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In the News

HCEveryone knows mental health is the ‘Cinderella’ service - The Healthcare Commission has claimed that sweeping & sustained changes are needed to services for people with learning difficulties if they are to meet the standards expected in the 21st century.  Its first audit of specialist inpatient healthcare services for people with learning difficulties paints a bleak picture.

The Commission found that:
* most services for people with learning difficulties provide poor standards of care
* there are unacceptable variations in the quality of services throughout the country
* even the best services were not up to the standard expected of modern services
* while services are driven by committed staff working in difficult environments, significant institutional failings are depriving people with learning difficulties of human rights & dignity in many instances

The Commission did not find evidence of physical abuse in any service, but it did refer six services to local authorities under Protection of Vulnerable Adults protocols following concerns raised about the care of individuals or overall standards of care and made 2,548 recommendations to improve aspects of care. 

It said services operated off the radar of the healthcare system, with poor leadership, poor training and no framework to measure the performance of services. As a result of this, people with learning difficulties:
* live in poor physical environments
* are offered few choices in how they live their lives and
* are isolated from their communities
DHFunding is the priority, not another consultation - Care Services Minister Ivan Lewis has launched a consultation (closes 11 March 2008) to seek views on the priorities for learning disability for the next 3 years.  'Valuing People Now - From Progress to Transformation' sets the agenda across a range of issues, including health & well-being, housing, employment, education and community inclusion.

It builds on the vision set out in Valuing People (2001), based on the four main principles of: Rights, Independence, Choice and Inclusion and the key areas it will focus on are:
* the personalisation what people do - helping people to be socially included in their local communities, with a particular focus on paid work
* better health - ensuring that the mainstream NHS provides full & equal access to good quality healthcare and that specialist healthcare services are modernised
* access to housing - ensuring that people have access to housing that they want & need with a focus on home ownership and real tenancies
* making sure that change happens - making learning disability partnership boards more effective and checking that the things the government say should happen do actually happen

Proposals based on the consultation’s responses will be published by summer 2008.
DHTimely care combined with full rehabilitation & support – The Government has promised that anyone in a higher-risk group who suffers a minor stroke will receive an MRI scan within 24 hours under new plans to revolutionise stroke services.  The strategy aims to accelerate the emergency response to stroke, by setting out a framework for care for those affected by stroke and raising awareness about symptoms & risk factors.

By following the actions set out in the strategy, up to 6,800 deaths and cases of disability could be avoided every year.  A further 1,600 strokes could be averted through preventative work.

Key measures include:
* MRI scans for higher-risk individuals with Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) - also known as 'minor strokes' - within 24hrs of experiencing symptoms, which could lead to an 80% reduction in the number of people who go on to have a full stroke

* Immediate transfer of those with suspected stroke to a specialist centre offering immediate clinical assessment, scans and clot-busting drugs. All local areas will have 24/7 coverage by at least one specialist centre

* People affected by stroke and their carers should have immediate access to high quality rehabilitation & support from stroke-skilled services in hospital, allowing people to get home faster

The strategy sets clear goals which NHS commissioners are expected to meet over the next ten years.  However, the DH would expect to see noticeable progress over the next three years. 
Home OfficeA working solution or just more fingers in the Dyke - Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced changes to the UK's immigration regime to ‘ensure the system is firm but fair and supports Britain's shared values’, which include plans to ensure:
* that migrants can integrate into communities through strengthened requirements for English language
* all migrants play by the rules with strengthened restrictions on citizenship for those who break the law, and
* protection for vulnerable people through measures to combat forced marriage

The statement of intent for Tier 1 shows how the new tier will replace 8 existing immigration routes for people who are highly skilled, entrepreneurs, investors or have undertaken studies to a high level and want to stay in the UK to work.

Tier 2, targeting skilled workers with a job offer and Tier 5, for temporary workers such as musicians, actors & sportsmen will both come on line in the third quarter of 2008, while Tier 4, for students, will follow at the beginning of 2009Tier 3, which covers low skilled routes, will only be used if specific shortages are identified that cannot be filled from the UK on domestic or European labour force.

New measures to help to protect the vulnerable from being pressurised into forced marriage are being proposed by the Home Office in a new consultation.  A separate consultation seeks views on the introduction of an English language test before entry for people applying for a spouse visa to help to encourage successful integration. Both consultations close on 27 February 2008.

In addition, from 1 January 2007, no one who has a conviction which is not spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will normally be able to be granted citizenship.
HM TreasuryA little help can make a big difference - Ensuring that everyone in the UK can access the financial system and manage their finances is the objective of the Action plan for financial inclusion for 2008-11, launched last week by Economic Secretary to the Treasury Kitty Ussher.

Financial exclusion causes extra costs and real disadvantage as:
* it makes day-to-day money management more difficult & expensive and can make it harder to find a job
* it makes it harder for families to plan for the future and manage spending peaks & troughs, and
* if things go wrong, financial exclusion makes people more vulnerable to financial distress and a spiral of debt, poverty & hardship

The plan details a number of initiatives to advance the Government's 3 priority goals for financial inclusion:
* Enabling people to manage their day-to-day money
* Planning for the future and coping with financial pressure, and
* Dealing with financial distress
DIUSA very necessary investment - The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) will see their funding from £2m just over £5m in 2010/11.

Replacement is the ultimate aim for the Centre, but as long as the use of animals continues to be necessary, every effort must be made to minimise the numbers used and improve their welfare.  Optimal laboratory animal welfare is critical for scientific, ethical and legal reasons.

Currently UK, EU and US legislation requires the data on the safety, quality & efficacy of new medicines and their potential to harm human health and the environment to be assessed.  All medicines made available for use in the UK need to be tested in animal studies.
NAOIf they work and are cost effective why aren't they resourced adequately? - Crisis Resolution Home Treatment teams (CRHT) are having a positive impact on local acute mental health services, providing an alternative to hospital admission for people experiencing a short-term mental health crisis.

CRHT teams help people though short-term mental health crises by providing intensive treatment & support outside hospital, ideally in their own homes.  Used appropriately & safely, CRHT brings clinical benefits and increased patient satisfaction.

But a report by the National Audit Office found that services are being limited by a lack of input from specialist health & social care professionals, variations in staffing levels across the country and too few admissions to hospital being assessed by CRHT teams.

The report also found wide variations between areas in the extent to which teams are staffed & resourced. Only three regions achieved the Department’s estimate for a full functioning service of 14 or more whole-time-equivalent CRHT staff per 150,000 population.  Almost a third of teams received no dedicated consultant psychiatrist input at all and fewer than half reported having dedicated input from approved social workers.
Industry NewsA rewarding impact on the environment & community that also generates savings – Councils and Housing Associations are using Comet Business Services to help set up Tenant Reward and Incentives Schemes, which encourage tenants to be more responsible for their property, thus generating significant savings and also having a substantial positive impact on the environment & community, through improving the appearance of neighbourhoods and their surrounding areas.

The schemes can be as simple or complex as required to meet all budgets.  A small level scheme example could be ‘receive a £20 Comet Gift Card if your home is left in good condition when you move’.  Larger schemes could include regular prize-draws and competitions to win TVs, Computers & Game Consoles keeping tenants active and constantly encouraging them to look after their properties. 

The schemes not only tend to result in reduced rent arrears, a drop in anti-social behaviour and more sustainable tenancies, evidence also suggests that average re-let times for properties are significantly lower, as are repair costs.

A 2005/06 analysis on 90 void properties, to look at where the money was being spent, highlighted potential savings £53,000 on total expenditure of £159,487.  Further savings could be made by reducing the need to raise & chase recharges and through reduced re-let times, which would also save on void rent loss.
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General News

MoD:  The MoD has published the Board of Inquiry report into the tragic loss of Nimrod XV230 in which 14 servicemen lost their lives on 2 September 2006.  Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence said: “On behalf of the MOD and the Royal Air Force, I would like to apologise to the House of Commons, and most of all to those who lost their lives, and to their families. I am sorry”.
In addition, Des Browne has decided to put in place a review of the arrangements for assuring the airworthiness and safe operation of the Nimrod MR2.  This review, which will be led by a senior Queen's Counsel (assisted by technical experts on aviation systems), will examine all relevant papers and interview all those in a position to assist including BAE Systems and Qinetiq.
ScotGov:  In April 2008 prescription charges will be reduced to £5.00, a cut of over 25%, with further phased reduction towards a total abolition of the charges in 2011. The cost of prescription pre-payment certificates (PPCs) is being cut by over 50%.
Provision for the cost of the proposals has been made in the Spending Review allowing £20m, £32m and £45m for the three financial years from 2008-09.  Currently, under charge exemption rules, around 50% of the population qualify for free prescriptions.   Around 92% (68 million) of items dispensed in Scotland are supplied to patients free of charge.
CSPL:  Sir Christopher Kelly KCB is to become the next Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Government has announced.   He will take up the appointment on 1 January 2008, taking over from Rita Donaghy CBE, who has been the Interim Chair since April.  His appointment is for a 5-year, non-renewable term.  He is currently Chair of the NSPCC and the Chair of the Financial Ombudsman Service.  
DCMS:  The Government has welcomed recommendations from UK Sport to modernise the UK's approach to anti-doping, leading to the creation of an independentNational Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO) with far reaching new powers.  More details will follow in the New Year, with it being fully operational well before 2012.
DCMS:  A £50m Government investment to transform Tate Modern has been announced by Culture Secretary James Purnell.   It will create a spectacular new building, increasing the gallery's size by 60% and allowing it to display far more of its permanent collection.
The new Gallery, which they hope will be completed in time for 2012, is expected to lead to an extra million visitors a year to Tate Modern, already the most popular museum of modern art in the world.
TfLFrom 10 December 2007 the penalty charge for not paying the £8 daily congestion charge in London will be £120 - reduced to £60 if paid within 14 days. 
TfL claims to have been working to make paying the charge easier, last year introducing a ‘Pay Next Day’ facility, allowing drivers who use the zone (but forget to pay by midnight on the day of travel) to pay up to midnight the following charging day at a cost of £10.

Policy Statements and Initiatives

DH:  Health Secretary Alan Johnson has launched a five-year NHS Cancer Reform Strategy containing a package of measures to tackle cancer and improve patient care.  Key elements of the strategy include focus on prevention, faster treatment, extended screening, fast-track drug approval and extended services for the increasing numbers of people surviving cancer. 
CLG:  More older & disabled people will benefit from 20% extra Government funding for home adaptations, such as ramps, stair lifts and easy-access showers following the announcement of increases in the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG), as part of a package of measures designed at helping people live independently in their own homes for longer.
The Government also intends to strengthen Home Improvement Agencies (HIAs), the locally based not-for-profit organisations that help homeowners & tenants renting private housing repair & maintain their homes.
ScotGov:  A major overhaul of Scotland’s system to support children looked after by foster & kinship carers has been announced. Better financial support for carers will be on offer, with approved kinship carers now able to qualify for a weekly allowance to help them provide support & security to young people placed with them.
The new strategy - Getting it Right for Every Child in Kinship and Foster Care - is underpinned by the core principles of a child-centred approach to fostering and outlines support for:
* A minimum national allowance of between £119 and £198 per week to be paid to all carers
* Approved kinship carers of looked after children to be paid allowances on a par with foster carers
* A national protocol for dealing with complaints & allegations against foster and kinship carers
* Improved assessment & approval processes as well as better training & support for foster and kinship carers
* A specialist information service for all kinship carers giving advice on benefits & maximising financial support
A consultation on amending regulations, including barriers to same sex couples fostering, will run until 14 March 2008.
CLG: Local Government Minister John Healey has published Government grant figures for 2008/11. The government claims that more up to date ONS population projections (issued in September 2007), that improve the way that migrants are counted, have been used as the basis for individual authority allocations.


DWP:  A new consultation (closes 10 March 2008) aimed at helping more disabled people into work by improving the specialist employment support available to people with disabilities has been launched.
Central proposals in the consultation include developing & enhancing the role of Disability Employment Advisers in Jobcentre Plus so that each individual gets support that is tailored to their needs to help them achieve their employment goals; and moving away from separate programmes of support such as the Job Introduction Scheme, Work Preparation and WORKSTEP towards a single integrated programme which provides a more personalised employment service for disabled people.
DfT:  Proposals to create a bus passenger champion have been published by Transport Minister, Rosie Winterton, who claimed that the new champion would ‘provide a more influential voice for bus passengers, who currently have no formal national representative’.
The consultation (closes 17 March 2008) examines whether a stand-alone bus body is the best approach, or whether the role might be given to an existing body, such as Passenger Focus.   Any new body would need to reinforce, not undermine, existing non-statutory bodies, which represent bus passengers' interests.
SGC:  A review of magistrates’ court sentencing guidelines has been published by the Sentencing Guidelines Council for consultation (closes 6 February 2008).   Since October 2003 when the last edition of guidelines was developed, there have been significant changes to the sentencing framework, including the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the development of guidelines by the Council.
The revised guidelines deal with a greater number of offences and provide more detailed advice on a range of issues such as compensation for personal injury, loss or damage suffered by victims, sentencing for road traffic offences and the range & availability of ancillary orders.
Their format has been brought into line with other guidelines issued by the Council and includes both starting points & ranges into which sentences should usually fall.  A key issue in the review has been the calculation of fines which is dealt with in some detail in the consultation guidelines.
Defra:  Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw has published a strategy which aims to develop a package of measures to enhance sea angling in England.   Around 1m people spend about £538m p.a. fishing by the sea, underlining the sport's economic potential for coastal communities and businesses.
Drawn up with the help of anglers' groups including the National Federation of Sea Anglers, Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society and the Sea Anglers Conservation Network as well as commercial fishermen, the draft Recreational Sea Angling Strategy aims to boost the sport's numbers while helping to improve fish stocks and the marine environment. The consultation closes 31 March 2008.
Among the proposals are:
* a range of conservation measures to improve fish stocks
* a national code of conduct for anglers, and
* a new sea angling licence
HM Treasury:  Following the Pre-Budget Report on 9 October 2007, the Treasury has now published four consultation documents:
* Income shifting: a consultation on draft legislation (closes on 28 February 2008)
* Securing a sustainable future: a consultation on the North Sea fiscal regime (close on 31 January 2008)  
* Paying a fairer share: a consultation on residence and domicile (closes on 28 February 2008)
* Principles-based approach to financial products avoidance (closes on 28 February 2008)
DH:  Care Services Minister Ivan Lewis has launched a consultation (closes 11 March 2008) to seek views on the priorities for learning disability for the next three years.  'Valuing People Now - From Progress to Transformation' is a cross-government consultation which sets the agenda across a range of issues, including health & well-being, housing, employment, education and community inclusion – See ‘In the News’ above for more details.
Home Office:  New measures to help to protect the vulnerable from being pressurised into forced marriage are being proposed by the Home Office in a new consultation.  A separate consultation seeks views on the introduction of an English language test before entry for people applying for a spouse visa to help to encourage successful integration.  Both consultations close on 27 February 2008 – See ‘In the News’ above for more details

Guidance Notes and Best Practice Guides

WAG:  The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has published a new Code of Practice on Access to Information,which has been introduced following the legal separation of the WAG and Parliamentary Service under the Government of Wales Act 2006.   Prior to this, the Code covered both.
The WAG commitment to open government is explained through eight key principles in the new Code which are maximising openness; using clear language; maintaining a Publication Scheme; publishing on the Internet; respecting privacy, confidentiality & law; prompt & comprehensive responses; right of complaint and providing information free of charge.
The new Code retains the ‘substantial harm’ test as a key feature of the WAG’s policy on access to information.  One significant change made is that the new Code allows for information requests to be refused where the cost of dealing with a request would exceed the ‘appropriate limit’ of £600.
Socitm:  A new benchmarking service - Benchmarking Corporate Services - will enable public & independent sector organisations to assess (on a regular basis) how well their corporate services are performing compared with peers.  Jointly developed by two leading public sector consultancies, Socitm Consulting and SOLACE Enterprises, the service is based on the UK audit agencies’ Value for Money indicators.
The new service offers an objective view of performance in five key areas - finance, human resources, ICT, estates management and procurement – together with a survey of stakeholders’ subjective views of service quality.  Benchmarking Corporate Services kicks off with a launch workshop in Birmingham on 8 January 2008.
CLG:  Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has published new guidance on translation for local councils as part of efforts to bring about a fundamental rebalancing with greater emphasis on learning English and ensuring a commonsense approach is applied to translation.
Hazel Blears warned that too much translation of public information is reinforcing the language barrier, acting as a brake on opportunity and undermining efforts to integrate non-English speaking residents in the UK.  The guidance calls for councils to only translate documents into other languages in a targeted way, where it is necessary (such as information relating to emergency medical treatment or vital public safety).
DCSF:  In new guidance issued jointly by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and Home Office, local agencies will be asked to raise awareness in their communities of ways to identify a child or young person who may have been trafficked and places where these children can get help.
Safeguarding children is everyone's responsibility and the guidance will suggest that practitioners and members of the public who are worried that a child in their area may have been trafficked into & within the country should be encouraged to contact the police or the NSPCC helplines.

Annual Reports

ScotGovFutureskills Scotland has published the latest set of Scottish Sector Skill Profiles for 2007, which are produced in association with many of the Sector Skills Councils
Each report covers the structure of the industry (full/part-time working, occupations, wages, age structure of the workforce), recruitment & vacancies, skill shortages, skill gaps and training & development.
ScotGov:  More areas of specialist policing - such as counter-terrorism, specialist fire-arms support, motorway policing and air support - should be provided at a national level, according to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary Paddy Tomkins.
In the Inspectorate's Annual Report, he suggests that a national solution for such important (but small volume policing activity) would help to improve & sustain local and community policing by freeing up capacity and resources within local forces.
DCSF:  The government has published the 2007 Primary School Achievement and Attainment Tables, saying that more needed to be done to ensure no child was left behind and that the forthcoming Children's Plan would set out the next steps to build a world class education system.
DfT:  The Department for Transport has published the 10th edition of Transport Trends (a National Statistics publication), which provides an introduction to the major trends in transport & travel in Great Britain.
Through the inclusion of many charts it presents an overview of key trends over the past 25 years and highlights some of the key issues.  It is intended as a companion volume to Transport Statistics Great Britain, which contains reference tables containing more detailed figures and some longer time trends.
DWP:  The Office for Disability Issues (ODI) has published its second annual report to the Prime Minister.  There are two annexes that accompany this report, both of which are available from the ODI website: Annex 1: Performance on 'Life Chances' recommendations and Annex 2: Indicators data.
HC:  Significant improvements have been made in healthcare services, but there is still a way to go before everyone gets world class care, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Healthcare Commission, commented this week, on the publication of the 2007 State of Healthcare Report.
He welcomed Lord Darzi's admirable vision of a world class health service for all, but said that; “Our report on the state of healthcare sets out the progress made and the gaps that will need to be closed to make that vision a reality."
The Commission makes six recommendations to the government and healthcare providers:
* improve the planning & commissioning of services
* improve access outside the waiting time targets
* promote a culture of safety more effectively
* improve healthcare for children & young people
* demonstrate more sensitivity to the needs of the individual. and
* use information better

General Reports and Other Publications

Met Office:  An independent report on the value of the Met Office's Public Weather Service (PWS) shows that it contributes at least £614m to the UK economy, based on just a small sample of the services it provides.  
The report, commissioned by the Public Weather Service Customer Group (PWSCG), details the value of the services provided by the Met Office to key groups such as the contingency community which means that they can take action in your area to minimise the risk of damage which means that you are and your property is kept safe.
Defra:  The first report from a programme that will allow people to explore projections of climate change through the 21st century has been welcomed by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.  The £2m Defra-funded programme consists of five reports and an interactive website, known as UKCIP08.
'The climate of the United Kingdom and recent trends' contains information about key climate variables from 1961 to 2006.  It provides maps & graphs to show long term averages and changes between 1961 & 2006 with information presented annually and by season.  Most of the data is from the Met Office, with additional material from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory and IPCC.
The project will bring together climate science from the Met Office to provide information to decision makers, academics & others, on the current climate and possible future changes.  Its interactive website will provide customisable climate change projections when it launches in late 2008.
HC: The Healthcare Commission has published its findings from a census of the ethnicity of inpatients in mental health and learning disability services.  The figures continue to show that some BME groups are three or more times more likely than average to be admitted as inpatients in mental health & learning disability services.
The report notes that research has shown some ethnic groups have significantly higher rates of mental illness.  Differences in rates of mental illness and pathways to hospital admission are caused by numerous & complex factors such as socio-economic factors, living alone and family and social support.
Ofsted: Poetry teaching is found to be ‘good or very good’ in around two thirds of schools according to Ofsted, but its report also reveals that pupils often have a limited experience of classic poems and poems from other cultures & traditions.
The Poetry in schools: a survey of practice report found that poetry teaching is at least satisfactory in all 86 schools visited and good or very good in around two thirds.  However, the report also revealed that poetry was weaker than the other aspects of English inspected, suggesting that poetry remains an area for development in many of the schools surveyed.

Legislation / Legal

BERR:  The Government has published the Employment Bill, aimed at toughening penalties for rogue employers and affording greater protection for agency workers.  It is intended to boost powers for employment agency inspectors and simplify dispute resolution procedures.
The Bill has two key elements aimed at improving the effectiveness of employment law:
* Tough new penalties would be introduced for businesses not paying workers the minimum wage and agencies which try to exploit workers and undercut legitimate businesses
* Changes to the dispute resolution system would lighten the regulatory burden on business and encourage more workplace disputes to be resolved earlier & informally

EU Legislation, Initiatives, etc.

BERR:  Winner of the Enterprising Britain competition, North Staffordshire Regeneration Zone (NSRZ) and Enterprising Britain runner-up, The Paper Trail, are celebrating again following the European Enterprise Awards.
NSRZ was crowned the runner-up in the Enterprise Support category, while The Paper Trail was announced as the runner-up in the Responsible Entrepreneurship category at the awards ceremony, which took place in Portugal.  The projects beat off competition from over 350 entrants across Europe.

Charity and Voluntary Sector

CC:  A new consumer awareness drive has been launched across England & Wales to help people check if a clothing collection is for charity or not.  The aim is to ensure that people who want their donated clothes to go to a charity know what information to look out for on leaflets and bags that come through their letter box in the run-up to Christmas.
The Association of Charity Shops estimates that charities lose between £2.5m and £3m a year through theft and people giving clothing to organisations that they think are charities but may be commercial companies collecting for profit.  A leaflet for householders has been produced with top tips to help check clothing collection leaflets.
CC:  The Charities SORP Committee promised to keep reviewing issues where more information would help and publish Information Sheets - additional to the SORP - to clarify particular issues or offer informal guidance to help auditors and those preparing accounts.
The first Information sheet in the series has now been issued and deals with topics as varied as where grant income appears in a SoFA, to how charities meet the company law requirements for a business review.

Business and Other Briefings

HM Treasury: Following the Pre-Budget Report on 9 October 2007, the Treasury has now published four consultation documents - See ‘Consultations’ above for more information

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