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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES FROM THE NATIONAL PRESS

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VOTERS COULD PUNISH LABOUR OVER IRAQ...
VOTERS COULD PUNISH LABOUR OVER IRAQ

Voters angry with the government could punish Labour councils in the local elections next month, John Prescott conceded yesterday (The Guardian, p13). The deputy prime minister said it would be 'unfair' if people decided not to vote for successful local authorities because they were unhappy about Iraq or other issues over which the councils had not say.

PROBATION SERVICE TO AXE ANGER MANANGEMENT COURSES

The prison and probation service are to scrap anger management courses for convicted armed robbers, wifer beaters and stalkers because the classes helped some violent offenders to manipulate the situation to their advantage, reports The Guardian (p1, p4).

The Home Office's instructions werre sent to the probation service after an official enquiry into the murder of city financier John Monckton by a prison officer on parole. Monckton's killer, Damien Hanson, had taken 24 sessions of an anger management course, which, according to the enquiryk, helped convince the parole panel that he should be released.

PRESCOTT IS CONFIDENT LABOUR WILL MEET DEMANDS TO REPAY LOANS

John Prescott has dismissed concerns over Labour finances, saying yesterday that demands for immediate repayment of loans would not push the party into financial crisis (The Guardian, p3).

A number of the 12 businessmen who secretly loaned the Labour Party money at the last election have said publicly that they want to be repaid this year, leaving the party with as much as£3.5m to find by the autumn.

HEWITT'S CLAIMS OF 'BEST YEAR EVER' FOR NHS LACK CREDIBILITY

Patricia Hewitt is facing widespread criticism after claiming that the NHS has just had its 'best year ever', says The Guardian (p6). Speaking on BBC Radio Five Live's Weekend News, Ms Hewitt said: 'Despite the headlines, actually the NHS has just had its best year ever. We have just come through one of the coldest winters for decades and we haven't had any of the winter bed crises. We got the waiting times down to the lowest level ever.'

Yet nursing and opposition leaders pointed to the service's estimated debts of more than£600m and the possiblity of further swingeing job cuts. The head of the Royal College of Nursing, Beverley Malone, attacked Ms Hewitt's analysis, saying that if this was the best year she would 'dread to think' what a worse one would be like.

LOCAL ELECTIONS CRITICAL TEST FOR PARTY LEADERS

According to the Financial Times (p3), next week's local elections in England, which will see contests for more than 4,000 of 19,500 council seats, will be critical for each of the party leaders. For Tony Blair they will reveal how much of a liability he has become for Labour. For David Cameron they will test how much his radical repositioning of the Conservatives is winning genuine approval for voters. And for Sir Menzies Campbell they will show whether he has gained momentum in the early phase of his leadership and been able to draw a firm line under the chaos that hit hisparty at the start of the year.

CAMERON CALLS ON VOTERS TO BACK ANYONE BUT THE BNP

David Cameron called yesterday on voters in next month's English local elections to support any parthy other than the far-Right British National Party, reports The Daily Telegraph (p1).

The Conservative leader accused the BNP of 'thriving on hatred' and wanting to set one race against another. 'I hope nobody votes for the BNP,' Mr Cameron told Sky News. 'I would rather people voted for any other party.'

ROAD TOLL MONEY MAY BE USED TO CUT COUNCIL TAX

Council tax bills could fall by as much as half under proposals to compensate communities that pay the highest tolls for driving on congested roads (The Times, p2). The government believes that reductions in council tax may be a better way of offsetting the extra income from tolls than cutting fuel duty or road tax.

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