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Book review: Finding Solace in a book

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My butler presents me with a silver salver on which reposes a volume titled Change The Ending Stories that matter: flash fiction about the future of public life.

I gather this has been published on the new electric interweb, but my man has thoughtfully copied it out on his John Bull set.

To my astonishment I find it is a collection of fiction sponsored by that admirable organisation the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers.

I turn to me OED and find that ‘flash fiction’ is “a brief form of literature that chal­lenges writers to tell their tale in anywhere between 300 and 1,000 words”, a concept from which Mr Marcel Proust could doubtless have learnt a thing or two.

This volume is ‘curated’ (a term I thought applied only to museum artefacts) by a Ms Dawn Reeves who I learn is “a consultant and facilitator supporting creative change in public services” (I do wonder what one of those actually does).

Since my regular contributions to the esteemed Local Government Chronicle ended in December 2008 – apart from an annual appearance on 1 April – I have had much time to read literature, though never of this variety.

There are 42 contributions, which might loosely be described as seeking to demonstrate the worth of public services, whether dealing with vulnerable people, flooding, municipal bankruptcy or, in other examples, goats, bees and a dystopian world in which, if I understood this correctly, the police double up as refuse collectors (note to self: must table this for immediate action at next council meeting).

I am also struck by the self-descriptions of several contributors. One says he has an “unquenchable belief in the potential of planning to improve our environments”, despite being a former chief executive.

Another is “a campaigner for ‘speaking human’”, whatever that might be, while a third professes to have “over the years developed an interest in staff engagement and how people deal with change”. I always found a clip round the ear and the threat of a half crown wage deduction did the trick in the days of our dear late Queen Victoria.

To buy the book visit here

Most of the book concerns admirable examples of the way in which we in local government engage with the great unwashed.

I was though intrigued by a story in which two councillors spot a group of unruly youths on the town hall steps and one ventures the opinion “Go and talk to them. Ask how we can empower them to assert their own interests.”

I wonder how this sally was received? This does not sound to me like the sort of language in which the lower orders habitually communicate.

Joshua Toulmin Smith is the hereditary leader of Toulminshire Council whose apercus on local government appeared weekly in LGC 2005-08. He has since been graciously pleased to make the occasional contribution.

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