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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL AUTHORITY STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 09:25HRS

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IN DEPTH: PRESSURE ON PRIME MINISTER TO RESHUFFLE...
IN DEPTH: PRESSURE ON PRIME MINISTER TO RESHUFFLE

Tony Blair was being urged by senior ministers yesterday to get a grip on the government and his party by swiftly carrying out a reshuffle that he has already delayed since early November. As an embarrassed prime minister promised to mend his ways by turning up for important Commons votes in the future - his absence caused the key defeat on Tuesday over the Religious Hatred Bill - , ministers told him to tackle the growing sense of drift by widening his reshuffle plans and replacing key ministers. 'He has to show he is still in charge and that he has the authority to get through the Bills that matter,' a senior minister told The Times. Yesterday, Mr Blair's colleagues were saying that he should carry out the long-delayed reshuffle before the Commons half-term break on 16 February. But it is understood he has postponed plans for a ministerial reshuffle until spring at the earliest, when he intends to promote more young talent into the government ranks for the final part of his premiership, reports The Daily Telegraph. A question mark remains over whether education secretary Ruth Kelly will stay in place to see through the key reforms. Industry secretary Alan Johnson was being mentioned as a possible replacement in both jobs yesterday, reports The Times.

Downing Street maintained a solid refusal throughout Wednesday to say where Mr Blair had been between 8.07pm and 8.25pm on Tuesday when the vote took place that was to water down the Religious Hatred Bill. To have given a straight-forward answer would have added to the sense of ridicule surrounding Mr Blair's whereabouts. The Times has learnt that he was still in the Commons while the vote was taking place. MPs saw him in the area outside the Commons chamber but not in the chamber itself. At Prime Minister's Questions, a sheepish Mr Blair tried to make light of his role in the defeat, telling MPs 'it's probably a good idea that I turn up' for votes on the proposed education Bill, reports The Daily Telegraph.

MP INTRODUCES BILL AIMED TO PREVENT GARDENS BEING BULLDOZED

The Times reports that, introducing his Protection of Private Gardens Bill (see LGCnet), Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark said: 'Garden grabbing is a good name for a bad practice. It works like this. A developer buys a house, usually in good condition. Then they knock it down, building as many new houses as they can on what used to be the garden of the old house. What used to be the house next door becomes a building site. What used to be a neighbourhood becomes a battleground.' The MP introduced his Bill under the ten-minute rule, which draws attention to an issue, although the Bill stands little chance of becoming law.

TRADING STANDARDS TAKE NOTE: AGE LIMIT TO BUY TOBACCO MAY RISE

Powers to raise the legal age for buying cigarettes to 18 will be added to the Health Bill to be put before MPs this month, a Department of Health spokeswoman said yesterday. The government will now begin consulting health experts on the issue (see LGCnet). The process is expected to take 12 weeks. If the subsequent report supports raising the legal age for buying cigarettes, the government will not require further legislation, reports The Times.

BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL CONPENSATES TEACHER AFTER INTRUDER'S DEATH THREAT

Birmingham City Council confirmed yesterday it had agreed an out of court settlement for teacher Anna Mongey, who was told she was going to be shot in front of a class full of pupils, reports The Guardian. Ms Mongey, who has not worked since, was awarded£330,000 compensation. The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said: 'Questions should be asked about the actions and negligence of employers which caused the problems in the first place.'

SEX BIAS VICTORY FOR FIREMAN BANNED FROM BRIGADE HEADQUARTERS

A Devon and Cornwall Fire Service controller who was banned from his own brigade headquarters after a series of unfounded allegations against him by a female colleague won his claim for sexual discrimination yesterday, reports The Times. An employment tribunal ruled that John Owers was treated 'less favourably' than Sarah Kelly, the colleague whose spurious complaints led to his removal. A further hearing will be held to set compensation.

TRAIN STATIONS 'DEPLORABLE' AS RESPONSIBILITY SHUNNED

Britain's train stations have deteriorated into dirty, dangerous, poorly staffed environments because nobody in the privatised rail industry can agree who is responsible for their upkeep, according to a highly critical report by MPs. Members of the Public Accounts Committee will today attack the 'deplorable' state of the 2,507 stations on the national network, describing many of them as vandalised, poorly lit, threatening places with graffiti-covered passages and few staff, reports The Guardian.

AND FINALLY ...

An MP who declined to be identified has revealed the inspiration for the Religious Hatred Bill 'rebellion by stealth' that humbled Tony Blair and his chief whip, Hilary Armstrong. 'We had no big press conferences, no events announcing the coming protest,' he told The Daily Telegraph. 'It was directly inspired by [television series] The West Wing.'

Edinburgh residents are the fourth-happiest in Britain, according to a Mori Scotland poll, with 92% saying that they are satisfied living there, compared with 96% of Northumberland's population, 86% of Glaswegians and 72% of Londoners, reports The Times.

'COUNCIL TO CONSULT ON CONSULTING'

Under the above headline, The Daily Telegraph reports that Cambridgeshire CC is 'trying to find out what the public thinks is the best way of finding out what the public thinks' about new road safety schemes. Environment and community services scrutiny committee chairman Nichola Harrison said: 'The council uses various consultation methods to reach different groups of people and the committee will use case studies to find out whether these processes can be improved. I hope our work can help to improve communications between the public and the council so that traffic calming schemes are consistently accepted and welcomed.'

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