you imagine Bob Kiley having to leave the London tube in this way? It is time to move local government into the modern face of business.

dudley swain

Dunchideock, Exeter

The great blue yonder

Summer whimsy seems to have affected Rallings and Thrasher's headline (LGC, 3 August). The article's standfirst reads: 'With the Liberal Democrats hot on their tails, will the Conservative Party be able to maintain its number-two spot?'

An accompanying table shows the results of the July by-elections in which the Conservatives held all their seats and won five more including three from the Liberal Democrats.

Far from being on the tails of the Conservatives the Liberal Democrats are falling further behind. In June's local elections, the Conservatives made a net gain of 120 seats while the Liberal Democrats lost 80 seats.

In my council, Tandridge DC, the Liberal Democrats lost heavily in last year's district elections. In June they lost their last county seat in the area and the Conservatives now hold all those county seats.

Chasing the blues? It would be more appropriate at this time of the year to say the Liberal Democrats are sinking into the deep blue sea.

Gordon Keymer

Leader, Conservative Group,

Local Government Association

Raising the red tape

Having underspent its planned budget by£6bn this year, the government should move more quickly to enable councils to invest strategically in their communities.

Councils have a far better understanding of local needs than Whitehall. Central and local government agree the existing capital finance system prevents councils from developing strategies that meet local needs.

Stephen Byers promised Local Government Association members the government would cut back bureaucracy.

Enabling local government to tackle local issues on a strategic basis must be preferable to the red tape which comes with central government controls.

We raised this issue in a meeting with chancellor Gordon Brown and will continue to press for an early draft of the Bill needed to establish a new financial system.

The stakes are high. It is the capacity to respond to the needs of local people that will help to revive their faith in local democracy, and help the government deliver improved public services.

Sir Jeremy Beecham

Chairman, Local Government Association

Number crunching

In his analysis of the Watford mayoral referendums, Tom Davidson is nothing if not predictable (LGC, 27 July).

Given his interpretation of the turnout as it relates to local democracy, it would be refreshing to hear he feels some sympathy towards the 83.75% of the electorate who did not vote for him in his Haringey ward.

Ian Parker

Head, communications,

New Local Government Network

Liberties with liberty

The Government's authoritarian instincts were highlighted again with the introduction of curfews for teenagers (LGC, 3 August). The policy runs rough-shod over the civil liberties of young people, it is unworkable and stems from the persistent theme that Whitehall still knows best.

Child curfews are wholly inappropriate in a civilised society. Collective punishment is always wrong, but is especially unethical when applied to teenagers.

Curfews are also unworkable. The police will always have better things to do than rounding up youngsters who may just be walking home from Scouts.

The government will no doubt step up the pressure on councils to use their illiberal orders, but I hope councillors stand firm and refuse to compromise the liberty of our children.

If the government want to do something really useful to help fight crime, they should promote the acceptable behaviour contracts scheme pioneered by Islington LBC. Given the resources and the freedom to innovate, councils are more than capable of producing imaginative, effective policies to tackle juvenile crime.

Chris Clarke

Leader, Liberal Democrat Group,

Local Government Association

Caring not killing

The report into killings by three men with mental illness highlights failures of mental health services (LGC, 27 July). But we must not forget the thousands of people whose stories never hit the headlines - people who harm themselves or are denied the chance to lead fulfilling lives.

After decades as a Cinderella service, mental health needs to be made a high priority for the government. But the focus must not be solely on preventing the small number of killings each year. The priority must be to provide a service which meets the needs of all those with enduring mental health problems.

This requires a long-term commitment from both central and local government - to listen to users of services and fund and deliver what they say they need.

The government has made important steps in the right direction with the National Service Framework, but there are concerns that this will not be delivered as other areas take priority. If the only thing that makes mental health the government's primary concern is killings, the focus of attention will always be in the wrong place.

Alison Cobb

Policy officer, Mind

Vote for a change

As strong proponents of proportional representation, the Liberal Democrats in Lewisham LBC wholeheartedly support extending a proportional system to local government. However, we do have reservations about the additional member system being proposed by the council's Labour group and would prefer to see the single transferable vote introduced.

Both are a significant improvement on the current system as they give more proportional results and ensure the council would not be dominated by a party which secures only a minority of the vote.

Yet the STV system allows voters to choose between candidates, not just between parties. It would lead to a mix of parties being represented in most wards, thus giving most a councillor they actually voted for. There would be no need for tactical voting as votes would be transferable.

AMS suffers by having two classes of councillors - constituency and list. By having no ward responsibilities, list councillors could be seen as being less in touch with their constituencies.

Still having wards means the lists will continue to be a hugely disproportionate and would remain closed, meaning the parties, not voters, would choose who was elected.

STV would not be perfectly proportional, but would improve the situation and give voters more choice.

Cathy Priddey

Leader, Liberal Democrats, Lewisham LBC

Are you being served?

The messages being received by teachers unions over the issue of school privatisation are confusing and contradictory.

It is high time prime minister Tony Blair realised the enormous damage being done to the morale of public servants by the constant emphasis on the need to involve the private sector in improving services.

In education we have made progress on raising standards and on improving so-called failing schools. Furthermore, where comparisons can be made, they point to significant additional cost being incurred by the involvement of the private sector.

If all schools were given, for example, the resources which were allocated to city technology colleges, together with the other flexibilities they enjoy on the national curriculum, they would be able to deliver even higher standards. But I do not know which schools would then cater for the seriously disaffected pupils.

Nigel de Gruchy

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

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