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Councils ignore ban to spend thousands on lobbying government

Local authorities have been accused of spending tens of thousands of pounds a year on hiring lobbyists and public affairs consultants, when they could talk to ministers directly, according to the Independent.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said: “Why these councils feel the need to indulge in vanity lobbying when they could simply pick up the phone is beyond me. This is a waste of public cash and undermines public confidence in the political system. These councils owe their voters an apology.”

Town halls have spent the money despite a ban Mr Pickles introduced last March.

Labour-run Sunderland council paid £102,434.43 to Weber Shandwick, and £10,640.02 to Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, two of London’s leading lobbying firms, between March 2010 and August 2011, for “public affairs strategic advice and support”.

Similarly, the City of London Corporation has spent £120,000 between February last year and January on Quiller Consultants for “strategic advice and guidance”. A spokesman insisted the authority did not employ consultants to contact politicians on its behalf.

Detailed plans for a statutory register of lobbyists are due to be published by the Cabinet Office soon.  Amid debate about the influence of public affairs consultancies, the document will examine the definition of lobbying; sanctions employed if the law is broken; as well as proposing to force trade unions with political funds to be included on the register.

University cuts for students but bonuses for bosses

University chiefs enjoy a salary that is eight times the national average and their expenses cover their global travel and entertainment, an Independent on Sunday investigation has revealed. Despite cutting budgets, shedding staff and increasing tuition fees, an analysis of expenses, uncovered by Freedom of Information requests to almost 150 institutions over the past three years has revealed total claimed amounts to £14,000 for each institution in the country. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Unless there is proper scrutiny of vice-chancellors’ pay and perks, revelations like this will continue to embarrass the sector and make it look self-serving to the wider world.”

Police cuts raise fears of crime

One in 23 police officers has been released by their forces in England and Wales during the past year, the Sunday Mirror has revealed. After a 20 per cent cut in Government funding, figures show that 41 of the 42 constabularies which responded to a Freedom of Information request slashed the number of officers between 2010 and 2011.

V&A masterpieces damaged

Historic artifacts displayed at Britain’s Victoria and Albert museum are being damaged by visitors and staff, The Express on Sunday has found. Incidents included in a response to a Freedom of Information request showed accidents with interactive pieces making them faulty; a marble bust of Lady Belhaven damaged by a table that was being moved; and a 16th century Venetian chair damaged by a visitor tripping on the ledge of a display.

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