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News Headlines

 

Councils Struggle to Meet Timelines for DoLS Assessments

Councils are failing to meet deadlines for carrying out Deprivation of Liberty Safeguarding (DoLS) assessments. A ruling by the Supreme Court in March that disabled people have the same rights to "physical liberty" as everyone else, lowering the threshold of DoLS to cover disabled people living in care homes and hospitals. In 2013/2014, 174 councils in England and Wales received 8,602 requests to carry out assessments. Since April this year they've had 33,476 applications. Last year, just 2.2% of assessments breached legal timescales; so far this year it's 50.2%. The LGA says the demand for assessments is likely cost councils £88m and wants the government to provide additional funding. A government spokesman said: "The Health and Social Care information Centre is collecting data on this impact and we will carefully consider the results when they are published shortly."

 

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Miliband’s plan for mansion tax draws fire from top Labour MPs

Ed Miliband is facing resistance from senior Labour MPs in London – including potential mayoral candidates Tessa Jowell and Margaret Hodge – to his plan to impose a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million. They are concerned that it will hit too many people on average or low incomes.

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Benefit curbs for young jobseekers

David Cameron has announced a scheme that will bar childless 18 to 21-year-olds from housing benefit and remove their entitlement to jobseeker’s allowance after six months of failing to find a job. The Prime Minister said it was part of a plan to end youth unemployment.

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Tories plan under 40s home discount

Young first-time buyers in England could buy a house at 20 per cent below the market rate under Conservative party plans. David Cameron said the Tories would build 100,000 new homes reserved for those under 40 buying their first home. Developers would be exempt from some taxes, such as the Community Infrastructure Levy, and from Section 106 social housing requirements. The Conservatives insist that developers will still have to pay for extra burdens councils face as a result of the new homes.

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UK cuts to last five more years, ex-civil service boss says

The outgoing head of the civil service has predicted another five years of UK government spending cuts - and he said making the cuts would be "even harder".

Sir Bob Kerslake said one of the difficulties was that "easier" savings had already been made.

He said the "sense of urgency" would be reduced and the need for cuts would be hard to explain to public sector staff.

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Library cuts drive children to culture

More children than ever are visiting galleries and museums and taking part in performances, although thousands have stopped going to the library in the past five years.

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100 elderly a week are having homes seized to pay for care home fees

More than 100 homes a week are being seized from elderly people by councils to pay for their care home fees. Freedom of Information figures gathered by finance firm NFU Mutual showed that over the past five years councils have taken legal action to secure a share in more than 3,000 homes each year.

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Road funding piecemeal and too stop-and-go, MPs warn

Piecemeal and stop-go" investment in England's road system is making cost-effective maintenance difficult, MPs have warned.

The Department for Transport has cut the roads budget, only to make emergency cash injections to deal with problems such as flooding, the Public Accounts Committee said.

The department said it had to deal with "unforeseen" problems.

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One in four councils ‘have reserves worth less than 10% of spending’

Nearly a quarter of councils (23%) have useable reserves that amount to less than 10% of their spending, according to a report published by the Audit Commission, including more than half (55%) of unitary local authorities.

In its final Interpreting the Accounts report ahead of closure next March, the commission set out a number of key financial ratios for the sector.

Among the other conclusions, the commission found only 9% of town halls had useable reserves greater than 40% of their spending, although 15% of districts had reserves of this level.

Overall, the report found that 16% of all local authorities had a lower level of current assets than liabilities in 2012/13, which rose to more than two-fifths of metropolitan districts.

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Barker offers radical prescription for care

The debate on how we pay for social care continues to evolve. It’s now more than three years since economist Andrew Dilnot delivered a highly praised report on how social care might be funded. His conclusions attracted significant consensus, and many have been taken forward in the Care Act, most of which kicks in next year.

However, Dilnot is not the end of the story. The King’s Fund think-tank has also been working on this area. In June last year it established an independent expert commission chaired by Dame Kate Barker, a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. It was charged with looking again at the postwar settlement for health and social care, to consider whether it remains fit for purpose and how it might be remodelled to meet future needs.

The Commission on the Future of Health and Social Care in England’s conclusions were published in early September and called for a ‘radical reshaping’ of the two parallel systems so they focus more on the needs of users and provide a simpler and clearer pathway through the system.

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Convert all schools to academies, says right wing think tank

All council primary and secondary schools should be converted to academies over the next five years, according to a right wing think tank.

A report from policy exchange – which was established by former education secretary Michael Gove – has said the move would help improve education standards in reading, writing and maths.

Local authorities were also urged to set up their own academy chains or trusts, providing education services legally separate from other council functions.

Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange said: ‘A potential perfect storm of a new curriculum and assessment system and a demand for higher standards accompanied by a decline in leadership and local authority capacity means that thousands of primary schools could be set to fail come 2016.

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Working parents lose out on free school meals

More than 1.5 million poor children over the age of eight lose out on free school meals because their parents are in work, a leading anti-poverty campaigner reveals today.

Labour MP Frank Field told The Independent that research by his office had uncovered that parents in receipt of working tax credits no longer qualify for free school meals, even if their income is below the eligibility threshold of £16,190 a year.

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Motorists could be in line for millions in refunded parking fines following a tribunal ruling that could send shock waves through the local government sector

Gloucestershire CC has been ordered to refund parking fines and pay costs ranging from £42.50 to £155.67 to 13 motorists after the authority allowed its parking contractor Apcoa to handle the penalty charge notice appeals - the firm rejected the drivers’ initial cases.

Adjudicator Christopher Nicholls at the Traffic Penalty Tribunal – the second point of appeal – ruled fines should be paid back and that council contractors must not be allowed to process penalty charge notices because of the obvious conflict of interests.

His ruling stated: ‘I find that no reasonable local authority could have concluded this contract met the terms of its regulatory and public law duties.’

Transport Network sources at one private parking firm said it was common practice throughout the sector for councils to employ parking firms to handle the appeal process.

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Ed Balls sets out priorities for 'first Labour Budget'

Ed Balls has said he will increase the minimum wage and the top rate of income tax and extend child benefit curbs in his first Budget if Labour wins power.

The shadow chancellor told Labour's conference the party had "more work to do" to persuade people it can deliver the change he said people wanted.

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Call for more local council powers after Scottish vote

Councils in England are calling for an urgent meeting of a constitutional convention to consider the wider impact of the Scottish referendum.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said new powers must now be given to local areas in England and Wales.

Some ministers, such as Deputy PM Nick Clegg, broadly back decentralisation.

But Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said "new taxes, more politicians and new tiers of local administration was not the answer".

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Southampton launches late night levy

Southampton City Council’s decision to introduce a late-night levy for bars and clubs has been branded a ‘disappointment’ by business leaders.

Venues that serve alcohol between midnight and six am will soon be charged up to £4,440 every year, with funds being used to cover city clean ups and policing costs.

Councillors claim the move will cut anti social behaviour and cover costs incurred by the nighttime economy.

A spokesperson for Southampton City Council said the charge would ‘keep Southampton a safe and enjoyable place late at night’.

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Elderly and disabled care spending overtaken by soaring demand

Spending on care for elderly and disabled people in England has begun falling for the first time, despite surging demand because of the ageing population, new figures suggest.

Official figures show that the last financial year was the first in which the amount of money councils collectively spent on adult social care did not rise overall.

Councils have had their budgets cut by more than a quarter since the beginning of the Coalition’s austerity programme but have fought to maintain overall spending on care, often cutting other less essential services in the process.

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Clegg backs town hall ‘freedom from dank vaults’ of Treasury

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has indicated he would back a new constitutional settlement between central and local government that would lead to greater fiscal decentralisation across England.

Speaking to Public Finance, Clegg said the coalition government had taken steps to free local areas from what he called the ‘dank vaults’ of the Treasury, and it was now time to go further by developing cross-party devolution plans.

Coalition achievements include localising 50% of business rate growth to town halls and introducing Tax Increment Finance provisions, Clegg told PF at the launch of think-tank IPPR North’s Decentralisation decade report in Sheffield. Other freedoms had been given to councils through reforms to the Housing Revenue Account subsidy system, he said.

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Integrate dementia into health programmes says report

Dementia should be integrated into public health programmes in the same way as other major non communicable diseases (NCDs), according to new research.

The World Alzheimer Report 2014 ‘Dementia and Risk Reduction: An analysis of protective and modifiable factors’, reveals that tackling other health issue can dramatically reduce the risk of dementia, even in late-life.

The report reveals that diabetes increases the risk of dementia by 50%, while encouraging smoking cessation and reducing cardiovascular risk also has the potential to reduce the risk of dementia.

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Politicians' Scottish funding pledge brings anger from rest of the UK

News that Scottish voters have been pledged a continuation of the Barnett formula – a funding mechanism already widely perceived in England as over-favourable to Scotland – risks provoking backlash south of the border

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Whatever Scotland decides, English counties want greater devolution

England's 37 county councils and large unitary authorities join the eight biggest regional cities in calling for a radical programme of devolution to bring government closer to the people. The message, from across the political spectrum, is clear: with Scotland going its own way, regardless of tomorrow's referendum outcome, England cannot remain a centralised state with Whitehall calling the shots.

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Councils risk being short-changed in deals with property developers

Councils are turning to property developers to help balance their books but risk being short-changed, according to a report by think-tank Localis. Its survey found local authorities are seeking redevelopment partners for nearly £14 billion of their total £170 billion property assets over the next five years.

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MPs criticise 'lax' schemes for waste incinerators

Grants worth £213.5m have been paid to councils for waste management projects since 1998 even though key facilities have yet to be built, MPs have found.

The Public Accounts Committee said "lax" contracts, agreed by the last Labour government with four local authorities, failed to deliver value.

MPs also criticised the coalition for not renegotiating the contracts sooner.

But officials said government advice had been "very clear" and projects had been hampered by "local factors".

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Business rates must change, say top retailers

More than 100 of Britain’s biggest companies have called for business rates to be overhauled and described the controversial tax as a “critical problem” in an open letter that marks the most vocal intervention in the debate so far. Companies including Tesco, Marks and Spencer and General Motors have signed an open letter in the Telegraph which says business rates are “no longer fit for purpose for the 21st century” and must be revamped in order to “unleash investment”.

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Comment: Beware the dash for devo. Localism is no panacea

England is so unequal that more devolution could be a disaster for deprived regions, writes Polly Toynbee. Toynbee uses examples from councils around the country to discuss issues including local tax-raising powers.

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Cuts leave many elderly people with no care

Vulnerable older people are being left without care as the number or councils no longer able to help adults assessed to have “moderate” or “low” needs has risen by 17 per cent in five years. A survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has uncovered the impact of budget cuts on the care provided by local authorities in England.

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Call to divide England into borrowing regions

English regions should be given new borrowing powers as part of a UK-wide devolution settlement if Scotland votes “no” next week, leading economists have said.

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Clegg backs 'radical' English devolution plan

Nick Clegg is to launch a new report calling for more power to be devolved to the English regions. The Deputy Prime Minister argues such a move will be needed after the Scottish referendum, with new powers promised for Holyrood if there is a ‘no’ vote. The report, by the IPPR North think tank, proposes a new wave of combined local authorities headed by directly elected "metro mayors". It comes as the leaders of eight English cities join calls for more power and latest polling shows 52 per cent of voters want to remain part of the UK.

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Council spending 'lacks scrutiny'

MPs have expressed concerns that insufficient scrutiny is being given to how local councils spend billions of pounds of taxpayers' money. The Commons Public Accounts Committee said too much reliance was placed on the oversight of councillors who "may not have sufficient capacity" to do the job thoroughly. Their report also said differences in the reporting of pay decisions between councils made it hard to compare and called on the LGA to collate and produce user-friendly data.

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Support for fuel duty pothole plan

More than four in five people would support a plan in which money raised from fuel duty was used to repair potholed roads, research has found. Support is highest in eastern England, Wales and Yorkshire and Humberside, according to a survey by the LGA. It wants the Government to inject a further £1 billion a year into roads maintenance by investing the equivalent of 2p a litre of existing fuel duty.

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Uncertainty and more cuts for local government funding?

Prospects for local government funding hinge on the general election in May 2015. The political ramp-up to the election could result in some short-term changes and tinkering with the grant funding that is available. And after the election, changes are inevitable, regardless of the election outcome, but a change in government could result in a new set of winners and losers.

The commonly held belief is that the funding for local government is now locked-down for 2015-2016. But there is still scope between now and the next election for the government to make changes that will change funding for both in terms of quantum and, more likely, in terms of distribution.

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Councils told to publish pay-offs for senior staff

Councils have been warned to demonstrate restraint in pay rises for senior staff and publish better data on pay-offs for departing staff.

In a new report, the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee said that pay rises for senior council staff rose by 75% between 2000-10. It warned that councils must ensure there is no return to 'inflation-busting increases’ as the economy improves and said decisions on senior pay should be closely scrutinised.

Local Government Chief Officers’ Remuneration also called on councils to ensure they are not paying over the odds for senior staff, saying it is often local communities that have halted proposed excessive pay rises in the past.

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Clegg backs radical English devolution plan

Nick Clegg is to launch a new report calling for more power to be devolved to the English regions. The Deputy Prime Minister argues such a move will be needed after the Scottish referendum, with new powers promised for Holyrood if there is a ‘no’ vote. The report, by the IPPR North think tank, proposes a new wave of combined local authorities headed by directly elected "metro mayors". It comes as the leaders of eight English cities join calls for more power and latest polling shows 52 per cent of voters want to remain part of the UK.

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Council bonds agency enters next development phase

A new bonds agency, which could save councils more than £1bn in borrowing costs, could be issuing bonds by April 2015 after raising half the capital needed already.

The Local Government Association (LGA) confirmed that £4.5m has already been raised to get the agency off the ground, exceeding the initial fundraising target.

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DCLG refutes business rate rise claims

Ministers have rejected reports that 67,000 small firms in England could see over-inflation business rate rises in the next year.

Analysis from property consultancy Gerald Eve published yesterday suggested steep rate rises could be imminent thanks to the combined impact of the end of transitional relief for small businesses in April 2015 and postponement of property value recalculation.

The Financial Times reported that this would leave 6,500 small firms paying at least a third more while 600 would see bills double.

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Big cities should have more power, says report

Cities in the UK should have the power to levy their own taxes and have greater control over how public money is spent, a report by the City Growth Commission has said.

The commission was set up to look at how the UK economy could benefit by devolving more power to big cities.

The report argues that over-centralised decision-making in Whitehall is "stifling economic growth".

Some cities should be allowed to set their own business rates, it also said.

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Free school meals? More please, say Lib Dems

All primary school children will receive free school meals if the Liberal Democrats have a role in the next government, the schools minister David Laws pledges today. In an interview with The Independent, Mr Laws rejected criticism of the current programme to provide free meals for five- to seven-year-olds, and said the scheme would be rolled out for seven- to 11-year-olds in the lifetime of the next parliament if the Liberal Democrats are re-elected. Last month the LGA warned councils were facing a £25 million shortfall in delivering the scheme.

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Pickles punishes councils that ignore rubbish recommendation

Councils that fail to offer weekly bin collections have been barred from receiving extra funding to boost recycling.

A new £5m fund was announced today for local authorities wanting to give incentives – such as shopping vouchers and loyalty rewards – to households that recycle but it will only be open to councils that offer weekly collections.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said: ‘It is a myth that fortnightly bin collections or unfair bin fines are needed to increase recycling.

‘Rewards for recycling show how working with families can deliver environmental benefits without the draconian approach of punishing people and leaving out smelly rubbish.

‘This Government is protecting the local environment by supporting recycling, as well as championing weekly collections, which protect local amenity and public health.

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Chiefs who ignored abuse must quit

Social workers, council bosses and police chiefs who failed to act to prevent the Rotherham sex abuse scandal should resign, Theresa May has said.

The Home Secretary’s criticism added to the pressure on senior officials embroiled in the scandal, after a report described a litany of failings by those responsible for the protection of girls who fell victim to the abuse.

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Up to 40% of council tax levied on low-income households unpaid

Local authorities were unable to collect up to 40% of council tax due from low-income households that had the charge imposed on them for the first time last year.

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No proof free schools improve performance

There is no evidence that Government investment in new education structures such as academies and free schools has had any impact on pupil performance, according to a major study.

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Free-meal schools may have too many mouths to feed

Schools being forced to install kitchens to provide free school meals for infants could find themselves unable to cope in a few years, experts have warned.

A booming pre-school population in England will put the new facilities under strain almost immediately in some areas, as schools could be forced to create extra classes.

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Youth mental health care 'in dark ages', says minister

Mental health services for young people in England are "stuck in the dark ages" and "not fit for purpose", according to a government minister.

Norman Lamb told BBC News he was determined to modernise the provision of psychiatric help for children.

The care and support minister is launching a task force to look into how to improve services.

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Cutbacks mean migrants are unable to find English classes

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are unable to get professional help learning English because of government cuts, according to a study of census data and course registrations.

Meanwhile, the think tank Demos has discovered through Freedom of Information requests that government backing for English for Speakers of Other Languages courses has been cut by more than 40 per cent in five years, from £212m in 2008/09 down to £128m in 2012/13.

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Councils forced to divert money to pay for free school meals

Councils and schools have been forced to divert money from other budgets to ensure the Government's promise of a free school meal for all pupils aged seven and under can be delivered when the new school year begins next month, despite promises that it would be fully funded, new research shows.

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Bucks Crowdfunds £25k for Local Government Review

Businesses in Buckinghamshire have crowdfunded £25,000 to pay for an independent review of local government in the county.

Buckinghamshire Business First believes up to £25m a year could be saved if the current five councils were combined into one or two unitary authorities.

‘We’re delighted that this initiative has been so well supported throughout the county, proving that crowdfunding can maximise community impact,’ said Philippa Batting, managing director of Buckinghamshire Business First.

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Council leaders call for overhaul of children's mental health services

Services for children with mental health problems need a complete overhaul so youngsters and their families are not forced to deal with a complex system at such a difficult time in their lives, council leaders have said.

The current "fragmented" system means children are forced to navigate myriad different mental health organisations to access care, the Local Government Association (LGA) said.

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‘Spurious’ Compensation Claims Draining Councils’ Budgets, Says LGA

Council leaders are warning that 'no-win no-fee’ compensation claims are threatening their ability to deliver vital public services.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling on the Government to crackdown on ‘opportunistic’ claims saying these compensation cases are taking money away from services such as education and road repairs.

Figures show that compensation claims related to the condition of roads last year cost councils £31.6m, the equivalent of fixing more than 600,000 potholes. Compensation claims for incidents in schools cost £2.7m last year, rising to £6m when legal fees were added.

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'Blue Light' Collaboration Working Group Formed

Emergency services and local authorities have formed a group to ensure closer collaboration in their work and integration between services.

The Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group includes representatives from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Chief Fire Officers Association, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the College of Policing and the Local Government Association. 

Some £162,000 to finance the group’s work has been jointly contributed by the Home Office, the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health. 

Announcing the funding, a government spokesman said collaboration can deliver more effective emergency services and better value for money.

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Superfast Broadband to a Million Rural Addresses

More than 1 million rural homes and business now have access to superfast broadband as a result of a controversial £1.2 billion subsidy programme, the Government has revealed. Campaigners welcomed the progress made so far, but claimed BT has so far concentrated on relatively densely populated rural and semi-rural areas, leaving more remote Britons cut off.

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Councils Raise Funding Concerns

Plans to cap the amount of money people in England spend on their social care could be jeopardised by a lack of funding, councils say.

Reforms to the adult social care system will cap the amount some people pay towards their care at £72,000 and allow them to apply for council funding.

But a poll of 152 councils in England found nine in 10 had concerns over the cost of the new scheme.

The government said councils were getting extra money to fund the change.

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Labour would fund NHS by integrating social care and health

The shadow care minister, Liz Kendall, has said that Labour would fund the shortfall in the NHS budget with savings made by integrating social care and health, after shadow chancellor Ed Balls ruled out a rise in estates tax or national insurance.

The shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, privately supports the idea of an estates tax but has ruled out a national insurance increase to fund extra NHS spending, saying any such tax rise would not sit well alongside Labour's commitment to address the cost of living.

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Parties Urged to Commit to Council Tax Revaluation Ahead of General Election

Government failures to revalue properties for 23 years had brought the council tax system ‘into disrepute’ the BPF said, with valuations from 1991 – when the tax was established – still being used to allocate homes to charging bands. They range from Band A for properties worth less than £40,000 to Band H, for those valued at more than £320,000.

Labour abandoned an intended revaluation in 2007.

The federation, which represent the commercial property industry,said a revaluation should be in all parties’ manifestos.

Politicians need not fear the wrath of voters who saw their council tax bills increase following a revaluation, it stated, as research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed 70% of taxpayers would see only a negligible change.

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Councils Struggle with Tenfold Rise in Deprivation of Liberty Assessments

Local authorities are struggling to cope with a tenfold increase in assessments of mentally vulnerable patients when hospitals or care homes want to deprive them of their liberty. A court ruling in March, increasing the number of patients protected under the Mental Capacity Act deprivation of liberty safeguards (DoLS), has seen assessments soar from just over 10,000 last year, to a predicted 94,000 this year, according to the Association of Directors of Social Services

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Local Council Budgets Slashed by Nearly a Third

Councils are being driven to financial disaster as they struggle with budgets cuts of almost a third over five years, the Government is warned today. New analysis by the Chartered Institute of Finance and Accountancy shows that English councils’ per capita spending has been reduced by 29 per cent.

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Cash Cuts Spark Leisure Centre Crisis

Budget cuts have forced council leisure centres to shut, become run down or raise charges. Up to £71 million has been cut from funding since 2010 and a poll out today by Unison shows 62 per cent of women users say centres have deteriorated.

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‘Sweetener’ to Embrace Garden City Projects

Home-owners will be offered council tax discounts and house price guarantees to encourage them to accept a new Garden City development in their area, under plans being drawn up by ministers. Nick Clegg said he wanted a shortlist of potential locations for up to three new towns, each with more than 15,000 homes, to be published by the end of the year.

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Domestic Violence Refuge Provision at Crisis Point, Warn Charities

Domestic violence refuges are being closed across the country in a crisis that is putting support for the most vulnerable women and children back 40 years, leading charities have warned.

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Social Worker Vacancies Soar – And So Do Workloads

Social work vacancies have soared by 74 per cent in the past year as local authorities struggle to hold on to essential front-line staff. A chronic shortage of experienced social workers, growing workloads and a high dropout rate of newly qualified graduates are making it harder than ever to find enough staff to run children's and adult services across the country, experts say.

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More Elderly Stay at Home

The number of elderly people going into care homes has remained static despite a huge increase in the ageing population over the last decade, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics. The statistics covering the period from 2001 to 2011 show that despite an 11 per cent rise in the number of people aged 65 and over, the number of people living in care homes is almost unchanged.

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2014