LETTER : Losing local councils: a recipe for chaos and confusion

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The Independent Online
From Cllr Graham Lane

Sir: Your leading article of 2 March raises again the idea of "school boards" which were replaced in 1902, including the education function within multi-purpose local authorities. Local Education Authorities do not just help to administer schools but are also responsible for special educational needs, adult and further education, the youth service, nursery education, school transport and a wide range of other matters connected with the education of the people who elect them. Perhaps the most important function of local authorities is as the single body responsible for overall co-ordination and planning, identifying and providing land for new development and managing the process of closure when facilities become redundant.

Education is not something that happens in a box separated from all other aspects of life. It is difficult to learn and develop to your full potential if you are living in substandard accommodation, suffering from abusive relationships or subject to racial harassment. It also has to be recognised that social, leisure and cultural facilities also have an important contribution to make to education in its broadest sense. It is for this reason that the multi-purpose local authority responsible for social services, planning, the environment, libraries, museums, sports and recreation is best placed to supervise and coordinate coherent provision that dovetails effectively with other public services; and meets the lifelong educational needs of a whole population.

Central government's policy of privatising and quangoising public services has, in addition to a loss of democratic participation, led to an endemic fragmentation, so that different services and -in the case of education -different parts of the same service, are tending to be developed and run without reference to the rest of the system. This is not in the long- term interest of the public that it is meant to be serving.

Local government, as we now have it, is more democratic and more closely accountable to its population than Parliament and its elected members are subject to stricter codes of conduct and probity than individuals elected or appointed to the plethora of quangos, trusts and governing bodies responsible for different parts of the public service. But local governments also have the important additional feature of offering a coherent approach to community support and governance that is matched by no other structure.

Yours faithfully,

GRAHAM LANE

Chair, Education Committee

Association of Metropolitan Authorities

London, SW1

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