News round-up 10/7: Council broadband scheme struggles
Your daily media round up of all the key stories affecting local government
A council-led piece of IT infrastructure designed to boost the economy of south Yorkshire is facing “an inglorious end”, according to the Times. The £90m Digital Region project set up by Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham MBCs, Sheffield City Council and the Yorkshire Forward development agency is likely to have its assets transferred to BT later in the year after registering a £10m loss on revenues of £167,000. The councils were forced to pump an extra £3.5m into the project in March to keep it going after consumers and businesses declined to plug into the super-fast broadband network. The company has called for a private sector partner to take over the running of the network.
Writing the Times’ Thunderer column, Labour peer Lord Lipsey welcomes reports that the government is set to accept the principle of capping care costs for individuals. However, he says it would be impossible for the government to implement the cap immediately and says a cap of £35,000 is too low as it “asks too little of the individual and too much of the taxpayer”. He calls for a cap of around £75,000.
The Daily Mail reports that ministers are set to launch measures to end “clock watching care” visits of just 15 minutes by home helps. Regulations to be unveiled on Wednesday will stop councils from commissioning care for the elderly ‘by the minute’ from providers.
The Times also reports on a care home near Cardiff being kept open at a cost to Vale of Glamorgan Council £450,000 a year despite only having a single resident.
Better-off pensioners should lose their winter fuel payments, free prescriptions, bus passes and television licenses, a close ally of prime minister David Cameron will warn today. The Independent says that MP Nick Boles, a “leading Conservative moderniser” will make the call as a clear sign that Mr Cameron is moving towards cutting benefits for some pensioners from 2015. The paper says that there is growing recognition in the cabinet that the ending of universal hand-outs will be a key issue in the government-wide spending review due next year.
The Daily Mail reports that bosses at regional development agencies have “walked away with astonishing pay-offs of up to £400,000 each” after the agencies’ abolition. The paper names a number of senior former RDA staff who have taken pay-offs before going on to work for councils or local enterprise partnerships.
Speaking on the Today Programme, Donald Hirsch, author of a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said that a couple with two children needed to earn around £37,000 a year in order to have a “socially acceptable” life. This amount was the minimum amount to cover costs, allow families to participate in society and covered costs such as a modest car and taking a short, self-catered holiday, Mr Hirsch explained. The veracity and robustness of the report was defended by Mr Hisch, who stated that people had been surveyed across the country. He stressed that this report was not describing an average, and he went on to say that the report reflected the reality of families’ circumstances. Dr Eamonn Butler, Director of the Adam Smith Institute, said the idea that families needed items such as cars with roof racks and DVD players was questionable and was unsure about the study’s methodology and reliability. Dr Butler queried the interest of such a report, which he described as being “mostly rubbish”.
Andrew Lansley was excluded from key meetings at which controversial NHS reform plans were first drawn up, according to a book written by former Financial Times journalist Nicholas Timmons and published by the Institute for Government and the King’s Fund. In an extract in the Independent, the book claims neither the health secretary, the Liberal Democrat health minister, nor key Department of Health officials were involved in writing the coalition government’s first proposals to reshape the NHS. Instead, the key decisions were taken by Oliver Letwin and Danny Alexander, neither of whom had a background in health policy.
House of Lords reform
A mass revolt by Conservative MPs over deputy prime minister Nick Clegg’s proposals for reform of the House of Lords threatens to destabilise the coalition today, the Times reports. MPs will vote twice tonight on the House of Lords Reform Bill, and the government is expected to win the initial vote to give the legislation its second reading. However, the paper says that the government is heading for its first defeat since coming to power after more than 70 Conservatives vowed to defy party whips and vote against the subsequent Programme Motion, which would seek to set a limit on the length of debate of the legislation. The paper says that a government defeat would place the coalition under severe strain, as Mr Clegg has suffered a fresh blow as nine Liberal Democrat peers say that the reform proposals are “unnecessary, expensive, flawed and enjoyed near zero public interest or support”.