Plans to offer older councillors up to £20,000 to stand down at next year's local elections were yesterday passed by the Welsh assembly despite strong criticism, reports The Western Mail(p1). Under the 'golden goodbyes' scheme, serving councillors who have been in office for 16 years will be entitled to a severance payment if they stand down at next year's local government elections. Retiring members could get £1,000 for every year served, up to a maximum of £20,000. Finance and local government minister, Sue Essex, said 'golden goodbyes' would benefit democracy in Wales by encouraging new, younger candidates to stand. The proposals were severely attacked by the opposition. Conservative local government spokesman, Glyn Davies, said the payments were 'ageist and immoral'. Plaid Cymru shadow local government minister, Janet Ryder, said the scheme was nothing more than a raid on taxpayers' money and Liberal Democrat spokeswoman, Kirsty Williams, crticised a 'loophole' which could allow councillors to take the money and stand for office again.
EDINBURGH'S SOCIAL WORK DIRECTOR QUITS
The director of Edinburgh City Council's social work department, Les McEwan, has resigned following last week's report into the death of baby Caleb Ness (see LGCnet). In an interview published in The Herald, Mr McEwan admits that he had been shocked and saddened by the case of the 11 week old child who was shaken to death by his father. In a statement issues last night, the council commended Mr McEwan's contribution to child protection in the city, (see LGCnetfor the chief executive's full statement). Mr McEwan's departure comes less than a week after the publication of the report into Caleb's death, which concluded his death was avoidable and blamed a catalogue of failures in social work, health authorities and the police. Earlier this week The Scotsman(15/10/03, p3) reported that Edinburgh City Council suspended a second member of its social work staff. In a related report, an investigation by The Heraldnewspaper reveals that a staff crisis in council social work departments has left many vulnerable children unsupervised in breach of statutory obligations. It found that East Lothian Council admitted that 16 of 87 children on its register have not been assigned a social worker. But the council defended its position, arguing that some children on the protection register did not need a 'hands on' social worker because they were not in the 'locus of danger', having been transferred to a safe place.
PFI FIRM CLOSURE LEAVES CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS HANGING
Dozens of schools in Tower Hamlets LBC have had their construction and maintenance work stalled after a private company with an uncompleted £120m refurbishment contract pulled out of the deal due to financial problems, reports the East London Advertiser (p2). Ballast Plc, a major company in the private finance initiative market, has been reportedly struggling to make profit on projects contracted out by local authorities, and has effectively been shut down by Dutch firm Ballast Nedam, its owners, who say the decision to stop funding its UK wing was due to the company's financial failings, (click herefor a full statement). Meanwhile, The Herald(15/10/03, p11) reported that Ballast Plc was also part of a private finance vehicle ??? Innovate ??? contracted by East Lothian Council in a £45m deal to build six secondary schools, a swimming pool and a community centre. The newspaper also reports that Ballast Plc's subsidiary company Wiltshire FM was to operate and maintain the new schools and community facilities. East Lothian Council said Innovate may take on a new construction company, but they have had no 'assurances from Wiltshire FM or anyone else'.
HULL'S FORMER DIRECTOR CLEARED OF DATA PROTECTION BREACH
A former director of Kinston-upon-Hull City Council services, Martin Mancey, has been officially cleared of breaking the law after confidential information was leaked revealing a number of local authority members were in council tax arrears, reports The Yorkshire Post (15/10/03, p9). Mr Mancey said he was pleased that no further action was being taken against him, but added that he was disappointed the investigation's focus appeared to be with regard to his involvement in the leak.
COMMISSION VOWS TO 'CLEAN UP' LOCAL AUTHORITIES IN SCOTLAND
The head of a new national watchdog on ethics in local government has pledged to drive up standards of behaviour in public life, reported The Scotsman(15/10/03, p8). Lorne Crerar, the convenor of the Standards Commission Scotland, said he was determined the organisation would tackle incidents of misconduct among local councillors and members of devolved public bodies. He said the work of the commission would create an environment with fewer abuses of power and where the public could be confident that any transgressions would be dealt with in an open and accountable way. The commission holds its first tribunal before Christmas after receiving 17 complaints since the introduction of codes of conduct in May.
BIRMINGHAM'S MAYOR TO STAND FOR TORIES IN NEXT GENERAL ELECTION
Birmingham's Mayor has vowed to take back one of the city's crucial battleground constituencies for the Conservatives at the next general election after she was voted in as the party's candidate, reports The Birmingham Post(p1). Deirdre Alden said the sitting MP, Labour's Gisela Stuart, should 'enjoy it while she can' as she pledged to regain the Edgbaston constituency which was traditionally Tory until Tony Blair swept to power in 1997. The newspaper also reports that almost half of the 500 members of the constituency Conservative association voted in the ballot which, for the first time in the party's history, included a postal vote.
GOVERNMENT INSISTS EDUCATION TARGETS WILL STAY DESPITE OPPOSITION
The government has insisted it will continue with school targets and education league tables in the face of opposition from a cross-party group of MPs and Birmingham head teachers, reports The Birmingham Post(p1). The House of Commons education select committee, which drew its conclusions after a year long study maintained it was now time to end 'centrally-set targets'. It said there was evidence the system was leading to some schools focusing on certain groups of pupils likely to have the most impact on league tables at the expense of others. The findings were welcomed by Birmingham City Council ??? which has campaigned for a relaxation of national tests in primary schools ??? head teachers and unions. But , according to the newspaper, education secretary Charles Clarke last night vowed to continue with the policy, maintaining 'scrapping targets would let children down'.
COUNCIL DEFENDS ALLEGATIONS OF WITHHOLDING FUNDS
The leader of Birmingham City Council has defended the council amid accusations, (published in The Birmingham Post, 10/10/03) that it withheld funding from the Balsall Heath Forum. Writing in a letter published in the same newspaper (p11), Mr Bore says allegations of withholding funds as a direct consequence of the council's opposition to development plans in the area were 'false, inaccurate and misleading'. In his stinging comment, Mr Bore also pointed out that the council had awarded the forum £100,000 to alleviate the organisation's immediate financial difficulties.
SCHOOL MERGERS PLAN CALLED OFF
The merger of two primary schools has been called off in a dramatic U-turn by Birmingham City Council's education officials. The Birmingham Post(p3) reports that until now the council had refused to budge on the 'unpopular' policy of merging all city junior and infant schools by 2008. But education official Andrew Dixon said new government guidelines together with the unique situation of having five schools on one single site had brought about the change.
COUNCIL'S CAPITAL OF CULTURE BID ATTACKED
In further criticism of Birmingham City Council's failed bid to the Capital of Culture title, one of the city's best known choirs said it was excluded from the bid despite expressing a wish to be involved, reports The Birmingham Post(p3). According to evidence given to a city council scrutiny inquiry into the failure to win the title, Dr Jim Berrow, president of the Birmingham Bach Choir, said the snub reflected a mistake in concentrating on 'big guns' such as the Hippodrome theatre and the CBSO while rejecting the small but influential arts organisations that gave Birmingham its cultural identity. Meanwhile, a leading businessman has also criticised the council for being 'secretive' during its bid. While giving evidence at the scrutiny committee, Andrew Sparrow, said the council failed to capture the public's imagination and seek help and advice from the business sector, reported The Birmingham Post(15/10/03, p3).
TORY COUNCILLOR VOWS TO FIGHT FRAUD VERDICT
A Conservative Birmingham City councillor convicted of fraud has vowed to fight the verdicts, reported The Birmingham Post(15/10/03, p3). Eric Gracey was found guilty of two counts of fraudulent trading totalling around £7,000 in connection with two now-defunct security firms.
INSPECTION BLOW FOR EDUCATION TRUST
The Hackney Gazette (p6) says Hackney LBC's education authority is on 'red alert' after another primary school is believed to have failed its OFSTED inspection. The Learning Trust has a condition in its contract that no more than three schools can be failing, or remain in 'special measures', at any one time. Ian Peacock, the council's cabinet member for education, said the trust had revised its policies to 'enable it to focus support for those schools that need it the most'.
NEW REGENERATION PLANS FOR BRADFORD
Bradford City MDC's dilapidated mills and empty warehouses are to disappear under a new plan to replace the city centre with green parks and rivers, reports the Yorkshire Post(p3). The city's regeneration will be part funded by the council, which is expected to contribute £30m to the project.
TWO LABOUR WOMEN QUIT POLL RACE BECAUSE OF BAN ON MEN
Two women members of Blaenau Gwent Labour Party have decided to rule themselves out of the contest to succeed MP Llew Smith because of the imposition of a women only shortlist, reports The Western Mail(p2). Local councillor Gill Clark announced to members of the party's general management committee that she would not be trying for the seat because of her objection to the method of selection, and yesterday Shirley Ford, a member of Unison's national executive said, according to the newspaper, that she too would not be putting her name forward for the same reason.
CALLS FOR POLITICAL PARTY CONFERENCES TO BE HELD IN BIRMINGHAM
A leading article in The Birmingham Post (p11), urges the city council to re-think its position on giving political parties a cut price deal for their annual conferences in a bid to increase Birmingham's exposure. The newspaper stresses that although previous attempts by political parties to hold their conferences in Birmingham have been met with little enthusiasm, the benefits of such high profile clients far outweigh the fees to any venues such as the International Convention Centre, whether the price is paid in full or not.