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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL AUTHORITY STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 13:05HRS

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AUDIT COMMISSION CHIEF WARNS THAT PUBLIC SECTOR REFORMS MAY 'END IN TEARS' ...
AUDIT COMMISSION CHIEF WARNS THAT PUBLIC SECTOR REFORMS MAY 'END IN TEARS'

Tony Blair's entire strategy for improving Britain's public services could 'end in tears', the Audit Commission chairman has warned. James Strachan voiced his concern to the Financial Times(p4) as he discussed the variety of new schemes set up to deliver improvements across the board. He warned there was a real risk that the government's frustration with the lack of progress in improving public services was leading it to move 'from one extreme to the other far too quickly and far too indiscriminately' in using new structures, both for profit and not for profit, to deliver services.

UTILITY COMPANIES AND HIGHWAYS AGENCIES ASKED TO COMPLY WITH VOLUNTARY PERMIT SYSTEM

Utility companies and highways agencies have been asked to co-operate with a voluntary permit system for digging up London's roads, the most far-reaching attempt to bring order to the capital's roads. The system is underpinned by a willingness on the part of ministers to make permits compulsory across the country. Transport for London, concerned that the benefits of congestion charging will be outweighed by miles of utilities roadworks over which it has no control, plans to gather information from utilities companies and London's 35 highways agencies of planned roadworks at least three months in advance. Agencies are then issued with permits for carrying out the work, enabling TfL to co-ordinate and time roadworks, reports the Financial Times(p4).

IS THERE MUCH EXCELLENCE IN CITIES?

Tony Blair's flagship policy for transforming standards in inner-city schools has produced little or no improvement in pupils' results despite hundreds of millions of pounds in spending, a study by Ofsted has concluded. The Excellence in Cities programme was launched personally by the prime minister in 1999 but the inspection service says that there is little evidence so far that inner-city schools are closing the gap in achievement with pupils in more privileged areas, reported The Times (26/5/03, p1).

COST OF ABOLISHING STAMP DUTY IN POOR AREAS MAY BE FOUR TIMES HIGHER THAN ANTICIPATED

The government's decision to abolish stamp duty in so-called 'disadvantaged areas' could cost the Treasury four times more than its official estimates, according to the Treasury spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay.

In a stinging attack on the tax break, which was introduced in this year's Budget, Lord Oakeshott said the move was likely to cost the government at least £200m a year, four times its official projection of £50m a year between 2004 and 2006, reported The Times (p19).

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TO INVESTIGATE ALLOTMENT SALES ABUSE

An audit of the country's allotment gardens has been ordered by John Prescott, amid concerns that some are being sold for developments such as supermarkets, car parks and executive homes, reports The Times(p3). A shake-up is being planned in the 95-year-old laws that cover allotments, particularly in cities. Under proposals being studied by ministers, some plots could be used by community groups as neighbourhood gardens or orchards. Others could be used by schools to teach pupils about wildlife and food production.

GOVERNMENT COVERED-UP OVER HEATHROW NIGHT FLIGHT NOISE AT TWICE LEGAL LIMIT

The Department for Transport concealed research showing that disturbance caused by night flights had been grossly under-estimated, reports The Times (p7). The noise generated by air traffic arriving at Heathrow airport in the early hours is almost double the thegal limit, according to research by Wandsworth LBC.

COMMUNITY WHICH SAID NO TO BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY SEES CRIME SLASHED AND HOPE RENEWED

The Guardianlooks at a campaign in one of Britain's most deprived areas, Bexley in Kent, involving residents, police, the council and a local housing association, which has cut street robberies by 85% and car crimes by 29%. Bexley's community initiatives policy manager, Natasha Bishopp, told the paper: 'The key to engaging people is finding out what they want and what their priorities are.'

BYERS URGES LIMITING OF PRIVATE ROLE IN PUBLIC SECTOR

Labour has to set limits on involving the private sector in public services, former cabinet minister and a leading New Labour moderniser Stephen Byers will warn Downing Street this week, in the first of four lectures to the Social Market Foundation. In an intensification of the debate about the future of the public sector, Mr Byers will call for the government to set clearer ideological boundaries on its programme of public service reform, reported The Guardian(26/5/03, p1).

UNION FURY AT SLOW PROGRESS OVER PUBLIC SECTOR PAY

Union leaders fear their drive to safeguard public sector workers' pay and conditions from private sector agreements has stalled, only months after they clinched an agreement for local government workers that many hailed as a glorious victory. Unions are worried that the pressure on the government to agree further concessions on pay and conditions has eased following the end of the war in Iraq, which had put the prime minister on the defensive against the doubts of many MPs, union leaders and party members, reports the Financial Times(p2).

IN DEPTH: UK CAN HOLDS ITS OWN IN THE QUEST FOR BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE

An urban regeneration special report in the Financial Times finds some good examples of sound urban renewal worldwide. The director of the European Institute for Urban Affairs at Liverpool Jon Moores University, Michael P arkinson, believes the UK is used to being first to confront new urban challenges, having led the way on ideas for bringing deprived communities back into the mainstream, such as local strategic partnerships and public-private co-operation. 'On social regeneration, on the social exclusion agenda, the UK has had as much success as anyone else,' he contends. The paper also looks at why more cities are opting for the refurbishment of derelict docklands or canal sites, and the useful regenerative spark provided by the creation of artistic centres in run-down areas, such as London's Bankside.

CARE BUDGET FOR ELDERLY ...

On the letters page of The Times (26/5/03, p17), Women's Voluntary Service chief executive Mark Lever gives a cautious welcome to the full budget for care for older people. Allowing people to stay in their homes longer, he writes, reducing their home-care and hospital bills, also helps 'to re-connect themwith their communities through visiting schemes, social transport and clubs.'

by assistant editor Neil Watson

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