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

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IN DEPTH: GREEN TAX DRIVE WILL FORCE UP LANDFILL BILL...
IN DEPTH: GREEN TAX DRIVE WILL FORCE UP LANDFILL BILL

The chancellor will next month propose more than doubling the tax on dumping rubbish and starting a debate on a range of new charges, including a levy of up to 10p on supermarket plastic bags. Gordon Brown wants to make a necessary virtue out of higher taxation by imposing a huge hike in the landfill tax to force councils to switch to recycling. He intends to use the pre-budget statement in the commons next month to say that he intends to more than double landfill tax to force councils to encourage more people to recycle their rubbish. At the same time, a report from the Downing Street strategy unit will call for councils to be given the option of introducing extra charges for doorstep rubbish collection, including a£1 a bag surcharge for people who leave out more than two bin bags every week for the dustmen, reports The Guardian(p1).

Read the Environment Agency's response to the chancellor's plans on LGCnet.

FIRE DISPUTE #1: STOPPAGE WILL TREBLE AMOUNT OF DAMAGE, A FIRE CHIEF WARNS

A stark warning about the damage that fires would inflict during a firefighters' strike was delivered yesterday by one of Britain's top firemen. Each fire will cause, on average, three times the usual amount of damage, according to the president of Cacfoa, the organisation for leading fire officers, Jeff Ord. The less-skilled firefighters from the armed forces would have to practise 'defensive firefighting' rather than the 'offensive' tactics used by regular crews, reports the Financial Times(p5).

FIRE DISPUTE #2: TUC ATTEMPTS TO BREAK STRIKE DEADLOCK

The TUC yesterday moved to break the increasingly dangerous impasse between the government and the firefighters' union by setting up a contact group aimed at finding a negotiated settlement and ensuring that the threatened strikes comply with the TUC code requiring the maintenance of emergency services. The move came as the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, tried to dispel impressions left by the chancellor Gordon Brown that the government would not pay more than 4% if the independent Bain inquiry came up with a credible way of modernising the service. He also said that the Bain report, not due to be submitted until mid-December, could be speeded up if the FBU agreed to give evidence to the inquiry, reports The Guardian(p1). In his commons statements yesterday, the deputy prime minister repeatedly urged the FBU to think again, saying the strike was indefensible, unnecessary and unjustified. The Independent(p3) profiles the minister for local government and thus the fire service, Nick Raynsford.

FIRE DISPUTE #3: TESTING TIMES ON DOMESTIC FRONT FOR PRIME MINISTER

'If Tony Blair had been looking for a fight with a militant trade union, he has got a lot more than he bargained for,' reports the Financial Times(p5). The behind-the-scenes story that has led to the first national walkout by the fire service in 25 years is disputed. The Fire Brigades Union, mistrustful of an independent inquiry, claims that the government blocked attempts by employers to settle the issue with a compromise pay offer. Some Whitehall insiders have lent strength to this claim, conceding it was a fight of some in government to prove to voters it could defeat an industrially militant trade union. Others believe that ministers and their advisers simply did not take the issue seriously enough, mistakenly believing that the union would accept an independent review. 'Who'll strike next?' asks The Sun(p8).

HOPES DASHED BY£30M SHORTFALL IN MUSEUMS GRANT

Curators of regional museums are despairing after the government's promised bail-out fell£30m short of the minimum they say is needed to prevent eventual catastrophe.Galleries and even big city museums outside London are in a parlous state after two decades of neglect and underfunding. A government-sponsored report found that, unless£167m was found, many institutions with world-class exhibits would be pushed into irreversible decline, reports The Guardian(p13).

PLANNING CHIEF URGES HEATHROW CLOSURE

The country's most eminent town and country planner, the recently-appointed president of the Town and Country Planning Association Sir Peter Hall, will today call for the closure of Heathrow airport - and its replacement by a new airport in the Thames estuary, east of the capital. Sir Peter, emeritus professor at the Bartlett school at University College and a former adviser to Tory and Labour governments, will throw his weight behind the embryonic plan to construct a multi-runway international airport at Cliffe on marshland on the north Kent coast. Environmentalists may be appeased, he argues, if part of the airport is built offshore in the Thames itself, reports The Guardian(p13).

GOVERNMENT VOWS NOT TO GIVE UP AFTER EUROPEAN DEFEAT OVER TEMPORARY STAFF

The government has suffered a severe defeat in its attempts to reduce the effects of the EU agency workers directive, which aims to boost the rights of temporary workers. MEPs on the European parliament's employment and social affairs committee have voted against a proposal that member states could exclude temps from the draft directive. The directive gives temps the same pay and rights as their directly employed counterparts in the first six weeks of their employment, reports the Financial Times(p4).

PLANS FOR INDIVIDUAL FROM HIGHWAYS AGENCY TO ACT IN CRASH CLEAR-UP ROLE

Transport minister Alistair Darling wants to ease traffic congestion on Britain's main routes by appointing a roads enforcer to clear blockages after breakdowns and accidents. In a separate initiative, Mr Darling will soon unveil a crackdown on utility companies that cause traffic hold-ups when work to dig up streets and lay pipes runs behind schedule. Local authorities can charge companies that take longer to complete the work than promised. In two areas, councils are trialing a scheme to charge companies a daily fee to dig up streets. Mr Darling plans to toughen up existing measures, reports the Financial Times(p4).

IN BRIEF:

-- Westminster City Council acknowledged yesterday that the once pristine-white limestone of the busts of Isaac Newton, William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds, and the surgeon John Hunter was suffering premature erosion due to the chemical used by council workers to clean them, reports The Guardian(p11). The head of sculpture and inorganic conservation at the Conservation Centre in Liverpool, John Larson, warned: 'If the busts are left outside, they will continue to deteriorate. Within two decades they could be just meaningless lumps of rock.'

-- The Daily Telegraph (p13) considers absenteeism at the social services department of Bristol City Council, where it claims 150 years of work were lost in one year. The local authority's executive councillor with responsibility for social services and health, Graham Robertson, told the paper: 'Social services departments are linked with higher than average levels of sickness leave across the country, not just in Bristol. Social services jobs can be physically tiring and stressful. Not only are staff managing large case loads with limited resources but the areas in which they work are often emotionally draining. But we would like to see a reduction in sickness levels. We encourage staff to make use of our in-house counselling team and the council also provides free health checks.'

-- Guardian Society(p12) looks at the chief executive-free leadership experiments 'that challenge the traditional way local authorities operate.'

by assistant editor Neil Watson

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