Review of the Papers, Monday 17 September


  • Britain could be sent into an economic spiral profound enough to undermine confidence in the economy and in Gordon Brown's Government, economists have warned amid evidence that the crisis at Northern Rock has deepened. Experts said the bank's troubles were likely to cause consumers to cut spending and could bring a sudden end to rises in house prices. They also warned that the reputations of the Prime Minister and his Chancellor Alistair Darling were hanging in the balance in the weeks ahead, as it becomes clear that the banking crisis is having a far greater impact on the UK than expected. A total of £2billion has now been withdrawn by worried customers from accounts at Northern Rock and insiders expect the high street bank to be sold within weeks. Peter Spencer, economic adviser to the respected Ernst & Young Item Club, said he had slashed his forecast for the UK economy, adding that the crunch would cause a "general malaise" throughout the UK. "The chickens are coming home to roost rather quicker than any of us had thought," he said. "What worries me is the effect on confidence. The consumer is very vulnerable and if things continue like this there could be a whole series of knock-on effects on the housing market, on high-street spending; the whole shebang."
  • Judges face having their performance in court assessed under plans to ensure that their skills in handling cases are up to scratch and that they treat people fairly and courteously. Judges across all ranks could find themselves being examined ? on handling a court, showing authority, communicating and resolving issues and managing time and workloads, in the plans under discussion. The move would see them appraised formally on how well they listen; whether they communicate clearly without using legal jargon and on the general handling of their cases. A working party of judges has been set up to report to the Judges' Council, the judges' representative body, on the potential benefits of an appraisal scheme. The working party is still at an early stage, looking at how appraisals of judges could work, the costs, and whether the concept conflicts with the principle of judicial independence. It is expected to report back next year. Any appraisal scheme is likely to proceed slowly, first with the circuit bench and possibly then moving to the higher judiciary.
  • The government has given planning approval for the world's first large-scale wave project off the coast of north Cornwall. Sited about 10 miles (16km) out to sea off Hayle the hub, which would collect energy from wave turbines, could generate electricity for 14,000 homes. It should deliver electricity to the national grid by 2009.  It is hoped the project could generate £330m for the regional economy over 25 years.  The official consent announcement will be made on Monday by John Hutton, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The Wave Hub - a seafloor "socket", will connect wave energy machines to the mainland. The proposed power station will involve up to 20 sets of machines, with pumps, pistons and turbines, about 10 miles (16km) out to sea off St Ives Bay, generating electricity for 14,000 homes. There was some objection to the scheme amongst surfers who were worried the farm would reduce wave height on the beaches. But Dr Kerry Black, a New Zealand-based physical oceanographer, concluded in June that the impact on wave height would be less than 5% - far less than the 11% feared previously by some surfers.
  • Council officials are using random "surveys" to snoop on private homes as they prepare for Labour's planned council tax revaluation, a senior Conservative has claimed. North East Lincolnshire Council has sent letters to 2,800 homes, asking them to allow assessors into their homes for a "house condition survey". Although a council spokesman denied that the letter was connected to council tax, the request has raised suspicions that councils are building secret databases. Eric Pickles, the shadow communities secretary, said the council's denial had made him "fall about laughing". The public were "being treated like fools", he said. "It is not just for academic research. There is clear evidence that Gordon Brown is conducting a council tax revaluation by stealth. Once the revaluation openly moves ahead, I fear intrusive inspections will become the norm. "A sinister property database is being built. It will be used to increase council tax on family homes and nice neighbourhoods."
  • Encouraging more cyclists on to Britain's roads could save the taxpayer more than £520m and fight climate change, according to a government-backed cycling group. Cycling England says a 20% increase in bicycle journeys would lower healthcare costs and reduce congestion. It adds that by making a £70m annual investment in cycling initiatives the government could cut up to 54m car journeys a year by 2012 and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 35,000 tonnes. The report says that an adult who swaps a car for a bicycle on a return journey of 2.5 miles - the average cycle trip - will generate annual savings of £137.28 through reduced congestion. A regular cyclist saves the NHS £28.30 a year. "There are very few activities that tackle so many of the things that the government is concerned about, from health and obesity to government and pollution," said Phillip Darnton, chairman of Cycling England. "An investment of £70m is small in terms of government spending, and this study shows that it will work.",,2170848,00.html
  • Pupils should mark their own classwork and decide what their school tests should cover, according to the Government's exams advisers. Teachers should train secondary school children to set their own homework and devise marking schemes, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said. Pupils should then assess the results, grading their own efforts and giving "feedback" to their classmates, the latest National Curriculum guidance said. The QCA, which devised the new secondary curriculum, said such an approach helps children support each other and develop independent study skills. It said: "Peer assessment and self-assessment are much more than learners simply marking their own or each other's work. "In order to improve learning, self-assessment must engage learners with the quality of their work and help them reflect on how to improve it." The guidelines suggested teachers in schools that decide to adopt the system would need to train pupils in marking techniques.

Lib Dems

  • The Liberal Democratswill this week call for the "super-rich" to be taxed more heavily, citing new polling evidence that suggests the public would support what amounts to the most redistributive tax policy put forward by any main party. Vincent Cable, the party's Treasury spokesman, wants private equity chiefs and non-domiciled executives to help fund a 4p cut in the basic rate of income tax, a move aimed at winning favour among middle-class and poorer voters. The move is likely to win plaudits from Lib Dem activists gathering in Brighton for their annual conference, but it is designed to tap into wider public concern about the tax breaks available for some of the wealthiest in society. Yesterday Sir Menzies Campbell, party leader, said people at the "top end" of Britain had "done too well". One target would be the tax breaks given to private equity. Mr Cable, Lib Dem deputy leader and shadow chancellor, argued there was "absolutely no evidence that behaviour has changed" since the introduction of taper relief on capital gains tax which was intended to persuade investors to think longer-term.