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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL AUTHORITY STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 12:20HRS

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IN DEPTH: PM DEFENDS EMBATTLED MINISTER FOR CHILDREN OVER SCANDAL ALLEGATIONS ...
IN DEPTH: PM DEFENDS EMBATTLED MINISTER FOR CHILDREN OVER SCANDAL ALLEGATIONS

Tony Blair gave Margaret Hodge his personal backing yesterday as the controversy continued about her record as leader of Islington LBC during a child sex abuse scandal in the 1980s and 1990s. Downing Street revealed that the prime minister had been 'fully aware' of the allegations when he decided to promote her in the recent reshuffle. Ms Hodge vigorously denied new allegations that she ignored social workers' concerns about paedophiles operating in the borough. However, the Conservatives said that her record in local government had 'caused several directors of social services and others to refuse to work with her in her new post'. reports The Independent(p2) has learnt that one head of children's services at a London authority has privately attacked Ms Hodge's record, and was scathing about the chaos at Islington, and another social services director at a London council has also been critical.

CHANCELLOR MAKES NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE THE FOCUS OF RE-ELECTION DRIVE

The Financial Times (p2) reports that the prime minister has reactivated Labour's election strategy committee in a sign the government is already planning how to hold onto power two years ahead of the earliest likely election date. It emerged yesterday that Gordon Brown will chair the committee with his protegee Douglas Alexander in charge of planning, and intends to make the NHS the central plank of his campaign.

BALLOT POINTS

The letters page of The Guardian(p21) contains two contributions on recent electoral trends. Kensington & Chelsea LBC councillor Jenny Kingsley, who recently defected from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats, believes: 'If there were more press coverage of the Lib Dems, I am convinced those wavering would take the chance on polling day.' The c hairman of internet pollsters YouGov, Peter Kellner, notes that for both the 2001 general election and last month's Scottish parliamentary elections, 'polls using traditional methods overstated Labour's lead.'

MORE THAN THREE SCRUTINEERS

Leicestershire CC's Lib Dem spokeman on NHS scrutiny, David Pollard, reveals on the letters page of Guardian Society(p7) that he is struggling to work out how the new power of NHS scrutiny given to local authorities 'fits in' with the existing structure 'and the

string of other NHS scrutiny bodies springing up all over the place.'

NOT SO SILENT NIGHTS

As the European court prepares to rule on the right to sleep unhindered by night flights, Guardian Society(p8) looks at the curse of people who live near airports and finds that 'things could get worse' for those around East Midland airport, although 'the issue may be resolved soon. The European court of human rights is expected to give its judgment on Friday on an appeal lodged by the British government against the court's earlier ruling that eight people living near Heathrow airport had the right to a peaceful life, and that sleep disturbance caused by night flights was an infringement of Article 8 of the Convention.'

JOINED-UP GOVERNMENT BETTER USES RESOURCES 'TO REDUCE BUREAUCRACY AND DUPLICATION'

Guardian Society(p12) reports that councils are still waiting for a clear lead from central government on promised steps that will enable them to deliver joined-up services - for instance, merging social and primary care.

PAY, HOURS AND CONDITIONS? NAME YOUR OWN, HARINGEY LBC TELLS APPLICANTS

Haringey LBC chief executive David Warwick casts aside allegations of desperation in Guardian Society(p15), defending the stance that allowing job applicants to suggest their own terms will result in recruitment of the best people.

by assistant editor Neil Watson

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