11 July 2008
The rising price of fuel has increased the cost to councils of providing services by £239m over the past two years, according to the Local Government Association. Its study predicts that the cost of running vehicles for local authorities will be £780m this financial year if fuel prices stay at their current level — up from £541m in 2006/07. In response, councils have adopted various measures, from switching to used chip oil to organising bulk buying of fuel across a number of local authorities.
MPs have called on the Ministry of Defence to provide more detailed financial forecasts for its military activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Commons defence select committee said there was no co-ordination of operational decisions, political announcements and financial scrutiny. 'This simply cannot be satisfactory,' said the committee after examining the main financial estimates for the department in 2008/09. 'It is essential that the House has available to it accurate and up-to-date forecasts before it is asked to vote on the defence estimates.' The committee believes the MoD is able to provide 'as early a sight as possible of what it believes operations are likely to cost in the financial year'.
The investigation of historic cases by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has 'compromised' its ability to investigate more recent complaints, MPs have said. In a report into policing and criminal justice in Northern Ireland, the Commons Northern Ireland affairs select committee said significant extra funding would be required for the Historical Enquiries Team to continue in its current form, which was having a damaging effect on efficiency at the ombudsman's office. Committee chair Sir Patrick Cormack said: 'We saw genuine determination to provide answers to families bereaved by the Troubles.'
Bus services in deprived areas are constantly under threat from a lack of funding and poor recognition by government of their wider social benefits, says the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The charity surveyed four transport projects introduced since 2000 and found they were providing a crucial public service, according to its report published on July 9. Karen Lucas, one of the authors, said: 'Our research has highlighted the need to carry out a comprehensive review of the commercial bus network and subsidised services in deprived areas.'
Police 'stop and searches' increased by 9% to almost a million in 2006/07, according to figures published by the Ministry of Justice on July 8. Black people were seven times as likely to be stopped as white people, and Asians twice as likely. Figures for the three years to 2006/07 showed a 3.7% rise in racist incidents. The figures showed 955,000 people were stopped and searched in 2006/07 alone, mostly on suspicion of drug possession or stolen property. This was the highest figure since 1998/99.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has pledged £12m to help children's communication needs, following an independent review by Conservative MP John Bercow, published on July 8. Bercow found that 7% of children arrive at primary school with serious communication problems, and in some disadvantaged areas 50% of children have speech problems. Bercow's recommendations included the creation of a communication champion to push through reforms and improve local performance, and better training for staff in speech, language and communication problems.