Parliament and Politics: Charter flight from the cares of office

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JOHN MAJOR yesterday escaped the turmoil of a Cabinet divided, a falling pound and the apologies of his Chancellor to reassert his domestic leadership by handing out Chartermark awards for public service, writes Colin Brown.

Like a game show host, Mr Major presented the prizes to the 36 winners from the public sector for outstanding service to the customer. They did not include the Treasury and the Bundesbank was not eligible.

Iris Tarry collected an award on behalf of Hertfordshire County Council's transportation department for a 24-hour service to repair 'hazardous pot holes'.

Edward Fraizell, chief executive of the Scottish prison service, collected a prize for HM Prison Dungavel, where all the staff wear name badges.

Two police forces, Kent and Dyfed-Powys, received awards, and other winners among the Tory councils (Croydon won two) and privatised agencies included the driving standards agency, whichnow gives unsuccessful customers 'an immediate verbal explanation' on why they have failed the driving test.

Mr Major has made Chartermark his own personal reward for excellence in the public service, underpinning his commitment to the Citizen's Charter. He promises to make it an annual award.

Mo Mowlam, the Labour spokeswoman on the charter, said: 'There is no attempt to consult with the consumers . . . the Government could not award one of its little stainless-steel trophies to itself.'

The award ceremony was held in the Royal Banqueting House in Whitehall. As he left, Mr Major stood under a bust of Charles I to answer questions about other pressing matters of state.

A plaque above the Prime Minister recorded another historic visit by an embattled leader. It said Charles 1 walked out at that spot on 30 January 1649 to be beheaded.