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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS

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REGIONAL ANSWER FOR EQUITY GAP ...
REGIONAL ANSWER FOR EQUITY GAP

Regional venture capital funds, now at last poised to launch, mark the latest attempt to solve a problem identified in the 1931 Macmillan report - namely the failure of banks and institutional investors to supply long-term finance to smaller companies, reported the Financial Times (p17).

The proposals, first mentioned by Peter Mandelson in the 1998 competitiveness white paper, were recently held up for more than six months as Brussels scrutinised the funding structure for signs they might constitute state aid. With those concerns now allayed, the nine funds - one for each of the English regional development agencies - will launch between October and next March. The East Midlands Development Agency (Emda) is likely to be among the first, with the Greater London Authority bringing up the rear. The uncertainties of the downturn may bring problems.

Varying from about£15m in the north east to£50m in London, the new pools of money will typically draw 30% of their resources from the DTI, 20% from the European Investment Fund and 50% from the private sector, including small pension funds and corporations.

Entrepreneurs can approach the funds in a number of ways - direct, through intermediaries such as accountants and lawyers, or through the Business Links or the RDAs. The Small Business Service says it is still working on the best ways to provide help with funding applications and solutions will vary by region.

'DANGER OF DISORDER' IN DEPORTING ASYLUM-SEEKERS

The Metropolitan Police has warned home secretary David Blunkett of the danger of disorder as immigration offficers enter ethnic minority communities to detain failed asylum-seekers prior to deportation, reported The Times (p4).

Metropolitan Police commissioner is to insist that immigration officers take account of police intelligence that might suggest that a particular arrest could spark street disorder. The commissioner and other senior officers have highlighted the huge resource implication and potential for public disorder involved in meeting the government's target of removing 30,000 failed asylum-seekers in the year to next March.

The warning came as police and community leaders in Hull pleaded for calm last night after the latest violence involving some of the thousands of asylum-seekers said by councillors to have been dumped in the city by the home office. Hull City Council says that it has protested for weeks that the city has reached saturation point, but asylum-seekers are still being sent by the busload.

Teams of immigration officers trained to carry out arrests and search premises are to carry out low-risk detentions. But when intelligence suggests there could be trouble detaining a failed asylum-seeker, the immigration service will be able to seek help from the police in making the arrest.

Three teams of enforcement officers are expected to be trained and operational in London by the end of next month. Their deployment follows a successful pilot scheme that has been running in Newham, and Barking and Dagenham since February last year. Sixty officers will be based at Croydon, Hayes and Lambeth, with teams based in 10 other regions.

'WILD WEST' MIDLANDS GETS GUN CRIME WARNING

Birmingham could end up like the 'Wild West' if the rising trend in gun crime continues, the chief constable of West Midlands Police said yesterday, reported The Daily Telegraph (p8).

Announcing a long-running drive to combat the rising number of shootings in and around the city - which has seen a 500% increase in the last 12 months in some areas - Edward Crew announced that armed police would be patrolling known troublespots such as Handsworth, Aston and West Bromwich. Between April 2000 and March 2001, there were 696 incidents involving firearms across the West Midlands, with 35 people being wounded.

TEACHING VACANCIES - SURVEY PAINTS NATIONAL PICTURE

Thousands of teaching posts throughout England are still unfilled just days before the start of the new school year, according to a Guardian survey (p4) published today.

Vacancies officially disclosed by more than 100 local education authorities amount to 3,500 full-time posts or their equivalent, including nearly 1,000 in London boroughs, the survey reveals.

But that fails to account for unreported vacancies from a further 50 authorities, which means that the total figure is certain to be much higher. The true picture is also distorted by the increasing use of long-term supply teachers to fill permanent vacancies.

Overall, most LEAs in the regions say the situation is as bad or worse than last year - but that it is much harder to fill vacancies this year. Many are now devoting large sums of money to specialist recruitment campaigns rather than leaving headteachers to struggle to fill the vacancies on their own.

Record numbers of teachers who trained in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and even Bulgaria and Russia, will be arriving to start new jobs in England in the next few days.

The Guardian publishes data from 105 LEAs, including comparisons with last year. It also names the 47 LEAs who either failed to respond or where no figures were available.

BRITAIN'S MOST EXPENSIVE PUBLIC LOO

Britain's most expensive public toilet costs taxpayers£5.60 every time someone needs to go, according to The Mirror (p10).

Now Carlisle City Council is cutting its losses and paying£35,000 to scrap it. The lavatory was installed in a car park on a£200,000, 15-year lease in 1993. But it became isolated when the town centre developed in the opposite direction. The toilet, which costs 10p a go, is used by seven people a day. Its upkeep is just£400 less than all the city's other loos together.

The council must buy out the lease or pay£84,000 to maintain the toilet until the deal runs out in 2008.

Geoff Prest, chairman of the council's environment committee, said: 'We need to come to an arrangement with the provider. It is certainly not something we would ever do again'.

£2,500 FINE FOR LOPPING TREE

A homeowner has been fined for cutting down a tree which vandals used to climb into his garden, reported The Mirror (p17).

Police advised Nicholas Evans to cut back the 150-year-old oak after vandals caused£3,000 damage to a summer house and ornaments. But after a tree surgeon had reduced the 85ft tree to 10ft, Stockport MBC told him it was protected and fined Mr Evans£2,500.

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