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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS

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NEW RULES TO SPEED ADOPTION ...
NEW RULES TO SPEED ADOPTION

The government will today unveil national standards on adoption and a national register designed to speed up the matching of children with families who wish to adopt, reported The Guardian (p8).

The Jewish charity Norwood Ravenswood is expected to win the contract to operate the register, which ministers hope will enable local authorities to seek families further afield if adoptions cannot be arranged locally. The government has argued that the database will help tackle the bureaucracy blocking children's move from institutional care to secure and permanent homes.

The government's target is a 40% increase in adoptions from local authority care.

LIVINGSTONE ENDS APPEAL AGAINST TUBE RULING

The mayor of London dropped his high court appeal against government plans to part-privatise the Tube last night (see LGCnet), but warned that further legal challenges could follow, reported the Financial Times (p3).

Ken Livingstone said he would not appeal against the court ruling that the govenment could proceed with its scheme to let three 30-year contracts to private companies to run the infrastructure. But he warned his decision was only because lawyers said he was unlikely to win, and he would continue to 'use all appropriate means' to oppose the plans.

The Greater London Authority said future law suits would be against any clauses in the contracts that could be challenged. That raises the prospect of a long, arduous time ahead as London Underground tries to finalise the deals before the end of the year.

Mr Livingstone said the judge's ruling 'made clear that the court was not ruling on whether the government's PPP scheme is safe or provides value for money. Nor did he decide on the legality of any particular contractual terms'.

LOCAL TRADING STANDARDS MAY GET CARTEL-BUSTERS ROLE

The Office of Fair Trading is considering giving Britain's 4,500 local authority trading standards officers a new role as part-time cartel busters as part of its clampdown on price-fixing and abuse of market dominance, reported the Financial Times (p4).

Senior officials at the competition watchdog have had talks about stepping up competition enforcement with the Trading Standards Institute, the professional body for standards officers. David Sibbert, chairman of the institute's policy committee, said the talks had focused on how trading standards officers could use their local knowledge and business contacts to act as the 'eyes and ears' of the OFT.

The treasury is expected to confirm soon that the OFT's team of 500 staff is to be increased by up to 100 to allow more rigorous enforcement of the Competition Act 1998, which outlaws price-fixing and abuse of market dominance. However, senior OFT officials are concerned about the difficulties the agency's London-based staff face in detecting weak competition in markets that operate in a small geographical area. Trading standards officers spend most of their working lives interacting with local businesses and building up a store of expertise that could be used to trigger detailed investigations by the agency.

Officials said possible early targets for the OFT could include local professional services, where there is an apparent similarity between prices and fees, and misleading price promotions in local media, which are said to be commonplace.

ROADWORKER GETS PAYOUT FOR INJURY

A former council roadworker has been awarded£150,000 in compensation for injuries he sustained after walking on molten tar, reported the Financial Times (p4).

David Bradbury burned his feet on the freshly-laid tar in Sutton Coldfield, west midlands, in 1995. The accident led to a chain reaction of other conditions, including blood poisoning and kidney failure.

Mr Bradbury, 57, who suffers from diabetes, brought the claim for negligence against Birmingham City Council because it had withdrawn standard issue safety boots. He said he could not feel the heat through his shoes because of his condition.

PROTESTING KURDS TAUNTED BY GLASWEGIAN MOB

Kurdish refugees were pelted with stones and taunted by gangs of youths in Glasgow yesterday as they marched in protest at the murder of the asylum-seeker Firsat Yildiz, reported The Times (p4). Police were forced to break up running battles as 400 protesters set off from the rundown Sighthill housing estate where Mr Yildiz, 22, was stabbed to death in what police believe may have been a racist attack.

Hours after Kurdish protesters had staged a silent vigil outside the headquarters of Glasgow City Council, Sighthill residents held a counter-demonstration, claiming that refugees are treated better than council tenants on the high-rise estate.

The Kurdish protesters, however, say that Sighthill has become a 'dumping ground' for more than 2,000 asylum-seekers. They complain that the city council receives£20m a year from the government to shelter refugees and yet spends nothing to protect them or to improve conditions on the estate where local families refuse to move into empty flats. For months, they say, police and politicians have ignored accusations of racist attacks on refugee families and only agreed to a meeting yesterday after the killing of Mr Kildiz on Sunday.

Aamer Anwer, a spokesman for the asylum-seekers, said: 'What do you expect to happen when you dump people in one of Europe's most deprived areas without adequate resorces or support? The asylum-seekers do not blame the people of Sighthill and our message to Glasgow City Council, the government and the home office is that they are responsible'.

Local families say that there have been 70 race-related attacks on refugees in the past 14 months. The arrival 18 months ago of 2,000 asylum-seekers from Kurdistan, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Albania and Bosnia in Scotland's poorest constituency fuelled resentment among local residents. They complained about refugees getting fridge-freezers, washing machines and televisions while they waited months for repairs to their dilapidated homes.

City council leader Charles Gordon said he would consider the asylum-seekers' demands for more police protection, better education facilities and more integration, but he refused to accept that the council's policy of housing the majority of refugees in one area was responsible for the racial tension that led to Mr Yildiz's murder.

Two weeks ago members of the British National Party tried to capitalise on the growing discontent by distributing leaflets in Glasgow.

See LGCnetfor home office minister Lord Rooker's comments today.

SPA TOWN BALKS AT COST OF ROYALTY

Councillors in Royal Leamington Spa are not amused at being asked to pay for a privilege they thought that they had been given free by Queen Victoria, reported The Times (p5).

At issue is the Warwickshire town's very name. The newly reconstituted town council has been told that it will have to pay£1,250 if it wants to keep the word royal. Whitehall officials have decreed that the borough will need new Letters Patent, signed by the queen, to retain the privilege.

The mayor, Bill Gifford, is both puzzled and annoyed. 'We have a charter signed by Queen Victoria, dated 1838, which still hangs in the mayor's parlour and which grants us the use of the title. Why should we have to pay for it again?'

Leamington lost its town council, becoming part of Warwick DC, during the 1974 local government reorganisation, but it is to become a town again from April next year. Councillors received a letter from the former DETR informing them that they would have to pay for their continued use of the prefix.

But the DETR, now the department for transport, local government and the regions, denied all knowledge. Responsibility was finally tracked down to the crown office in the lord chancellor's department. 'The matter of Leamington is under discussion. No final decision has yet been made', said a spokesman.

MORE SPEED HUMPS DESPITE INCREASED AIR POLLUTION

Councils are to be given government funding to install more road humps despite a government-commissioned study showing that they increase pollution, reported The Daily Telegraph (p6).

The report, by the Transport Research Laboratory, indicates that carbon monoxide emissions rise by between 30% and 60% on streets with sleeping policemen. Emissions of carbon dioxide went up by between 20% and 26%, while nitrous oxides and particulates from diesel-powered vehicles rose by 30%. The report, based on a three-year assessment of nine different types of traffic-calming design, found that humps were the worst offenders - and delayed fire tenders and other emergency service vehicles.

It concluded: 'It will be necessary for local authorities to adopt a balanced approach to the implementation of traffic calming, whereby the potential benefits of reduced speeds and fewer accidents are weighed against the possible adverse impacts of increased emissions'.

The DTLR said it was pressing ahead with plans to offer local authorities a further£30m in support of projects to reduce traffic speeds to a maximum of 20mph. A spokesman said:'We accept that traffic calming increases cars' emissions but we do not believe this is significant, given the reduction in traffic that often occurs on the roads concerned. If there is a safety issue involved, we believe this outweighs the emission factor'.

FOUR QUIT IN ROW OVER MAYOR'S PARKING BAY

Four women, including the town clerk, resigned from a town council after a row that started when one of them parked her car in a space reserved for the mayor to avoid getting drenched in torrential rain, reported The Daily Telegraph (p11).

Ill-feeling between town hall workers and councillors led to the walk-out in January and resulted in an industrial tribunal ordering Crowborough Town Council, East Sussex, to pay£3,000 compensation to the woman who parked in the mayor's space. Gill Simmonds won her claim for constructive dismissal at the trinual in Croydon after recounting the tale behind the row.

CAMERAS TO CURB ILLEGAL PARKING

Drivers who park on double yellow lines, pedestrian crossings or other sensitive areas in two London boroughs will find themselves spied upon by 'big brother' cameras, reported The Guardian (p6).

The CCTV pictures will then be analysed by traffic wardens and fines of up to£80 swiftly dispatched. The scheme - being tested in Newham and Croydon but expected to be rolled out throughout the capital if it proves successful - is aimed at combating London's severe congestion, which has seen motorists' speeds dropping to less than 10mph.

A one-hour trial on two streets in Newham recorded 100 offenders, and both boroughs are confident they can curb the problem by deliberately targeting hotspots where people use cashpoints and fast food outlets.

But last night Paul Watters, AA head of roads and transport policy, said: 'We think this is a bit excessive. It throws up all sorts of civil liberty issues, and is treating the symptom not the disease'.

RATES PROTESTER TOO OLD FOR JAIL

The Guardian (p8) reported that Nellie Copson, aged 82, yesterday walked free from court yesterday after magistrate Philip Browning ruled that she was too old to be jailed for her refusal to pay business rates on her disused shop in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire, for the past six years.

He told Wychavon DC: 'There are many other ways of extracting money owed, including the bailiff'.

SOUTH DOWNS PARK MAY BE DELAYED

Plans to create the biggest national park in England for 50 years are in danger of being derailed in a row over boundaries and planning powers, reported The Guardian (p10).

Almost two years after John Prescott announced a 'millennium gift' to the nation in the shape of a new South Downs national park, councils and vested countryside interests in Sussex and Hampshire are resisting proposals to hand over planning functions to a new park authority. Countryside campaigners believe that deliberate delaying tactics and a campaign of misinformation 'and downright lies' could mean that the govenment will be unable to formally designate the national park - stretching from the cliffs of Beachy Head inland to Winchester - during this parliament.

Feelings are running so high that differences will have to be sorted out at a public inquiry held under a government planning inspector, with ministers making a final decision based on his recommendation.

KENT HAS 1,200 CHILD ASYLUM-SEEKERS IN CARE

More than 1,200 child asylum-seekers - some as young as eight - have been taken into care by Kent social services after arriving in Britain without a parent or guardian, reported The Independent.

The influx of unaccompanied minors has spiralled over the last two years. According to the department of health, local authorities across England are looking after 6,000 children, compared with 2,500 in 1999.

The problem is most acute in Kent, with a stream of more than 100 children arriving every month. Younger children are placed with foster parents and teenagers are put into shared lodgings where they are supported by social workers.

Kent's costs of£15m a year are paid by the taxpayer, but council leaders criticised the system yesterday claiming that children were 'left in limbo' for years before being told whether they have a right to stay. Council leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said rulings on asylum claims from minors were often delayed until they were 18, so their status remained unresolved and kent could not settle them into the community.

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