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SOLACE THINK TANK LETTER COMES UNDER FRIENDLY FIRE

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An open letter from the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives' think tank to Local Government Commission Chai...
An open letter from the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives' think tank to Local Government Commission Chairman Sir John Banham was misleading in places and blatantly pro district, according to one county chief writing in LGC this week.

Cheshire CC Chief Executive Michael Pitt writes (see page 22) that he was 'surprised and disappointed' that the think tank had publicly criticised the commission (LGC, 20 August). He says the group is 'an unrepresentative handful of chief executives'.

The open letter accuses the commission of underestimating the importance of community and overemphasising the advantages of large councils.

Stirling DC Chief Executive Geoff Bonner, who was one of the signatories, this week defended the letter saying it was not intended to be either pro district or pro county.

'It was making a case for local government - why you need it - because the commission has not itself established a rationale', he said.

'I am disappointed that what we said may have been misinterpreted but I am not disappointed if there will now be a debate about it'.

The letter is due to be discussed at a meeting of the Association of County Chief Executives next Wednesday. It is likely the meeting will agree a response to be relayed to a meeting of SOLACE's executive council the next day. ACCE Chairman Jeffrey Greenwell has already raised concern with SOLACE President John Horsnell that the letter lacked balance on the issue of size.

'I thought the letter had some good things in it but perhaps was lacking in balance. I recognise that it is not SOLACE policy but the views of a ginger group. While the letter does make that clear there is a danger that not everyone will pick it up', said Mr Greenwell.

There are no county representatives among the 10 signatories to the letter. Although Oxfordshire CC Chief Executive John Harwood was a member of the think tank, he did not sign the letter because of a range of criticisms.

'The thrust of it was that I did not feel the think tank response was sufficiently serious and well thought out. It did not consider a range of issues I thought it should have covered', said Mr Harwood.

'It also does not explore the idea of democratic local government. Increasingly large swathes of local government are becoming non democratic and the paper is silent on this'.

Mr Greenwell, chairman of SOLACE's local government review panel, shared Mr Pitt's view that the panel should have been allowed to comment before publication.

But Mr Bonner said the think tank was set up as a way of responding quickly to events.

SOLACE Honorary Secretary Alan Taylor played down the disagreement. 'SOLACE has been criticised in the past for not being robust in expressing opinions. It is refreshing to see something so outspoken'.

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