February 5 2008

Member development


One the perks of being a councillor is the free edition of the Local Government Association's magazine First that periodically comes through the letter box.
I wish I could tell you this is a great read, but, truth to tell, what I like about it is that it reinforces my prejudices.
The latest edition contains an article by Cllr Rory Palmer (Lab) of Leicester City Council.
It begins: "Is it time for a McA level for elected members? Cllr Rory Palmer argues that councillors should make sure their skills are properly accredited and valued beyond the world of local government."
He goes on: "For councillors, the ability to convince employers of the skills and responsibilities we have by virtue of being elected remains an urgent challenge."
I hear quite a bit of this sort of stuff in county hall, where the fact of being elected seems to have persuaded some members, particularly those in the ruling group, that they are something special.
The fact of the matter is that somebody has to be elected and it is not inconceivable that the winning candidate obtained the most votes for no better reason than the electorate considered them to be slightly less of a duffer than their rivals.
Rory ploughs on: "We are the formal employers of tens of thousands of people, are actively involved in strategic thinking and decision making that will impact on many thousands more, and are responsible for for multi-million pound budgets. These day-to-day responsibilities put us on a footing at least equal to the chief executives of many top companies."
Oh! come off it, Rory.
He then continues with a plea for public money to be used for "member development", which on my reading of what he has to say, would enable elected councillors to get better jobs.
I can't think that is a proper use of taxpayers' money.
Of course, "member development" might mean something entirely different.
Old Grumpy gets quite a lot of e-mails on this subject from nice-sounding ladies in Canada and USA.
But I can't see why the services paid for out of council tax should should extend to those lengths.


Zero sum games

First did contain one very interesting article about a survey on voter satisfaction with their local council.
Not surprisingly, the survey found that the principle driver of customer satisfaction to be "perceived value for money".
Note the word "perceived", because it turns out that what residents perceive as value for money has absolutely nothing to do with service delivery or council tax levels.
Indeed, the most popular district council in terms of customer satisfaction only comes 93rd out 238 in terms of service delivery.
So what is the secret?
Well, it seems that the most popular councils are those that are best at keeping their voters well informed of what they are doing.
And the LGA looking to contact every council with ". . . package of support, if needed, to improve in this area."
Old Grumpy detects a flaw in this approach.
Clearly, a council that ranks 93rd for service delivery, but is able to convince its electorate that it is top of the shop in terms of value for money, can't be telling them the unvarnished truth.
And encouraging other councils to follow suit can only result in a propaganda arms race.
Like all league tables, ranking councils by popularity is a zero sum game.
No matter how much money is spent on informing (or misinforming) the public about what the council is doing, one council will come top and another bottom.
Similarly, even if every Premier League manager was given £50 billion to spend on new players, three teams would still be relegated at the end of the season.
However, if the money and effort is put into service delivery, there is the potential, at least, for everyone to benefit.

Crafty Celts

It is not my intention to dwell on the tragic events of last Saturday, except to say that I rather foolishly allowed myself to be
lured into betting two pints on the outcome during a visit to a local builders merchants.
Some people never learn!
However, what I will say is that the poor English are the victims of a great Celtic conspiracy.
How else can you explain the decision by the Irish (please note) citing official not have Johnny Wilkinson hauled up before a disciplinary committee for a blatant stiff-arm tackle on Johnathon Thomas.
This could, of course, be interpreted as a generous gesture by one of our Celtic cousins, but, if you analyse the situation more carefully, you will realise it is nothing of the sort.
Wilkinson will now, in all probability, be picked to play against Italy - a match England, who are, by the way, the only home country never to have lost to Italy, will surely win.
We will then hear all that stuff about never changing a winning team and England will be lumbered with a non-dimensional No 10 for the rest of the season.
Devilishly clever!

Thoughts of Chairman ED

Old Grumpy couldn't help but notice yet another letter in the Mercury from ex-Cllr Eddie Setterfield.
While I haven't been keeping a careful record, I reckon that this is at least the sixth letter from the former chairman of the county council's highways and transport committee in the past four months.
As one of these letters stated that he had no intention of standing for election, I can only assume he is putting his philosophical musings into print for the benefit of posterity.
Perhaps, one day, the letters will be published under the title "Collected thoughts of chairmen Ed".
His latest missive proclaims his commitment to the principles of freedom of the press, though, during my time as a reporter with the Mercury, I cannot recall a single instance when he voted against a proposal to eject the press from a meeting.
Of course, Eddie is no stranger to rewriting history.
Old Grumpy remembers his claimed role in bringing Tesco to Milford Haven.
Eddie was mayor at the time, and, when the recently opened Tesco proved to be extremely popular with the town's shoppers, he stood up in a town council meeting and boasted of his unstinting efforts to bring the supermarket chain to Milford.
Unfortunately for Eddie, Old Grumpy's recollection of his role was somewhat different.
Because the Tesco planning application was of such great importance it was taken out of the hands of the then Preseli Pembrokeshire District Council's planning committee for determination by full council.
And, when I went down the shed and checked my vast library of council minutes, I found they recorded that the council had voted almost unanimously for the officers' recommendation of approval.
Almost unanimously, because two members had asked to have their opposition to the proposals recorded in the minutes.
And, as the more alert among you will already have guessed, one of the naysayers was, um, er, Cllr Eddie Setterfield.
If Eddie should decide to run at the county council elections in May, I may feel compelled, for the benefit of younger voters, to look up the back numbers of the Mercury for the exact details of the substantial amount of money he was forced to repay after my investigations revealed that he had been massaging his expense claims.


Sympathy vote


There has been a good deal of outrage over the government's plans to allow Muslim men involved in polygamous marriages to claim multiple benefits.
It is all well and good bowing to other cultures, but equity surely demands that natives whose relationships don't comply with the traditional man-wife template i.e. those with several mistresses and their offspring, should be similarly rewarded.
And Old Grumpy is surprised that a government as well versed in spin as the present lot hasn't thought to dress this up as compensation for having more than one mother-in-law.
At least half the population would have seen the justice in that.


Spot the difference

My daughter's Gloucester Old Spot sow has just brought forth a large litter of healthy piglets.
They arrived on February 1st - OG's birthday, as it happens.
At least my mother remembered!
Here they are, just one day old, hanging out at the milk bar just like teenagers of my generation.
Can you count how many pigs there are?
And, as a tie-breaker, which one have the grandchildren named Spot?



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