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In the News

The staff at Wired-GOV and WGPlus would like to wish everyone
 a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year

Please note that the next Newsletter is due to be published on
Monday 14 January 2008

Defra:  Don’t they realise 2010 might be too late? - Secretary of State for the Environment Hilary Benn, has accepted the urgent recommendations put forward in Sir Michael Pitt's interim report into the summer floods, on behalf of Government, but the current level of Environment Agency funding (£600m) will still not rise to £800m until 2010-11.

The Review makes 15 ‘urgent’ recommendations to be implemented as soon as possible to reduce the impact of any flooding that might occur in the near future.  These cover the areas of managing flood risk, groundwater monitoring, local and national planning and response, public information, and public preparedness.

Additionally, the Review draws 72 interim conclusions, awaiting further information & evidence before being put forward in firm recommendations next summer.

The report is written from the standpoint of flood victims, highlighting the devastation to lives & livelihoods and the necessity for the authorities to reduce the risk and impact of future events.

With around two-thirds of the floods caused by surface water, there needs to be a new emphasis on guarding against this type of flooding.  Sir Michael says the Environment Agency is best placed to develop a national approach to managing surface water flood risk, including development of surface water mapping and warning tools; and it should no longer be a right of householders & businesses to lay impermeable surfaces as they wish.

The consultation period on the Interim Report recommendations will run from January to 31 March 2008.  All the information gathered during this exercise will be analysed and fed into the drafting of recommendations for the Final Report, which will be published in summer 2008.
CLGWould political activity by senior council staff really improve local democracy? - Action to boost understanding of local government and the role of councillors, to attract new & more diverse candidates to stand in local elections and to deliver better quality support to those elected are among the proposals in a new report from the Councillors Commission.

At the heart of the recommendations from the Commission is the demand for an explicit duty to be placed on local authorities to disseminate clear information about how councils and other local agencies work as well as to promote the role of councillors and the activities of elected members, including raising interest on how to stand for election.

The report sets out 61 proposals to transform local councils as well as encourage greater participation in local elections, including lowering the voting age to 16 and creating regional Local Government Days when all seats for authorities in those areas are contested on the same day.

The Commission calls on the government to amend legislation to include councillor equalities targets in race, gender & disability equalities schemes.  It also calls for changes to the ‘far-reaching’ restrictions that prevent council employees standing as councillors or engaging in political activity.
DCSFYet another 10 years & more billions to get it right - Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls has launched the 'Children's Plan' – Labour’s long term vision to improve schools and the way parents & families are supported to deal with the new challenges faced by young people in the 21st century, which aims to:
* strengthen support for all families including during the formative early years of their children's lives
* take the next steps in achieving world class schools
* seek a step-change in parents involvement in their child's learning
* help to make sure that young people have exciting things to do outside school & more places for children to play

Other key announcements include:
* a ‘root & branch’ review of the primary level
* reaffirming the Government's pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020
* publication of a Child Health Strategy in Spring 2008
* an action plan to be published in 2008 that will tackle housing overcrowding and prioritise children's needs in housing decisions, especially the need to stay close to services like schools
* make teaching a Masters-level profession
* a youth alcohol action plan in the Spring 2008
* a Green Paper in Spring 2008 to look at what happens when young offenders leave custody on how to improve the education they receive in custody
DefraNature was ‘joined–up’ before government was even invented - The government claims that its new Ecosystems Approach Action Plan signals a move away from separate natural environment policies on wildlife, water, soil, and air quality towards a more joined-up approach taking account of the natural environment as a whole.

Central to the action plan is the idea that living things and their physical environment depend on each other - changes in one part of our environment can have consequences, positive and negative, on another.  It identifies 37 actions for Defra, its partners & stakeholders and is intended to deliver a number of important benefits, including:
* more effective delivery of our environmental outcomes
* better-informed decisions that take full account of environmental impacts
* better prioritisation and more efficient use of our resources
* more effective communications & greater awareness of the value of the natural environment & ecosystem services
* enabling Defra & delivery partners to better respond to changing pressures, including climate change

To guide policy-makers and economists in valuing these environmental benefits, Defra has produced an Introductory Guide to Valuing Ecosystem Services.

The Action Plan part of the government response to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first global assessment of the natural environment, which warned that degradation in ecosystems will be a significant barrier to achievement of the Millennium Development goals.
CLGImproving Social Housing and overcrowding - Councils and landlords should ensure social housing services focus on people, not just the homes they live in, Housing Minister Yvette Cooper said in a speech to the Housing Corporation and Chartered Institute of Housing last week.

Yvette Cooper announced a package of measures and extra investment aimed at making social housing ‘fairer, more effective and more personal’.  The plans are claimed to re-focus social housing around the needs of tenants, such as young families needing to move to larger homes, increasing opportunities for elderly people to relocate closer to their families and grandchildren, and helping tenants back into work.

The Government's plans include the launch of a new crackdown on cramped housing, aimed at helping those living in the worst overcrowded households.  A new national Overcrowding Action Plan sets out proposals for increasing the number of larger homes nationally.

The proposals include changes giving greater priority to under-occupiers, such as the elderly and middle-aged 'empty nesters' who want to move into smaller homes or nearer their families.

The measures aim to address the key challenges facing social housing today, as set out in the Hills review, which found high levels of ‘worklessness’, polarisation of estates, high concentrations of deprivation and low levels of tenant satisfaction.
DSRCan we trust them to do it securely? - A consultation (closes on 15 February 2008) into how personal information is used & shared in the public & private sectors has been launched as part of the independent Data Sharing Review into the use & sharing of personal information announced by the Prime Minister on 25 October.

It asks:
* how & why information is shared & used
* whether the Data Protection Act offers sufficient safeguards
* what impact technological advances have had on the protection of personal information, and
* whether there are lessons the UK can learn from other countries
Defra:  If the government ‘knows best’ about everything else, why not on this? - Options for improving energy efficiency across the public sector have been set out in a consultation (closes 6 March 2008) document published by Minister for the Environment Phil Woolas.
The consultation encourages the public sector to lead the way in energy efficiency and asks respondents to suggest which of at least two measures linked to energy efficiency procurement should be implemented across the UK under the EU's Energy Services Directive.  The Government will then decide which measures will be introduced next Spring.

The consultation will also outline the Government's preliminary views on how well the public sector currently meets the requirements of the EU Energy Services Directive (which will be implemented in May 2008) and will provide additional suggestions for further action. 

Key questions that the consultation is seeking views on include:
* Exemplary role: To what extent is the public sector playing an exemplary role, as required by the EU Energy Service Directive?
* Implementation: Should it be voluntary or legislative?
* Measures: Which two of the six proposed energy-saving measures linked to procurement should be taken forwards and introduced?

Responses to a previous consultation to meet the same Directive have also just been published.
NAOOk so far, but with caveats - The National Audit Office has reported that the government’s 14-19 education reform programme has met its key milestones so far, but there are substantial risks which the Department for Children, Schools and Families is ‘managing’.

Effective local collaboration through the partnerships is fundamental to the successful implementation of the reforms and the NAO found wide variations in the preparedness of the local partnerships at this early stage in the reform programme.

Over two-thirds of partnerships reported problems with engaging sufficient numbers of employers to meet current work experience requirements and many expressed concerns that it will be difficult to engage the number and range of employers that will be required.

Local partnerships, individual institutions and training providers need to be confident that the reforms as a whole will be delivered effectively.  It is therefore paramount that the Department gives clear funding arrangements and consistent guidance to partnerships.
Forthcoming eventLearning how to perform within the new Framework for Localities - At this pivotal time in local government, a number of key challenges face you.  

One of the most critical will be the manner in which your services and their delivery are monitored & measured.  Central Government has reduced the amount of targets that you abide by, which will ultimately alter the way in which you work.

Preparation is paramount when it comes to safeguarding your performance and the Local Government Chronicle, in its role as a provider of up-to-date information, brings you a one day conference:  Working within the New Performance Framework to help you in that task (5 February 2008).

Responding to the need for detailed knowledge & clear guidance, they have developed a comprehensive programme to deliver just that - Get fully up to speed with the latest policy developments, enabling you to return to your council and put them into practice.

As well as hearing from Andy Burnham, Chief Secretary, Treasury, presentations include:
* Gauging your ability to deliver: The role of Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA)
* Lifting the Burdens Review Taskforce response
* Negotiating local priorities with your Government Office
*Communicating what the new framework will mean for your organisation and partners
For information on other forthcoming public sector events please click HERE to visit the WGPlus Events Calendar

For Industry News please click HERE

General News

DIUS: Plans to invest almost £1.3bn into research aimed at meeting the key challenges facing the nation have been outlined by John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS). The funding will be shared across four programmes to spearhead research on major issues affecting people across the UK and the world, including climate change, the ageing process, energy and global security.
MoD: The UK's front line forces are to benefit from a £43m contract that builds on the unique collaboration between the MOD and UK industry. The new contract for NITEworks(r) is working to improve the tactics used by troops operating in theatre particularly in developing techniques to alleviate the threat of IEDs.
NITEworks(r) has already improved the way intelligence is assessed & processed on operations and back in the UK. The MoD and industry partnership, NITEworks(r), creates simulated environments to test new ways of working and seek out innovative and practical solutions to challenges facing our armed forces.
NITEworks has overcome the traditional intellectual property constraints to create an innovative partnering model that brings together war-fighters, subject-matter experts and industry within an environment that stimulates new thinking in a spirit of openness and transparency.
Defra: The United Kingdom will contribute £15m to an initiative intended to reduce the impact of deforestation on the world's climate. The World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) will support developing countries to participate in pilot programmes that reduce emissions from deforestation.
The FCPF will provide support to prepare countries to participate in pilot schemes for reducing deforestation below an agreed national reference level.  The UK hopes this will also help to catalyse much larger sources of funding, perhaps linked to the carbon market through any future climate change agreements negotiated between now and 2009.
Defra:  A scheme to boost sustainable development and carbon market investment in Africa has been announced at the UN Climate Conference in Bali, by UK Environment Secretary Hilary Benn. 
The African Springboard - a partnership between the UK Government and major UK-based financial firms - will be a for-profit company to develop Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects in sub-Saharan African countries that have so far benefited little from carbon market investment.
The CDM permits industrialised countries, which have emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol, to invest in sustainable development projects in developing countries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thereby generate tradable emission credits.
OS: Every local authority creates freight route maps, which highlight the council recommended roads for hauliers.  Ordnance Survey, which provides the underlying road network data to the satellite navigation industry, wants to consult with local government organisations on how it can help get these maps into satnav devices.
By using the recommended routes, hauliers can be sure that they’re being directed along the most suitable roads.  Ordnance Survey made available information on the weight, width and height restrictions on Britain’s roads in October 2006.  This information can further support HGV drivers by highlighting the roads that should be avoided due to low bridges or narrow lanes, for example.
C-NLIS: The Council for the NationalLand Information Service (C-NLIS) is concerned that the range & accuracy of property search information contained in Home Information Packs (HIPs) may not be enough for the home buyer to make a fully informed choice.

In a recent poll C-NLIS asked industry experts for their views on the accuracy and quality of search data, Peter Rodd, conveyancing partner at Boys & Maughan commented: “We have concerns as to the accuracy of some of the information contained in personal searches.  Some personal search providers limit planning history to 10 years whereas official searches direct from Local Authority go back much further.”
OS: Selected Web developers are currently able to preview a free online platform to help them experiment with some of the world’s most advanced geographic information. OS OpenSpace enables web-experts users to build mash-ups with a range of Ordnance Survey data in line with government aims to make public sector information more accessible.

Under an application programming interface (API) developers will register for a feed of data to experiment with non-commercially.  It includes a range of mapping scales covering the whole of Great Britain down to street level. This week’s stage involves a hands-on preview to a dedicated group of developers who will have exclusive access to test functionality and build applications ahead of a public launch early in the New Year.

Policy Statements and Initiatives

DH: Health Secretary Alan Johnson has announced an extra £520m of ring fenced funding to transform Social Care over the next three years through the introduction of Personal Care budgets. 
In a new concordat ‘Putting People First’, Central Government, Local Government, the professional leadership of adult Social Care and the NHS have jointly committed to a transformation of Care Services over the next three years.
Key elements of the transformation programme in every community will include:
* Giving the vast majority of people who receive funded care their own personal budgets
* High quality care homes, home care & day services to be rewarded
* Initiatives such as first-stop shops becoming common place so that everyone, including people who don't have support from social services, will have access to advice & advocacy about community services
ScotGov: Mental health services in Scotland are set to be improved through major developments, including:
* A new early diagnosis of dementia target for NHS Scotland
* Setting up of Mental Health Collaborative in 2008
* Launch of guidance on support for people with substance misuse & mental health problems
BERR: BERR is conducting a Strategic Environmental Assessment which will assess the objective of achieving up to 25GW of offshore wind generation capacity by 2020, on top of current plans for 8GW of offshore wind.  
For offshore wind leasing, the SEA will cover the UK territorial waters and adjacent areas where the water depth is around 60m or less, but excluding Scottish and Northern Irish territorial waters, where it is understood there is limited scope for development.  Under The Crown Estate Act 1961, The Crown Estate is landowner of the UK seabed and areas of foreshore.
Energy Secretary John Hutton also announced that he will chair a panel of experts to advise him on renewable energy.
In addition, the Government is working on a regulatory regime to ensure that all offshore projects can connect to our onshore electricity transmission & distribution networks, quickly, securely and as cheaply as possible.  A response to the recent consultation on this issue will be published by BERR shortly.
Cabinet Office: Launched by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell and Minister for Skills David Lammy MP, the Growing Talent Pilot is a high - level mentoring programme, aimed at equipping talented black and minority ethnic staff with the skills & attributes they will need to become future candidates for the Senior Civil Service.
After a rigorous assessment programme, twelve successful applicants to the scheme have now been paired with mentors from the Senior Civil Service, all of whom are currently permanent secretaries or work at director-general level.  High-level mentoring is the core of the programme, but there will also be other events running throughout the next year to reinforce what participants have learned through the mentoring programme.
The Growing Talent pilot is one of the first initiatives put into place by the Minority Ethnic Talent Association (META).  It is intended that over a four year period, the Growing Talent pilot and subsequent successor programmes will contribute to the objectives of the Cabinet Office 10-Point Plan for increasing diversity in the Senior Civil Service.
CLG: A new written agreement which is intended to transform the relationship between central & local government and which sets out ‘new freedoms’ for local areas & communities has been signed by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and LGA Chairman Sir Simon Milton.
The Central-Local Concordat spells out key priorities which central and local government will deliver together - this includes tackling anti-social behaviour & crime, delivering good local services, more opportunities for young people, promoting enterprise - and how the two should work together.
Defra: A blueprint to help to deliver improved protection for people and property nationally, from coastal flooding & erosion has been published - The Environment Agency's Strategic Overview Implementation Plan.
Currently there are 92 coastal local authorities responsible for coastal erosion works, some of which also carry out sea flooding work.  In addition, the Environment Agency oversees the majority of sea flooding works, but doesn't have a role in coastal erosion.  At present both local authorities and the EA put forward local projects, which, if successful, are funded directly by Government.
Once this blueprint has been fully implemented, the Environment Agency's strategic overview role means that they will be responsible for the funding of all coastal work as well as overseeing its delivery.  Government will still set the criteria that projects will need to meet in order to receive funding.
Press release ~ Environme nt Agency's Strategic Overview Implementation Plan ~ Defra:  Sea Flooding and Coastal Erosion overview ~ Flooding Lessons Learned Review ~ Defra, UK - Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management ~ Regional Flood Defence Committee's - National Flood Forum ~ Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) ~ Env ironment Agency - Flood risk management ~ Flooding in Scotland


DWP: The government are consulting (closes 29 February 2008) on the fact that existing restrictions preventing SIPPs from holding protected rights are now considered unnecessary - particularly in the light of recent changes which mean SIPPs are regulated by the FSA.
The effect of the current legislation is that a SIPP scheme cannot obtain a contracting-out certificate and cannot therefore hold protected rights.  Protected rights are contracted out rights held in a defined contribution pension scheme. The draft regulations also include a minor amendment to the detailed rules on annuities to bring DWP legislation into line with tax law.
HM Treasury: The Treasury and Cabinet Office have published Limiting pre-release access to statistics: a consultation document.  This follows the Government's commitment to Parliament to consult publicly on the rules & principles for pre-release access to official statistics in their final form.
The consultation document (closes 3 March 2008) sets out how, as a part of the Governance of Britain programme of constitutional renewal, the Government is proposing to tighten the rules & principles under which pre-release access can be granted.
Defra: Options for sharing responsibility & costs on animal health and welfare policy have been set out in a consultation by Defra (closes 15 April 2008), which seeks views on how the farming industry could be further involved in the decision-making process for animal health and welfare, such as during disease outbreaks, and whether this should be done through existing structures and organisations or new organisational structures.
The consultation also looks at the principles of how the funding for animal health and welfare can be shared between Government and the industry in the future.
MoJ: Who should be able to ask the courts to take action to stop a forced marriage?  A new consultation exercise (closes on 14 March 2008) is trying to find the answer. The Government's new Forced Marriage Act was brought in to protect those forced into marriage, whether children, teenagers or adults - and irrespective of background, gender, race or religion.
The new consultation paper is the first step to implementing fully the range of protections afforded by the legislation.  It asks what types of people or organisations should be able to apply direct to the courts for the safeguards to be applied in individual cases.
NICE:  The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has launched a consultation of its draft appraisals methods guide. The Institute’s ‘Guide to the methods of technology appraisal’ document provides an overview of the principles & methods used by NICE to assess health technologies (drugs & other treatments).
Stakeholders, healthcare professionals and members of the public now have the opportunity to comment on the draft technology appraisal methods guide until 29 February 2008.
NICE: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is currently appraising Lucentis (ranibizumab) and Macugen (pegaptanib) for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  It is consulting (closes 14 January 2008) on draft recommendations for a dose-capping proposal to make Lucentis available on the NHS for people with wet AMD.  NICE has not yet issued final guidance to the NHS on these drugs.

Responses to earlier consultation made clear that many people felt it was unacceptable for NICE to recommend treating only the second affected eye.  NICE has taken these concerns on board, and now recommends treating the first eye to come to clinical attention.
CLG: Local Government Minister John Healey has published new plans for consultation (closes on 8 February, 2008), which he claims will give local people the opportunity to give their views on their priority concerns for their local councils and agencies to tackle.
Under the new Place Survey, councils will ask local residents their views on a wide variety of issues, ranging from their use of local services to their general health & well-being, from support for older people to tackling crime, as well as information on levels of participation in the local community.
The results of the Place Survey will be used to assess how local areas are performing against 20 Citizen Perception Indicators, included in the new National Indicator Set.
DSR: A consultation (closes on 15 February 2008) into how personal information is used & shared in the public & private sectors has been launched as part of the independent Data Sharing Review into the use & sharing of personal information announced by the Prime Minister on 25 October – See ‘In the News’ above.
Cabinet Office: Phil Hope, Minister for the Third Sector, and Dame Suzi Leather, Chair of the Charity Commission, have jointly published, for consultation (closes on 31 March 2008), a package of proposals to increase various financial thresholds for charities – See ‘Charity and Voluntary Sector’ below.
Defra: Options for improving energy efficiency across the public sector have been set out in a consultation (closes 6 March 2008) document published by Minister for the Environment Phil Woolas – See ‘In the News’ above.

Guidance Notes and Best Practice Guides

Defra: Defra's Exotic Animal Disease Generic Contingency Plan, which is amended annually and is produced for Defra by the Animal Health Agency, has been laid before Parliament. The Contingency Plan is comprised of two parts:
* An Overview of Emergency Preparedness which provides details of how we have prepared for the operational response
* The Framework Response Plan which is an operational manual for those involved in managing the response & policy information by specific animal disease, setting out current policy on how each of these diseases will be dealt with
NICE: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s (NICE) new ‘how to change practice’ guide, packed with practical advice on how to encourage healthcare professionals & managers to change their practice in line with the latest evidence-based guidance, was launched at the NICE annual conference. It aims to support the NHS and wider public health community in understanding, identifying & overcoming barriers to change.

This guide is in three parts:
Part 1 discusses the types of barriers to change encountered in healthcare
Part 2 of the guide offers practical suggestions for how to identify the barriers to change faced by organisations
Part 3 provides evidence-based advice on what methods work to overcome these barriers and highlights potential levers to help do this
NICE: New guidelines launched recently by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) are set to improve the routine management & treatment of atopic eczema in primary care for children from birth up to 12 years of age.   
The guideline, produced for NICE by the National Collaborating Centre for Women and Children’s Health (NCC-WCH), includes the most comprehensive review & analysis of available evidence on ways to improve the quality of life of both children and their parents when managing this very common condition.

CRC: The Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) is concerned about the effects of the Post Office closure programme in rural areas and is therefore funding Rural Service Support, to help provide national and local organisations with on-line access to experts who can help them plan for the future.
Post Offices play a vital role in rural life, providing access to services and often acting as the social hub for a village.  Over the next year or so around 1,250 rural Post Offices are set to close across the country.

Annual Reports

NAO: The National Audit Office has published NHS (England) Summarised Accounts 2006-07: Achieving financial balance in the NHS. The NHS as a whole achieved a net surplus of £515m in 2006-07, compared with a net deficit of £547m in 2005-06.
The NHS Summarised Accounts show that in 2006-07 287 NHS organisations reported a gross surplus of £1,431m (2005-06: 357 organisations reported a gross surplus of £765m); offset by 82 NHS organisations reporting a gross deficit of £917m (2005-06: 179 organisations reported a deficit of £1,312m). The NHS is currently forecasting a net surplus of £1,790 million for 2007-08.
Complexities within the NHS present future financial challenges.  Payment by Results and Practice Based Commissioning reduce certainty around income for NHS Trusts and challenge PCTs to secure the services needed while managing within budget.  Ongoing restructuring will bring further costs in 2007-08.
DIUS: Consumers who buy fake goods on the cheap will end up worse off in the long run and in some cases are taking risks with their health. This warning came from the government as the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) launched the Intellectual Property Crime Report 2007, which outlines the impact on the UK by criminals who counterfeit and pirate products.
The intellectual property (IP) crime market in the UK has been estimated as worth around £1.3bn per year.  The report shows that closer cooperation between law-enforcement agencies and industry groups is beginning to pay off with a rise in the number of successful prosecutions, which have risen from 600 in 2004 (when the IP Crime Strategy was launched) to over 1,000 a year, according to the most recent figures available.
ScotGov: Commenting on the latest attendance & absence statistics, Minister for Schools and Skills Maureen Watt said that early intervention in a child's life could be a key factor in improving school attendance, when she revealed that absence rates were greater among pupils:
* from deprived areas
* with additional support needs
* looked after by the local authority.
The new guidance - Included, Engaged and Involved - supports schools and authorities to build on early intervention, to keep pupils included, engaged and involved in school throughout their school career.

General Reports and Other Publications

DIUS: Bill Rammell, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, joined with Frances O'Grady (Deputy General Secretary, TUC) and John Cridland (Deputy Director General, CBI) to launch English Language at Work, a new publication highlighting employer investment in English language training.
It sets out both the bottom-line business benefits and wider social and economic advantages employers have realised through investing in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) for their staff. It also complements the recently launched ESOL for Work qualifications, which provide work-focused English language skills on shorter and more flexible courses.
CLG: Communities Minister Iain Wright has announced a further £97m in Government funding to help local councils meet the housing needs of Gypsy & Traveller families in their area.  The funding is part of a package of new measures aimed at cutting the number of unauthorised sites in inappropriate locations, such as car parks or lay-bys.
By increasing the supply of authorised sites, the Government aims to improve the current levels of unauthorised encampment & development, which are a result of nearly a quarter of Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans having no authorised place to stay.
This renewed commitment to tackle the problem of unauthorised sites follows publication of a Government-commissioned report from the Task Group on Site Provision and Enforcement, which concludes that Government policy on site provision & enforcement is sound and calls for a consensus around the need for authorised Gypsy and Traveller sites.
BERR: Cuts to red tape are saving UK businesses and third sector organisations more than £800m per year, according to a Government report - Delivering Simplification Plans – which outlines more than 280 government initiatives to tackle red tape.
Covering 19 departments and agencies, it claims that the Government is on target to hit its goal of saving business and the third sector over £3.5bn in administrative costs by 2010.
NAO: The Rural Payments Agency has made good progress, but still has more to do to resolve all the problems it experienced in administering the 2005 EU single payment scheme to farmers in England, according to a report by the National Audit Office.
It succeeded in meeting the June 2007 deadline for paying claims under the 2006 scheme.  However, the Agency has not yet made up the difference to all those claimants who were paid too little in the first year, nor recovered the sums from those farmers who were paid too much.
The NAO notes that the Agency has developed a detailed recovery plan to deliver improvements – but warns that implementing the necessary changes to business processes and the enhancements to computer systems needed to support them remains challenging.
ScotGov: The report of an expert panel appointed to look at ways to make homes and buildings more energy efficient has been published. Among the 56 recommendations to Ministers are:
* Staged increases in energy standards for new buildings every three years to substantially reduce emissions
* The aim of net zero carbon emissions for space heating, hot water, lighting & ventilation within 10 years
* The ambition of total-life zero-carbon buildings by 2030
* Consideration of zero fees for building warrant applications where new buildings are to be significantly above the current energy standards
Defra: Sir Bill Callaghan has published his review of the regulatory framework for handling of animal pathogens in the United Kingdom. The Review was asked to take forward recommendations made by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in their report on biosecurity at the Pirbright site in 2007, and Professor Spratt's review of safety of UK facilities handling FMD virus.
The Callaghan Review recommends a three-phased approach to implement a number of changes to strengthen this regulatory framework in the UK. The main change would be to move to a model where use of both animal and human pathogens is governed by a single regulatory framework, with Defra passing the responsibility for regulation of these pathogens to the HSE, as a single, independent body with the appropriate expertise and experience in the field.
Ofsted: Children and young people have voiced their views on what the new National Minimum Standards for children’s social care should cover and have stressed that care placements should be designed so that brothers & sisters can stay together.

Children on care standards, published by Children’s Rights Director for England, Dr Roger Morgan, sets out the views of 433 children and young people consulted at the annual Children’s Rights Director conference. They expressed their views on:
things that make a place good and bad to live in
* what children want staff or carers to do when looking after them, and
* what staff and carers should be allowed to do to make sure children behave

HC: The Healthcare Commission has called for national guidelines to be developed to enable ambulance trusts to manage & govern their community first responder (CFR) schemes consistently. Community first responders are volunteers that help respond to immediate life threatening calls, such as heart attacks, in their local community.  They are used in addition to, not instead of, ambulance services.

They were set up across England in 1999 after the Government encouraged ambulance services in rural areas to use them to help achieve Government targets (on Category A calls) requiring services to reach life threatening emergencies within eight minutes of a 999 call being made.

Over time the role & function of CFR schemes have expanded but there have been no national guidelines available to ambulance services for their development.  The Commission believes the development of this service requires the NHS to ensure the schemes are properly managed, supported & audited by ambulance services.
NAO: The National Audit Office NAO) has published a report on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), which is the non-departmental public body which pays statutory financial compensation to victims of violent crime.
Its performance has declined since the NAO last reported on it in 2000 and it has not consistently met its targets over that period.  The average time to resolve a case has increased by over 40%, despite a 23% fall in the number of applications the Authority receives each year.

Legislation / Legal

ScotGov: New bail provisions, which will mean tougher punishments for those who breach their conditions, have come into force in Scotland.  The overall aim of the bail reforms is to leave the accused in no doubt as to the responsibility placed on them when granted bail, so that breach of bail reduces.
Reforms contained in the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 include:
* Placing on statute that courts must take into account public safety when deciding whether to grant bail to an accused
* Courts will only grant bail to someone accused of serious violent or sexual offences or drug dealing with previous similar convictions in exceptional circumstances
* Requiring the court to always give reasons for their bail decisions
* Increasing the maximum penalties for breach of bail conditions from 3 months imprisonment to 12 months (and from two years to five years for certain bail breaches in solemn (sheriff and jury or High Court) cases)
Changes to direct measures (previously known as alternatives to prosecution) and fines enforcement will commence in March 2008, as will the programme of phased court unification.
Home Office: Following replies from police, collectors, traders, victims' groups and martial arts enthusiasts, the Government is publishing the summary of responses of a consultation earlier this year and announcing its intention to add samurai swords to the Offensive Weapons Order, which will result in the import, sale & hire of samurai swords being banned from April 2008.  
This will include exemptions for collectors of genuine Japanese swords and swords used by martial arts enthusiasts.

EU Legislation, Initiatives, etc.

IPO: Intellectual Property and Quality Minister Lord Triesman has welcomed the European Patent Convention 2000 (EPC 2000) changes that ensure consistency between UK and European patent law, which came into force last week.
This revision includes changes to post grant amendment of patents which will allow UK business more options & flexibility when amending patents, giving greater choice in disputes over patent rights. The law has also been clarified & updated for inventions relating to methods of treatment or diagnosis.
In addition rules on the effect of European patent applications on the novelty of other inventions are simplified. Any published European patent application may now be used to show that an invention is not new, giving a Europe wide uniform effect of European patents on novelty of invention.

Charity and Voluntary Sector

Cabinet Office: Phil Hope, Minister for the Third Sector, and Dame Suzi Leather, Chair of the Charity Commission, have jointly published, for consultation (closes on 31 March 2008), a package of proposals to increase various financial thresholds for charities.  
If implemented, these measures will enable thousands of registered charities to meet their accounting & reporting obligations in a simpler & less expensive way, freeing up resources for up to 75% (125,000) of registered main charities and helping ensure they are not disproportionately burdened by regulation.
In addition both the Cabinet Office and Charity Commission published their second annual simplification plans that set out a number of measures to reduce the burden of red tape on charities by 2010.
BIG: The winner of the Big Lottery Fund £50 million prize is Sustrans: Connect2, which is a UK-wide project that will create new cycling and walking routes to improve local travel in 79 communities across the country.
Press release ~ Sustrans: Connect2 ~ The People's 50 Million lottery

Business and Other Briefings

HMRCHM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is reminding pension schemes that 2006/07 Pension Scheme Returns and Event Reports must be filed online by 31 January 2008So if you're a pension scheme administrator, or you're acting on behalf of one, and need to register for HMRC's Pension Schemes Online service, you must do so as soon as possible.
To register, visit HMRC's online registration page and select 'Pensions'.  It can take up to seven working daysto activate a new account - as some information has to be sent by post - so don't leave it too late.
BERR: Competitiveness Minister Stephen Timms has set out the final timetable for the implementation of the Companies Act 2006 and confirmed that a number of de-regulatory measures of benefit to business will come into force with effect from 1 October 2008.
The confirmation follows the announcement in November that the final implementation date for the Companies Act will now be 1 October 2009, rather than 1 October 2008.
HMRCHM Revenue & Customs Brief 74/07
This Brief gives details of an article : VAT: reduced rate on residential renovations and alterations.
HMRCRevenue & Customs Brief 73/07
Duty treatment of mixtures of ultra low sulphur diesel and sulphur-free diesel from 4 September 2007.

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