Overthrowing the Kingdom

28th March 1997 at 00:00
The most radical overhaul has occurred in Fife, despite the continuation of its old boundaries. Education is linked with social work and housing under a corporate manager for social strategy; heads of each service occupy the tier below.

Oonagh Aitken, the corporate manager and former Strathclyde Region official, says: "There is now a real opportunity to make things happen in a social strategy context. It is not a case of just hoping that things will work because they have to but of a more proactive approach which spots opportunities for working together."

Boldest of all these participative moves has been the high-risk strategy of consulting the public and staff over budgets. Fife held two rounds of meetings in January and February which attracted 1,600 people in 10 locations. A call line received 1,500 responses.

John Markland, Fife's chief executive, admits there was scepticism about the outcome of the consultation but later appreciation for at least making the effort. The council is now holding further public meetings and writing to those who responded explaining the cuts of Pounds 23 million, outlining particularly where savings were made against the public mood.

Consultations are intended to be a statement of "values", a concept to which the new authorities have become deeply attached. But George Thorley, chief executive in South Ayrshire, says: "We thought we had cracked it by slimming down to seven the 27 departments we inherited from Strathclyde Region and Kyle and Carrick District, delayering management, consulting our staff and the public, and establishing our consultative forums. In reality, we haven't broken down the old ways of working, the secrecy and departmentalism of the past. All we have done is make a start."

South Ayrshire now plans an ambitious Pounds 150,000 training programme that will involve 360 key managers, including headteachers, deputes and assistant heads.

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