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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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Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
Seven Cities of Italy
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Lake Garda
Minoan Crete and Santorini
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Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before