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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL AUTHORITY STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 13:55HRS

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LATEST POSTAL BALLOT TURNOUT FIGURES SHOW PILOTS ARE REALLY 'PUSHING THE ENVELOPE' ...
LATEST POSTAL BALLOT TURNOUT FIGURES SHOW PILOTS ARE REALLY 'PUSHING THE ENVELOPE'

The Daily Telegraph(p2) reports a 52 per cent turnout in South Tyneside 52 by midday yesterday with a day still to go. This compared with 27 per cent in previous local elections. In Gateshead, 50 per cent of ballot papers had been returned, compared with a 30 per cent turnout at a conventional local election in the town. The highest postal ballot reported so far has been 56 per cent from Chorley in Lancashire Lancs. These represents an increase on the DTLR's figures yesterday, as reported on LGCnet .

PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS' 'PAINFUL PROGRESS'

The Times(p29) takes the Tube PPP deal, expected to be agreed next week, as an opportunity to look at how local government is, 'adopting the financing method wholesale and construction companies and outsourcing companies are reinventing themselves to take advantage of billions of pounds worth of new contracts to provide schools, courts, information systems, roads, railways, street lighting schemes, hospitals and GP surgeries.'

PRIME MINISTER STANDS BY LINKING OF BENEFITS TO SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

The benefit system is to be used to regulate and improve social behaviour, Tony Blair announced yesterday in a significant shift away from the principle of the universality of welfare (an idea for which Spectator editor Boris Johnson takes credit on p29 of The Daily Telegraph ). He gave his strongest backing yet to plans to withdraw payments of child benefit from the parents of persistent truants and housing benefit from anti-social tenants, reports The Daily Telegraph(p1).

RETROSPECTIVE CONFESSION OF£620M EDUCATION MIS-SPEND

Labour's key election pledge to reduce class sizes for 5- to 7-year-olds was wrong, according to the man who helped to draw up the party's manifesto. Bringing classes down from 32 pupils to 30 had made no difference to standards and the money would have been better spent on inner-city schools, said Matthew Taylor, who helped draw up the 1997 manifesto as the party's policy director, reports The Daily Telegraph(p4).

DEPUTY PARTY LEADER BELIEVES EC SUNGLASSES REGULATIONS AREN'T SO BRIGHT

The deputy leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Graham Booth, yesterday criticised the 'ludicrous minefield' of European regulations after a court cleared him of selling an 'unsafe'pair of sunglasses worth£4.95. Trading standards officers in Torbay, Devon, prosecuted him, claiming that the sunglasses failed EC standards because the lenses were too dark for driving, but magistrates at Newton Abbot, Devon, dismissed the case, reports The Daily Telegraph(p5).

IN BRIEF:

- MPs tabled a motion yesterday condemning the desecration of a London synagogue as ministers prepared to visit the site of the attack. Stephen Byers will visit the Finsbury Park synagogue today with the chief rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, as the DTLR is in charge of community relations and he said he wanted to show worshippers at the synagogue that they 'do not stand alone', reports The Independent(p8).

- The Independent(p20) remembers the 'disappointing' 34 per cent turnout for the London mayoralty, and believes that: 'Doncaster, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and other new mayoralties may not do much better today. Easier postal voting can get the vote up a little. But the fundamental truth remains: local government simply makes too little difference to too few people, and the voters know it.'

- The Guardian(p16) believes it has found the reason behind voter apathy increasing from one year to the next: 'By removing so much from local authority, successive governments have been careful to make sure that local voting has become close to an empty act, which many people have the logical good sense not to engage in.'

- Leaisure group Whitbread has reached the final stages of its restructuring programme with only its Curzons gymnasiums and 12 Swallow hotels still for sale, reports The Independent(p23).

AND FINALLY ...

Worried bookmakers have suspended all bets on the Hartlepool mayoral contest. With the Labour vote 'melting away', the contest appears to be between fancy-dress-wearing independent candidate Stuart Drummond (H'Angus the Monkey), representing the disaffected youth, and Arthur Preece, representing the Liberal Democrats, reports The Independent(p9).

by assistant editor Neil Watson

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