Newspaper headlines: New city plan, and 'shameless Madonna'

Will there be any surprises in Wednesday's Autumn Statement, newspaper readers may well ask themselves, as Tuesday's papers bring yet more tidbits from George Osborne's speech.

The Daily Telegraph's lead says the Statement, will include plans for a new 13,000 home "garden city" at Bicester, Oxfordshire.

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The £100m project is part of a drive to solve the housing crisis, but the paper says the extra housing in the Conservative heartland "could lead to an outcry from grassroots activists".

The Telegraph notes the market town is already expanding rapidly, with a 7% growth in population between 2001 and 2011, and a 6,000 home "eco-town" already under construction there.

The Daily Mail focuses on the £2.3bn to be made available for 1,400 flood defence schemes - including many in the Somerset Levels, which were badly flooded last winter - as well as major projects on the Thames and Humber estuaries.

The paper says the hope is that the six-year programme could prevent £30bn of economic damage in future wet years.

The Times puts plans for a £200m science institute in Manchester, on its front page.

The paper says the foundation - which will be partly funded by private investors - aims to help create "a northern powerhouse to rival London's thriving economy".

The centre will have "hubs" in cities such as Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool, and will aim to attract "world-class scientists to the north", the paper adds.

Image caption Northern Ireland's devolved administration, based at Stormont, may set its own business taxes

The Financial Times highlights the chancellor's proposal to let Northern Ireland's devolved administration take control of setting their own business taxes.

The aim is to help Belfast compete with the Republic of Ireland, which has a significantly lower rate of corporation tax and has been able to attract numerous multinational companies .

The paper says a further aim may be to "smooth" the prospect of a post-election pact between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party, should one be required.

The Guardian says an economic think-tank has warned Stormont's politicians to beware of a corporation tax "quick fix".

The Nevin Economic Research Institute has warned that the "dramatic cuts in public spending the Treasury is likely to want in return would be disastrous, given that the public sector accounts for nearly two-thirds of the region's GDP".


Empty classrooms

The Guardian's lead story covers concerns raised by the National Audit Office (NAO) that a "huge number of undergraduates have been benefiting from taxpayer subsidy without undertaking meaningful study".

The NAO is concerned over nine new private higher education providers, the paper says.

These institutions were set up under the Tories' 2011 education reforms, but they have a high student drop-out rate, the paper says, and the NAO is worried that they are not "properly monitored".

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Image caption The Guardian says some lecturers have been paid to address empty classrooms

Students are able to apply for cheap loans, and in some cases grants, while attending these private colleges, the Guardian adds.

The study found that nearly 3,000 students on HND courses could have received £50m in public funding even though none of them was registered to sit any exams.

The Guardian quotes Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Common's spending watchdog committee, as saying the business department "went ahead with its reforms to expand the role of private colleges without ensuring there were controls in place.

"This extraordinary rate of expansion, high dropout rates, and warnings from within the sector ought to have set alarm bells ringing."

The NAO raised concerns about a group of 5,500 undergraduates registered at two private London colleges who had been "unable to prove they were either living in the UK or entitled to public funding."

A probe found at least 1,000 of this total - mostly Romanian and Bulgarian students - had fraudulently claimed government grants.

The paper concludes, "Tuesday's report was prompted by a Guardian investigation into the sector which found that lecturers were teaching to empty or near-empty classrooms.

"Students and staff alleged that bogus students who were barely literate were using colleges as a 'cash point' to access loans they believed they would never pay back."


Significant

The formal announcement by Gordon Brown that he will be leaving Parliament at the next election prompts a rash of retrospective evaluations of this political "big beast", many of them more affectionate than he received during his time in office.

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail says Mr Brown is "brooding" and "tortured", but is a man "with towering strengths".

Letts, a sketch writer not normally known for kindness to Labour figures, says, "it is fair to argue that without [Mr Brown's] working the phones, without his exhortations to other world leaders to prop up banks, the economic crisis would have been worse."

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Image caption Gordon Brown: his personal charm was invisible to TV cameras, the Guardian reckons

He also praises his "surging, marauding speeches" during the run up to the Scottish independence referendum.

"Did he single-handedly save the Union? He certainly deserves much of the credit," Letts concedes.

The Times' editorial says Mr Brown's "three bruised years as unelected prime minister" will be remembered for "indecision, poisonous internal politics and clunking faux pas".

But it adds "history could be gentler in its final judgement on Mr Brown" providing he uses the "freedom and authority of an elder statesman" wisely. Something the paper says, his predecessor Tony Blair has not.

"Retirement may suit Mr Brown better than the highest office ever did," it concludes.

Jonathan Freedland writing in the Guardian, also compares Mr Brown favourably to Mr Blair.

Freedland said Mr Brown's insecurities, moods and occasional rages "have to be squared with a personal charm that was, fatally for him, invisible to the camera.

"It comes coupled with a quality that is not quite emotional intelligence as conventionally understood, but something rather deeper.

"Brown knows how to speak to those who have suffered, perhaps because he has endured more than his fair share of misfortune himself. He can demonstrate great empathy and wisdom, capable of showing a human understanding that confounds the television caricature."

Steve Richards in the Independent says the former PM's career had been a case of "remarkable highs and lows".

"Before the 2005 election, Brown was so popular that Tony Blair had to bring him back to run the general election campaign.

"Soon after, Brown became so unpopular he feared he would never be prime minister," he writes.

"If he had been subtler and gentler in his approach he might have been more successful," Richards adds.

But he adds keeping Britain out of the eurozone, to the list of Mr Brown's achievements and concludes: "As historians seek to make sense of this complexity they will come to regard him as one of the most significant figures in post-war British politics."


'Tidy exit'

There is one artistic endeavour that gets reviewed in all of Tuesday's paper - and it's not Duncan Campbell's Turner Prize winning film on "cultural imperialism".

It is - of course - The Hobbit: The Battle Of Five Armies, the third and final part of director Peter Jackson's trilogy based on Tolkien's story, and the sixth of the director's "Middle Earth" epics.

The Daily Mirror says the film - which was only finished a week ago and premiered on Monday - forms a "thrilling conclusion" to the Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings' franchise.

The paper says the film's climactic 45-minute battle scene has been described as a "movie all on its own".

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Image caption The star-studded premiere of the new Hobbit film in London attracted numerous fanatical fans

The paper's film critic David Edwards says, the film presses "the pedal to the metal" all the way through, confounding critics who thought the previous two Hobbit films were "lumbering".

The Daily Mail's critic Brian Viner says the film contains, "spectacular wizardry... but there are moments of pure horror".

He gives the film four stars out of five, but cautions, "let us all devoutly hope that, unlike the Star Wars brigade, Jackson does not decide in years to come to milk his mighty cash cow again.

"It's hard to see how he might, but nobody should ever wager a neat conclusion, with all loose ends tied up, against the film industry's desire for more box-office dollars."

The Guardian's Andrew Pulver says the film's monumental scale left him feeling like a troll, who in a scene in The Battle Of The Five Armies runs full-tilt into a stone wall.

"I can sympathise entirely; I reeled out of the cinema in bit of a daze myself after this extended dose of Jackson's patented ye olde Middle Earth cranium-smashing."

Geoffrey McNab, in the Independent, feels similarly overawed.

"We get the sense that Jackson is struggling to drag himself away for the last time from a kingdom to which he has devoted so much of his working life and that he can't quite work out a tidy exit.

"But for all its loose ends, The Battle of the Five Armies is the strongest, boldest film of the trilogy and provides just the send off the series deserves."

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