Review of the Papers, Wednesday 19 September


  • Town halls would be forced to take action over petitions with more than 200 signatures under new proposals to devolve power to voters. Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, is to publish a consultation paper detailing new rights to trigger changes in council policy. This could include issues such as tackling antisocial behaviour, improving street lighting or rubbish collection, or installing more CCTV cameras. Ms Blears told The Times that if petitions had more than 200 or 300 signatures councils would be required to respond, either by changing policy or giving a full explanation of why the request was turned down. It was vital to get the balance right, Ms Blears said. If statutory bodies had a duty to respond to a petition there had to be a sensible threshold for the number of backers. "If the number was too low, say about 25, a small group of people could waste the council's time. But if the number was too high, at around 500, it might be difficult to get enough signatures for an important issue." Ms Blears said she also wanted to consult about the type of response that a petition would trigger. "I'm not suggesting an automatic change of policy - democracy defined by Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is no democracy at all. But . . . there's a very strong case for the council to take a hard look at their policy."
  • The case of a celebrity whose medical records were illicitly viewed by more than 50 members of an NHS hospital's staff raised doubts yesterday about the security of the government's £12.4bn scheme to upgrade the NHS's IT systems. The prying was revealed in board papers for North Tees primary care trust as a warning to managers to tighten procedures requiring doctors and nurses to log on individually before being allowed access to sensitive personal material. The trust did not name the celebrity whose privacy was invaded and said the episode did not occur at any of its local hospitals. But the infringement will ring alarm bells among famous people who would be appalled at the possibility of intimate medical matters leaking to the media. MPs raised the issue of security in a report published last week on progress on the NHS Connecting for Health project, which includes plans for GPs to upload the medical records of more than 50 million patients in England on to a national electronic database. The initial aim is to make a summary of each patient's medical notes available to hospital staff or paramedics treating the patient in an emergency. The government has said that systems for accessing patient records online are secure.,,2172039,00.html

Lib Dems

  • Companies should face fines if they fail to meet new legal targets for cutting the huge amount of packaging that is creating vast amounts of waste, Liberal Democrats will say today. They will also call for a new scheme to ask customers to pay a refundable deposit if they take a plastic carrier bag and demand a new national body to be established to help trading standards prosecute firms who flout guidelines on packaging. A motion to be debated by the party conference in Brighton this morning praises The Independent for mounting its campaign against waste to bear down on the waste created by excessive packaging. It calls for legislation to require all large supermarkets to have waste bins to allow customers to throw away packaging before they leave the store and asks Ministers to encourage schemes such as that in the town of Modbury, Devon, where retailers have imposed a voluntary moratorium on carrier bags. The party is also calling for the law to be simplified to make it easier to police.