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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL AUTHORITY STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 13:15HRS

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NEW FRONT-RUNNER IN RACE FOR TOP CIVIL SERVICE JOB ...
NEW FRONT-RUNNER IN RACE FOR TOP CIVIL SERVICE JOB

The permanent secretary at the treasury, Andrew Turnbull, is believed to be in line for head of the civil service and the cabinet secretary when Richard Wilson retires this summer. Tony Blair, who is expected to announce his decision next week, is believed to have rejected Sir Richard's preferred candidate, David Omand. Sir Andrew, 57, would be seen in Whitehall as a stop-gap candidate because civil servants have to retire when they reach the age of 60, reports The Independent(p2).

3,000 URBAN POST OFFICES FACING CLOSURE

Post Office managers will today receive details of a government-backed restructuring plan expected to result in the closure of up to 3,000 urban branches. The cuts, equivalent to one third of the urban network, will be accompanied by a£200m treasury rescue package treasury designed to compensate the owners of sub-post offices and limit the impact on rural areas, reports the Financial Times(p1).

CHANCELLOR FALLS SHORT ON PLEDGE TO LIFT A MILLION CHILDREN FROM POVERTY

Gordon Brown has failed to meet his promise to lift more than a million children out of poverty in Labour's first four years in office. Figures to be published tomorrow by the work and pensions secretary Alistair Darling will show that the government made significant progress last year in cutting child poverty, but remains short of its target, reports the Financial Times(p2).

IN DEPTH CALL FOR REFORM AS POLICE FACE RIOT CLAIMS

Police authorities facing multi-million pound claims from insurance companies are urging the government to repeal 116-year-old legislation covering damage caused by riots. The Association of Police Authorities, representing all 43 forces, has urged the Home Office to scrap the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 following the disturbances by asylum seekers that devastated Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire recently and the race riots in Oldham last year. Under the 1886 act, individuals and insurers are able to sue police for damages caused during civil unrest if the disturbance has been declared a riot, reports the Financial Times(p2).

WARNING OF ECONOMIC NEED FOR AIRPORT EXPANSIONS

Air fares could rise by more than£100 for a return journey if the UK does not invest in increased airport infrastructure, the government warned yesterday. Britain would also forego economic growth amounting to£15bn to£20bn in the coming 30 years if it constrained the expected 20-year doubling of growth in air traffic, reports the Financial Times(p3).

IN DEPTH: GOVERNMENT FINDS SERVICE DELIVERY ALTERNATIVE TO INTERNET

This week, digital television users will for the first time be able to access government services, such as health service advice on quitting smoking and plans for the golden jubilee, through their set-top boxes. Andrew Pinder, the e-envoy charged with making all government services available electronically by 2005, said the availability of services on television was a breakthrough, telling the Financial Times(p3): 'There is a hard core of people who will never use government services over the internet, so it is incumbent on us to look at other means of reaching them. And there are an awful lot of digital TV sets.' Meanwhile, a letter from the director general of Age Concern England, Gordon Lishman in The Independent(p23) considers the effect on the elderly housebound of the government dropping its pledge of internet access for all.

SMILE, YOU'RE ON MUGGER-CAM

The home office is considering the use of bright yellow 'mugger detector' vans fitted with closed-circuit television cameras to tackle the rising problem of street crime. Police believe the mobile camera units, marked 'Caught on Camera', are an effective tool against street robbery, which has undermined the government's record on law and order, reports The Independent(p2).

LONDON ASSEMBLY LAUNCHES INQUIRY INTO 'BULLYING' OF STAFF BY MAYOR'S ADVISORS

The London assembly will today launch an inquiry into claims of 'bullying' by Ken Livingstone's advisers. Its appointments committee is to order an investigation into allegations that the Mayor of London's personal team intimidated assembly staff, after an anonymous e-mail complained about named advisers, reports The Independent(p1).

EURO REFERENDUM CHALLENGE ADDS TO LABOUR'S DISSENT ON PUBLIC SERVICE REFORM

Labour backbench critics of the government will today open up a second front against Tony Blair with a campaign challenging his policy favouring a euro referendum this parliament. The MPs, who could number as many as 50, believe a euro poll would be a dangerous distraction from public service reform - the real business of Labour's second term - and should be put off until after the next general election, reports the Financial Times(p4).

IN BRIEF:

- Conservation charity Plantlife believes wild flowers and plants could become new county and city symbols, adorning car numberplates and even stamps. Ministers are being lobbied to agree to the symbols being used on cars, stamps and by local authorities on official correspondence, reports The Times(p14).

- The Financial Times(p4) waxes lyrical about the housing transfer ballot defeat of Birmingham City Council leader Albert Bore: 'Sir Albert's leg was in plaster following a skiing accident. But the real wound - to his credibility - had been inflicted by the anti- transfer protesters, who cracked open champagne and cranked up the volume on their loudhailers.' The Guardian(p17) features letters on the issue from director of the Local Government Information Unit Dennis Reed and a former chief executive of Birmingham City Council, Roger Taylor.

- More than 6m tenants would gain the right to sue landlords for unfair contracts under proposals issued today by the Law Commission, to 'radically restructure' housing law. Unreasonable restrictions - such as unjustified bans on pets and children - could come under legal fire, alongside unfairly high deposits, reports the Financial Times(p6).

- Some of the most vulnerable members of society are being failed by an outsourced contract handling disability benefits, according to the house of commons public accounts committee. Wider failings in the system were costing the taxpayer£40m or more a year in overpaid benefit, at the same time as those entitled to help faced delays and late payments, reports the Financial Times(p6).

- Trading difficulties at gym rivals Esporta and Holmes Place have destabilised the health and fitness sector, but business is booming for budget operator LA Fitness , reports The Independent (p23).

- Society Guardianlooks at the tenth anniversary of Wesminster LBC tenants takingcontrol of the council estate they lived on, and asks whether there are any lessons for other council house transfers.

- Sheffield is to join Liverpool in offering voting by text message in the forthcoming local elections, reports The Guardian(p7).

by assistant editor Neil Watson

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