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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS

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EDUCATION ACTION ZONES TO BE SCRAPPED ...
EDUCATION ACTION ZONES TO BE SCRAPPED

Schools minister Stephen Timms will tell the leaders of the 73 education action zones - a public-private initiative designed to test ideas in some of the country's toughest schools - that they will not be extended beyond their five-year programmes, reported the Financial Times (p2).

Critics say the private sector was failing to provide leadership and unprepared to take real risks in testing radical ideas. Mr Timms expects the government's excellence in cities programme to take on the schools involved and there could be 'non-statutory' zones in future.

This year Ofsted found the zones' work 'reveals too much variability' despite 'energetic leadership'.. The report was published as the government prepared to invest an extra£72m.

The first zones will now be closed in August 2003, with the last being wound up in April 2005.

BYERS SURVIVES NO CONFIDENCE VOTE

DTLR secretary Stephen Byers survived a no confidence vote in the commons, pressed by Conservative MPs, reported the Financial Times (p3). [The voting was 394 to 152].

Mr Byers denied misleading the house over a meeting he had with rail regulator Tom Winsor. He repeated 'there were no threats' to use emergency legislation to override the regulator if he intervened in the decision to place Railtrack in administration.

Mr Winsor told MPs last week that in a meeting Mr Byers had made clear the government would overrule the regulator, although he admitted that the transport secretary 'might not have regarded the statement in question as a threat'.

Mr Byers laughingly told his Conservative shadow Theresa May that she had 'not scored a hit'.

Mr Byers faces further questioning today - by the commons transport select committee. He is also under pressure over his refusal to sack his special adviser,Jo Moore, for advising colleagues to 'bury bad news' on 11 September.

McCONNELL SET TO BE SCOTTISH FIRST MINISTER

Scottish education minister Jack McConnell, 41, emerged yesterday as the only nominee to become Labour's new Scottish first minister, but only after a dramatic confession about his private life, reported the Financial Times (p3).

He sat alongside his wife to say: 'If I were to become first minister it would be very wrong for my family or anybody else to suffer because of my behaviour then [seven years ago] is still secret today. That is why we are now being open about the fact that I did have an affair seven years ago'.

Mr McConnell was already favourite for the first minister nomination, having only failed narrowly to beat Henry McLeish last year. Mr McLeish resigned last week after an outcry over his handling of office expenses.

FOOT-AND-MOUTH MISTAKES HIT TOURISM BADLY, ADMITS MINISTER

Tourism minister Kim Howells told MPs yesterday that the tourist industry had suffered from Draconian efforts to control-foot-and mouth, reported the Financial Times (p6).

Replying to a Westminster Hall debate, Mr Howells said the prime minister had encouraged people tostay away from farmland when the epidemic broke out. Councils had closed footpaths and the tourism industry had been plunged into crisis.

The minister commented:'It was, to say the least, an extraordinarily steep learning curve and great mistakes were made and it had a very, very serious effect on the industry'. But it was 'not just the government' who should be blamed, given that farmers had demanded the closure of footpaths.

MPs criticised the government for failing to do enough to help the industry, which has also suffered a further drop in visitors since 11 September. Mr Howells promised a shake-up in the way tourism was promoted and agreed that it was a mistake that the English Tourism Council had no marketing role.

FAITH SCHOOLS WILL BE INCLUSIVE, SAYS MINISTER

Education secretary Estelle Morris will tomorrow tell the general Synod of the Church of England that new faith schools will be 'tolerant' and 'inclusive', reported the Financial Times (p6).

The government is sticking by its plans to allow the expansion of faiths schools but wants to reassiure those concerned that the schools will deepen community divisions.

In an attempt to allay fears there will be an explosion in the number of sauch schools, Ms Morris will point out that since 1997 only six have been admitted to the state sector from faiths other than the Church of England and the Roan Catholic Church.

GOVERNMENT DELAYS IMPLEMENTATION OF INFORMATION ACT

Ministers angered Labour MPs yesterday when they announced the Freedom of Information Act would not be fully implemented until January 2005, more than two years later than campaigners expected, reported The Daily Telegraph (p16).

When the legislation was going through parliament, ministers said it would be introduced in stages, with government departments having to comply first, from 2002. [Information commissioner Elzabeth France favoured a roll-out of information from about 70,000 organisations to which the Act applies, which local authorities following government departments in priority provision of information.]

Lord chancellor Irvine said yesterday that individuals would not have right of access to information until 2005.

TRIBUNAL RULING HELPS MARRIED COUPLES WHO WORK TOGETHER

Police inspector Margaret Graham won a landmark victory for working wives after an emplyment tribunal ruled she had been denied promotion because her husband was her senior officer, reported The Sunday Telegraph (p13).

The ruling, which found Bedfordshire Police guilty of marital discrimination, could help thousands of wives and husbands who have been held back in their jobs because they work for the same organisation.

Mr Justice Douglas Brown, in a written judgment, dismissed Bedfordshire Police arguments that Inspector Graham would be compromised in court if she had to give evidence against her chief superintendent husband, the divisional commander.

Inspector Brown's application for the post of area inspector initially succeeded. It was later turned down after Bedfordshire chief constable Michael O'Byrne discovered her husband was also the divisional commander.

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