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News round-up 12/4: Town halls pushing for 'no' votes

Your daily media round up of all the key stories affecting local government

Elected Mayors

Many councillors are trying to persuade residents to vote against directly elected mayors in the referenda on 3 May, fearing that their powers will be usurped, the Times writes. Cities minister Greg Clark has now decided to withdraw funding from Bristol City Council after it was deemed to have published an “unbalanced” referendum leaflet pointing to inflated costs associated with the election and the mayoral powers. Mr Clark had agreed to fund pamphlets issued by the 10 councils where referendums are taking place to publicise the issue. However, he has now held back some £20,000 after disputing figures about the costs of the polls contained in the leaflet.

Labour candidate Ken Livingstone was moved to tears when his campaign broadcast was previewed at his campaign launch yesterday, the Guardian writes. Comforted by the Labour leader Ed Miliband at the launch, the two highlighted the policy measures presented in the manifesto intended to reduce living costs through cutting public transport fares and restoring the Education Maintenance Allowance and drive down energy prices.

 

High Speed Rail

The case for a £32.7bn high-speed rail line linking London to Birmingham has been undermined after the government admitted an error had inflated its economic case, the Financial Times reports. The benefit-cost ratio for the first 140 miles of the route had already dropped from £1.60 for every £1 invested, to £1.40, following a recalculation in February. The government has now admitted a modelling error meant this figure was £1.20 for every £1 invested, putting it close to the “poor” value-for-money category as defined by the government.

 

Health

Thousands of NHS patients are discharged in the middle of the night to relieve pressure on NHS beds, the Times reveals. The exclusive comes after the paper submitted Freedom of Information requests to 170 NHS hospital trusts in England for details on patients discharged between 11pm and 6am. Patient campaigners have said that the elderly tend to be the worst affected by this practice as they are sent home without proper planning. Hospital managers have commented that the practice could be an “under the radar” way of freeing up beds.

 

Green Energy

The ‘Warm Front’ scheme offering discounted home insulation underspent its budget by £27m last year, leaving thousands of England’s poorest households “in the cold”, the Times reports. Officials from the Department for Energy & Climate Change told an industry working group they expected more than 25% of the £110m allocated to the programme to remain unspent. The Treasury will reclaim the money.

The government is considering plans to install high-voltage cables from Iceland to the UK in a bid to supply the UK with low-carbon energy, the Guardian headlines today. The volcanoes of Iceland have an abundance of geothermal energy and energy minister Charles Hendry is due to visit Iceland in May to further discuss the plans. A web of sea-floor cables would be part of a Europe-wide supergrid combining wind, wave and solar power across Europe to deliver clear and reliable energy to meet the climate change challenge and reduce fossil fuel dependence.

As deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announces the “biggest shake up of the electricity market in 30 years” with large subsidies for low carbon power, the Financial Times warns the dilemma over wind farms has reached new heights. The paper says growing opposition to windfarms amongst English communities means Scotland, whose government is pro the technology, could reap the reward.

 

Charity Tax

Prime minister David Cameron has promised to look into the possibility of concessions over plans to cap tax relief on charitable donations, the Guardian reports. Nearly nine out of 10 charity executives believe the government’s plans to cap tax relief of charitable donations will severely hit gifts made by major donors, a survey by Charities Aid Foundation has revealed.

Elsewhere, the Times writes that the ideas explored by the Treasury is to exempt high-value “once in a lifetime” legacies from the new cap and thereby protect big gifts from philanthropists.

The Independent, meanwhile, reports that the chancellor George Osborne has faced pressure from other ministers to phase in the change over two or three years to give charities time to prepare, with both business secretary Vince Cable and culture secretary Jeremy Hunt expressing concern with the new cap.

 

Street parties

Anti-cut group UK Uncut has announced plans to stage alternative street parties before the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations and the Olympics, the Guardian reports. Their announcement comes after a sustained publicity push by the Department for Communities & Local Government advising communities how to organise their own street parties.

 

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