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News round-up 15/5: Work programme open to 'cherry picking'

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

Work programme

Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘work programme’ is open to fraud and allows contractors to ‘cherry pick’ the most profitable job-seekers, a report by the Public Accounts Committee has found. The Times reports that as a third charity, St Mungo’s, pulls out of the programme, parliamentarians are concerned that contractors are able to abuse the ‘payment-by-results’ system and that despite companies being paid more to assist the hardest to help, there is little evidence that they are taking up these clients.


Pupil premium

The Independent reports that the government will not ring-fence the £2.5bn pupil premium funding, intended to help schools to help the most disadvantaged pupils. In a speech yesterday, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg offered schools a new deal under which they would enjoy the freedom to spend the scheme’s funding in return for them redoubling efforts to close the gap between the poorest pupils and their other peers. However, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) Christine Blower said that the pupil premium was simply being used to “plug gaps in schools’ budgets because of other funding cuts” by the government”.


School Food

Nine out of 10 academies are selling junk food, such as crisps and chocolate, to pupils, the Guardian says. The paper notes that the practice is banned in maintained schools in order to protect children’s health. The paper says that findings by the School Food Trust contradict education secretary Michael Gove’s claims that academies are following high nutritional standards. The paper notes that Mr Gove previously said that neither academies nor free schools were compelled to adhere to the restrictions on selling certain snack foods, which has now led to calls for the standards to become universal across all schools.


Special Needs Provision

Hundreds of thousands of children face being taken off the special needs register because they have been wrongly labelled as requiring extra help, the government will announce today. Under what the Daily Telegraph says will be the biggest shake-up of the system for 30 years, Ministers will “toughen up” rules on the diagnosis of behavioural and learning difficulties, following concerns that schools are “abusing” the system to “disguise poor teaching” and climb league tables. The paper says that for the first time, rigorous screening measures will be introduced to prevent pupils from being classed as having special educational needs when they have merely fallen behind or caused disruption in class. A single assessment covering education, health and care will be introduced, to avoid schools “over-identifying” pupils with special needs in order to attract more funding from local authorities and boost their position in weighted league tables.


Civil Service

Civil servants have been told they can work from home for seven weeks during the Olympic period, prompting “incredulity” from MPs, ministers and business leaders, according to the Times. The paper says that Whitehall will institute a “cut or change” journey targets for civil servants, adding that mail and package deliveries will also be diverted or suspended, leading to questions over whether government operations will “grind to a halt”.


Road charging

There is a “compelling” case for road charging in the UK rather than the current system funded by taxes on fuel, the BBC has reported. A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), funded by the policy arm of the RAC, suggested a “radical overhaul” of road taxes was needed.


Business Growth

Prime minister David Cameron has been urged by business leaders to urgently press ahead with measures to boost enterprise following a weekend in which senior ministers told corporate critics to “stop whingeing” and “worker harder”. The Financial Times says that more constructive talks were held at yesterday’s quarterly meeting of Mr Cameron’s Business Advisory Group, despite Number 10’s internal concerns that senior ministers had previously chosen to criticise business groups so openly. Director general of the CBI John Cridland has called for the government to press for an outcome to long-running talks on unlocking investment in infrastructure by pension funds and insurance companies. He also sought more action on deregulation to make it easier for firms to hire and fire employees.


Regional pay

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has “poured cold water on plans to impose regional pay bargaining in the public sector,” the Guardian reports. Mr Clegg said at an event in north London that “we are not going to be able simply, willy-nilly, to exacerbate a north-south divide.”


Alcohol pricing

Scottish ministers will introduce a minimum alcohol price of 50p a unit, “pushing up the cost of cheap vodka by nearly 50%,” the Guardian reports. It says the move was “a tougher line than anticipated.”

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