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REGULARS - TOULMIN SMITH

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The National Patient Safety Agency recently held a seminar to encourage lateral thinking among NHS managers. To hig...
The National Patient Safety Agency recently held a seminar to encourage lateral thinking among NHS managers. To highlight the kind of mental gymnastics the modern health service strives for, attendees were told the story of how managers at Heathrow airport approached the unpleasant problem of male stand-up urinal users missing the target. Did they go for bigger bowls? Oh no. They decided to paint a fly on the back of each one, and men being men they all now aim with laser-like precision at the fly. Problem solved. Is this really a good use of NHS time, or are they taking the, er . . .

It seems that a lifetime's loyal service and a CBE gets you nowhere in today's untrusting world.

I hear that Solace Enterprises, singed by affairs gone awry in Cumbria, is busily checking references for everyone on its books.

Any former chief executives imagining that their name and distinguished pedigree alone will open doors should think again.

Who should replace Sir Brian Briscoe, the chief executive of the Local Government Association?

Sir Brian is on an open-ended permanent contract. His previous contract would have ended in July 2005, and he has pledged to stay in post until after the next general election (LGC, 11 October 2003).

However, this pledge is not enough to stop tongues wagging about when he might go and who might take his place. Eighteen months has been raised as a ballpark figure.

As to his eventual successor, Lucy de Groot has been described by those in the know as a shoe-in. She would be the first female chief executive of a local authority association. A tough, bright, pragmatic character, she could also be a canny choice.

One man keeping himself busy in retirement is my old friend Sir Andrew Foster.

I hear the former controller of the Audit Commission, fresh from his adventures in the Amazon, has joined the board of a Canadian bank.

This will be on top of his duties as non-executive director of Liberata.

If the devil does indeed make work for idle hands, th ere will be scant cause for worry where Sir Andrew is concerned.

Ken Livingstone has apparently written to all the kind folks who have sent him money to ask whether they want it back now he has joined the Labour Party.

The London mayor has pointed out that his policies will not change, of course, which is reassuring.

I was challenged by Warwickshire CC to have a go at its online council tax game and judge whether it beats Westminster City Council's effort, reviewed last week, into a cocked hat.

I am not sure I emerged with an enhanced grasp of local government finance, but it certainly whiled away an hour. Let's hope harmless frivolities of this type will be spared the efficiency review's axe.

If you wish to disseminate any gossip, please e-mail me on

joshua.toulminsmith@lgc.emap.com

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