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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL AUTHORITY STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 11:55HRS

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PRIME MINISTER'S DOUBLE COMMONS DEFEAT GIVES HEART TO EDUCATION REBELS...
PRIME MINISTER'S DOUBLE COMMONS DEFEAT GIVES HEART TO EDUCATION REBELS

Tony Blair's authority was shaken by two surprise defeats yesterday that weakened his Bill to create the crime of inciting racial hatred. Key measures were lost by a majority of just one after he failed to stay for the crucial vote. They will give heart to Labour rebels on the flagship Education Bill and ID Cards Bill, making Mr Blair's task of pushing through his reforms and ensuring his legacy even tougher, reports The Times.

ALLIES RALLY ROUND AS METROPOLITAN POLICE COMMISSIONER'S TROUBLES GROW

Ian Blair's political allies rallied behind him yesterday and insisted that criticism of his leadership should not lead to his early resignation. However, several senior Scotland Yard officers The Guardian spoke to admitted Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian's position had been undermined by a series of problems since he took the top job exactly a year ago today.

SECOND HALF OF LIVERPOOL REGENERATION PROJECT PAIR QUITS

Liverpool City Council's former executive director for regeneration, Charlie Parker, has left his post, reports The Daily Telegraph. He has been involved in negotiating a£920m shopping development in the city.

LIVERPOOL CHIEF EXECUTIVE QUITS (Local Authority)

IN DEPTH: HINDUS AND SIKHS CALL FOR THE RIGHT TO OPEN-AIR CREMATIONS

Hindus and Sikhs in Britain should have the right to cremate their dead on funeral pyres at open-air ceremonies, a race relations group said yesterday. The Anglo-Asian Friendship Society said that a ban on the use of funeral pyres, dating back to 1930, unfairly penalised followers of both religions. The charity, which has 2,000 members, said that its proposal for pyres located at sites across the country, beginning with one near Newcastle upon Tyne, would meet all planning and environmental requirements. Lawyers working for the society have prepared a case to be heard under the 1988 Human Rights Act. The documentation was presented to Newcastle City Council this week. A council spokesman told The Times: 'We look forward to reading the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society's proposals.'

PUBLIC SPENDING WATCHDOG SHOCKED BY HOME OFFICE'S SLIPSHOD ACCOUNTS

The Home Office has lost control of its finances and its accounts are in a mess, according to a report published by the National Audit Office. The NAO is so alarmed at what it has uncovered that it has refused to give its approval to the department's flawed financial records, The Times.

WHY CHEWING-GUM MAKERS ARE STILL SMILING

People are chewing more gum than ever and, if a smoking ban is imposed in public places, gum sales are expected to soar, reports The Times. Gum sales usually rise in January and peak during Lent when chocaholics and smokers try to give up. However, a smoking ban could increase costs for councils. Many are spending more than£200,000 a year cleaning gum from pavements and seats. The government has told local authorities that they may raise on-the-spot fines for gum litter from£50 to£75 in April.

'LOW PAY AND LOWER STATUS - WHY BE A PROFESSIONAL CARER?'

Under the above headline, Society Guardian notes that, traditionally, professional carers were employed by councils, but the majority are now employed by private agencies. If present trends continue, within a few years all home care will be provided by agencies. Since privatisation, vocational qualifications have been introduced to ensure a basic level of care, but the pay and conditions of employment are poor by modern standards. 'They are certainly worse than those offered by local authorities,' according to the paper.

WHITE PAPER GIVES SOCIAL CARE A NEW PERSPECTIVE

'The policy wonks in and around No 10 are calling it a second Copernican revolution,' reports Society Guardian. Instead of the individual having to circle static services, the services are to be spun into orbit around the individual. 'It's a neat image for the ambition of the health and social care white paper,' the paper believes. published this week to considerable interest in its implications for cottage hospitals, outpatient clinics and lifestyle checks, if predictably less focus on what it represents beyond the NHS.

IN DEPTH: BYERS BIDS FOR RETURN TO GOVERNMENT

The former transport secretary Stephen Byers will be forced this week to make his second apology to the House of Commons in less than four months over misleading MPs about the collapse of Railtrack, reports The Daily Telegraph. In an embarrassing rebuke yesterday, the Commons standards and privileges committee dismissed his original apology to MPs last October as inadequate and ordered him to make another one. But in a ruling that effectively salvages his career as an MP and keeps alive his hopes of returning to ministerial office, the committee ruled that Mr Byers had not lied to the Commons transport sub-committee in November 2001 when he gave it inaccurate information over the process leading up to Railtrack's collapse. Mr Byers, who resigned from the Cabinet in May 2002, said he now wanted to 're-engage in the political debate at a very important time'. He is understood to be interested in a return to government if Tony Blair makes him a good offer. Last night Downing Street refused to be drawn on his prospects. But Mr Blair's official spokesman hinted that a return in the forthcoming reshuffle was unlikely.

IN DEPTH: INDEPENDENT INFORMATION COMMISSIONER CLASHES WITH WHITEHALL

Civil servants are refusing to accept a landmark ruling from Richard Thomas which forbids them from routinely deleting their names before releasing documents. Freedom of information campaigners yesterday condemned the practice of keeping identities secret. They were also angered by proposals from the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, to reject outright many FOI requests on grounds of cost, by tightening up the rules about use of civil servants' time. Campaigners say this could block thousands of requests. Lord Falconer told The Guardian he was tightening up the costs rule because he found it extraordinary that civil servants' time was not being counted. He denied he was planning to start charging fees. He said the civil service was being bothered by vexatious claims such as how many lavatories there are in the education department and how much each department spends on makeup.

COUNCIL DEFENDS DECISION TO SPLIT ELDERLY MARRIED COUPLE WITH DIFFERENT CARE NEEDS

A spokeswoman for Gloucestershire CC social services told The Guardian the council was unable to keep elderly married couple Richard and Beryll Driscoll together because of their differing needs. She said: 'This is a difficult situation and we sympathise. Where a person may require care services, a full assessment of each individual's needs is carried out.' She added: 'It can be difficult to accommodate couples together when they have different needs.'

POLLUTING LORRY DRIVERS IN THE CAPITAL FACE FINES

Fines of up to£200 a day are likely to be levied against the drivers of polluting lorries and coaches in London, Ken Livingstone said yesterday. The low emission zone charge is expected to begin in February 2008, reports The Guardian. Details of the measure, which was a manifesto commitment by Mr Livingstone, were unveiled for public consultation yesterday.

ALLEGED FRONT GROUP FOR BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY GIVEN UNION STATUS

An alleged front organisation for the BNP has been awarded official status as a trade union by a senior government official, reports The Independent. The anti-fascist Searchlight magazine reports that the Solidarity union's 'president' is Clive Potter, a prominent BNP supporter from Leicester who was expelled from the public service union Unison for alleged 'improper conduct'. The magazine says other figures involved in the union include John Walker, the BNP's national treasurer, and alleges that Solidarity has plans to set up a political fund as a means to fund the BNP.

HARTLEPOOL ESTATE CHOSEN TO PILOT SOCIAL AND HEALTHCARE SCHEME

Hartlepool BC South Neighbourhood Consultative Forum members Marjorie James (pictured, left) and Gerald Wistow (pictured, right) comment in Society Guardian on the Hartlepool estate pioneering the Connected Care initiative, which aims to enable local people to tackle acute social and healthcare deprivation.

James: Scrutiny Co-ordinating Committee chair, Resources Scrutiny Forum (Chair), South Neighbourhood Consultative Forum

Wistow: South Neighbourhood Consultative Forum, Audit Committee, The Way Forward Steering Group

Represents Hartlepool Borough Council on the Housing Hartlepool Board

http:www.hartlepool.gov.uk/coimages/geraldwistow.gif

Councils get two-year finance settlement

Councils in England are to receive above-inflation rises in government funding for the next two years, it was announced today.

The announcement came with a warning that the government will not hesitate to impose a cap on any authority seeking 'excessive' rises in council tax bills.

http:society.guardian.co.uk/publicfinances/story/0,,1698988,00.html

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