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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS

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BIG DROP IN SOCIAL HOUSING ...
BIG DROP IN SOCIAL HOUSING

The number of households living in social housing fell by 136,000last year - the biggest decline in five years, the national housing survey revealed yesterday, reported the Financial Times (p3).

The decline - caused by people exercising their right to buy council houses, when few are being built - will add to concern over the lack of low-cost housing for key professionals such as teachers and nurses. It will also fuel debate about whether the government should, as a growing number of ministers believe, restrict the right to buy council houses.

The survey showed how important a part the private rental market had played in helping people to move house. Half of all home moves last year involved people moving to or from private rented housing. This is in spite of the fact that only 10% of households live in privately-rented homes - roughly the same proportion as 20 years ago.

The ability to move house is an important determinant of labour market mobility. However, only just more than one in 10 people who moved house last year did so for job-related reasons.

The survey showed that across the nation, more than two-thirds of households did not contain any children. Couples without resident children accounted for 37%, while single people living on their own made up another 28%.

The survey also showed that there were three couples with children living together for every one single parent with children.

CHIEF CONSTABLE URGES MERGER OF FORCES

The chief constable of Lincolnshire Police has urged home secretary David Blunkett to consider reducing the number of police forces, reported The Times (p2, p17).

Writing to the editor, Richard Childs says that the 43 forces in England and Wales are based on policing strategies that are now almost 30 years old. Mr Childs, who heads a 1,200-strong force with a£90m budget, decided to speak out after his colleagues in Cambridgeshire came under attack over the missing girls inquiry in Soham, with critics claiming that the small force was out of its depth.

Even though amalgamations could mean that Mr Childs's own force is swallowed up in an East Anglian regional force, he argues that the existing patchwork of small and medium-sized shire forces, and the big urban forces, will hinder the government's police reforms.

Mr Childs said that chief constables have been attacked for opposing amalgamations when in fact the decision is a political one. He suggests it is time for the home secretary to begin a debate.

Yesterday Mr Childs said: 'At the moment there are 43 different ways of doing things. Maybe it would be better if there were fewer of us and you could impose a common way of doing things across the smaller number of forces.'

However, the home office is understood to have decided to concentrate of reforms rather than amalgamations. The white paper on police reform argued for greater collaboration between forces rather than mergers.

BREAK-UPS MAIN CAUSE OF HOMELESSNESS

The collapse of relationships is the single most important cause of homelessness in Britain, according to the charity Crisis, reported The Times (p4).

Research showed that 53% of the estimated 400,000 adults in temporary accomodation blamed their plight on breaking up with a partner.

RIVER AIRE MAY BECOME UK'S 'GANGES'

British Hindus in Bradford are seeking to turn part of the River Aire into a substitute for the holiest of their holy rivers, the Ganges, reported The Times (p7).

The Hindus want to scatter the ashes of their dead upon the Aire in accordance with religious tradition, allowing them to save thousands of pounds in air fares to Dehli. The Hindus believe that because all rivers flow into the sea, the ashes will eventually reach the same place that they would if they had been scattered on the Ganges.

The potential substitute site, a short distance from Bradford City Football Club's training ground, is located on waste land next to Apperley Bridge, which carries traffic along Harrogate Road. If Bradford City Council gives its approval to the site, a small shrine will be built to Shiva, the lord of creation, destruction and of the dance.

Jane Glaister, the council's director of arts, heritage and leisure, said that talks were being held with the local Hindu and Sikh communities and with the Environment Agency. She said that a number of sites along the Aire were being considered, but no decisions made. The Environment Agency said: 'Both environmental factors and sensitivity to grieving relatives need to be considered when such cases arise.'

TGWU IN MERGER TALKS

A new super union could be created as a result of merger talks talking place between the Transport and General Workers Union and the GPMU printing union, reported The Times (Business, p1).

A merger between the T&G and the GPMU, which has left-wing elements, would create a union of more than one million members and would strengthen the hand of the left within the T&G before a leadership election next year when general secretary Bill Morris is due to retire. Such a move would be a further blow for the government which has seen a series of left-wing election victories in trade unions. These have been regarded as a reaction against Labour's policies on employment law, nationalisation and the private finance initiative.

The AEEU and MSF this year merged to form the Amicus union, with 1.1 million members. Unifi, the 160,000-strong banking union, may also soon join Amicus. This would make Amicus the largest trade union, ahead of Unison, the public services union.

Several years ago the T&G discussed a merger with the GMB, but that was abandoned because the GMB feared its strong regional structure would be crushed by the more centralised T&G.

MORE SPEED CAMERAS ON SAFE ROADS, CLAIMS SURVEY

The are almost a third more speed cameras on safe roads than on the most dangerous, a survey claimed yesterday, reported The Daily Telegraph (p2).

According to the study for Autocar magazine, 18 cameras monitor more than 500 miles of the 50 most dangerous roads compared to 24 on the 50 safest stretches. When the 40 overhead cameras on the M25 - considered a low-risk road - are added, the total number of cameras on the safest roads would be 73.

'This highlights the inconsistencies between police forces' speed camera procedures and casts doubt overthe government's rationale for locating cameras,' said Autocar editor Steve Fowler.

The Association of Chief police Officers denied that cameras were designed to raise money. 'This is a question of reducing deaths on the road. Speed has been shown to kill,' said a spokesman.

CHIEF CONSTABLE'S CAR STOLEN

The chief constable of Humberside Police, David Westwood, may take greater note of his force's anti-theft advice after his car was stolen from outside his house while he was in the back garden, reported The Dailly Telegraph (p5).

Officers warn people to keep their doors and windows closed and to store car keys in a safe place. Unhappily for Mr Westwood, thieves got in after discovering an open door or window. They snatched his keys and drove away his£30,000 BMW 530 unmarked diesel car - fitted with sirens and partly concealed blue lights. The car was stolen from Mr Westwood's seven-bedroom house, two doors from the home of deputy prime minister John Prescott.

The BMW was found with two flat tyres at a council estate four miles away. Three men from Hull have been arrested in connection with the theft.

ID CARDS URGED FOR CHILDCARE WORKERS

The government was last night urged to introduce passport-style indentification for all adults who work with children amid claimes by the UK's largest teacher recruitment agency that the current system is 'cumbersome and inefficient', reported The Guardian (p4).

The plea to home secretary David Blunkett - and copied to education secretary Estelle Morris - came from TimePlan, which allowed Canadian teacher Amy Gehring to continue working in schools in England despite police warnings that she posed a serious threat to children. Miss Gehring was cleared of having sex with teenage pupils by a jury which was unware that she had earlier been branded a risk to pupils.

Procedures for vetting school staff are under fresh scrutiny following the abduction and murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Cambridgeshire Education Authority has stressed that Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr had undergone police checks and supplied character references before taking up employment at two local schools.

In his letter to the secretaries of state, TimePlan's managing director, Ian Penman, said the vetting system was discredited and close to collapse. It could take up to four months before a teacher received clearance. TimePlan had experience of teachers who, having been told of the length of the delay, had chosen to go to other agencies.

'Many have subsequently informed us that they have been placed in schools within days. We can only infer from this that there are teachers currently employed who have not been properly vetted. I have no doubt that you will share our concern,' he wrote.

Mr Penman urged the government to consider the registration system used for childcare workers in the US, under which every individual working with children is cleared by central government and given a 'passport' with a photo and, in some cases, fingerprints. The documented passport are renewed annually and can be checked online by any prospective employers.

But the department for education and skills insists its current system of checks is robust and rigorous, and is kept under constant review. A home office spokesman commented: 'We are not convinced that there is any need to change the system.

HEADTEACHERS CALL FOR REVIEW OF VETTING

Headteachers have called for a thorough review of the way potential employees at schools are vetted, in the light of the Soham case, reported The Independent (p4).

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said yesterday that the government must give chief constables firmer guidance on what kind of information they should pass on to schools. He said that at present it was up to the discretion of individual chief constables whether they should pass on information about criminal charges that either failed to lead to a prosecution or where the accused was not guilty.

Mr Hart said: I think it's belt and braces time. There have just been too many cases of people slipping through the net. The interests of the children have to be weighted against the rights of the individual, but I think it is important to protect the children.'

At the moment it was a kind of lottery as to what information was being passed on.

Officials at the DfES said they had asked Cambridgeshire CC for details of the checks they made on the two suspects in the Soham case - and had been satisfied that the appropriate checks had been made. They stressed that there was no national review of vetting procedures being run.

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