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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN THE SUNDAY PAPERS

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MASS SCHOOL CLOSURES WOULD BE NEEDED TO PREVENT BIRD FLU DEATHS...
MASS SCHOOL CLOSURES WOULD BE NEEDED TO PREVENT BIRD FLU DEATHS

Ministers have been told that county or borough-wide school closures would be needed to prevent up to 50,000 children dying in an avian flu pandemic in the UK.

England's chief medical officer Liam Donaldson has written to schools minister Jacqui Smith warning that it should take just one case of bird flu to be confirmed in a teacher or pupil to trigger local school closures, reports The Sunday Times (pg1).

Closures could last up to 10 weeks - to not only halve the potential 100,000 deaths in school-age children, but also to mitigate the impact of working parents taking time off work to care for children, on the NHS and other essential services.

LABOUR FACES TOUGH BATTLE AS LOCAL ELECTIONS LOOM

Labour risks ending third in May's local elections - a result that would put more pressure on Tony Blair to stand down, according to The Sunday Times (p8).

The newspaper's report is based on an analysis carried out by Collin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of the LGC Election Centre at the University of Plymouth. The academics' views of the upcoming elections are also spelt out in the latest issue of LGC, in which they warn that the Liberal Democrats are on a roll, but not to dismiss the BNP.

BNP'S ETHNIC MINORITY CANDIDATE INSISTS HE WILL STILL STAND

A 29-year-old man of Armenian heritage standing for the BNP in Bradford next month says he will continue campaigning despite strong reactions from both right-wingers and anti-racist activists, reports the Independent on Sunday (p24).

Some BNP activists have reportedly refused to work with Abdel Sharif Gawad. But the candidate said at the weekend: 'I'm concerned about law and order, the drugs epidemic in Bradford, as I am a father of two.

He added: 'I feel an affiliation with the BNP. It is nothing to do with anyone influencing me.'

The newspaper adds that Mr Gawad's grandfather was a Muslim convert to Christianity.

CAMERON'S LEADERSHIP UNDER SCRUTINY

Senior Conservatives are questioning David Cameron's performance, worried that he is making little difference to public opinion polls or that his reform agenda has `run out of steam', according to the Sunday Telegraph (p2) and The Sunday Times (p2).

During his first party conference speech as leader, Mr Cameron appealed to members to prepare for more radical change and emphasised he environment, affordable housing and more support for elderly carers.

But former party leader Iain Duncan Smith said while he backed Mr Cameron, voters were 'still very cynical about what we are about'.

Backbench MP Mark Pritchard added that the party's chances at the forthcoming local elections had been damaged by suggestions from party chairman Francis Maude that the Conservatives would lose the next general election.

EDUCATION AUTHORITY BANS ALL PUPILS FROM LOGGING ONTO WEBSITE

Norfolk is believed to be the first education authority to impose a blanket ban on pupils accessing a website, reveals the Sunday Telegraph (p8).

The social networking site, Bebo.com, is popular with schoolchildren, because it allows them to create mini-homepages with pictures and profiles and swap messages with other users. But schools are concerned that the site is being used for bullying and could allow paedophiles to contact children.

A Bebo.com spokesperson described the ban as censorship, and said the company took privacy and security very seriously.

KEY WORKERS WARY OF LIVING IN `PUBLIC SECTOR GHETTOES'

Less than half of the homes built for key workers have been sold, reports The Sunday Times (p4).

A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, which obtained the figures, said: 'The feedback we have had from key workers is that they do not want to live in public sector ghettoes.'

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister responded that some empty properties had been reserved by buyers, while some people did not want to go the areas where the flats were being built.

TV PRESENTER RAILS AGAINST COUNCIL BUILDING DECISIONS

Historic buildings are being destroyed in favour of characterless developments, according to Kevin McCloud, presenter of Channel 4's Grand Designs, reports The Independent on Sunday (p19).

Councils, architects and developers are too eager to tear down unique and historic buildings and replace them with developments that 'could belong anywhere', he said.

Mr McCloud has been campaigning to save a Victorian factory in Yeovil due to be replaced with an urban village.

MILIBAND NOT QUITE A MILLIONAIRE

A `Rich Report' into the wealth of the Cabinet's 22 members has placed communities and local government minister David Miliband at 11th place.

Compiled by The Mail on Sunday (pgs 56-59), the league table claimed Mr Miliband was worth£900,000, taking into account an£850,000 north London apartment inherited from his father, and his£133,997 salary.

Deputy prime minister John Prescott was ranked 15th, worth only£475,000. The newspaper points out that his two cars and two residences are all government property.

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