If something needs saying, then incoming Socpo president Terry Gorman is the man to say it. And this week's annual conference should give him the ideal platform to get his message across
The phrase "plain speaker" is over-used, "plain" often implying "rude". Terry Gorman is a plain speaker in the best sense of the term. The president-elect of local government personnel body Socpo says what he means but remains courteous and unflappable.
Indeed, with his calm manner and neat features, the strength of what he says does not always register immediately. He warns of the dismemberment of local government or dangers of chartered status for the personnel profession with the air of one discussing where to have lunch.
But while his tone is polite, the message is clear. Gorman brings a hard-edged lobbying role to the office of president. As vice-president, he has already forced changes on the Government to incorporate personnel values into its controversial Best Value regime. The Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions did not even include Socpo in its original consultation. Gorman and president Rita Sammons protested. The error was corrected.
It is clear that one of his priorities is to shield local authority staff from the worst effects of central government interference - and the much vaunted Best Value scheme could become a test case.
Best Value is the New Labour version of Margaret Thatcher's compulsory competitive tendering. Council services will be contracted out to the private sector if they do not offer value for money. But with the bean counters in control the money can dominate and the value be quietly ignored.
"The regulations are still written as an auditor's central system, with tick boxes," Gorman says. "There is a danger that it could become an issue only driven by the bottom line.
"If you are only driven by costs it is hard to see local government services continuing. Big private companies can always put up loss leaders. Once they have the service, we have lost the wherewithal to provide it. In five or six years' time they [private sector providers] decide the cost. How far Best Value gets driven into the private sector is still unknown. Can you force someone in the private sector to consult with the public?"
Competition is not even fair, he protests. Private