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VIEW FROM THE TOP - TOPPLE FALSE GODS

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Last week LGC reported a MORI survey under the catchy title The rising prominence of liveability. This report looke...
Last week LGC reported a MORI survey under the catchy title The rising prominence of liveability. This report looked at the most important issues which make somewhere a good place to live against things which most needed improving. It drew on an Audit Commission survey and residents' surveys in over 100 councils that have been tracked over a number of years.

Although none of these councils were in Scotland, the conclusions seem very familiar. The issues of greatest importance for improvement are activities for teenagers, road and pavement repairs, public transport, reducing crime, cleaner streets, and facilities for young people. In short, the state of our local environment and facilities that improve the quality of life.

The great gods of health and education are perceived as a lower priority for improvement by local residents. The results in Stirling are much the same, although crime is less important as we have a 67% clear-up rate. So why, if this seems to be a consistent picture across Britain, are priorities and huge tranches of resources going to continue to focus upon health and education? Good on MORI for spotlighting this conundrum, but local government knows it to be the issue in every public meeting as well as our surveys. And does it not anger you as a concerned citizen?

In Stirling, we have 19 community future groups based in neighbourhoods and villages, all of which are working on their vision for the future. Their proposals are by and large affordable housing, activities for young people, a cleaner and recycled environment, better public transport and sorting out the state of the built environment. Our job with community planning partners is then

to try and find ways in which we can rustle together limited funds to tackle these issues. If we provided some of

the increased funding made available

to education and health over the next

few years, real progress could be made and the feel good in local democracy would escalate.

Evidently, communities do not regard government priorities as top of their agenda and, given that this is where increased public spending is going, we need local government to join the alliance of MORI and our communities in challenging government priorities.

But it is not just that education and health are winning the lottery of public spending rounds. The government is increasingly promoting citizen choice and league tables to drive improvement in schools and hospitals as opposed to education and health. Does active choice make a difference? Well yes, our towns and cities are gridlocked on school days, with children being shuttled across catchments like demented ants in search of an apple. In Scotland we have just had the annual nonsense of explaining school league tables - photos of top schools and then education authorities and ministers explaining that it is a measure of environmental factors - and choice - not real performance.

The search for sustainable quality in education and health as well as other services should begin in the locality with more democratic accountability, not by the crude public policy weapons of choice and league tables by the sultans of spin.

Keith Yates

Chief executive, Stirling Council

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