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REGULARS - TOULMIN SMITH

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Little has happened since the Local Government Association announced it was planning a media blitz earlier this yea...
Little has happened since the Local Government Association announced it was planning a media blitz earlier this year (LGC, 11 April).

But this week there was a batsqueak of activity. A 'handy booklet' has been published - which from the tone of the press release is clearly aimed at the general public - claiming it is full of 'fascinating facts' and 'quirky information'.

A sample of these 'fascinating facts', includes informing readers that nearly 30 million tonnes of municipal waste is generated a year. It also adds that while most people think council tax funds up to three quarters of services, they could not be more wrong - council tax funds just a quarter.

Where is the razzmatazz in that? You are competing with Heat, Hello, football and cable TV you know.

Can our national local government organisation not come up with something a little punchier? Sure, it requires imagination - but there is plenty out there in local government as we who work in or adjacent to it know well.

Think of Scottish trout and you probably think of fresh mountain streams and wonderful green countryside.

You probably do not think of council-owned trout farms. And you definitely do not think of council-owned trout farms with their pipes blocked with dead fish.

This was the predicament faced by West Lothian Council recently as a blocked water feed pipe threatened the lives of 1,000 trout on one of its farms. Happily prompt action from a local drain specialist saved the day as the dead fish were blasted away by high pressure water jetting.

So next time you eat Scottish trout, perhaps take a moment to ponder the fact that it is just one more thing local government does well.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it seems the threat of absence can have the same effect.

Welsh councils who complained in the past of feeling unloved by the Local Government Association tell me the relationship has just become warmer.

Indeed, councillors who previously received barely a stick of information from the LGA are knee-deep in bulletins and top-line briefings of all kinds.

Unfortunately, most of these relate to English matters and so inevitably end up in recycling bins around Wales.

But it's the thought that counts.

Sarah Morrow, chief executive of Tittering-on-the-Wold, certainly does not have her troubles to seek at work. But now even things on the home front seem to be going pear-shaped for the hapless Ms Morrow.

Eagle-eyed Sun readers will have spotted her in Deidre's Photo Casebook, left holding the baby when her wayward daughter Avril heads out on one of her romantic conquests.

What sort of impact this will have on Tittering's already strained managerial capacity remains to be seen.

Though the policy programme may lack coherence or flesh, there is little doubt the Conservatives are more signed up to localism than their predecessors.

According to local government spokesman Eric Pickles, his shift was led by Iain Duncan Smith himself, begging the question of what will happen in these uncertain times for the Tory party.

Two of the usual contenders for the leadership - Ken Clark and Michael Howard - were members of those dubious champions of local government, the Tory governments of the 1980s and 1990s.

Another, Oliver Letwin, has impeccable localist credentials. But his commitment to his own locality was called into question by his conference comment that he would 'rather go out on the streets and beg' than send his children to his nearest school.

That leaves ODPM shadow secretary David Davis, the man responsible for local government during the Tory's drift away from centralism. However, caution on this front would be advisable. Mr Davis' ambitions to lead his party have been barely concealed - a stance that may have contributed to an apparent frosting over of relations with IDS.

Given such ambitions, it may be worth waiting to see what a future Davis leadership would mean.

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

joshua.toulminsmith@lg c.emap.com

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