Food for centralists;Opinion

5th June 1998 at 01:00
The direct labour organisation of North Lanarkshire council has run up debts of pound;4.5 million. Dundee education committee held a special meeting this week to consider tenders for small works at Harris Academy.

What has happened to the rhetoric surrounding reform of local government two years ago? Councils were supposed to be enabling: no longer be encumbered with day-to-day administration but setting strategies and overseeing good governance. Things have not worked out that way. As the Dundee case shows, councillors are still expected to concern themselves with minutiae. Of other sets of papers for education committee meetings this week, those from West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire have done special disservice to arboreal conservation.

Mismanagement on a grand scale still goes on. In the era of private-public financial partnerships, the concept of a direct labour organisation, the seat of North Lanarkshire's problems, is hard to comprehend except as an example of traditional practices being maintained because careers and expectations are bound up in them.

There was little innovation when the new councils were formed. Strangely, Fife which remained almost geographically unchanged was readiest to jettison old baggage. Now Dumfries and Galloway, which also follows old boundaries, is removing from its education department peripheral functions, like meals and transport (page five), and allocating them to other departments.

Chairmen of education committees and their directors, who fear the intentions of members of the Scottish parliament towards schools, must shudder every time there is a local government scandal. By and large education departments are well run, but profligacy or sleaze elsewhere tarnishes the image, while stoking the ardour of centralists.

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