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By LGC political correspondent Tariq Tahir ...
By LGC political correspondent Tariq Tahir

Stephen Byers has secured his short term political career after seeing off opposition attempts to bring him down over the Jo Moore-Martin Sixsmith affair.

But he - and the senior civil servant at the DTLR - have been read the riot act by the prime minister and told to focus on their jobs.

Mr Byers, a former council leader, is seen by many in local government as

being a reformer sympathetic to their concerns and ambitions.

The controversy over the warring spin doctors finally had an airing in the

house of commons when the beleaguered transport and local government secretary

made a statement to MPs.

Mr Byers told the commons the real issue was sorting out the transport system, reforming local government and regenerating run down urban areas.

After making the statement, the transport secretary and DTLR senior civil servant Richard Mottram, were summoned to Downing Street for a meeting with Tony Blair.

After the meeting, the prime minister's official spokesman said: 'There can be no stronger signal of the prime minister's commitment to refocus this department on its proper priorities and of giving his full support to those engaged in that exercise than this meeting.'

In what was the nearest thing to an apology, Mr Byers told the commons

though he thought Mr Sixsmith should not be given a job elsewhere in government

he had not tried to influence the decision.

He said he 'regretted' telling the Dimbleby programme he had no views on the

matter whatsoever.

One Labour MP last night said Downing Street had to draw a line in the sand and support Mr Byers.

'In the morning it was looking pretty bleak for Byers. But the view was that

they had to back him because this was a story lead by the press and if it took him

down, then it would take another one down, etc, etc.

'I got the feeling they would not have stood by him if they didn't think he

was doing a good job.'

Another, who sits on the transport and local government committee, added: 'I

thought he was confident and looked like someone who was secure. I think he'll

stay but he'll have to concentrate on the matter in hand not the problems of

his communications office.'

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