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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL AUTHORITY STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 12:45HRS

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PRIME MINISTER AND OPPOSITION LEADER BOTH SHIFT FOCUS TO PUBLIC SERVICES ...
PRIME MINISTER AND OPPOSITION LEADER BOTH SHIFT FOCUS TO PUBLIC SERVICES

The Labour and Tory leaders sought to demonstrate their commitment to public services yesterday after disappointing election results, both calling for greater choice for users in return for higher spending, reports the Financial Times (p2). Michael Howard has re-branded education and health passports under the 'right to choose' banner to increase impact on voters, while Tony Blair has promised to move 'further and faster' with public service reform.

ELECTIONS 2004: WITNESS CONFUSION LED TO 60,000 LOST POSTAL VOTES

The loss of up to 60,000 postal votes in northern England in last week's elections because of apparent confusion over the need to get them witnessed is to be investigated by the Electoral Commission, which warned the system should not be used, reports The Independent(p20). The documents, known as 'ID forms' to returning officers, accompanied the postal voting papers compelled every voter to secure the name and address of a witness to the voter's identity. The system, which the Electoral Reform Society had warned should not be used, appears to have caused chaos.

ELECTIONS 2004: WITNESS STATEMENT CONFUSION INVALIDATES VOTES, BUT FRAUD MINIMAL

More than 85,000 votes were invalid in the four regions using postal votes in last week's local and European elections, but returning officers say problems with fraud have been minimal, reports The Guardian(p13). In the north-west, where allegations of malpractice were claimed ahead of the poll to be widespread, a joint statement has been issued by regional returning officer Howard Bernstein and Greater Manchester police lead officer on fraud investigation, Martin Bottomley, in an attempt to put the record straight. 'Our investigations show that ... the scale of fraud and malpractice is br oadly similar to previous years,' the statement said. 'While the nature of the allegations has changed this year, the scale has not increased and, if anything, it has decreased.' The statement praised pre-emptive action by council officials, which had considerably helped to reduce abuse of the system.

ELECTIONS 2004: LONDON MAYOR WOULD FAVOUR CHANGE IN VOTING SYSTEM TO INCREASE UNDERSTANDING

London mayor Ken Livingstone says be favours a change in London's electoral system, from proportional representation to first past the post, reports the Financial Times (p6). Mr Livingstone said yesterday that misunderstanding of ballot forms probably contributed to more than 200,000 ballot papers being ruled inadmissable.

SURPRISE FOR PPP PLAYER JARVIS AS SECOND DIVISIONAL CHIEF EXECUTIVE QUITS

Jarvis has lost its second accommodation services division chief executive in five months, raising further questions about the future of the business that builds and maintains schools, university halls of residence and hospitals, reports the Financial Times(p23). Jarvis said Rob Johnson, chief executive of the division for five months, would step down from the board with immediate effect for personal reasons.

TEACHING UNIONS STAND BY SCHOOL'S RIGHT TO SET AND ENFORCE UNIFORM POLICY

Head teachers' leaders are united in welcoming a judge's ruling on a school's Muslim dress ban (see LGCnet). National Association of Head Teachers general secretary David Hart told The Times(p12): 'The fact that other schools allow Muslim dress is totally irrelevant. The issue is whether an individual school has the right to lay down a uniform policy that it considers to be reasonable for its community. I am glad that the court has stood up for the right of schools to set and enforce their unifo rm policy.' Secondary Heads Association general secretary John Dunford said: 'We are very pleased. The school has made a very clear effort to design a uniform within a multicultural policy, which is not to be overturned by a single pupil.'

LGA LEADERSHIP CHANGE MAY LEAD TO STRAINED RELATIONSHIP WITH ODPM

Central government faces a much more difficult relationship with local government after the Local Government Association leadership fell into Conservative hands for the first time, reports the Financial Times(p6). The LGA's new chair, Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, told the paper he had held a meeting with Confederation of British Industry director-general Digby Jones about greater business involvement in local government. 'There are other solutions [to business rates reform] but the business sector has done extremely well and the share of local services has gone up for council taxpayers and gone down for the business rate. We need an informed discussion around this,' he said. Sir Sandy also wanted the one-off extra grant of£340m to town halls from the chancellor to be made permanent. He has a meeting scheduled with Treasury chief executive Paul Boateng to discuss the local government settlement in the forthcoming spending review. Former Wiltshire CC leader Peter Chalke will retain the leadership of the Conservative group on the LGA.

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