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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 12:40HRS

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BEST COUNCILS SET FOR 'FREEDOM' AS WORST AWAIT HIT SQUADS...
BEST COUNCILS SET FOR 'FREEDOM' AS WORST AWAIT HIT SQUADS

An elite 18-strong group of top performing English councils is set to be announced next week in the first league table of town hall performance. Northern councils such as Gateshead MBC, Hartlepool BC, Middlesbrough Council, Wigan MBC, and Blackburn with Darwen BC are poised to join southern authorities such as Hertfordshire CC, Kent CC, Hampshire CC, Camden LBC, Hammersmith & Fulham LBC, and Westminster City Council in the group, which has been promised much greater freedom from Whitehall. But around 17 councils, classified as poor, face hit-squads being sent in from the government to improve services. They are likely to include Haringey LBC, Islington LBC, Lambeth LBC, Oldham MBC, some of the Greater Manchester councils, Walsall MBC, Coventry City Council, North Tyneside MBC, Swindon BC, and possibly Bedfordshire CC, Northamptonshire CC, and Milton Keynes Council, reports The Guardian(p13).

IN DEPTH: SCHOOLS ARE IMPROVING, NHS IS STRUGGLING SAYS SURVEY OF SOCIAL ATTITUDES

Voters believe Labour has made great strides in improving Britain's schools but are sceptical about its ability to turn around the National Health Service. That is the main finding of the British Social Attitudes Survey. Compared with 1997, more people think that reading, writing and arithmetic are taught well. The in-depth report, published annually, paints a picture of Britons becoming less racially prejudiced and more tolerant of homosexuality. They want to save, but do less of it than they did. And just weeks before congestion charging arrives in London, fewer people now say such charges will cut their car use. Fifty-seven per cent of the population in England do not support regional assemblies, and only 2 per cent of the population think that democracy is working well, reports the Financial Times(p3).

MINISTERS URGED TO BACK AID FOR SELBY AFTER COALFIELD CLOSURE

The chairman of the Selby Coalfield Taskforce, Lord Haskins, is urging the government to support a£35m package to help local communities recover from the planned closure of the Selby complex with the loss of 2,000 jobs. UK Coal, which operates Selby in north Yorkshire announced in July it would close the pits by 2004, but Lord Haskins warns that it could happen much earlier because of the crisis in the energy industry, reports the Financial Times(p4).

PLAN TO AVOID EXAM CHAOS: MORE TIME FOR MARKING AND CARE INTRODUCING CURRICULUMS

The former chief inspector of schools has recommended steps to ensure that next year's exam season does not see a repeat of this year's debacle (see 'A'-LEVELS FINAL REPORT PUBLISHEDon LGCnet). But he said the lesson of the introduction of the A-level curriculum (pushed through in three years) and the GCSE (four years), was that changes needed to be properly planned and piloted. The Guardian(p8) explores all the issues covered by the report in depth.

IN BRIEF:

-- Guardian Society(p2) talks to South Tyneside MBC chief executive Irene Lucas, who has been on the receiving end of the new town hall inspection regime, Audit Commission controller Andrew Foster, and LGA chair Jeremy Beecham, about the CPA.

by assistant editor Neil Watson

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