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News round up - 1 September

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Your daily media round up of all the key stories affecting local government

Source: Radu Razvan

Planning reform

Planning officers warn that attempts by ministers to rush through reforms will pose the biggest threat to the countryside since the Second World War, according to the Daily Telegraph. Quoting a letter from 23 former presidents of the Royal Town Planning Institute, the paper warns that the “proposal for a presumption in favour of sustainable development” will “open up large swathes of unprotected rural England to development”. The RTPI letter argues that introducing a new system “overnight” will lead to “greater confusion, uncertainty for the development industry and anxiety for communities”. The full letter can be read here.

But David Frost, the departing chief of the British Chambers of Commerce, has urged the government to defy opposition to the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework which will ease the restrictions on building in the countryside, the Times reports £. “The government is absolutely right to move on planning but my worry is it is going to stall. It has to hold its course,” he says.

In its leader, the Times says £ that there is “no reason why country concerns cannot be accommodated at the same time as pursuing economic growth” and comments that “a government that came to office as avowedly localist has discovered that genuine local activism can be troublesome and detrimental to the schemes that it devises from Whitehall”.

Council bonds

The Financial Times follows up on its report yesterday on councils entering the bond market with an analysis of the moves £. It says that councils are expected to return to the capital markets en masse to pay their way out of the council house subsidy system and as a result of the sharp jump in the cost of borrowing from the Treasury’s Public Works Loans Board. The paper reports Wandsworth LBC is one of those developing plans while the LGA is set to appoint advisers for it long trailed project to set up a collective agency to issue aggregate council bonds.

LGC says: Interesting times lie ahead for how councils finance debt, with an increasing number of councils gearing up for bond issues. As we reported in June, finance experts are predicting up to 20 local authorities could make bond issues of more than £100m within a year. We report today on how the PWLB is to offer councils needing to buy their way out of the housing revenue account subsidy system special finance arrangements that will buy them more time to line up bond issues.

PFI projects value questioned

The Financial Times reports £ on the latest damning report by MPs on the value for money offered by PFI. The Public Accounts Committee report says the Treasury may have overestimated the advantages of private finance initiative projects because of the tax revenue being lost through offshore tax arrangements being used by investors. It follows a similarly damning report by the Treasury select committee earlier this month.

Suffolk legal chief took own life

The Daily Mail and the Guardian report that an inquest into the death of a senior Suffolk CC officer, who took his own life, heard he was under “intense pressure” as his local authority made budget cuts. Suffolk CC head of legal services, David White was found hanging in Butley Woods, near Woodbridge, just days after being appointed to the post on a permanent basis. His suicide sparked an independent investigation into the alleged “domineering” management style of the council’s chief executive, Andrea Hill. Ms Hill has since been cleared of any blame but left the council by mutual consent. Read more, including his suicide note to Ms Hill here.

Free schools

The Guardian reports analysis of the catchment areas of the first 24 free schools shows they are tilted towards the middle class, while the white working class is under-represented. Research by the market analysts CACI finds that the ten-minute commuting area around the first wave of free schools is disproportionately dominated by middle class households - the areas are 57% better-off, educated and professional households compared with 42.8% for England as a whole.

Other news

The Telegraph reports Lord Crisp, who led former prime minister Tony Blair’s health reforms, warning that the NHS needs fewer hospitals and senior consultants.

Fly-tipping is costing taxpayers almost £25m a year, according to the Daily Mail. The paper cites a report from the Countryside Alliance that found 656,000 incidents were reported last year, but that only one in 50 cases led to a prosecution. The Countryside Alliance also said that significant variations between figures reported by local authorities suggested that the real figure could be higher.

Jamie Buchan, the chief executive of failed care home operator Southern Cross, has agreed to surrender a “golden parachute” of £494,500 to which he was entitled, according to the Times £.

A last ditch attempt to prevent the eviction of families from the largest unauthorised traveller site in England failed at the High Court, the BBC reports.

Local media report that police investigating allegations of corrupt tendering practices at Stoke-on-Trent City Council have arrested a fifth man. A 56-year-old Staffordshire man was detained yesterday as part of the force inquiry. He was bailed pending further inquiries until next month. Four men are already on police bail and six council officers are suspended as part of the investigation. A police spokesman said: “A 56-year-old man has been arrested and bailed, as part of the ongoing investigation into alleged corrupt tendering practices at the city council.”


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