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In the News

ScotGov: Scotland’s first time buyers given a lift up housing ladder - A major expansion of a scheme to help more first time buyers get into the housing market has been announced in Scotland. The shared equity scheme is part of LIFT - Low-cost Initiative for First Time Buyers - a new Government package to help people who aspire to own their home.

Speaking at Building Homes For Scotland event in Edinburgh, Mr Maxwell outlined the Scottish Government's vision of a housing system that delivers good quality, energy efficient, affordable housing across all tenures.

He spoke of the Government's progress since publication of the Firm Foundations consultation paper in October 2007 and the positive work that is underway through the Housing Supply Task Force. The consultation ended last Friday and delegates were encouraged to respond to proposals which included:
* Challenging Scotland's local authorities, developers & builders to increase the rate of new housing
* Increasing the role of local authorities as landlords by offering financial incentives to councils
* Ending the Right to Buy on new social housing built by councils and housing associations
* Establishing a Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative
CLG: So what will be the function of a local councillor? - Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has announced plans for new 'community contracts' to be piloted in twelve areas, before being rolled out across England. The concept is that it gives communities the opportunity to agree deals & written guarantees with their council on a wide range of service standards from tackling drug dealing on estates, bin collection, clearing graffiti and street cleaning.

The contracts are ‘voluntary’ agreements between local people and town halls that will allow residents to set minimum standards, bargain with councils for extra services and put in place checks on quality. She also called for a new debate raising the question of whether in the future these should be extended & linked to new forms of 'redress' where services fall short.
Redress could range from an investigation into why service standards have not been delivered, a right of written response or a commitment from a council to rectify a problem for lower level breaches, to considering financial compensation, or funding to correct the problem in the minority of cases of serious and persistent failure.

In return, local people would be asked to play their part according to the Minister. For example, in return for council pledges on improving parks, clearing graffiti and tackling drug dealers, they will also be able to negotiate commitments by local people who could agree to:
* report incidents of anti-social behaviour
* maintain grass verges or
* even takeover the running & management of some council services

She also announced new guidance to councils on how to establish local contracts or ‘charters', which are supposed to be tailored to local needs & expectations and differ in name, scope & size, from agreements across a range of services to small scale, single issue brochures.
Defra: EU lays down its climate rules - The UK has ‘welcomed’ the European Commission's proposals for tackling climate change and delivering a low carbon economy in Europe. The package contains proposals to implement the decisions agreed by EU Heads of State and Government at the 2007 Spring European Council, including:
* a 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2020
* increasing to 30% when there is an international climate agreement
* 20% of total EU energy consumption to come from renewables by 2020, and
* measures to support the development of carbon capture & storage including 12 demonstration projects

For the UK, the Commission's proposals include:
* A cut of 16% in UK greenhouse gas emissions from sectors not covered by the EU ETS by 2020 from 2005 levels
* For 15% of the energy consumed in the UK to come from renewable sources by 2020
* For 10% of road transport fuels to come from both renewable & sustainable sources
DH: Weighed down by yet more advice - The latest cross-government Government ‘fitness’ strategy is intended to ‘support the creation of a healthy society - from early years, to schools and food, from sport and physical activity to planning, transport and the health service’.

This strategy is a first step and will be followed by an annual report that assesses progress, looks at the latest evidence & trends and makes recommendations for further action. A panel of experts will assist the Government, with input from a new public health obesity observatory that will hopefully develop our understanding of what changes behaviour.

The five key elements of the strategy are:
* First, the healthy growth and development of children
* Second, promoting healthier food choices
* Third, building physical activity into our lives
* Fourth, Creating incentives for better health
* Fifth, Personalised advice and support

In England alone, nearly a quarter of men and women are now obese. The trends for children are even more cause for concern, with 18% of 2 to 15 year olds currently obese and a further 14% overweight. The 2007 Foresight report on obesity, indicated that on current trends nearly 60% of the UK population will be obese by 2050.
CLG: Uncovering their talents - Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has called on communities and local authorities across the country to look at what more they can do to improve the opportunities available to Muslim women to play a bigger role in civic society, as well as in tackling violent extremism.

She is also sending all local authorities across England a copy of Muslim Women's good practice guide: ‘Empowering Muslim Women: Case Studies’. The case studies in the guide are grouped into four key categories:
* economic participation
* education
* civic participation
* arts culture & sports
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General News

DfT: Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Transport has announced a £140m fund to help half a million children cycle safely and a generation of adults rediscover their bikes. The money will be made available over the next three years and forms part of the Government's strategy to tackle obesity.
Of the £140million total funding, only £110m is new as Government funding for Cycling England is already £10m a year.  The package includes a contribution from the Department of Health in recognition of cycling's role in helping build the recommended levels of activity into people's daily lives
Cycling England will be seeking bids for the new CycleDemonstrationTowns and City in spring 2008/9.  Following a period of planning, the major investment will begin the following year.
DCSF: From 2011, every 11 to 14-year-old will be given, hands-on cooking lessons in how to make cheap, healthy dishes from simple, fresh ingredients.  Over 85% of schools already have the facilities in place and offer food technology classes - lessons will be compulsory and will cover basic cooking skills for all pupils in these schools from this September and in every school from 2011.
The Government is asking the public to suggest (getcooking.consultation@dc healthy versions of classic dishes young people can cook - including shepherd's pie, curries, tomato & bolognese sauces, baked apples and fruit crumbles.
ScotGovLamlashBay on the Isle of Arran is set to become Scotland's first Community Marine Conservation Area. This will be the first time statutory protection has been given to a marine area in Scotland as a result of proposals being developed at grassroots level. Under the new proposals:
* part of the bay will become a marine reserve where fishing activity will be prohibited
* the remainder will be a fisheries management area with a particular focus on scallops
* students at the new Clauchhlands Outdoor Education Centre will be able to study and enjoy a protected marine environment on their doorstep

The Community Marine Conservation Area will consist of a ‘no take’ zone and a fisheries management zone.
DWP: The Pension Service and the Disability and Carers Service are to be brought together into a single Agency - the Pension, Disability and Carers Service - Peter Hain, the (now ex-) Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has announced.  The new Agency will come into existence on 1 April 2008.
The two existing Agencies increasingly share many of the same customers - over half of the customers of the Disability and Carers Service are also customers of The Pension Service and the proportion is growing as people live longer.
YF: Yorkshire and Humber companies who like to work at the cutting edge are being urged by Yorkshire Forward to enter a new awards event that is recognising forward thinkers. Nominations for the innovator/08 awards are due to close on Tuesday, 5 February, which means regional companies don’t have long to put themselves forward for one of the eight accolades up for grabs.
One Yorkshire company, Ltd, has already submitted its nomination after developing artificial ‘trees’ which generate energy as they sway to wind and vehicle movement, which can be used to power street lighting and ‘green’ property developments.
It also prevents negative effects of global warming including anti-desertification, irrigation, topsoil erosion, insect swarms and forest fire prevention - fulfilling three of the UN’s stated primary mission objectives – drought/famine, airborne and waterborne disease.

Policy Statements and Initiatives

ScotGov: A single national body is to be established bringing together the various bodies involved in supporting, organising and delivering the Children's Hearings system, to improve the support given to vulnerable young people across Scotland.

While there will be national co-ordination of the Children's Hearings system, local delivery, links with local communities and the vital role of volunteer Panel members will all be preserved, through Scotland's unique approach to care and justice for children and young people.
BERR: The potential for tidal power from the Severn Estuary to provide low carbon, renewable electricity has been highlighted by Energy Secretary, John Hutton, with the publication of the terms of reference for the Government's feasibility study.
Tidal barrages and lagoons will be looked at in the feasibility study which will analyse the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of the possible projects.  It will enable the Government to decide whether and on what terms it could support a tidal power project.
CLG: A major review to improve the private rented sector has been announced. A Citizens Advice Bureau report last year found 1 in 5 tenants were dissatisfied with the quality of repairs carried out by their landlord and feared retaliatory action if they complained to authorities.  On the other hand, landlords can face problems with poor tenants not paying rent and anti-social behaviour.
The review will examine the impact of demographic and social change on the future demand & supply in the sector and also look at:
* how the increasing number of buy to let accommodation and student tenants has impacted on the private rented sector
* the quality of homes and
* who the users of the sector are
CLG: The government claims that local authorities in England will benefit from a £2.7bn increase in funding from central government next year. Local Government Minister, John Healey, also set out firm proposals for further funding increases for the following two years.
Councils will be expected to make 3% efficiency gains, like the rest of the public sector, each year for the next three.
CLG: The government has set out how the new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), will help fund massive new investment to sustain new homes. Ministers say that it is essential that new developments have parks, play areas and are also keen to ensure that small developments which can have a cumulative impact on areas make a contribution to local infrastructure and facilities.
The Levy is intended to give councils the power to set charges to pay for infrastructure when a new development takes place, which will hopefully provide hundreds of millions of pounds more for local infrastructure and services.
The Government is creating these new powers in the Planning Bill which has just begun its passage through the committee stage.  It is anticipated that local councils will be able to take advantage of these powers from spring 2009.


DCMS: On1 February 2008, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will be launching the first ever national survey of amateur arts groups in England.  Groups of voluntary & amateur participants from all artistic walks of life - from music, dance and crafts, to theatre, visual arts and literature - are being encouraged to complete a short online questionnaire before 29th February.
MPA: The Metropolitan Police Authority wants to hear directly from young Londoners about their experiences of policing.  The results of the MPA Youth Survey will help the Authority to make recommendations that will improve the service the Met provides to young people.
The MPA hopes, through listening to London's young people, to:
* identify ways to reduce young people's involvement in crime as victims, witnesses & perpetrators
* improve the confidence of young people to report crime & engage with the police as witnesses
* halt the decline in age of young victims and perpetrators of crime
DfT: Proposals to increase the reach of the Disabled Parking (Blue Badge) scheme to more people who need it and make it easier to take action against those who steal, forge or fraudulently use a Blue Badge have been put out for consultation (closes on 17 April 2008)by Transport Minister Rosie Winterton. The consultation contains proposals to ensure that parking close to essential amenities & services continues to be available to those that need it most.
In May 2007 an independent consultant, Rob Smith, was commissioned to conduct a review of the Blue Badge Scheme.  He did this through a mixture of desk based research & stakeholder interviews and the final report has now been published.

Guidance Notes and Best Practice Guides

ScotGov: New guidance on hospital car parking has been issued to the NHS. A review group set up to look at parking charges recommended a maximum charge, but said that further analysis was needed to determine what the maximum charge should be.

As an interim measures, boards were advised at the end of last year that they will not be able to charge more than £3 a day for hospital car parking. Boards are also instructed to publicise more widely concessionary parking and operate them more flexibly.  The guidance applies whether a car parking facility is provided by the NHS board or a commercial concern.
NICE:  The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has published final guidance on the use of pemetrexed disodium (Alimta) for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM).

The guidance recommends pemetrexed disodium as a treatment option for MPM in people who have a World Health Organization (WHO) performance status of 0 or 1, who are considered to have advanced disease and for whom surgical resection is considered inappropriate.
NICE: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance on promoting and creating built or natural environments that encourage & support physical activity. 
The guidance highlights that environmental factors need to be tackled in order to make it easier for people to be active in their daily lives and provides evidence-based recommendations on how to improve the physical environment to encourage physical activity to improve health.
BERR: New guidance for business on the definition of a "package’ holiday has been published, which provides greater certainty for the travel industry on what is a complex area. Package holidays offer safeguards not available with other types of travel and these benefits mean different legal obligations for the businesses selling them.
Simon Bunce, ABTA's Head of Legal said: "This is a very good assessment of the High Court Judgement decision on what is a package.  However, we are still urging companies to seek specific advice about their own holiday products as this remains a complex area of law in need in reform by the European Commission."

General Reports and Other Publications

NAO: The National Audit Office (NAO) has reported that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has made good progress in tackling benefit fraud, which is estimated to have fallen from an estimated £2bn in 2000-01 to £800m in 2006-07, a substantial achievement by its staff, although definitional changes have helped.
The NAO found that the DWP has a well defined strategy for tackling benefit fraud which includes continual efforts to improve the accuracy of its estimates of fraud & error.  However, despite the good progress made in recent years, the NAO makes a number of recommendations to enhance the DWP’s efforts to tackle fraud.
MoJ: The Government has published a review of voting systems which examines the experiences of the different forms of elections introduced over the last ten years in the UK. This major review assesses elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly & Northern Ireland Assembly and those to the European Parliament, London Assembly and London Mayor, as well as some international experiences.
The Review of Voting Systems: the experience of new voting systems in the United Kingdom since 1997 looks at the way the new voting systems have affected the proportional allocation of seats, voters' choice, voter turnout rates, political campaigning, social representation and administration.
NE: On the fifth anniversary of Lundy - England’s only Marine Nature Reserve and ‘No Take Zone’ – Natural England has published the views of national & international marine experts & scientists who believe that political will and leadership is key to safeguarding life beneath our waves through a network of sites like Lundy.
National and international marine experts met in October 2007 to discuss the way forward for a network of Marine Protected Areas and a summary of the views and agreed priorities has now been published.
DfT: The popularity of car sharing has been highlighted by new research unveiled by Transport Minister Rosie Winterton. The Department for Transport started the National Business Travel Network (NBTN) in 2007 as part of the ACT ON CO2 campaign and the DfT has also published guidance for employers considering implementing a workplace travel plan.
MoD: The Ministry of Defence has released details of the report by Brigadier Robert Aitken that sets out the Army's response to cases of abuse & unlawful killing of civilians in Iraq in 2003 and the early part of 2004.
The report focuses solely on instances where members of the British Army are alleged or proven to have mistreated Iraqi civilians.  It found no evidence of systematic abuse by members of the British Army, but it identified areas for development to ensure that those events will never be repeated.
NAO: The Department of Health is on track to meet most of the key targets identified in a review of its arm’s length bodies, according to a report out by the National Audit Office.  By the end of 2007-08, expenditure will have reduced by £555m, against the target of £500m and the number of posts in the sector will have decreased by 27%, compared to the target of 25%.
Over the same period, the Department will have spent £61m on implementing the review, including redundancy costs of £47m.  While year-on-year savings are being released from the arm’s length body sector, the Department expects that full savings, net of final implementation costs, will be realised from 2010 onwards.
HC: The Healthcare Commission has ranked only one in four NHS maternity services as 'best performing' in a national review and it also found significant variations in the quality of care across England, with trusts in the north performing relatively well, while trusts in London performed most poorly.
The Commission ranked:
* 26% of maternity services trusts as 'best performing' (38 trusts)
* 32% as 'better performing' (47 trusts)
* 22% as 'fair performing' (32 trusts), and
* 21% as 'least well performing' (31 trusts)
Nationally, the review highlighted a significant weakness in the quality and availability of data, as in all, 103 trusts were unable to provide full data and this had an impact on their score. 

Legislation / Legal

Home Office: New measures to protect the public from terrorism have been introduced as the Home Office published the Counter Terrorism Bill 2008, which includes proposals to:
* Provide a power to increase the time terror suspects can be held before being charged
* Enable post-charge questioning of terrorist suspects
* Enhance sentences for terrorism-motivated general offences
* Strengthen the monitoring arrangements for convicted terrorists, and
* Ensure full use can be made of DNA in terrorism investigations
Defra: A decision to retain & modernise the bird registration scheme in England has bee announced and controls on the keeping of birds will be directed at those native bird species whose conservation status would be most at risk from being taken from the wild for commercial activities.
The revised scheme will introduce proportionate regulation and those bird species considered not at risk will be removed from the scheme and unnecessary burdens placed on responsible bird keepers lifted.  Birds that need to be registered with Defra are listed on schedule 4 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

EU Legislation, Initiatives, etc.

Defra: The UK has welcomed the European Commission's proposals for tackling climate change and delivering a low carbon economy in Europe – See ‘In the News’ section.

Charity and Voluntary Sector

BIG: Four towns across the country are the first to benefit from the Big Lottery Fund’s three-year Community Buildings programme, a £50m bricks & mortar investment in village halls and community centres across England.

Aylesbury in the South East, Tewksbury in the South West, Hambleton in Yorkshire and Humber and Amber Valley in the East Midlands have all secured a slice of these first awards totalling £1.2m, giving invaluable community hubs a new lease of life.
Community Buildings is dedicated to investing in buildings that give communities a chance to improve their quality of life and meet local needs, by offering a range of activities & services open to a broad range of people. £50m will be distributed across England (over three years) with grants of £50,000 to £500,000 available.

Business and Other Briefings

FSA: The Financial Services Authority's (FSA) enhanced strategy for small firms will kick off in Northern Ireland in March 2008 with the first of a rolling programme of assessments that will cover 11,300 retail intermediaries in the next three years.
The new measures will test the progress being made by financial advisers, mortgage intermediaries and general insurance brokers, towards Treating Customers Fairly (TCF).  A progress report last year found that only 41% of small firms were meeting the TCF deadlines.
In addition to the new measures for small firms, the Small Firms Division and FSA Contact Centres, which includes the Firm Contact Centre, are joining together on 1 February 2008, to give a more consistent and streamlined service to small firms.
BERR: A Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) survey found 40% of businesses questioned as part of planning for its new employment law guidance campaign, said they were likely to seek outside advice for employment issues in the next year.
BERR is set to contact around 400,000 small businesses as part of a campaign to make sure they know how to access free help from the Business Link (Employing People) website, which provides simple, practical advice & guidance on the full range of employment issues. The siteincludestools, calculators and interactive guides to help businesses understand their legal obligations.
BERR: New guidance for business on the definition of a "package" holiday has been published, which provides greater certainty for the travel industry on what is a complex area. Package holidays offer safeguards not available with other types of travel and these benefits mean different legal obligations for the businesses selling them – See ‘Consultations’ section
HMRCRevenue & Customs Brief 03/08
This Brief gives details of an article: Capital Gains Tax and Corporation Tax on chargeable gains; contribution of assets to a partnership.

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