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News round up - 5 September

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

Source: Radu Razvan

Planning row

Chancellor George Osborne has weighed into the on-going row between ministers and a raft of environmental lobby groups about the coalition’s proposed planning reforms. Writing in today’s Financial Times £ in a piece co-authored with communites secretary Eric Pickles, Mr Osborne says: “Planning reform is key to our economic recovery. Opponents claim, falsely, the government is putting the countryside in peril. We say that sticking with the old, failed planning system puts at risk young people’s future prosperity and quality of life.”

The Sunday Times reports £ that planning minister Greg Clark is facing a revolt in his own constituency over the coalition’s proposal to relax planning laws. According to the paper, angry Conservative councillors in Mr Clark’s Tunbridge Wells constituency have condemned the new proposals and one predicted the MP was committing “political suicide”.

Dr Linda Hall, a Tory councillor in Tunbridge Wells and chairwoman of the local development framework working party, told the paper: “It’s a developers’ charter. Local Conservatives are appalled. We have had discussions about it and we think it’s just John Prescott’s policy under a different name.

“Greg Clark is a lovely person and we just cannot understand why he is pushing this. People here will turn against Greg if they feel the countryside is being overrun by developments. It’s political suicide.”

Meanwhile, the Observer reports that author and countryside campaigner Bill Bryson has joined the opposition to the planning reforms. Mr Bryson, who is president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England,told the Sunday paper he was deeply concerned by the direction of policy. “The government’s good intentions risk being undermined by the talk of economic growth at any cost,” he said. “We are deeply worried to learn that environmental laws are regarded as red tape and that the planning system might be weakened to allow for more development.”

Meanwhile, the Observer’s political editor says the planning row reveals an “extraordinary political shift”, with “Labour has been finding its voice as the party of the shires, while the Tories have allowed themselves to be painted - including by some of their own supporters - as its enemies”.

Dale Farm eviction ‘unwise’

The Guardian’s Saturday edition reports that the UN has weighed into the protracted row over Basildon BC’s bid to evict 400 travellers from the now infamous site at Dale Farm. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination used uncharacteristically robust language to express its “deep regret” at the £18m eviction at Dale Farm, the UK’s biggest single eviction in modern times, the paper reports.

Government cuts set to hit women hard

Women are more likely to suffer financially because of public sector funding cuts, the Independent reports. Analysis of employment figures by the TUC revealed three times more women took employment in the public sector compared to the private sector over the last ten years. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said women’s “dependence” on the public sector was “likely to prove disastrous” for female employment rates.

The Independent also reports on TUC general secretary Brendan Barber’s warning that any attempt to toughen up strike laws could lead to wildcat strikes. Speaking to the paper, Mr Barber said the UK had the tightest regulations on strikes in the world and that workers may be forced to take matters into their own hands.

Welfare reform

The Department for Work and Pensions has been forced by the prime minister into reconsidering an idea it had days previously described as “not workable” as Whitehall scrambles for policies to toughen up welfare, the Guardian reports. The paper says David Cameron, writing in a Sunday newspaper, called for the child benefit payments of parents who play truant from school to be withdrawn.

Schools

Both the Observer and The Sunday Times reports £ that Nick Clegg has blocked efforts by Michael Gove to allow free schools to be run by profit-making firms. In a cabinet battle with the Tory education secretary, the Liberal Democrat leader also insisted he would not support free schools unless they helped children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the paper says.

An academy sponsor is seeking to take over 20 failing primary schools within the next year, becoming Britain’s biggest chain of schools, the Times reports £. Ministers say that the 200 primary schools with consistently poor results must become academies, and the head of E-ACT told the newspaper that he had offered to sponsor 10% of them.

Quango ‘fat cats’

More than 100 of Britain’s most senior ‘quangocrats’ have amassed pension pots worth more than £1m — and can then get top-ups worth hundreds of thousands if they opt for early retirement, the Times reports £. According to the paper, a survey of the biggest quangos reveals that these golden pension pots are swelling by up to £240,000 every year. Some officials are getting more money ploughed into their pensions than they are paid in salary, the paper says.

Continuing its “Quash the quangos” campaign, the Daily Mail also sets its sights on public sector chief executives with £1m-plus pension pots. It dubs Care Quality Commission Cynthia Bower “queen of the pension pots” for a £1.35m stash “on top of her £195,000 salary”. Young People’s Learning Agency chief Peter Lauener and Pam Alexander, chief executive of the South East Development Agency, also get a mention.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that NHS chief Sir David Nicholson claimed more than £50,000 a year in expenses to live in a London flat “at the same time as ordering the health service to make unprecedented savings”.

Other news

The Guardian’s leader lambastes the Health and Social Care bill as “worse than nothing”. “This is a tale of bad process, bad faith and bad policy,” the papers says, concluding that there is no satisfactory way out but to substantially amend or reject the bill.

The Independent reports on an increase in the number of complaints from contractors about public sector procurement. According to law firm McGrigors disputes over contracts rose from 26 last year to 73. As a result a record number of tenders have been amended. The rise has been blamed on increased competition due to a dwindling number of contracts available.

Orders for public sector construction projects have dropped by more than 30% in the second quarter of 2011, according to a report in the Independent. Figures collated by the Office for National Statistics revealed a “sharp decline” in the construction industry.

Over the weekend, the Mail on Sunday reported that social workers at Dundee City Council were poised to take four children from the same family into care because the youngsters are “too fat”.

The Mail on Sunday also reported that Haringey LBC is being sued by a former headteacher who claims she was “bullied out of her job” by former director of children’s services Sharon Shoesmith. It said June Alexis was sacked from her job at John Loughborough school in Tottenham in June 2008 after a row over performance. A Haringey spokeswoman said the council would not comment on the case ahead of an Employment Appeal Tribunal.

 

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