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Local goes national...
Local goes national

Have you noticed local government officers are coming up in the world? A few years ago it would have been unthinkable that a former local government officer could chair the BBC Trust.

And now, no sooner has he finished his magnum opus than the government snaps up the multiskilled Sir Michael Lyons to take on the BBC (LGC, 5 April).

The media has majored on Sir Michael's early history as an East End street trader. But he is a local government man through and through: a local government officer with West Midlands CC, Wolverhampton MBC, Notts County and Birmingham City Council, as well as being a councillor in Birmingham.

Nor is he the first to scale the heights. Peter Housden and David Bell, ex-local government types, are permanent secretaries, following in the footsteps of Sir Michael Bichard. There are more and more local government alumni in the top ranks of the civil service, like Helen Kirkpatrick and Lin Homer in the Home Office.

Local government officers combine political nous with an ability to deliver. It is not surprising a government with a commitment to delivery has realised what local government has to offer.

Rodney Brooke

Ilkley. West Yorkshire

Don't bury Lyons

The reaction to the Lyons report was predictably negative(LGC, 22 March). But it's too soon to bury Sir Michael's proposals. Several key recommendations should now be advanced, including supplementary business rates.

Local government wanted Lyons to be more radical. But Lyons is a realist and went for an incremental approach, with some achievable wins first and more difficult changes later.

With Lyons off to the BBC, it's now up to local and business leaders to push ahead with his reform agenda. Ministers also need to re-engage. If they are seen to bury the report, their devolutionary credentials will be forever tarnished. This is a big opportunity for the incoming prime minister.

But no more reviews, please. Lyons has given us the evidence and the case for reform. It's time for us all to start delivering.

Dermot Finch,

Director, Centre for Cities,

Institute for Public Policy Research

Act now on carbon

It seems that the point of Carol Grant's article (LGC, 22 March) is why should we do anything if the UK only accounts for 2% of global emissions, especially when there are other pressing social issues?

First, the UK is the world's eighth largest emitter of carbon dioxide and this doesn't account for emissions from aviation. We have an obligation to emit less carbon based on the amount we produce through our lifestyle choices. Beyond this, we also have a leadership role to play. China may well be a way behind the UK in policy on carbon emissions, but why should they do anything if we refuse to?

I want to pick up on the final question: is climate change the most pressing issue facing councils today? Climate change is extremely important. We have an obligation to prepare our communities for the inevitable changes we will face as a result of the changing climate.

If we wait 10 years to act, it will be too late. Infrastructure will not be able to cope, the school buildings mentioned in Dorset will be empty because the students can't learn in an overheated classroom. If we wait the financial cost of doing anything to adapt will be immense, and there will be an outcry from the public that we didn't act soon enough - and they would be right.

Miranda Pennington

Islington, London

Future for districts

In support of Alan Goodrum (LGC, 5 April) districts can achieve great things. I write in the week that the South Bedfordshire DC-led partnership opens the Grove Theatre, which is the heart of a major regeneration project.

We brought together the private sector and other public sector agencies, and have been able to deliver what our communities actually asked from us.

So why are we giving wholehearted support to unitary local government in Bedfordshire? We are not, as Mr Backhouse suggests, fixated over structure. Nor, as he suggests, do my district chief executive colleagues and myself see it as the 'only way to run a big show'. For me it is about organising in the best way we can to meet future challenges.

Jon Ruddick

Chief executive

South Bedfordshire DC

Cuts challenge

Phil Woolas and Stephen Timms are right to congratulate local government for all that it has achieved on efficiency so far (LGC Efficiency, 29 March). Arguably they are also right to ask for even more efficiencies in the future.

But it is a concern that they demonstrate little awareness of the major risk posed by this demand - namely that local authorities may be forced to make cuts in the wrong places.

And it is a further concern that there is no acknowledgement of the major challenges in managing this risk. We think there are three:

First, financial analysis capacity. Local authorities need to be confident they have the right financial analysis skills. While the corporate centre may have this capacity, the service areas charged with identifying and delivering them rarely do.

Second, human resources capacity. Most efficiencies are likely to revolve around reorganising people.

Finally, culture. This agenda is seen largely as a negative cost-cutting exercise rather than a positive transformation.

These need to be acknowledged by Mr Woolas and Mr Timms so they can work to ensure efficiencies are made in a way that transforms rather than undermines public services.

Alexander Stevenson

Director, RSe Consulting

No call for referendum

As I go round meeting thousands of people on the campaign trail they appreciate the low council tax, cleaner streets, and safer city the current administration is delivering. They do not want their council tax spent on holding a mayoral referendum (LGC, 5 April), when poll after poll shows there is no appetite for an elected mayor.

Birmingham had a referendum in 2001. The majority of voters chose the status quo - a leader and cabinet system.

In the face of a noisy campaign run by a local newspaper, our position is clear. If there is support for a referendum then there is a mechanism to allow this. A petition of more than 36,000 people, gathered within a year, would trigger a referendum.

This right of petition has been open to people since 2000. How many local communities have given their vote of confidence to the mayoral system? Just 12 - a tiny 3% of all local authorities.

Instead of tinkering with structures, the government should ensure local leaders have the funding streams they need to realise their community's aspirations.

Mike Whitby (Con)

Leader, Birmingham City Council

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