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REGULARS - TOULMIN SMITH

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There was a boost for human resource directors everywhere this week with the news that councils have made the top 1...
There was a boost for human resource directors everywhere this week with the news that councils have made the top 100 graduate employers' list for the first time.

Fair enough, it's at number 59, but a start is a start, and it shows a corner has been turned.

It seems the class of 2003, cynical perhaps, about the allure of year-end bonuses with multiple commas, has been won over by the three big attractions of the public sector: security; the chance to make a difference; and of course the index-linked pension.

Many of the graduates I meet see the skills they are picking up in town halls as transferable to the private sector, and have not ruled out a move to the Accentures and PricewaterhouseCoopers of this world when the market picks up.

But they could be dancing with the fairies, according to one gloom merchant at the Employers' Organisation.

'Little do they know,' he says, 'once they've got local government on their CV, nobody else will touch them with a bargepole.'

The Conservatives' position as Her Majesty's Party of Opposition may be in doubt, but they can still play a mean game of football.

The Tories got their annual conference off to a flying start by thrashing a team composed of members of the press 6-3 in a match held at Blackpool FC's ground on Bloomfield Road.

Less a friendly than an out-and-out grudge match, the game was a particular source of satisfaction to the Tories as the press had trounced Labour 6-1 the week before.

It is worth noting, however, that a Conservative victory was only secured after a major reorganisation of the party's front line.

The Local Government Association has produced a leaflet expounding the role of councils in education.

Some of its arguments left me wondering about their stewardship of the teaching of English.

Make what you will of: 'Needs are becoming increasingly complex and schools and local schools forums often prefer for funding such complex needs to be delivered by the local authority from a strategic and centra l resource.'

The local government family is a much used and occasionally abused term, capturing the idea that, irrespective of party politics and geography, councils have interests, identities and, all too often, enemies in common.

The extent to which this notion is borne out in practice is open to question. That is why I was delighted to see the Local Government Association, the Local Government Information Unit, the Local Government International Bureau and the Improvement & Development Agency joining forces to co-host receptions at this year's party conferences.

However, between my third and fourth glass of a fine Chardonnay, I noticed one name was missing from the line-up - the New Local Government Network.

Did this, I asked myself, make the doyens of new localism the black sheep of the local government family?

Glasgow City Council can be accused of many things, but insularity is not one of them.

Spurred on by the success of its citywide referendum on Iraq, Glasgow is planning to spread its wings yet again to find an innovative solution to the scourge of street prostitution.

The council, which has been decidedly unimpressed by the tolerance zones put forward by the likes of Margo MacDonald, decided to fly in a delegation from the frozen uplands of Sweden to see if there are lessons to be learned from our Scandinavian friends.

Indeed, it seems there may be, and Glasgow was impressed to learn that the number of prostitutes in Sweden had halved since legislation was introduced to criminalise those who buy sex rather than those who sell it.

That said, only 100 convictions have actually been made under the new laws over the last two years - hardly more than Sauchiehall Street on the average weekend.

Still, I feel a fact-finding trip to Stockholm coming on, and expect the members of Glasgow to rise admirably to the occasion.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chair of the Local Government Association, lunching with Audit Commission chairman James Strachan, was party to what could b e a revealing Freudian slip.

Mr Strachan's stenographer, having coped admirably with the cut and thrust of local government repartee, struggled with the term 'comprehensive performance assessment'.

It came out as 'comprehensive poor man's estimate'.

If Cherie Blair ever makes it into John Humphrys' black chair do not be surprised if she chooses local government as her chosen specialised subject.

At last week's Labour conference, Mrs Blair visited the Local Government Association stand and was quite taken by its leading gimmick - a lift that, while failing to move up or down, offered an attractive video display on local democracy.

This included a multiple-choice quiz, containing a tricky question on the number of councillors in the country.

Mrs Blair provided the correct answer - 21,000 - before even seeing the options. I wonder if her husband would have been as quick on the draw?

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

joshua.toulminsmith@lgc.emap.com

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