CRCNice to look at, but with major underlying problems - The Government's Rural Advocate, Dr. Stuart Burgess, has launched his second report to the Prime Minister, setting out the aspirations, experiences and concerns of people living & working in rural England.  During 2007 he visited rural communities up & down the country to listen to rural people about what matters most ─ the many benefits of rural living, but also some real concerns.

Speaking about his report Dr. Burgess said:
* There are over 928,000 rural households living below the official government poverty threshold of £16,492 household income per annum…... 
* The lack of affordable homes to rent and to buy continues to be the single biggest issue highlighted to me on my visits. I heard about growing numbers of people not qualifying for social housing, but not earning enough to afford to buy a house either……   
* There are now nearly 400,000 fewer young people aged 15-29 in rural areas than there were 20 years ago……..
* The loss of key services and their contribution to the vitality and sense of community within rural areas has been another recurring theme. 
Press release ~ Report of the Rural Advocate 2007 ~ Rural Advocate for England ~ 'Rural challenges, local solutions' ~ Defra - Pathfinders ~ IDEA - Rural Delivery Pathfinder programme ~ Rural Strategy 2004 ~ 'Strengthening the role of local councillors' ~ IDEA - Rural proofing ~ Rural Health Good Practice Toolkit ~ Mind: Rural proofing the National Service Framework for Mental Health ~ Defra: Rural proofing checklist ~ CRC: State of the Countryside report 2007 ~ CRC - State of the Countryside Updates ~ Affordable Rural Housing Commission: CRC taking forward the recommendations ~ Affordable Rural Housing Commission ~ Defra – Affordable Rural Housing ~ NERC Act 2006 ~ Cash purchases of housing stock ~ Defra – Rural Affairs ~ CRC research - Calculating housing needs in rural England

DWPAll this for just £3m extra spread over 3 years? - The Office for Disability Issues has published its ‘Independent Living Strategy', a cross-government strategy, which is intended to support disabled people to do the things non-disabled people take for granted.

It makes a series of ‘new’ commitments:
* Demonstrating how to move resources from professional assessment & care management to user-led support, advocacy and brokerage so people get the right support to make decisions for themselves
* A regional initiative to develop independent living opportunities for older disabled people with high levels of support needs
* A national strategy to enable people to remain in employment when they acquire an impairment or their condition worsens
* An awareness campaign aimed at practitioners to ensure that health, social care and other services are delivered in ways which will give disabled people more choice and control over how their needs are met
* A new toolkit to assist the development of local independent living strategies for & with older disabled people
* Good practice guidance to enable people to have choice and control over their continuing health care
Press release ~ Independent Living Strategy ~ Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods: A National Strategy for Housing in an Ageing Society ~ Aiming High for Disabled Children ~ DH – User led organisations ~ ODI - Independent living - Expert Panel members ~ Independent Living Review ~ Home Improvement Agencies (HIAs) ~ Foundations Home Improvement Agency ~ 'Better outcomes, lower costs' ~ 'The costs and benefits of independent living' ~ Supporting People Programme ~ Housing adaptations for disabled people ~ 'Gaining and retaining a job: the Department for Work and Pensions' support for disabled people' ~ Disability Employment Advisory Committee ~ JRF:  The education and employment of disabled young people: Frustrated ambition (report & findings) ~ I CAN ~ Dyslexia Action ~ The Communication Trust ~ No To Failure Project (NTF) ~ SEN Code of Practice ~ Bercow review

DfTHard shoulder provides hard evidence of eco & economic benefits - The feasibility study into extending the pilot of hard shoulder running on the M42 near Birmingham has identified around 800 lane kilometres of England's motorways which could soon benefit from using the hard shoulder as an extra lane.

The pilot involved Active Traffic Management (ATM) which allows existing motorway space to be used more flexibly.  It is a tool box of traffic management measures, including automated signalling & enforcement, driver information displays and comprehensive traffic monitoring, enabling rapid incident detection and response.  ATM uses sensors in the road collect information to inform automatic systems and operators at the Highways Agency's West Midlands Regional Control Centre of traffic conditions.

The first six months of the full M42 trial saw average journey times fall by more than a quarter on the northbound carriageway and drivers' ability to predict their weekday journey times improved by 27%. Alongside this, overall fuel consumption reduced by 4% and vehicle emissions fell by up to 10%.
Press release ~ DfT - Advanced motorway signalling and traffic management feasibility study ~ DfT - Supporting the development of TIF packages ~ Transport Innovation Fund ~ Active Traffic Management (ATM)

HSE:  The hidden cost of building - The Health and Safety Executive has highlighted unacceptable performance by the refurbishment sector of the construction industry.  Geoffrey Podger, HSE's Chief Executive, said:  "Over one in three construction sites visited put the lives of workers at risk and operated so far below the acceptable standard that our inspectors served 395 enforcement notices and stopped work on 30% of the sites…….. Our inspectors were appalled at the blatant disregard for basic health and safety precautions on refurbishment sites across Great Britain.

Last year over half of the workers who died on construction sites worked in refurbishment, and the number of deaths on refurbishment sites rose by 61%.

HSE's construction division reported that basic safety precautions were being flouted and issues such as work at height remain a huge concern.  Over half of the enforcement action taken during this inspection initiative was against dangerous work at height, which last year led to the death of 23 workers.
Press release ~ Falls and trips in construction ~ Fit Out Campaign in 2005 ~ Watch Your Step initiative in 2006 ~ Strategy for workplace health and safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond ~ HSE's annual work related fatal injury statistics ~ Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 guidance ~ HSE - Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 ~ The CPS: Corporate Manslaughter ~ Ladder exchange ~ HSE – Falls from height ~ The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended) - A brief guide ~ Safe use of ladder and stepladders - an employers guide  ~ Top tips for ladder safety ~ HSE's new worker involvement website ~ Assessment tools

DCSFBut will the legal duty be adequately funded? - The Government has tabled an amendment to the Children and Young Persons Bill that would create a new duty on LAs to give parents caring for disabled children breaks from their caring responsibilities.  Local authorities already have the ability to provide short breaks, under the Children Act 1989, but the Government believes that there should be a specific requirement for short break provision.

£359m has already been set aside for LAs, under the Aiming High for Disabled Children programme, to transform short break provision over 2008-11, with additional funding being released to Primary Care Trusts.

While providing an essential service to parents struggling to meet their caring responsibilities, short breaks also give disabled children and young people the opportunity to access enjoyable activities and mix with their peers.
Press release ~ Children and Young Persons Bill ~ Aiming High for Disabled Children ~ Council for Disabled Children ~ Mencap ~ Preventing Social Exclusion of Disabled Children and Their Families ~ Family Fund ~ Support groups for parents of disabled children : Directgov ~ Support for families of disabled children - Every Child Matters

PCSThey are definitely not happy - Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union members working for conciliation service ACAS, whose job it is to resolve industrial disputes, have voted for strike action in a dispute over their own pay.  Staff are angry over the continued refusal by the government body responsible for mediating in industrial disputes to hold substantive negotiations on the 2007 pay offer (due for settlement in August 2007 – seven months ago).

Meanwhile, up to 9,000 members of PCS working for the Met Police, including Police Community Support Officers, Traffic Wardens, 999 Operators and admin support staff, as well as Houses of Parliament security staff will be taking part in a one-day strike this Wednesday (12 March) over a below inflation pay offer.

With the retail price index measure of inflation at 4.1% the pay offer of a 2.5% cost of living increase represents a pay cut in real terms. Staff are angry over the squeeze in pay when, for the fifth year running, there has been a massive under spend on the police staff budget.

Last week saw members in the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) take part in their first ever one-day strike over pay levels that fall way behind those paid to other emergency services and below inflation cost of living increases. 
PCS ‘Acas’ press release ~ PCS ‘Met police’ press release ~ PCS ‘MCA’ Press release ~ PCS ~ Acas ~ MCA

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