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News Review - 17 March 2011

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

(Click on headlines for more)

THIS WEEK’S STORIES

POLITICS

Don’t ‘shut down services for political purposes’ - Clegg

  • Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg accused Labour councils of seeking political advantage by making cuts that hit vulnerable people. He said anyone who shut down a public service for political purposes was a “disgrace to politics”.

Lib Dems beaten in Burnley by-election

  • The Liberal Democrats slumped from first to third place behind the BNP as Labour scored a landslide council by-election victory at Burnley BC.

Old Bailey hearing for Lord Hanningfield

  • A judge held a pre-trial hearing in the case of Tory peer and former leader of Essex CC Lord Hanningfield, who faces six charges of false accounting regarding his House of Lords expenses.

FINANCE

Labour issues business rates warning

  • Ministers’ plans to reform business rates risk penalising deprived areas because they raise less revenue from local industry than more affluent areas, Labour warned.

OFT: Public bodies must buy more competitively

  • Public bodies could do more to leverage competition as a means of achieving long-term value for money when procuring services, according to an Office of Fair Trading report, Commissioning and competition in the public sector.

Costs of benefits errors revealed

  • The government was urged to tackle “considerable” errors in the benefits system after a Public Accounts Committee report found that more than £2bn was overpaid and £1.3bn underpaid to claimants.

Call to increase Scottish councillors’ pay

  • Councillors in Scotland should be paid more to reflect their increased workload, according to a report for the Scottish government. The Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee said senior councillors were working harder and had more responsibilities since their last report in 2005.

MANAGEMENT

Duckworth to lead charity

  • Former Newham LBC chief executive Joe Duckworth is to lead the League Against Cruel Sports in a move he described as “going back to my roots” in campaigning.

Further suspension for Conwy’s Byron Davies

  • Conwy CBC’s chief executive Byron Davies remains suspended from his post, after being cleared of rape. He was first suspended last March after his arrest. The council this week said “other matters” needed consideration.

SOCIAL SERVICES

Pressure increases at Southern Cross

  • Southern Cross Healthcare, which operates more than 750 care homes, said its trading outlook continued to deteriorate. Its admissions and fees have declined as local authorities look for cheaper prices.

Rating upgrade for Haringey children’s services

  • Haringey LBC’s children’s services were rated by Ofsted as “performs adequately” for the first time since the Baby Peter tragedy. Cornwall Council received a “performs poorly” rating for the second year running.

Annuities ‘a drop in the ocean’ for care debate

  • Financial products that allow people to pay a lump sum to cover future social care needs are likely to help only a fraction of service users, according to a report from thinktank Strategic Society. It said the wider use of Immediate Needs Annuities was likely to benefit only 36,000 people a year.

HEALTH

Delegates say ‘no’ to government health reforms

  • Liberal Democrats at their spring conference rejected the government’s proposed health reforms. The move is expected to put pressure on the party’s ministers to lobby for radical changes.

EDUCATION

More schools seeking academy status

  • Almost half of England’s secondary schools intend to convert to academies, or have already done so, a poll by the Association of School and College Leaders found. As academies receive their funding directly, these schools have been able to protect their budgets when others, who are given their money from local authorities, have not, ASCL said.

Profit motive vital for free-school success

  • Former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead warned education secretary Michael Gove that he would have to allow private companies to run “free schools” for a profit if the flagship policy was to be a success.

School admissions chief to quit earlier than planned

  • The head of the Office of the School Adjudicator, Ian Craig, announced he would quit his post later this year, about six months earlier than planned. The announcement came after Mr Craig had criticised the government’s policies.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Adonis makes case for Birmingham mayor

  • Lord Adonis prescribed a triple-cocktail of an elected mayor, high-speed rail and an increase in academy schools to turn around Birmingham’s fortunes. The former education and transport secretary said the measures would help avert the “crisis” facing the city.

North warned of ‘disproportionate’ job cuts

  • The north will be “disproportionately” hit by spending cuts and job losses and the gap between and within regions is likely to widen, with serious economic and social consequences, a Smith Institute report warned.

TRANSPORT

High-speed rail link dubbed ‘expensive white elephant’

  • The multi-billion pound high-speed rail link project is an “expensive white elephant” and should be scrapped, an alliance of business leaders, politicians and economists said.

REGENERATION

Abolition of Housing Market Renewal criticised

  • The Housing Market Renewal programme made a “substantial contribution” to improving housing and economic circumstances in deprived areas. Its abolition was “untimely”, an Audit Commission report found.

Coalfields Regeneration faces 15% cut in funding

  • Eric Pickles’ department announced a 15% cut to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust over the next two years. Central funding is likely to be halted entirely after that.

PLANNING

Regional reforms could leave serious ‘vacuum’

  • Abolition of regional spatial planning strategies will leave a vacuum in the English planning system that may have a profound social and economic impact, a communities and local government select committee said.

HOUSING

Councils to pilot top up mortgage scheme

  • Five councils are to pilot a local authority-backed mortgage scheme to help first-time buyers. Launched by Capita and backed by Lloyds TSB, it will see councils ‘topping up’ deposits by up to 20% of the mortgage.
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