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Leading Tory councillor slams shadow Cabinet ‘inexperience’

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By David Williams

27 November 2009

A prominent Conservative council leader has cast doubt over the quality of the shadow Cabinet, suggesting they are not experienced enough to run a country.

Stephen Greenhalgh, leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and head of the Conservative councils’ innovation unit, made the remarks at a round table debate on November 26, run by Public Finance in association with Zurich Municipal.

Greenhalgh, who this autumn announced the borough’s fourth council tax cut in as many years, has been held up as an exemplar of good practice by shadow chancellor George Osborne.

During a discussion on increasing efficiency through reforming local government, he said that increasing the power of councils would improve the quality of politicians.

‘My mates are all in the shadow Cabinet, waiting to get those [ministerial] boxes, being terribly excited. I went to university with them, they haven’t run a piss-up in a brewery,’ he said.

‘They’re going to get a department of state, in one case running the finances of the nation.’

Greenhalgh pointed to other countries, such as France and the US, where members of the government had typically served at a regional level earlier in their careers. ‘If you’re going to fail, fail running Alabama, fail running Texas, fail running the city of Paris – don’t just take over the country.’

Colin Talbot, public policy professor at Manchester Business School, agreed. ‘It’s not just the politicians – it’s the civil service,’ he added.

‘Despite 30 years of civil service reform, the vast majority of senior civil servants still have no experience of running anything outside public services.’