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Plans for the most radical shake-up of law enforcement in more than 30 years will take a significant step today with their endorsement by senior police chiefs, according to the Financial Times (p3).

The plans, including the creation of a single agency for dealing with organised crime, frontier police and a restructuring of constabularies, are being considered within Whitehall in consultation with the law enforcement agencies. They will be outlined today by senior police officers at a conference on the future of policing in what they hope could represent a blueprint for government action aimed at tackling illegal immigration, organised crime and the growth of violence and anti-social behaviour at local level.

One plan under discussion with senior officials, led by the Home Office, was an overaching agency that would combine the operational and intelligence-gathering capabilities of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad, and Customs. The agency would be supported by a national border force drawing together Customs, immigration and police.

Other reforms being considered include the break-up of the 43 constabularies and their replacement by a two-tier policing structure - a regional force based in the main urban areas and a devolved system of local police boards representing a mixture of elected and appointed individuals, to whom local police commanders would account for their performance.

Ian Blair, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, will tell today's conference that police leaders were not being pushed towards reform but were leading the way. They were 'demanding from the political parties the room to manoeuvre to change the service in terms of governance, of accountability for performance, of mission and of employment practice.'


Capita has incurred a £1m financial penalty for shortcomings in its management of London's conge stion charge, reported the Financial Times (p4).

The penalty amounts to about 14% of the annual profits it expects to make from its contract with mayor Ken Livingstone's Transport for London.

The penalty is for unspecified 'liquidated damages and service credits', TfL revealed in budget documents released by the London Assembly yesterday. It refused to explain the details, citing confidentiality.

The firm renegotiated its £230m five-year contract with the London mayor in August because the success of the £5-a-day charge in deterring drivers from entering central London was leaving it without a profit. The renegotiated contract, worth a potential £31m more to Capita, has left London Assembly members furious with Mr Livingstone at what they regard as a bad deal for the capital's taxpayers. It includes a one-off payment to Capita of £3.5m for IT systems, a cost that should have been picked up by the contractor, the assembly's budget committee said in a report.

In addition, Capita's share from penalty fines income has been increased from £2.06 to £4.90 per fine.


In order to resolve the growing north-south economic divide, Britain must strengthen the competitiveness of regional cities, Manchester City Council chief executive Howard Bernstein warned yesterday, reported the Financial Times (p4).

He said that vibrant regional cities were important drivers for national economic growth. He told a lunch organised by Pro-Manchester, which promotes the city's financial services industry: 'If regional cities are flourishing, then the local region will also flourish.'

Britain did not have regional cities that could match the economic performance of regional European competitors such as Rotterdam, Frankfurt, Milan or Barcelona, he said.


An education authority has told parents that their children no longer qualify for free travel after officers measured th e distance from their homes and discovered the school's back gate was 200 yards closer than the front gate, reported The Daily Telegraph (p12).

The school was previously calculated to be just beyond the three-mile limit, enabling parents living in Titchfield Park, Hants, to qualify for free bus passes for their children. Parents have now been told they must pay £400 a year to continue using the bus service or else the pupils must walk or be driven to reach Henry Court Community School, Fareham.

Outraged parents say the 22 children affected by the decision now have to walk across fields or alongside busy roads.


David Watkins, 51, the headteacher cleared last week of assaulting an 11-year-old pupil with a dead fish, has been reinstated at his Norwich school, which cannot be named for legal reasons, reported The Daily Telegraph (p12).


Hundred of schemes designed to curb crime, raise school standards and improve houses in poor areas face the axe as ministers grapple with the cost of programmes to turn around the country's most deprived areas, according to The Guardian (p13).

The cabinet appears split on whether to continue the neighbourhood renewal fund, a programme worth almost £1bn that has provided street wardens in 200 areas and led to other initiatives to improve estates and run-down areas. Two weeks ago the final tranche of £175m from the programme was approved by the ODPM, with little sign that more cash would be forthcoming. The money is being directed towards England's poorest areas, from a list of 88 areas originally selected by the government from the first detailed index of deprivation covering the entire country.

Although some ministers insist that the three-year scheme was deliberately limited in its duration to kick-start self-help initiatives that home secretary David Blunkett is lobbying hard to maintain - or at least part of the programme. He is also worried about the l onger-term future of a string of estate regeneration schemes, under the banner of the new deal for communities programme.

Many schemes can probably be safeguarded only if cash is embedded into mainstream programmes funded largelely by local authorities. Although some mainstreaming has taken place, the prospect of such a cash transfer in many areas appears slim as councils fight to keep down council tax.

Nationally, the Treasury is also bearing down on the ODPM and other parts of Whitehall claiming that administration and running costs are too high. Deputy prime minister John Prescott's department is vulnerable because it underspent its budget by several million pounds last year. Equally embarrassingly, eight government offices in the regions have also underspent EU social and regional funds.

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