Immediate action required: the urgent tasks in the Government's in-tray

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The Independent Online
THE Labour government may start with a great fund of public goodwill and a massive parliamentary majority, but almost immediately it will face problems, such as:

Interest rates. On Wednesday, Chancellor Gordon Brown will meet Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England, and be told he should put rates up.

The NHS. Hospital trusts are piling up huge deficits into the new financial year.

Crime. The prison population is nearly 60,000 and rising. How will Labour pay for Mr Howard's jail-building programme?

Education. Reducing class sizes below 30 for all 5-7-year-olds will cost a great deal.

Scotland. The election will give fresh impetus to Labour's devolution proposals. But the two-question referendum - do you want a Scottish parliament, and do you want it to have tax-raising powers - will also require immediate legislation.

Northern Ireland. The virtual collapse of the peace process, and the imminence of the Ulster marching season, represent a serious headache for the Cabinet. Sinn Fein's success in winning two seats has sharpened the potential for conflict.

Europe. The biggest challenge of all, with the EU summit in Maastricht on 23 May, and the Inter-Governmental Conference in Amsterdam in June. Mr Blair will have to make concessions on qualified majority voting on social issues, while seeking to oppose EU moves towards an integrated policy on foreign affairs and immigration. After that, there's the single currency.

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