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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL AUTHORITY STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 12:00HRS

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TUBE INDEMNITY OF£2BN FOR PPP COMPANIES...
TUBE INDEMNITY OF£2BN FOR PPP COMPANIES

The part-privatisation of London Underground looks set to go ahead after the government yesterday offered nearly£2bn to insure the companies against legal action. Transport secretary Alistair Darling said he 'had no choice' but to offer an indemnity because the threat by London mayor Ken Livingstone, could have caused the 30-year deals to collapse and further delay investment, reports the Financial Times(p1).

IN DEPTH: COUNCILS IN SOUTH-EAST TO LOSE FUNDING IN ANTI-POVERTY DRIVE

Councils in the south-east of England are about to lose funds to more deprived areas in the north under the overhaul of town hall finance to be published by the government today, reports The Independent(p10). The government will announce a new emphasis on specific grants, such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, which offers cash only to those areas suffering acute deprivation. Westminster City Council claimed yesterday that the changes could cost it£25m a year. 'Any reduction of funding of this magnitude will put the poor and the disadvantaged at risk, and would seriously damage our ability to deliver effective care to the large number of vulnerable children and adults within the city,' a spokesman said. Surrey CC claimed that the south-east faced a total loss of up to£500m in government money, pushing up council tax bills by 20 per cent in 2003.

FIRE DISPUTE #1: UNION STANDS ITS GROUND OVER PLANS TO CUT NIGHT-TIME STAFFING LEVELS

Talks at the conciliation service ACAS, aimed at ending the firefighters' dispute, began yesterday amid signs of a huge gulf between the two sides over management plans to reduce staff at night. The Fire Brigades Union vowed to fight the policy as the union began its submissions on modernisation of the service. Night-time crewing levels emerged as the most serious sticking point, reports The Independent(p2).

FIRE DISPUTE #2: LEAK OF NEW BAIN REPORT LINKS RISE TO REFORM AND JOB CUTS

Firefighters would get pay rises of up to 40 per cent in return for a revolutionary overhaul of their working practices under proposals from Sir George Bain that have been seen by ministers. The Times(p1) discloses that the final report of the firefighters' pay review will propose a 16 per cent pay deal over three years plus more in special allowances. The rest would come with tough conditions attached, including an end to moonlighting.

TUBE DEAL PARTNERS BAIL OUT PPP PLAYER AMEY

The partners of what the Financial Times(p21) refers to as 'beleaguered support services group' Amey, in a consortium bidding to run part of the London Underground, have been forced to bail out the group after it was unable to secure backing for its£60m investment from its lenders. Under the terms of a deal struck with Amey's partners in the Tube Lines Consortium, Bechtel and Jarvis will each fund half of Amey's equity commitment to the London Underground. Each will then have a 50 per cent share of the consortium.

'STREAMLINING' OF PLANNING SYSTEM UNDER FIRE

The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, designed to speed up approval for new business developments was unveiled by planning minister Lord Rooker as he declared Britain's planning system 'a barrier to progress' (see PLANNING BILL PUTS COMMUNITY FIRST, SAYS ROOKERon LGCnet). The chief executive of lobby group London First, Judith Salomon, said the bill did not deal with the lack of qualified staff to handle planning applications. The chief executive of the British Property Federation, Liz Peace, criticised the bureaucracy, saying 'now we will have three levels of planning, not two.'

IN BRIEF:

-- 'New Labour should aim at improving public services, not hitting endless targets,' reads a headline in The Independent(p20), above a leader tying together the government's drugs strategy, the Tomlinson report, Labour's promised government transparency and NHS waiting lists.

-- Environment minister Michael Meacher has told England's 'dirtiest' councils to clean up their act or see part of their services run by a neighbouring authority, reports The Times (p13).

by assistant editor Neil Watson

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