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

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DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER URGED TO GIVE EVEN GREATER FREEDOMS TO TOP COUNCILS...
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER URGED TO GIVE EVEN GREATER FREEDOMS TO TOP COUNCILS

John Prescott will be urged today to hand a group of top performing councils new freedoms, additional to those already mapped out by the government for all councils in a recent white paper, as part of Tony Blair's drive to end 'one size fits all' public services. The controversial proposals were endorsed yesterday by the executive of the LGA. They will be put to today's quarterly meeting between central and local government chaired by Mr Prescott, reports The Guardian(p13).

UNION ANGER AT TEACHING ROLE FOR CLASSROOM ASSISTANTS

The government is to defy the main teachers' union and announce next week plans to boost the role of classroom assistants by allowing them to teach some lessons.

A new category of 'high-level teaching assistants', who have experience of supporting teachers in the classroom but are not qualified themselves, will be able to take drama or music classes and supervise school trips and assemblies, to give teachers 'non contact' time of half a day a week. The plans - which apply to England - will be announced on Tuesday by the education secretary, Estelle Morris, as she publishes a handful of related consultation documents on remodelling the teaching profession and restructuring the school workforce. A summary is set out in a leaked document obtained by The Guardian(p1).

FIRE UNION WARNS OF ROAD DEATHS IF STRIKE IS ALLOWED TO CONTINUE

The looming national strike by firefighters will mean more deaths on Britain's roads, the head of health and safety at the Fire Brigades Union has warned. The prediction from Dave Patton, a veteran of the 1977 national strike, underscores the chaos that could face Britain as soon as next week if the deadlock between the FBU and local government employers over the FBU's 40 per cent pay demand continues, reports the Financial Times(p1).

LGA CHIEF EXECUTIVE WELCOMES ANTI-POVERTY RATIONALISATION

Brian Briscoe has welcomed measures to give local bodies more freedom, announced yesterdayby minister for social exclusion Barbara Roche, but said 'we still think it could go further'. Many local councillors want the remaining 22 funding streams to be merged into one scheme for deprived areas, with local public service agreements setting out what should be achieved with the money, reports the Financial Times(p4).

DEMAND FOR URGENT ACTION ON DRUG EPIDEMIC IN FORMER COALFIELD FILLAGES

Heroin addiction is raging like a smallpox epidemic in the heart of Britain's former coalfields, a report says today, directly affecting one in three people living in north Nottinghamshire. But attempts to deal with the crisis, from overdose deaths to a huge increase in burglary and shoplifting, have been described by a panel of investigators as 'a shambles', with a muddle of funding providing cheap but ineffective help, reports The Guardian(p10).

IN BRIEF:

-- The Financial Times(p4) looks at: regeneration workers; Health Action Zones, Sports Action Zones, Education Action Zones, the On Track and Sure Start schemes, and the European Regional Development Fund. At the moment, one in east Manchester is answerable to a host of funding bodies and monitoring officers, but the government promises her this is about to change. It is axing or merging half of its aid projects to stop the confusion and bureaucracy.

-- 'Public-private partnerships are struggling to survive,' reads a leader in the Financial Times (p20), which concludes: 'There is no need to abandon PPP or the PFI. Where private sector expertise is genuinely used to improve the provision of public services it is most welcome, so long as all deals are transparent. If clear contracts and real risk transfer prevent PPPs from getting off the ground, so be it. Value for money in providing public services can never be achieved by the collective suspension of disbelief and the hope that everything will run smoothly.'

-- The Guardian(p29) reports that fitness chain Cannons pulled out of a£205m takeover of rival Holmes Place yesterday after the target was forced to admit that its full-year profits would be significantly lower than expected.

-- Westminster City Council was obliged to provide accommodation for a destitute asylum-seeker who was in need of care and attention and whose need for accommodation arose from infirmity as well as destitution, reports The Times (p40). The house of lords so held in dismissing an appeal by Westminster City Council against the dismissal by the court of appeal (lords justices Simon Bower, Brooke and Mance) of its appeal from the rejection by Mr justice Stanley Burnton on 27 February 2001 of its application for an order quashing a decision of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) not to provide accommodation and support for a destitute asylum seeker suffering from spinal melanoma.

-- A council member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Brian Pope, writes in The Times (p23) about the transport secretary's congestion and safety programme, urging Alistair Darling not to 'ignore the underlying problems in our transport system, which are capital funding and integrated planning.'

-- Every teacher in England could work with a personal assistant under government plans to more than double the number of support staff in schools, The TEScan reveal.

by assistant editor Neil Watson

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