News round-up 24/8: Right to buy blunder
Your daily media round up of all the key stories affecting local government
Right to buy
A mailshot to encourage council tenants to buy their homes has been criticised as a waste of money after leaflets were delivered to people who already owned their homes, the Times reports. Part of a £1m campaign, more than 300,000 leaflets have been sent to addresses in London and the west Midlands. However, call centres have had “dozens of calls a day from residents complaining that they already own their homes. Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey said the mistake was a “waste of taxpayers’ money” but housing minister Grant Shapps said the mailshot was a way to bypass Labour councils that “want to keep tenants in the dark” by failing to publicise the right to buy policy.
Britain’s three exam boards are facing an unprecedented number of appeals over this year’s GCSE results, after claims that some candidates have been unfairly marked down in an effort to curb grade inflation. Today’s Guardian reports that headteachers have said that a decision to raise grade boundaries in GCSE English between exams taken in January and June have resulted in many candidates being marked down an entire grade. Education secretary Michael Gove insists that the changes in results were comparable with previous years and that grading was the “result of the independent judgements made by exam boards entirely free from any political pressure”. A government source has insisted that there was “no question” of results being manipulated to force schools to convert into academies, the paper adds.
Prime minister David Cameron is coming under increasing pressure to appoint a new transport secretary in the upcoming reshuffle, in the wake of Justine Greening’s opposition to a third runway at Heathrow, reports the Financial Times. As the coalition begins to shift its position towards supporting the expansion of the airport, Ms Greening’s opposition is seen as “untenable”, the paper continues. Chief executive of International Airlines Group Willie Walsh told the paper that the lack of progress on aviation was a “disgrace” and suggested that the government lacked the “political will to address the issues”.
Meanwhile, Labour chair of the transport committee Louise Ellman has requested that the award of the West Coast rail contract to FirstGroup be delayed until the bid has been scrutinised by MPs, the Guardian reports. She argued that this would “help to provide greater transparency and address the concerns that have been raised” over the controversial bid. Commenting, chairman of Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson argued that the “transport committee is absolutely right to ask for a delay”, stating that a “lack of answers from the Department for Transport” made proper examination of the issue by Parliament “essential”.
Bad weather and decrepit roads have forced councils to pay nearly £5m in compensation to drivers whose cars have been damaged by potholes, according to research reported in the Independent.
Conservation groups have expressed outrage at Treasury plans to use England’s greenbelt land to help spur growth, the Financial Times reports. The department denies the charge, arguing it is an attempt to get councils to use the existing system - where they can redesignate some greenbelt so long as they replace it elsewhere - and help business. The paper says the Department for Communities & Local Government is resisting wider pressure from the Treasury to change the planning system again.
Three British police forces have agreed to proceed with plans to consider outsourcing key functions to security company G4S, which is under fire for its failure to provide Olympic security, the Financial Times reports.
Basildon BC will take no further action against protesters arrested during the clearance of the Dale Farm travellers’ site, the Guardian reports. It says the authority prosecuted two people for obstructing a bailiff, but has announced it will drop the prosecution of 14 more people.