Local authorities have been given the freedom to borrow without any limits imposed by central government in a move which ministers hope will throw hard-pressed councils a financial lifeline (see LGCnet). The prudential borrowing regime, which comes into effect on 1 April, is likely to provide London mayor Ken Livingstone with about£400m to finance transport capital projects in London. Local government minister Nick Raynsford told the Financial Times(p6): 'We are satisfied there is no need to impose a national limit on local authorities' borrowing in 2004-05. This means the new prudential system will start operating in the way that we and local government always intended.'
Hundreds of children taken into care on the basis of disputed medical evidence of abuse could be reunited with their families under a government review ordered yesterday, reports The Independent(p2). In a statement to the House of Commons (available here), children's minister Margaret Hodge gave councils four weeks to review their current cases and 12 weeks to reassess all previous care orders that involved 'serious disagreement' between medical experts.
PRIME MINISTER PRESSES FOR WHITEHALL CUTS TO FUND SERVICES
Tony Blair will call today for widespread reform of the civil service to release cash for frontline services, reports The Times(p10). Addressing senior civil servants, Tony Blair will back controversial proposals by Sir Peter Gersh on to streamline bureaucracy in Whitehall by cutting 80,000 posts (see LGCnet). He is expected, however, to resist demands from the outgoing public standards watchdog for early legislation to safeguard civil servants' impartiality.
GOVERNMENT MISSED CHANCE TO USE STANDARDS COMMITTEE TO RESTORE TRUST
The government was yesterday taken to task by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, set up by the last government after a series of sleaze scandals, for a 'seriously missed opportunity' to regain public trust, reports The Guardian(p11). Calls for a new civil service act, new rules for special advisers, and independent checks on ministers' conflicts of interest, have all been either rejectedor deferred by ministers, who are instead asking for a party-political say in the appointment of senior civil servants. In the committee's 'end-of-term report' outgoing chairman Sir Nigel Wickes, the , expressed puzzlement about why ministers and mandarins appeared to be waiting for new scandals before acting to introduce new regulations.
IN DEPTH: TORRIDGE ACTS TO STEM FLOW OF COUNCIL TAX PROTEST PENSIONERS THROUGH COURTS
Torridge DC yesterday sent fined council tax protestor Elizabeth Winkfield a letter offering to send pensions and council tax benefit advisers to examine whether she has a case for welfare entitlement, reports The Guardian(p11). Nick Raynsford said that if it was correctly reported that Miss Winkfield was living solely on her£77.45 weekly state pension, she should be paying no council tax. The pensioners' revolt against council tax increases will gain a new momentum tomorrow when retired Exeter soc ial worker Sylvia Hardy goes before magistrates for arrears of£91. Ms Hardy will join Ms Winkfield and other elderly people in Devon threatening to get themselves sent to prison in protest at a council tax rise of 18% in the county this year. On Thursday, Ms Hardy is standing as a non-party candidate representing a local pensioners' forum in a local election. Next year, council tax protesters are threatening to fight every county council seat in Devon.
LORDS DISRUPT PLAN FOR POSTAL VOTING TRIAL RUNS
SUGAR + SALT = SAFER ROADS
The Highways Agency's new weapon in the battle against the 'big chill' is adding Safecote, a natural sugar-based product that is environmentally friendly and less corrosive, to the traditional salt used for tackling icy roads.
reports The Guardian(p8).
SMILES AND FROWNS TURN SPEED CAMERA TECHNOLOGY UPSIDE DOWN
Dozens of speed cameras are to be replaced with electronic 'speed indicator devices' that display a frowning face when a driver is speeding but do not result in fines or penalty points, reports The Times(p1). The devices are to be placed where police can no longer justify having a speed camera because there is no recent history of crashes. The London Safety Camera Partnership, which includes the Metropolitan Police, denied it was bending to pressure from tabloid newspapers campaigning against speed cameras.
Scott Vowles, who spat chewing gum on the street and was spotted by eagle-eyed Walsall environmental health officers, has become the first person to be convicted for the offence under the Environment Protection Act 1990. Walsall MBC cabinet member for the environment, Marco Longhi, told The Times(p8): 'People may feel this is heavy-handed but chewing-gum on the floor creates a huge problem. It is a revolting habit and people should not do it.'
by assistant editor Neil Watson