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Grant Shapps is out to make a name for himself and he knows that one of the easiest ways to do that is to tear up a few paper tigers.  Controversy and a bit of tough-guy knockabout where no one really gets hurt is, of course, classic Punch and Judy

Punch and Judy by Phillie Cssablanca http://www.flickr.com/photos/philliecasablanca/5669454111/ CC

politics. This is probably how best to understand the comments reported on the MJ’s localgov.co.uk site yesterday that the Housing Minister is calling on “all public bodies to cease funding SOLACE”.

My ex-colleagues in SOLACE will react to this kind of play with their usual dignity. They know there is nothing in it for them to take on a national politician. After all, Mr Shapps is simply exercising his right to make political capital at the expense of hard-working public servants. Mr Shapps is neither the first nor the worst offender.

However, before we let him off with the usual shake of the head, let’s just see what Mr Shapps’s objection is. He is quoted as saying “I fail to see the business case for the public funding a body that has acted as a broker for local authority chief executives helping to bump up their pay as they move from council to council.

There is an urgent need to rein in excessive chief exec pay packets and exercise some restraint, which is why I am calling on all public bodies to cease funding SOLACE.”

So, just a quick fact check ….

1. Do public bodies fund SOLACE? No, they do not. A number of local authorities and public bodies certainly pay SOLACE for services, but none give funding, in the sense that Shapps suggests. SOLACE. As is well known in local government circles, most of SOLACE’s income comes from commercial arrangements with private and voluntary sector bodies who want to tap into SOLACE’s policy expertise. SOLACE has been working with private and voluntary sector suppliers for years in a way which is strikingly in line with government policy indeed ….

2. Is SOLACE responsible for excessive chief executive pay? Hardly! This part of Mr Shapps comment will have raised a hearty laugh in the offices of SOLACE Towers. What Mr Shapps seems to mean here is that the activities in the recruitment market of SOLACE’s trading arm, SOLACE Enterprises, have been used (clandestinely, or conspiratorially, perhaps?!) to push up levels of senior pay.  I must say that for someone who worked there for many years, and indeed for anyone who knows anything about SOLACE Enterprises, this will be an amusing idea. SOLACE Enterprises is quite simply a small player in a highly competitive market for recruitment consultants dominated by the big private sector specialists such as Veredus, Gatenby Sanderson and Odgers. The suggestion that tiny SOLACE Enterprises has influenced this market does not stand a moment’s scrutiny.

Mr Shapps is, of course, entitled to his moment of August Punch and Judy publicity. In fact, I secretly welcome his comments because it allows me to to introduce my new tag of Punch and Judy localism, and its up-market cousin, ironic localism, a term that will undoubtedly recur in the future posts …..

Thanks to Phillie Casablanca for the picture under CC

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