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News round-up 10/9: Ex-ministers vow to speak out

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

Reshuffle fall-out

A number of ministers forced out of the government in last week’s reshuffle are preparing to speak out about controversial issues such as planning reform and social care, the Sunday Times reports. Former Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillian criticised new planning minister Nick Boles who has previously described opponents of planning reform as “hysterical, scaremongering latter-day Luddites”. She said: “I know our new planning minister believes in chaos… and not central planning. I believe in local plans being looked at very carefully and protecting this precious countryside we have.” Former children’s minister Tim Loughton is understood to be concerned the Department for Education does not abandon his former brief on disadvantaged children and children in care and is prepared to “raise issues from the back benches to ensure they are not overlooked,” the paper says.  Deposed care minister Paul Burstow meanwhile, is planning to “speak out about the need to implement proposals by the Dilnot commission on the funding of care for the elderly.

 

Universal Credit fears

Some 70 organisations involved in the benefits system have raised concerns about the implementation of the Universal Credit, the BBC’s World this Weekend reports. Written evidence submitted to the Commons work and pensions committee by organisations representing councils, charities, trades unions, business groups and housing organisations shows fears about moving to monthly payments, access to an online system and whether a new IT system will be ready by an October 2013 deadline.

Meanwhile, thousands of the lowest paid families are set to lose hundreds of pounds in child benefit as a consequence of the launch of Universal Credit, reports the Times. Research by the Children’s Society found that 100,000 households will lose up to £4,000 a year when the all-in-one Universal Credit is introduced.

 

Unions

The Financial Times reports that the Unison and GMB unions could be on course to merge. Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, and Paul Kenny, GMB leader, laid out plans to develop their recently formed alliance as the annual Trades Union Congress opened in Brighton this weekend. They set no date for starting merger talks and made clear that a period of joint working was needed first, but Mr Prentis described it as an “engagement” that could lead to marriage.

 

Red tape

Conservative business minister Michael Fallon will today announce plans to exempt hundreds of thousands of firms from regular health and safety inspections, reports the Daily Mail. The announcement will come as business secretary Vince Cable prepares to unveil a new industrial strategy aimed at helping industries identified as having the potential for growth, the paper writes.

 

Housing

Planning permission for new homes has fallen by 32% a quarter, to its lowest level in three years, according to data from construction consultancy Glenigan and the Home Builders Federation. The Financial Times says the fall between April and June suggests the government’s National Planning Policy Framework has failed to have the desired effect. The paper says social housing approvals, down 41%, bore the brunt of the slowdown and quotes the chief executive of one large housing association who said the new planning framework had “created uncertainty just as local authorities are being forced to slim down their planning resources”. The LGA has repeatedly denied there is any blockage for planning permission at council level and argued against further changes to the planning system.

 

Education

The Guardian reports that a third of academy schools are “selling junk food that is banned in maintained schools.” It says an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme found that of 108 academies that responded to freedom of information requests, 29 were selling chocolate and other confectionary. Seven sold energy drinks such as Red Bull, the report says. However, it says, the Department for Education has called the claims “shoddy and misleading,” claiming it was never expected that councils would monitor maintained schools’ compliance with the regulations.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the exams regulator Ofqual warned Michael Gove that reducing GCSE grade inflation would make it harder to recognise “genuine increases” in pupil performance. It says the regulator wrote to Mr Gove before the results were published in August, saying preventing grade inflation “can make it harder for any genuine increases in the performance of students to be fully reflected in the results.”

The Daily Telegraph also reports that schools are banning children’s games and class trips because they are being “swamped” by compensation claims from “ambulance-chasing” solicitors.

 

Litigation

A litigation culture is “bleeding health and education services dry” and making Britain a less safe place, the Independent reports. A paper by the Centre for Policy Studies suggests the threat of litigation is undermining professionalism, reducing transparency and increasing the financial burden on public services such as health and education.

 

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