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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS

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WEST MIDLANDS COULD 'ANNEX' GIBRALTAR ...
WEST MIDLANDS COULD 'ANNEX' GIBRALTAR

The latest and strangest change in the political map of Europe could see Gibraltar becoming part of the west midlands, reported The Times (p1).

The geographical challenge has arisen because residents of the British territory are being granted a vote in Euro elections but their population of 27,000 is too small to qualify for an MEP. Instead, they will have to vote as part of a British Euro constituency.

Philip Bradbourn, a Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, is lobbying for Gibraltar voters to join his giant constituency. Gibaltarians who hate any idea of becoming part of Spain are welcoming the idea of becoming part of the region that includes Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Walsall. Mr Bradbourn plans to lobby the government and the Boundary Commission [now part of the Electoral Commission].

Three years ago the Gibaltarian government took Britain to the European Court of Human Rights to win the right to vote in Europe. Britain was told to incorporate it into an existing Euro constituency before the next European elections in 2004. It was thought that Gibraltar would be aligned with a London constituency but no official approaches have been made.

MOUNTAIN OF DUMPED TVs LOOMS

Mountains of old television sets are expected to build up across the countryside because a barrage of new European directives will mean that no one will be able to dispose of them in the correct manner, according to leading retailers and recyclers, reported The Times (p4).

They say Britain is totally unprepared for new regulations that declare that television sets must from next month be treated as hazardous waste, and must be fully recycled from next year. They say incompetence by ministers is leading to a repeat of the fridge fiasco, which resulted in a million fridges rotting in fields and warehouses because no one had the equipment to recycle them. A report by a commons select committee last week firmly blamed environment minister Michael Meacher for the fridge mountain and said that it had unnecessarily cost taxpayers£40m because fridges were being sent to Germany for disposal.

Peter Jones, director of development at Biffa Waste Services, said: 'If you thought the fridges were bad, you wait until all these other things come through. We haven't got a strategy, we haven't got a plan, there's no consultation with industry and no communication with the public.

'Instead we are standing around in the corner of a field with our hands in our pockets. There will be TV mountains because of the dysfunctionality of the decision-making process'.

Consumers buy about four million television sets a year and throw away about two million a year, all of which are currently sent to landfill sites. In January the European Commission officially categorised televisions as hazardous waste because of the high proportion of lead in their screens, which protects viewers from radiation. They also contain phosphorous on the back of the glass. A new landfill directive that comes into force next month means that all such hazardous waste must be collected by special licensed operators, and disposed of in tips for hazardous waste.

Claire Snow, director of the Industry Council on Electrical Equipment Recycling, said this meant that local authorities would have to be licensed to deal with hazardous waste.

A spokesman for Dixons said: 'We are concerned that Britain has not yet completed the necessary licensing arrangements that are required. It is vital that the government complete this work as a matter of urgency. TVs could mount up like fridges - there is certainly enough confusion for it to happen'.

A third directive, expected to come into force in a year, will mean that 75% of the weight of every television set must be recycled, which will mean that the lead must be separated from the glass, a procedure for which no technology yet exists. 'They are setting us targets that we have no known way of reaching', said Ms Snow.

New directives will shortly require the recycling of all products that contain electrical circuits, from computers to musical birthday cards. Julian Dougherty, owner of recycling firm Recyk, said:'There's going to be a terrible, terrible mess, ten times worse than fridges or freezers and there's nothing that anyone can do about it.

'You can stack fridges and freezers, but you can't stacks TVs on Hoovers or toasters'.

SCHOOLS EXPEL PETS

Many primary schools are getting rid of pets such as rabbits and hamsters because of strict new health and safety rules from the department for education and skills, reported The Times (p10).

Head teachers feel it is safer to deprive pupils of school pets than to risk accidents or legal action.

MANDELSON URGES ELECTED MAYORS TO EXPLOIT POWERS

Peter Mandelson urges Britain's seven elected mayors today to exploit their new powers to build links with schools and industry and help to reduce crime and social exclusion, reports The Times (p14). He says they should generate new networks as their European counterparts have done.

Mr Mandelson writes in a collection of essays published by the New Local Government Network that they will provide a better structure than traditional councils for spearheading reforms.

'As I know from my years as a Labour councillor in Lambeth, the traditional structures have also led to a lack of clear political leadership and accountability for voters, and inefficient and opaque decision-making in committee', writes Mr Mandelson.

'The new structures will create greater transparency, accountability and clearer lines of responsibility to deliver decisions more quickly and efficiently'.

He argues that not only will the mayors' strategic vision have to inform all future council decisions, but they will be able to develop extensive informal powers with business.

MORRIS PLEDGES TO RESTORE FAITH IN EDUCATION

Teachers must have support from parents, councils and the government to take tough action to enforce discipline in schools, education secretary Estelle Morris said yesterday, reported The Times (p14).

Ms Morris, who backed the sending of children to 'sin bins' and the jailing of a mother whose daughters were persistent truants, said it was time to take a stand and put right some of the wrongs of recent decades, including the behaviour of parents who had challenged the right of teachers to discipline their children. It was time to restore belief in 'the culture of education', the view that the way out of poverty was to do well at school.

She called for an end to the 'one size fits all' comprehensive school, which she said had failed to break the link between poverty and academic under-achievement. She proposed a 'new comprehensive ideal' which would give schools freedom to innovate and specialise - but she insisted this did not mean giving up the ideal of equality of opportunity for children.

Interviewed on ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, she said: 'I think over the last 20 years in some communities they have lost faith in education's ability to deliver'.

EDUCATION FAILS THE POOR, SAYS MINISTER

Margaret Hodge, minister for higher education, says that Labour has not closed the social divide in higher education, in an interview with The Guardian (p1, pp6/7/8).

Signalling possible extra cash in the summer spending review and a new approach to post-14 education, her remarks came as education secretary Estelle Morris admitted that the idea of abolishing tuition fees for university students is off the government's agenda.

The number of young people entering higher education has risen from 13% in 1980 to 19% in 1990 and then to 31% by 2000, but it has benefited those from poorer backgrounds. The government has set a target of getting 50% of all youngsetrs into higher education by 2010. In Scotland, where there are no upfront tuition fees, participation in higher education has already reached the 50% target, but Mrs Hodge denies any link: 'It's far too simplistic and wrong to suggest that's an explanation', she insisted.

However, ministers accept that there is some evidence that debt, or fear of debt, may inhibit some poorer people from higher education. They have been examining reworking the current system of student loans as well as a massive expansion of the successful pilot of the education maintenance

allowance aimed at encouraging 16-18 year-olds to stay at school.

BICKERSTAFFE WARNING OVER CARE HOMES CRISIS

Rodney Bickerstaffe, president of the National Pensioners Convention, and former general secretary of Unison, writes to the editor of The Guardian:

'The£1bn a year shortfall in th funding of our care homes for older people surely proves beyond doubt that the system is now in crisis.

'Privatised homes complain that local authorities should pay more towards the cost of care; local authorities say that they need more money from the government; ministers say the real problem in the system is caused by older people blocking beds in hospitals. While they argue, the cycle of inadequacy that they have created leaves some of our most vulnerable elderly people to suffer.

'The Right to Care campaign - which calls for all long-term care to be provided free at the point of delivery and without means-testing - clearly offers the best way forward. Today's pensioners worked to create a welfare state that would provide support from the cradle to the grave, yet now it seems that their endeavours are being seriously undemined. All political parties should remember that there are now 11 million pensioner votes, and the number is growing'.

SEVEN-YEAR-OLDS WILL ASSESS TEACHERS

Children as young as seven will be consulted about the performance of their teachers under a plan to place schools under a legal duty to consult pupils on all aspects of classroom life, according to The Daily Telegraph (p1). They will be asked their views on the curriculum, teachers' ability, bullying and work experience.

There will be a national 'baseline' of what children think makes a good teacher or head teacher which can be used by individual schools as a check list. Education reports are to be made more 'child friendly' so that children can discuss them as part of the campaign to involve children in drawing up policies affecting them.

FOSTER CARER SHORTAGE INCREASES TO 8,000

Britain is short of almost 8,000 foster carers, according to a report today based on information supplied by 128 local authorities, reported The Daily Telegraph (p5).

The Fostering Network, a national charity, published its survey to coincide with Foster Care Fortnight, which starts today. During the next two weeks local authorities will be holding events to encourage more people to consider becoming carers.

Gerri McAndrew, executive director of the Fostering Network, said:'There is a desperate need for more foster carers, but it's not just a question of numbers. Each child should be able to live with a carer carefully chosen to meet his or her specific needs in terms of location, culture, lifestyle and even interests. The wider the pool of carers, the more likely it is that a good match can be found. Anyone can apply'.

There are more than 45,000 children and young people living with 37,000 foster families in Britain on any one day, with many more moving in and out of foster homes during the year.

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