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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN TODAY'S NATIONAL PRESS

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UNIONS WARN OVER TEACHER SHORTAGE ...
UNIONS WARN OVER TEACHER SHORTAGE

Trade unions put pressure on the government to tackle classroom shortages as figures yesterday showed that four out of 10 young teachers fail to stay in the profession, reports the Financial Times (p2).

Mike Tomlinson, chief inspector of schools, highlighted the data and said the situation ahead of next week's start to the new term was the worst for 36 years. Although Mr Tomlinson praised the government for trying to tackle the problem his remarks prompted a fresh round of attacks on what unions see as ministerial complacency.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NAS/UWT, said the government had to stop 'hedging' about improving teachers' contracts and make the profession more attractive. He said unless the current review of teachers' workload dealt with the basic contract the teaching unions would have to look at their plans for joint industrial action.

Schools minister Stephen Timms said: 'I am hopeful there won't be disruption to children's education. I think it's very important there shouldn't be. Actually, the number of teachers leaving the profession early on has been pretty stable over the last 10 years. It isn't a new problem at all'.

He said that three-quarters of those teachers who actually started teaching are still in the profession into their third year. Mr Timms added that there were 12,000 more teachers now than there were in 1998.

ECONOMY HEALTHY IN THE HIGHLANDS

Scotland's highlands and islands are enjoying an 'unparalleled' period of stable growth and low unemployment, even leading to skills shortages in some areas, the region's development agency reported yesterday, according to the Financial Times (p2).

Highlands and Islands Enterprise said unemployment fell to 3.7% in the region - which stretches from Argyll to Shetland - the lowest level in 15 years. HIE is the complementary agency to Scottish Enterprise, which covers the rest of Scotland.

'ROBOCOP' TAKES ON THE SYSTEM

The Times (Section 2, pp2-3) charts the life - and attitudes - of Ray Mallon, the police superintendent who pioneered zero tolerance policing in Middlesbrough, and who now wants to become the town's directly-elected mayor. A disciplinary tribunal is to be held, with Mr Mallon facing 14 allegations, including falsehood and prevarication, neglect of duty, discreditable conduct and misconduct.

£1M RIVER HOME TURNS TO DUST

A couple who paid almost£1m to build a luxury riverfront home in an exclusive part of Dorset have been left with a building plot just 30 ft square after demolishing a protected local landmark, reported The Times (p3).

Simon and Elizabeth Bowden paid£850,000 for the prime waterfront land in Poole, which has become the fourth most expensive place in the world to buy property. They wanted to renovate and extend a 28yd-long boathouse into a five bedroom house, giving them a magnificient harbour view.

There was one condition laid down by Poole BC: the boathouse must remain in recognisable form. The wooden waterfront boathouse, built in the 1920s, was not subject to later restrictions that required new properties to be built 25 yards back from the waterline.

Council inspectors were shocked to discover that building work had levelled the boathouse to the ground. As it no longer existed, neither did the planning permission and the Bowdens could no longer build an extension. They might have been able to build a less ambitious property behind the 25yd restrictions but a row of protected trees blocked their path. The Bowdens are left instead with just a 30ft by 30ft plot. The couple may resort to the high court after a planning inspector yesterday rejected their appeal against the council's decision.

LAMPREY PIE COULD CROWN JUBILEE PARTY

Gloucester City Council is being asked to revive an ancient custom and to present a lamprey pie to the queen to mark her golden jubilee next year - as it did for her coronation in 1953 and her silver jubilee in 1977, reported The Times (p6).

There is no record of anyone at Buckingham Palace having been brave enough to eat either of those two offerings. Queen Victoria, however, did. Gloucester sent a pie to her in 1894 and received a handwritten note of thanks confirming that it had been served for lunch and dinner and that the queen had enjoyed it.

Paul James, leader of the Tory group on the city council, will make an official request this week to the mayor of Gloucester, Rose Workman, that the custom be revived.

Lampreys were once a valuable source of food, so much so that Henry I famously died from a surfeit of them. They are now rare, their stocks rduced by river pollution, but they still lurk in the muddy waters of the Severn.

GERVAS WALKER: A TRIBUTE

The Daily Telegraph (p23) publishes a lengthy obituary on Gervas Walker, who has died aged 80.

A former member of Bristol City Council, he was instrumental in setting up of the new Avon CC in 1973, becoming its first chairman in 1974. He became Conservative group leader of the Association of County Councils in the mid-1970s, becoming vice-chairman and subsequently chairman in 1979. This brought him into regular contact with ministers and the then new prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Discussions were often robust.

Sir Gervas was knighted in 1979 and in 1981 was appointed deputy lieutenant for the county of Avon. He retired to Sidmouth, Devon.

VOLUNTARY WORK IDEA FOR REFUGEES

Asylum-seekers are to be encouraged to do voluntary work in the community in order to reduce hostility from local residents while their cases are decided, home secretary David Blunkett is expected to announce next month at the Labour Party conference, reported The Guardian (p9).

Home office sources say that many asylum-seekers are single young men who would be quite happy to do voluntary work, particularly if it helped improve community relations. The announcement would also go some way to clarify the confusion over whether asylum-seekers, who are banned from doing paid work, can be given expenses to cover items such as travel and lunch.

The home office yesterday denied a report that the review into the future of vouchers for asylum-seekers had decided they should stay, after failing to find alternatives which would not involve a return to cash welfare benefits.

'No final decisions have yet been taken in relation to the review of vouchers or of the dispersal of asylum-seekers', a home office spokesman said. Ministers have made clear they would like to get rid of vouchers if a way could be found to do so without restoring social security benefits.

It is thought that civil servants are still outlining other options that may involve allowing some asylum-seekers who have skills that are in short supply to work after a shorter period than the current six months.

POLICE FORCE QUESTIONS ALL OFFENDERS IN AREA

A chief constable has ordered that every known criminal in his county be questioned by police after a recent rise in crime, reported The Independent (p5).

John Giffard, head of Staffordshire Police, said he was determined to tackle a 'hard core'of criminals responsible for the increase in recorded crime in the county.

Operation Justice has already involved dawn raids on dozens of suspected burglars, drug dealers and thieves. During its first week, officers have seized firearms, drugs and property worth an estimated£100,000.

Over coming weeks dozens more suspected criminals will be questioned about unsolved offences. Detectives hope the operation will improve the force's clear-up rate, as well as improve public confidence in the police.

The number of arrests made is likely to be the largest ever carried out in a single operation in Staffordshire, according to the chief constable. Each day between 300 and 400 police officers are involved in the operation.

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