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Council reorganisation is a botched job

John_fuller Cllr John Fuller, the leader of South Norfolk District Council says heads should roll over the botched reorganisation of local government in his county.

Just how badly does someone have to screw something up before they get fired?

If you listen to Ministers talking about the ‘irresponsible’ private sector bankers or some hapless local authority social services official, it’s pretty clear that being sacked for poor performance in the public sector is something that Ministers feel there should be an awful lot more of.

So, you’d think that if Ministers engaged an outside organisation, “The Boundary Committee For England”, to undertake some work, let’s say to “Reorganise Local Government in Norfolk, Suffolk & Devon”, and they came up with a solution so bizarre and unpopular that prominent former Home Secretary and MP for Norwich South, Charles Clarke, described it as ‘crap’ in the local newspaper, then you’d think that the Minister would give them a formal written warning pending disciplinary action for getting it so badly wrong.

Then when it became clear after five months that they’d still failed to get the message by botching the assessment of affordability of the proposal so completely that the Secretary of State was forced to issue a public rebuke stating “The Secretary of State has therefore decided that it would be helpful to the Boundary Committee to provide additional guidance as to the approach that the Secretary of State was seeking” together with a six-week homework extension, you’d think that this would be accompanied by a final written warning.  After all, wasn’t it this Government that proposed a three strikes and you’re out for serial offenders?

But some weeks later a Judge, former Labour Attorney General Mr Justice Cranston ruled, following a Judicial Review, that “The Boundary Committee has therefore misdirected itself as to what it could publish, consult on and propose to the Secretary of State.” You’d think that heads would be rolling.

After failing to read the question properly, receiving two written warnings and presiding over a botched review process that has cost at least a million pounds in the face of the implacable opposition of 84% of Norfolk Residents as measured by a YouGov poll, you'd think that there’d be a limit of how much credibility the Committee could still retain and thus avoid the dreaded P45.  But no.  It gets worse.

What if I said that seven days before a challenge to the entire process to be heard before the Lord Chief Justice in the Appeal Court next week, the Government attempted to duck the hearing by extending the Committee's homework deadline again… but this time by five months until 15th July 2009 -just before the Parliamentary summer recess - a good day to bury bad news?  You’d be excused for concluding that The Boundary Committee for England was a hapless organisation, hopelessly out of its depth and wholly incapable of coming to a sensible conclusion on anything and especially unable to follow clear instructions laid down by Parliament and Ministers. I’m surprised Ed Balls didn’t feel the need to dismiss them himself. Without Notice.

It’s extraordinary that Ministers feel able to give them a fifth chance to get the ‘right answer’.  But I suppose I’m being a little unfair in singling-out the Boundary Committee alone for the Local Government Reorganisation fiasco.   Because in truth, meddlesome civil servants at the DCLG kept stirring the pot, interfering and generally moving the goalposts in what became a discredited make-it-up-as-you-go-along process.  It’s pretty unedifying.  But it's how we're governed nowadays.

But I do have a suggestion that will allow everybody to save face. And that’s to call-off the whole process. It would stop the waste immediately and give a bit of confidence and certainty to local Government at this difficult time.

Finally perhaps an apology from those who have wasted time and public money on this pointless vanity project might not go amiss and allow those responsible to remain employed long enough to face Eric Pickles pearl handled revolver should he be given that portfolio in Government.

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