Hundreds of postal votes issued for last month's Birmingham City Council elections never reached electors who applied for them, it has been claimed. Local authority officials insist ballot papers were posted in good time for polling day on 10 June, but councillors have been inundated with complaints from constituents who say that more than a month later the voting forms have still not arrived. Deputy leader John Hemming hinted to The Birmingham Post(24/7/04, p1) that the problem might lie with the Royal Mail.
Cancellation of the 4 November referendum means north Yorkshire no longer faces the chaos of local government reorganisation that could have resulted. Council leaders welcomed the 'postponement' of the ballot, which promises to bring to an end months of backbiting between the two competing tiers of local government, reports the Yorkshire Post(p4).
COMMISSION FOR RACIAL EQUALITY CALLS FOR CHANGE IN ATTITUDES TO GYPSIES AND TRAVELLERS
The CRE's call for more to be done to stamp out racist attitudes towards Gypsies and travellers in Wales, further to condemnation of a Barry launderette displaying a 'no travellers sign', prompted a spokeswoman for the Vale of Glamorgan CBC to tell The Western Mail(22/7/04, p6): 'The council is unable to take direct action against companies which it believes are breaking race discrimination legislation. The council is therefore pleased that this matter has been brought to the attention of the Commission for Racial Equality and welcomes the commission's intention to take action against the owners of the launderette.'
COUNCILS UNCOVER£15M SHORTFALL OVER HIGHLAND SERVICES
Argyll & Bute Council and Highland Council have claimed to have proof of a£15m-plus funding shortfall because of the Scottish Executive failing to recognise the true costs of providing services in sparsely-populated Highland areas. Argyll & Bute leader Allan Macaskill told The Herald (22/7/04, p13): 'The report demonstrates quite clearly that it costs Argyll & Bute Council an additional£2.6m to provide education, and an additional£200,000 to provide some planning and social work services, to remote andrural areas.'
IN DEPTH: PARISH RESERVE EXCEEDS PRECEPT
Accounts for the last financial year show Ilkley parish council is sitting on£140,000, including more than£100,000 of surplus money from previous years, reported the Yorkshire Post(p3). Ann Cryer MP, whose Keighley constituency also covers Ilkley, said she had written to the ODPM to express her concerns over the unspent cash in Ilkley and challenge its legality. It is a bit worrying that the reserve exceeds the precept to this degree. It does seem a bit high. The question to be answered is what are their plans? If they are looking to give grants to community groups, then there needs to be a procedure and established criteria for that. The council needs to justify having all that money there in the first place.' A leading article in the paper (p14) offers the parish council two choices: 'Cash back or spending spree?'
NEW HOUSING HIT BY WATER QUANGO DELAYS
Thousands of new homes across Scotland are under threat because the country's water quango is unable to keep up with the demand for development. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities told The Scotsman (20/7/04, p1) councils the length and breadth of Scotland had been plagued by the problem.
OFFICE FOR STANDARDS IN EDUCATION SACKS BOARD OF GOVERNORS
The failing Hartshill School in the Midlands has become one of the first in the country to have its entire governing body sacked by the government under new get-tough rules to tackle under-achievement, reported The Birmingham Post(23/7/04, p1). The governors are to be replaced by an interim executive board after Ofsted inspectors identified serious weaknesses in teaching and attainment at the school, which opted out of local education authority control in the early 1990s. Hartshill as also been placed into special measures while efforts are made to reverse its decline.