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News Review - 15 September 2011

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LGC’s comprehensive round-up of local government news.

(Click headlines for more)

THIS WEEK’S STORIES

POLITICS

Constituency shake-up to complicate elections

  • John Turner, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, warned the increase in the number of constituencies that cross local authority boundaries would make the running of elections increasingly complicated for returning officers.

Miliband warns against pension strikes

  • Ed Miliband told the TUC annual conference that there must be no strikes over changes to public sector pensions while negotiations were ongoing. He also told delegates the movement had to change to become more relevant to the private sector and new industries.

FINANCE

Benefit claimants face 30% cut

  • Council tax benefit claimants could see their hand-out reduced by nearly 30% if ministers push through proposals to localise the benefit, a council warned. Nottingham City Council said it had “serious concerns” about ministers’ proposals to localise council tax benefits and that claimants who were not exempt faced severe cuts.

MANAGEMENT

Council may delete chief post

  • Wiltshire Council said it could be forced to scrap two senior management positions, including that of chief executive, in an attempt to balance its budget. The council said despite having made £18m in savings last year, further cuts were needed because of a reduced government grant, increased costs and pressure on adult care services.

Tory council set to fund union’s legal battle

  • Conservative-led Derby City Council is set to fund a union’s legal bid to force ministers to overturn its decision to send a £1.6bn train order overseas, the Financial Times reported. The council will vote on whether to support Unite, if it presses ahead with a judicial review of the award of the contract for Thameslink trains to Siemens of Germany rather than the UK’s Bombardier.

SOCIAL SERVICES

Peterborough resignation over Ofsted inspection

  • Peterborough City Council’s director of children’s services resigned after Ofsted gave the authority’s children’s safeguarding services another “inadequate” rating. The council announced John Richards’ departure, following a follow-up report that questioned its leadership.

Disabled care report highlights ‘coping’ councils

  • Research claiming to show wide variations in the extent to which council budget cuts are affecting disabled residents found deeper-cutting authorities sometimes protected services better. According to the study, conducted by thinktank Demos for disability charity Scope, authorities such as Hammersmith & Fulham LBC and Rutland CC made “high” budget cuts, yet scored well on researchers’ “coping” scale.

NAO spotlights personal budget shortcomings

  • The overall impact of personal budgets on the cost to councils of service provision has not been evaluated, a finance watchdog warned. The National Audit Office said more work was needed to extend choice for service users and to protect self-funders from falling back on the state.

COMMUNITY SAFETY

Riot inquiry announced

  • Croydon LBC announced an independent inquiry into last month’s riots that led to damage to about 200 businesses and the eventual arrest of more than 380 people. Council leader Mike Fisher (Con) said efforts would be made to evict anyone convicted for riot-related offences from council-owned properties.

PLANNING

Government will not define ‘sustainable development’

  • The government was accused of paying lip service to the environment after refusing to define ‘sustainable development’ in law.

EDUCATION

Government publishes academy number figures

  • A majority of secondary schools are now academies in 29 English council areas, according to government figures. The Department for Education said that as of this month 1,300 schools will be academies, with 40% of secondaries either operating as academies or in the process of changing.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Call for more low-carbon investment by Whitehall

  • The UK faces a decade of stagnation and “mounting deprivation” unless the government stimulates investment in low carbon and digital technologies, a report by the Big Innovation Centre said. Report co-author Will Hutton said too few public bodies knew how to benefit from these emerging ‘general purpose technologies’, which include health science and cyber-security.

TRANSPORT

Congestion ‘should not be tackled by councils alone’

  • The transport select committee warned the Department for Transport against leaving the issue of tackling congestion to local authorities. In a report on how to curb congestion without road building or road pricing, the committee said highways authorities had a duty to manage local road networks, but that the DfT should “actively support” them to work together closely to fulfil that duty.

Government looks at winter preparations

  • The government said it may issue further guidance to councils on how much salt they should keep in preparation for another severe winter. The Department for Transport also said it was investigating how to encourage more councils to set up voluntary ‘snow warden’ schemes in preparation for winter.

HOUSING

MPs call for housing finance inquiry evidence

  • The communities and local government select committee called for evidence for an inquiry into housing finance, amid concerns over a lack of social and affordable homes. MPs will look at private and social housing, dwindling government resources and the lack of mortgage finance. Last month the Department for Communities & Local Government revealed house building in the three months to June had fallen by 9% on the previous quarter and 18% year-on-year.

Number of homeless people on the increase

  • The number of homeless people has risen, according to Department for Communities & Local Government statistics. These show that between April and June 11,820 applicants were accepted by councils as being in need of ‘homeless help’ and therefore eligible to go on to a council house waiting list - a 17% spike over the same period in 2010. Homeless charity Crisis warned the situation was likely to worsen.

Social housing fraud ‘higher than originally believed’

  • The fraudulent occupancy of social housing could exist in at least 157,000 properties or about 3.1% of all social rented housing, according to research by data company Experian Public Sector. This is three times the number estimated by the Audit Commission in 2009. The figures are based on an initial analysis of 125,000 social housing tenancies in 10 UK local authorities and housing associations in rural and urban areas.
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