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Group ‘good at bidding but not  at delivery’ says PAC chairman Margaret Hodge

Letter: Going single in the shires

Sir: Over recent months, there has been considerable publicity about the local government review, particularly from those who are opposed to change. We, 164 district council chief executives, think it is important at this time to make it clear that a very high proportion of chief executives in shire England strongly support the need for the local government review.

Child Support Agency - The First Year: Company director forced to leave job and house: Rosie Waterhouse assesses its performance and meets two of the men affected

IAN GIBBONS, a former company finance director, is selling his house and has given up his pounds 32,000-a-year job because of the Child Support Agency.

Property: Land prices rise as upturn sparks a buying frenzy

With only the slightest upturn in house prices for encouragement, house builders are buying land in a frenzy that has sent prices spiralling upwards. Since the beginning of the year, land prices have risen by as much as 40 per cent in parts of the South-east, and by an average of 7.4 per cent across the country as builders rush to acquire sites at rock-bottom prices.

Property: Confessions of a tower block fan: Ronan Point has gone from high-rise to low-rise. David Lawson looks at what it taught us - and him

I HAD just finished extolling the future of high-rise living when news of the disaster came through exactly 25 years ago. A tower block had collapsed in London. My boss handed back my report with a grimace: 'Bit premature, I think, old boy.' He never did show it to local councillors.

Public Services Management: Giving due credit: How should we be compensated for poor services? Paul Gosling reports

Dissatisfied customers of Marks and Spencer's can get their money back. But what about the unhappy user of a public service? Now that councils, health authorities and the Government have recognised the public as customer, should we be entitled to cash refunds if they fail to deliver the services we believe we have paid for?

ART / About town: Last rounds of the regeneration game: Dalya Alberge goes art-spotting with the judges of this year's 'Working for Cities' competition

MOST of the entry forms to this year's Arts Council public art competition were accompanied by blurred photographs without captions and descriptions in illegible scrawls. How did the artists and architects who submitted them expect anyone to visualize the works, let alone to take them seriously?

No song like an old song - thank goodness

I GREW up in the Thirties and Forties and my one regret is that we had such awful songs while a later generation had such wonderful ones ('Last refrain of a tuneless age', 21 February). We had to put up with chirpy 'novelty' numbers like 'Elmer's Tune' or dreadful songs with moonlight in the title - 'Moonlight Becomes You', 'Moonlight Serenade'. Artie Shaw playing 'Moonlight Cocktail' must count as some sort of nadir.

Gardening / Cuttings: Seeds of hope with parsnips

A MR CUNLIFFE of Sutton Coldfield writes with comforting words on the non-germination of parsnip seeds (Independent, 16 January). I was not the only one who suffered last year.

A revolutionary stalks Whitehall: William Waldegrave is part of a worldwide conspiracy that could transform citizens' lives. But first he must rout the bureaucrats

A quiet revolution is taking place in British government. It is part of a worldwide conspiracy led by little-known agitators, whose abstract, jargon-filled language hides their true purpose. But if the revolutionaries are successful then the lives of ordinary citizens will be changed for the better.

Food & Drink: Scone legends: Recipe

THE response to our breakfast recipe competition has been overwhelming, so much so that I have not been able to acknowledge all your contributions. Moreover, last week I managed to credit Kate Pettem of west London with the hot apple sauce muffins. They were, in fact, submitted by Jenni Viner of Ware, Hertfordshire. Both, along with our winner named below, will receive an English breakfast for two in the River Room of the Savoy.

PROPERTY / Living Histories: Homes for a new age: 5 The Thirties House: The glazed look of modernism: Period Crafts: Crittall of Essex, makers of 1930s metal windows

CRITTALL is the name most closely associated with 1930s metal windows - whether the simple casement with lattice or rectangular panes common in the suburban home, or the Art Deco-inspired ribbon form with its wonderfully curving ends. Today the Essex firm, established as ironmongers in the mid19th century, reproduces many of its original 1930s designs using techniques broadly similar to those of 60 years ago.

Opinions: If in danger, what would you do?

We asked women round the country to imagine this scenario:
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Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
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The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
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The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
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Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
peopleThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
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footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
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Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
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newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
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Queen Elizabeth II sends the first royal tweet under her own name to declare the opening of the new Information Age Galleries at the Science Museum, South Kensington, London
media... and the BBC was there to document one of the worst reactions
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Independent Travel
Vietnam & Cambodia
Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
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Berlin, Dresden, Meissen & Colditz
Prices correct as of 17 October 2014
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker