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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS

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REGIONS SEE INWARD INVESTMENT FALL ...
REGIONS SEE INWARD INVESTMENT FALL

Inward investment activity is falling or static throughout the UK after four years of booming growth, a Financial Times survey of regional investment has revealed (p1).

The results contrast sharply with figures for the 12 months to March released a month ago by Invest UK, the national agency, which showed that a record 869 inward investment projects had created 71,000 jobs.

The survey bears out suggestions that investment activity has failed to recover from a decline that started in the three months to December, when the US slowdown began.

The slowdown appears worst in London, the south east, Scotland, the midlands and the north west, but has also hit Yorkshire, the north east and the east of England.

PRESSURE ON BROWN TO RAISE TAXES FOR PUBLIC SERVICES

Gordon Brown is coming under growing pressure to promise extra tax rises to fund continued increases in health and education spending, reported the Financial Times (p2).

With the chancellor preparing to embark on his next public spending review, due for completion next summer, influential Labour figures are making increasingly vocal demands for ministers to make the case for tax rises.

The latest calls will come in a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, the left-of-centre think-tank, which argues that ministers must begin the fight to persuade voters that the extra spending they want to see requires higher taxation.

The report, by Peter Robinson, the IPPR's chief economist, states that maintaining spending between 2004 and 2006 at the current rate of increases would require an extra£14bn - 'in headline terms the equivalent of a 4p increase in the standard rate of income tax'.

GRIMSBY ANGLES FOR SEA CHANGE IN IMAGE

The first of a Financial Times (p3) series on towns that have reinvented themselves looks at Grimsby, a thriving Humberside port.

That the town still has a busy fish market - let alone one undergoing a£300,000 modernisation - surprises vistors. But the north east Lincolnshire port has undergone a transformation underpinned by growth in food processing, chemicals and docking.

According to Dun & Bradstreet, the business information group, Grimsby has the highest proportion of profitable businesses in Britain. Gross domestic product per head is well above the UK average and GDP growth during the 1990s - of about 5% a year - was ahead of that for the Yorkshire and Humberside region into which Grimsby falls.

LEEDS AND MANCHESTER TAKE PRIDE IN TURNING PINK

Competition between Manchester and Leeds is hotting up, reported the Financial Times (p4). The two have long slugged it out over which is the north of England's busiest financial centre.

Now Leeds is Manchester's example with a campaign targeting the 'pink pound' - or the affluent homosexual market. The city council has launched 'Pink Leeds', a guide to the local scene and the best bars and clubs.

Manchester, which boasts Britain's biggest annual homosexual and lesbian festival, launched a similar tourism campaign two years ago and claims to have won substantial business. Its homosexual district, known as The Village, is a regular haunt for coachloads of visitors from the US and continental Europe.

WEST SUSSEX DESPERATE FOR JOB TALENT

West Sussex is crying out for the sort of fresh talent that it just cannot find, reported the Financial Times (p4).

'People think it is a nice place to live if you like cricket and bowling, but that it's not exciting', said Ruth de Mierre, of the West Sussex Economic Forum, which analysed recruitment and retention to find out why outsiders think the county is trapped in a time warp'.

'We are almost the forgotten county; people think we are somewhere between Brighton and London but that is all they know about us...Recruiting and retaining the right calibre of youngsters is difficult because they all end up in London'.

DISQUIET AT PLANNING REFORM

A recent government speech (see LGCnet) attacking aspects of the planning system as being a 'banquet for barristers' has set alarm bells ringing among lawyers, according to the Financial Times (p10).

Guy Roots QC, chairman of the Planning and Environment Bar Association, last week wrote to Stephen Byers - the cabinet minister responsible for drawing up proposals to reform the planning system, expected this year - urging him to 'keep an open mind'.

The role of the public inquiry, and of the contributions made by 'all parties, lay and professional', Mr Roots said, 'should not be needlessly denigrated before the debate over the future of the system has even begun in earnest'.

POLICE CHIEFS FEAR DISORDER OVER REFUGEES

Chief police officers have given warning that the government's target of removing 2,500 unsuccessful asylum-seekers a month could cause public disorder and damage relations with ethnic minority communities, reported The Times (p8).

Senior officers also fear that evictions of asylum-seekers from their accomodation will impose huge burdens on the police and lead to a loss of trust between would-be refugees and local forces.

The police are expected to be involved in assisting the immigration service to meet the home office target of removing 60,000 failed asylum-seekers over the next two years.

RACIST COUNCIL TENANTS WILL FACE FAST-TRACK EVICTIONS

Council tenants who racially harass asylum-seekers will face fast-track eviction under government plans to combat so-called neighbours from hell, reported The Independent (p6).

Under proposals being drawn up, housing law would be reformed to allow local authorities much more scope to repossess the homes of those who commit neighbour nuisance. Radical reform of housing tenure law will provoke controversy among some tenants' rights groups, but ministers are determined to act and believe nearly all tenants, who are law-abiding, want to see effective change.

The option favoured by the government is to force all tenants to sign new tenancy agreements,which would be subject to a 'good behaviour' review every two months. This is modelled on a scheme pioneered by Nottingham City Council. For all but a tiny minority the review would simply be a rubber stamp, but for the anti-social element it would mean swift repossession of their home.

As well as new tenancies, a more contentious change being considered is the abolition of secure tenure for council tenants. Under this, a new form of social tenure would be created so that councils could perform evictions without even going to court as at present. Whereas councils are now better equipped to deal with problem tenants through anti-social behaviour orders, many authorities feel they need tougher powers because residents face intimidation when cases go to court.

'ASYLUM TSAR' FOR LIVERPOOL

Britain's first asylum-seeker tsar will be appointed in Liverpool, reported the Daily Express (p7).

The£45,000-a-year post is being set up by Merseyside Racial Harassment Prevention Unit and is expected to be filled next months.

The successful applicant will be responsible for integrating the thousands of refugees in Merseyside and helping them to settle.

City councillor Richard Kemp said: 'It is important that if the government is to dump asylum-seekers, we have to rally round and support them. We need to look at these people not as a threat but as an asset'.

Council spokesman Kevin Wong said many of the asylum-seekers were highly trained in areas like medicine while 'it is well documented that Britain is suffering shortages of doctors and nurses'.

PFI FACES DOUBLE CHALLENGE

The government's flagship private finance initiative is facing a twin challenge from the GMB union and the Liberal Democrats that could threaten plans to use more money to build NHS hospitals, reported The Independent (p2).

The union is planning to exploit an obscure clause inthe Local Government Act, which will allow it to consult local people publicly about whether to bring in commercial companies to build and run NHS hospitals in their area. It is planning to consult left-wing Labour and Liberal Democrat councils about holding local referendums on plans to build PFI hospitals this week.

Union leaders are convinced local people will vote against handing NHS building contracts to the private sector and that the move will put pressure on ministers to scrap the plans.

The government's intention to form more partnerships with private firms to improve public services will be a key theme of the Liberal Democrat conference where Charles Kennedy will seek to consolidate his policy of effective opposition. A motion highly critical of PFI says further PFI projects should not be introduced unless they pass four tests: value for money; quality; accountability; and flexibility.

If the motion is passed, as expected, it will scupper any Labour hopes of Lib-Dem support in the house of lords for its PFI plans. Unlike the commons, the government does not have a majority in the lords and relies on opposition and cross bench support to defeat the Tories.

FAIRGROUND SCANDAL OF RARE ANIMAL SALES

Exotic animals are being sold illegally at fairs across the UK every week, environmental health officers warned yesterday, reported the Daily Express (p23).

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health called on its members in local authorities across Britain to stop the trade by refusing to license the fairs and to prosecute offenders. The institute says the events, in its view, are illegal under the Pet Animals Act 1951 and enforcement action should be taken against anyone who sold animals in this way.

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