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OPINION - LETTERS

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Rented homes need...
Rented homes need

It is right to highlight the seeming shift in housing policy (LGC, 10 May), which is likely to signal a more pragmatic response to the vexed question of social housing from a Brown-led government.

The debate on social housing has been dominated by the issue of stock ownership and management while ignoring the growing and desperate need for more homes to rent.

The recognition by housing minister Yvette Cooper MP of the need for councils to be involved in building more homes, while long overdue, is extremely welcome.

However, the resolution is not just about directing resources and new powers to the highest performers, but also ensuring resources are directed towards areas of greatest need.

We should perhaps ask Mr Brown for greater flexibility for councils, while ensuring those who fall short on performance are supported to deliver better housing and build new council homes.

There are some excellent examples of local authorities building affordable and sustainable homes for rent.

I can think of no better solution to the housing crisis than to trust councils to get on with the job.

Paul O'Brien

Chief executive, Association for Public Service Excellence

Family focus

Your analysis (LGC, 17 May) gave an excellent insight into the difficulty councils face in the structure of services for vulnerable residents, old or young.

As an authority that reorganised these services into one families directorate, putting adult and children's care together in the process, Surrey CC has first-hand experience of the benefits of a more cohesive system.

To improve the outcome for any child, you must support the whole family. The only way this can be achieved is by bringing the services together to get a full picture of the family situation - a point made abundantly clear in the Victoria Climbié case.

Children are most vulnerable when they are going through major life changes - starting at a new school, experiencing the death of a parent, etc. The families directorate allows us to monitor these 'pinch points'.

Services for children are in multi-disciplinary teams, which allows us to spot problems earlier.

Finally, there is the question of efficiency. We changed as we felt it provided better outcomes and support. But where lots of the processes are the same, it makes sense to bring them together and maximise efficiency.

We've seen excellent results. The challenge is not to go back to how services were organised in the past, but to create a service that is attuned to the challenges we face today.

Andrew Webster

Strategic director, services for families, Surrey CC

Post office on wheels

Secretary of state for trade and industry Alistair Darling's post office cull doesn't have to be the end for such a proud British organisation.

It does mean the service needs to change to fit in with modern lifestyles and priorities.

In the face of deregulation and increased competition, the Post Office should look to Europe for inspiration.

In Hungary the national postal service operates a mobile post office. Vans travel from village to village to offer mail delivery and collection, and other services.

These mobile post offices spend as much time as the local community needs. This allows providers to cover large areas at a fraction of the cost of running a fixed post office.

By going mobile, the Post Office could continue to offer essential services to those unable to travel to larger centres, and preserve a vital sense of community in small villages.

The government is right to act. But instead of these closures, there are more constructive ways to deal with the problem.

Clive Fearn

Supply chain manager,

Zebra Technologies Europe

Flexible over waste

The main problem with alternate weekly waste collections is they are seen as inflexible to residents' differing needs (LGC, 17 May).

It doesn't have to be that way. Exeter has one of the best twin bin schemes in the country, with a tailored approach to different types of people and housing.

The council has sought to engage its residents and get them to help design new services such as garden waste collections.

Exeter has a purpose-built materials reclamation system with facilities to ensure it can process effectively all the recyclables it receives.

Enforcement officers help educate and enforce correct use of the system. Our flexible, customised approach is key to moving towards becoming a 'zero-waste authority'.

Mike Trim

Cleansing services manager,

Exeter City Council

Sorting 'localism'

Setting aside his comments on Labour's local government record (a debate better left to politicians than to think tanks like the Local Government Information Unit) David Curry rightly argues there are some fundamentals about local government that need to be 'sorted' (LGC, 10 May).

His point about structure is well made, and local government finance represents a steadily ticking time bomb until someone has the guts to defuse it.

However, the issues are deeper than that. Other components include political structures (mayors or otherwise) and some strategic clarity on the locus

of local versus central government.

Given these, changes to powers and responsibilities could follow incrementally and indeed would be subject to ongoing change as the world itself changed. But beneath this there needs to be a coherent view on 'localism' and what it means and provides compared to other potential views on the nature of the state.

Tim Thorogood

Chief executive, Local Government Information Unit

Online opinions

I read with interest Martin Horton's response to the head of ICT concerned about lack of investment in a council's website (LGC, 17 May).

He was good enough to mention the Society of Information Technology Management's report on the growing number of visitors to council websites, but did not explain this was as a result of the website take-up service from Socitm Insight. It gives information about what visitors say about those websites that participate in the service and gives an insight into areas for improvement.

Finally, your respondent should look out for the report Better marketed: achieving

success with take-up of online services. This provides examples of online services which are receiving high levels of take-up.

Martin Greenwood

Socitm Insight programme manager, Society of Information Technology Management

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