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NATIONAL PRESS - ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES - UPDATED 9:30AM

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RURAL AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT IS BACK ON POLITICAL AGENDA ...
RURAL AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT IS BACK ON POLITICAL AGENDA
The government has revived plans to give country dwellers a department of rural affairs as part of a shake-up of the DETR. It had been thought that Tony Blair has abandoned the idea, but government insiders insist a so-called department of agriculture and rural development is back on the agenda. This could also lead to the break-up of the DETR and the creation of a department for social inclusion, according to The Financial Times(p2).
CALL FOR EQUALITY AUDITS
The Equal Opportunuities Commission will this week urge the government to impose a statutory duty on employers to audit their workforces to address the pay gap between men and women, reports The Financial Times. (p4). A report by the commission, drawn up by an equal pay taskforce, suggests the gender pay gap is caused by discrimination by employers between men and women doing the same job.
25 MAYORAL REFERENDUMS FORECAST
The government is predicting that up to 25 English towns and cities could hold referendums this year on whether to have elected mayors, according to The Financial Times(p5). The level of interest has come as a pleasant surprise to backers of Tony Blair's dream of riviving local democracy with a national network of US-style mayors. A mayoral enthusiast within the DETR said: 'A big range of authorities of different sizes are now showing an interest. A lot of research demonstrates that in the larger towns, as well as the major cities, people like the idea of a mayor to speak up for them.'
QUALITY OF LONDON LIFE IS GOING DOWN, SURVEY FINDS
The quality of life in London compared with other cities around the world is plummeting, with the deteriorating transport system and a rise in the number of street robberies being blamed for the drop, reports The Times(p8). A survey published today by William H Mercer, a business consultancy, found that London had gone down from 35th to 40th place in the study of 215 cities. Birmingham and Glasgow came joint 59th. Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, said that the survey's results were disappointing, but not surprising.
10-YEAR NATIONAL CRIME PLAN TO BE LAUNCHED
Tony Blair will today launch a 10-year national crime plan, which will include an overhaul of the criminal justice system, a new schemes to tackle cyber-crime and plans to create new 'super bobbies'. Labour intends to boost the presence of police patrols that provide reassurance to the public by offering cash incentivesto officers who turn down promotion to other policing staff, reports The Guardian(p2). (See also LGCnet CASH TO LURE POLICE BACK TO THE BEAT
PAID SABBATICALS FOR TEACHERS IN TOUGH SCHOOLS
Teachers in Britain's most challenging schools will be entitled to six-week paid sabbaticals under plans to be announced by the government this week. The proposals are part of a£92m package of measures to raise teaching standards through better professional development. The package, to be announced by the school standards minister, Estelle Morris, at a conference on Thursday, is likely to benefit around 70,000 teachers over the next three years, reports The Guardian(p7).
LABOUR POLICIES HAVE REMOVED 1.2 MILLION CHILDREN FROM POVERTY
A comprehensive audit of deprivation published today by the Child Poverty Action Group says more than 1.2 million children have been lifted out of poverty as a result of government policies introduced since the last election, reports The Guardian(p8). Martin Barnes, director of CPAG, said: 'After a poor start during its first two years in office, substantial progress in reducing child poverty has been made. But progress should be seen against the horrendously high levels of poverty the government inherited.'
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