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In the News

HCIt’s not rocket science - The Healthcare Commission has urged boards of all NHS trusts in England to heed the lessons from serious failings in healthcare services, highlighting the importance of good leadership, effective management and systematic use of information.

The Learning from investigations report reviewed all investigations undertaken by the Commission from August 2004 to April 2007 and highlighted common trends including:
* poor leadership
* ineffective management
* inadequate teamwork with staff feeling unable to communicate problems and
* a lack of clarity about who was responsible for what across the trust

A common trend in failing trusts has been NHS boards concentrating on some of their activities, such as the delivery of targets or mergers, at the expense of others.  The Commission said all organisations face change and have to deliver on objectives.  The message from the findings of investigations is that trust boards need to do this and deliver on the basics of quality of care & safety.

The Commission was surprised that many boards involved in investigations did not have systems in place to ensure they were routinely informed of key information, such as rates of infection and measures of quality of care.  This meant that boards were unable to spot problems and take steps to fix them.
CLGBut will it make the other 90%+ of the population feel less hard done by? - Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has called for fresh efforts to promote cohesion & tackle community tensions and set out a range of new policies & actions for national and central government.  This is in response to the 10-month review by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion which looked at the major challenges Britain faces in responding to increasing change in local communities.

New guidance calls for a fundamental rebalancing in the way that funding is allocated to different community groups in order to get a much greater focus on integration and the publication of introduction packs that will be used to support people coming from abroad to integrate into British life and help avoid community tensions.

The response to the Commission's report also set outs other actions that the government will take, including:
* Specialist cohesion teams will be established by central government to provide advice & support to LAs facing cohesion challenges - particularly those areas facing rapid change or experiencing migration for the first time
* Local authority twinning between areas of the country experiencing similar issues in order to share ideas & solutions, so as to inspire innovation to respond to these challenges
* Consultation on cohesion guidance for funders - encouraging LAs to consider how funding can better be used to support greater interaction
* All LAs will have access to cohesion impact tests - a tool to assess whether the activities they are planning will have a positive impact on Cohesion in their neighbourhoods
TS BoardInformation is the first key step in tackling dangerous situations - Disaster mitigation & response, traffic management, road maintenance and pollution monitoring are some of the diverse areas set to benefit from £10m investment in research & development by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

Environments that are large-scale, high-density, harsh or unstable make data gathering particularly challenging, but without up-to-date & reliable data, it is difficult to understand or predict the dynamics of the environment.

The TSB’s investment is designed to encourage British companies to research & develop innovative data-gathering technologies that could be rapidly configured & deployed by users such as the police, fire & rescue services, local authorities, utility companies and many others.

Many UK companies have particular strengths in sensing, instrumentation & imaging technologies and in telecommunications and intelligent systems.  Bringing this expertise together would give the UK the capability to offer complete tracking & monitoring solutions and to exploit the worldwide demand for such technology.

Gathering Data in Complex Environment funding competition - Applicants must register their intention to apply for funding and submit an outline of their proposal, by 4 April 2008Final closing date for applications is 8 May 2008.
CPA:  A record of good fiscal management? - Speaking as the Committee of Public Accounts published its eighth report of Session 2007–08: Tax Credits and PAYE, Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee, said: "The amount of tax credit being lost to fraud and error is still running at some £1bn each year. The Department has accepted our Committee's recommendations on the need to set targets to reduce fraud and error.  It has still not put any targets in place………

About two million families a year have been placed in debt to the government in this way since the scheme was launched.  Some regret ever having become involved……

It was always a very bad idea for the Government to have to commission new work from the contractor EDS in order to recover compensation for the poorly performing tax credits computer system.  In the event, EDS has stumped up very little of the £26.5 million of the settlement to be paid under this arrangement”.

Other highlights in the report include:
* The Department overpaid £6bn in the first three years of the scheme
* This is the Committee's fifth report on the current tax credits system
* Admin. costs have risen by 45% (03-04 to 06-07), but little evidence the HMRC has the scheme under control
* The Ombudsman continues to receive & to uphold a large number of complaints
* Tax credits continue to suffer from the highest rates of error and fraud in central government
* Estimated claimant error & fraud led to incorrect payments of between £1.04bn and £1.30bn in 2004-05
* HMRC Trust Statement has been qualified for the fifth year running
DHIt still won’t stop applications from EU countries - The Home Office has laid immigration rules implementing the first part of the new Points Based System, which is the Tier 1 (General) route for highly skilled migrants.  The rules impose a condition that will hopefully restrict international medical graduates' (IMGs) access to UK post-graduate medical training, prohibiting them from taking a post as a doctor in training as from 29 February 2008.

Around 10,000 potential IMG applicants will be exempt from the Home Office regulations so, without further action on top of the new immigration rules, the DH estimates around 700 to 1,100 UK doctors will still be displaced & unable to secure a training place in 2009, 2010 & beyond.

Therefore, the DH is beginning a consultation (closes at 10.00am on 6 May 2008) setting out proposals for managing applications to the foundation & specialty training programmes from Highly Skilled Migrant doctors with leave to remain in the UK.
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General News

TfL: The Mayor of London has launched London’s Low Emission Zone, designed to reduce harmful emissions from the most polluting diesel-engined lorries, coaches & buses (cars & motorcycles are not affected).
The introduction of the zone means that, from this week, all diesel-engined lorries weighing more than 12 tonnes will be required to meet strict emissions standards. Vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, buses and coaches will be required to meet these standards from 7 July 2008.
The Mayor claims that the oldest & most polluting lorries, which fit a full filter, will see an improvement of around 90% in their particulate matter emissions.  Compared to an average family car of the same age, the largest lorries emit 25-40 times the levels of harmful particulate matter, for each kilometre driven.
DH: There is no evidence of a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism according to a new independent virus study. The new report comes 10 years after the original Lancet article by Dr Wakefield called into question the safety of the MMR vaccine.
The joint report by GuysHospital, the Health Protection Agency and ManchesterUniversity, looked for the measles virus and antibody levels in children.  It linked very careful assessment & diagnosis of a child's condition, with expert analysis of blood samples carried out by laboratories recognised as world leading by the World Health Organization. The study found that there was no difference between the results from autistic and non-autistic children.
NE: The most important wetland site in the UK, home to waterbirds such as redshank, oystercatcher and avocet, is back in good condition for the first time in a decade marking a major environmental achievement for World Wetland Day 2008, according to Natural England, Eastern Sea Fisheries Joint Committee (ESFJC) and Wash fishermen.
Improving the condition of the Wash has taken 10 years of partnership working and the recent agreement of the policies is testimony to the efforts made by all parties.
NSGYoung Foundation chief Geoff Mulgan and University of the Arts Rector Sir Michael Bichard KCB are amongst a group of thought leaders from the UK and abroad to join the National School of Government’s Sunningdale Institute as Fellows, the School announced recently. The new intake – the first since the inception of the Institute in 2005 – sees 14 new Fellows join the Institute. 
Attached to the National School and chaired by Professor Cary Cooper, the Sunningdale Institute is dedicated to helping ministers and public service leaders with organisational development & delivery issues and works with organisations in a variety of ways – research & evaluation, building capacity through knowledge exchange in areas such as public leadership & governance, consulting on organisation & system design, connecting strategy & operations and fostering innovation.
CRC: The Commission for Rural Communities has given written evidence to the BERR Committee as part of its inquiry into the early experiences of the current Post Office ‘Network Change Programme’ for restructuring the post office network.
The programme involves the closure of 2,500 offices throughout the U.K. - but with the installation of 500 ‘outreach’ points.  The consultation is being rolled out through a series of more than 40 area plans over the period October 2007 to August 2008.

Policy Statements and Initiatives

Defra: Hilary Benn has announced that at least £34.5m of the £2.15bn total Government flood & coastal erosion spend over the next three years will be allocated to implement the final recommendations from Sir Michael Pitt's report on the summer floods.
As outlined in the Comprehensive Spending Review last October, spending will rise from its current level of £600m, to £650m in 2008-09, £700m in 2009-10 and £800 million in 2010-11. 
BERR: The Government has announced up to £37m to prevent work place disputes unnecessarily going to employment tribunals. The extra funding (over 3 years) will allow Acas to boost its helpline & advice services and offer help at any stage of a dispute to make sure it is never too late to choose an informal resolution. 
Acas will conduct pilot programmes over the next year to conciliate disputes which look set to become a claim to the tribunals, with the aim of making this service available throughout Great Britain in 2009. The Employment Bill proposes to remove fixed periods for conciliation after a claim is made to the tribunal, enabling Acas to get involved at any time until the tribunal reaches its verdict.
DH: A new unified complaints system for health & social care, that will hopefully make it easier for people to complain when things go wrong, has been unveiled following a four-month consultation. The new arrangements emphasise that health & social care services should routinely learn from complaints, feeding into service improvement.
In April 2008, Early-Adopter sites will trial the new arrangements for six months before being rolled-out nationally in April 2009.  There will be at least one Early-Adopter site in each SHA.
In addition, from April 2008, Local Involvement Networks (LINk) are being set-up in every area to make it easier for communities to talk with the people who run care services and to scrutinise their work.  From May 2008, a strengthened duty on the NHS to involve patients in decisions about service changes will also come into force.
ScotGov: The inaugural meeting of Scotland's National Economic Forum, bringing together key representatives from the private, public, third sector and trade unions, was held recently. First Minister Alex Salmond told the Forum that Scotland was once, and can be again, one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

The Forum's purpose is to enable those at the forefront of driving Scotland's economy forward to debate & discuss the economic challenges and priorities.  It is designed to inform the work of the Council of Economic Advisers, and play a pivotal role in delivering on the Government's Economic Strategy.
Cabinet Office: A comprehensive assessment of the key long-term strategic challenges facing the people of Britain has been published by the Strategy Unit in the Cabinet Office. The report covers the full range of issues facing the country, from emerging trends in economic globalisation to social mobility, public service reform, family change, demography and climate change.
Drawing on an analysis of trends & future projections from inside & outside government, the report - Realising Britain's Potential: Future Strategic Challenges for Britain - concludes that promoting the skills & talents of the people of Britain and improving opportunities to succeed from early years through to adulthood, will be crucial in responding successfully to the competitive pressures global changes will place on Britain.


Defra: Climate change means that we will all have to value water more as we find a fairer way of paying for it, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, claimed as he launched a new water strategy for England - Future Water.
The Strategy's proposals include:
* The aim to reduce water usage from 150 to 120 litres per person per day by 2030
* An independent review into water charging
* A consultation on new proposals to tackle surface water drainage
* A consultation on new proposals to reduce water pollution by tackling contaminants at source
* Action to deal with point sources of pollution and River Basin Management Plans
* A consultation on draft statutory Social & Environmental Guidance to Ofwat (all 3 close on 30 April).
HM Treasury: The Treasury has launched a consultation (views by 7 May 2008) on the UK Market Abuse Regime, which is specifically focused on where the UK regime imposes additional requirements to the EU's 2003 Market Abuse Directive. They have committed to reviewing the regime's scope by May 2008 to assess whether this wider definition remains justified.
DH: The Home Office has laid immigration rules implementing the first part of the new Points Based System, which is the Tier 1 (General) route for highly skilled migrants. Around 10,000 potential IMG applicants will be exempt from the Home Office regulations so, without further action on top of the new immigration rules,  the DH estimates around 700 to 1,100 UK doctors will still be displaced & unable to secure a training place in 2009, 2010 and beyond.
Therefore, the DH is beginning a consultation(closes at 10.00am on 6 May 2008) setting out proposals for managing applications to the foundation & specialty training programmes from Highly Skilled Migrant doctors with leave to remain in the UK – See ‘In the News’ for more details.

Guidance Notes and Best Practice Guides

DH: Health Secretary Alan Johnson has urged the NHS to consider fluoridating tap water for those areas with poor dental health to help prevent tooth decay and reduce health inequalities. £14m per annum extra funding will be made available over the next 3 years by the Government to those Strategic Health Authorities who, following consultations, find that the local community is in favour of the introduction of fluoridation schemes to improve the dental health.
To help Strategic Health Authorities assess the level of public support for local fluoridation schemes, the Department is also today issuing revised guidance to ensure local consultations are conducted in a ‘fair & objective way’, with benefits & risks being properly considered.
DCSF: The Department of Children, Schools and Families claims that teachers will find it easier to take pupils on school trips with more help & advice and less bureaucracy thanks to new guidance - Out and About guidance on school visits – whichwill be available from May 2008.
In addition, organisations that host school or other youth group visits such as museums, historic houses, field study centres and farms will be encouraged to qualify for a quality 'badge' scheme(starts September 2008), which will help teachers identify places that provide high quality learning outside of the classroom and are managing safety effectively.
NICE: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recently published its final draft guidance on the use of drug-eluting stents for the treatment of coronary artery disease (CAD).  This is a part review of guidance on the use of coronary artery stents published in October 2003.
This draft guidance has been issued to stakeholders to consider whether they wish to appeal against the recommendations; it has not yet been issued as guidance to the NHS.  The appeal period ends on 15 February 2008.

Annual Reports

SESport England has highlighted the fact that an Audit Commission report says that 28 out of 153 councils have received a four star rating (the highest rating) for culture, which includes sport.

Improvements in the quality of local sports facilities and playing pitches have risen in a number of local councils since December 2006.  There are now 25% more sports facilities with official marks of quality assurance.  Furthermore, the number of people in England living within easy reach of a range of quality facilities has increased by 3.6m from last year.

General Reports and Other Publications

Home Office: A new model of policing in which the police service direct their resources specifically to areas that will have the biggest impact on reducing harm to communities has been proposed by Sir Ronnie Flanagan.
Better management of resources, less paperwork and greater use of technology could help free up valuable police time and transform the police - giving individual officers more discretion, delivering efficiencies and enabling police forces to focus on the specific threats to their communities. The report estimates that between five and seven million hours a year - the equivalent of 2,500 - 3,500 police officers - could be refocused on front line duties if the changes he recommends are made.
DfT: New research reveals that more than 90% of those entitled to the free England-wide bus pass are ‘eagerly’ awaiting its introduction on 1 April 2008, when people aged 60 & over and eligible disabled whose principle residence is England will be able to take advantage of free off-peak local bus travel anywhere in England.  Off-peak is 9.30am to 11pm on weekdays and anytime on weekends & Bank Holidays.
The new statutory entitlement will (in theory) give up to 11 million eligible people more freedom & independence, greater access to vital services such as hospitals & shops and the opportunity to travel more economically when visiting friends & family living in other parts of England.
CIOB: A new report – ‘Key trends in the European and US construction marketplace’ - has been produced through a research partnership between McGraw-Hill Construction in the USA and the University of Reading’s Innovative Construction Research Centre (ICRC), with support from the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).

The research highlights that advances in technology, the shifts in the construction workforce and increasing global competition are key concerns among industry leaders across Europe and the US.  It emphasises the driving influence of governance & legislation, environmental pressures, global project finance, new procurement methods and the increasing cost of materials.  It also explores how these trends are shaping the increasingly interconnected construction marketplace.
NAO: The Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) use of budget support is helping developing country governments to build their capacity and expand basic services.  But, according to a report published by the National Audit Office (NAO), evidence on whether budget support has yielded better value for money than other forms of aid is not conclusive, as weaknesses in setting objectives mean that DFID does not always set out what it expects to achieve or by when.
While budget support has some advantages compared to other forms of aid, it also carries significant risks which need to be better managed. It has allowed developing country governments to increase expenditure in priority areas and to expand access to essential public services such as health and education, but the significant expansion of basic services has often been accompanied by a deterioration in service quality.  

Legislation / Legal

MoJ: An independent review of the Civil Justice Council (due to be complete in spring 2008) has been announced by the Ministry of Justice. The Civil Justice Council is an advisory public body with responsibility for overseeing & co-ordinating the modernisation of the civil justice system.
The review will examine in particular:
* the Council's strengths and weaknesses
* the effectiveness of its chosen ways of working and
* the ways in which the Council and its work should be adjusted to maximise its effectiveness in the future
MoJ: The Legal Services Commission and Ministry of Justice have announced steps that are being taken in order to proceed with the tender to establish a Panel of solicitors & barristers to represent defendants in major criminal cases including:
* A consultation has begun on a Funding Order that will allow solicitor firms who are on the Panel to instruct advocates who are not on the Panel.  Consultation on the Funding Order will last for two weeks.
* Secondly, the contracts originally offered are being amended to enable Panel solicitors to instruct non-Panel advocates where necessary.  The LSC will be offering these revised VHCC Panel contracts to all solicitor firms who successfully bid for VHCC work.
ScotGov: Action is to be taken to ensure that people with two asbestos-related conditions continue to be eligible to claim for damages, as well as people with pleural plaques.  Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced in November 2007 that a bill was to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament at the earliest opportunity to reverse the House of Lords judgement on pleural plaques.

However, it is possible that people who have been negligently exposed to asbestos and have developed asymptomatic asbestosis or pleural thickening may not be able to raise a claim for damages following the House of Lords Judgment. The Scottish Government intends to address this apparent anomaly by including these two conditions in the bill when it is introduced. 

EU Legislation, Initiatives, etc.

UK-IPO: The UK Intellectual Property Office (UK-IPO) has issued a Practice Notice setting out a change in its approach to patents for computer programs in certain narrow circumstances, following a hearing before Mr Justice Kitchin in the High Court (Astron Clinica's Application and others Applications 2008 EWHC 85 (Pat).
In his judgment, Kitchin J has now clarified the law in this area, and decided that patents should, as a result of applying the test formulated in Aerotel/Macrossan, be allowed to protect a computer program if, but only if, the program implements a patentable invention.  This ruling is a narrow one which places a greater emphasis on the substance of what has been invented than the words used in the claim.  It does not have the effect of making computer programs generally patentable in the UK, but it does allow innovators to enforce all aspects of their patentable inventions directly.
What is patentable in the UK is determined by the Patents Act 1977 which is aligned with the European Patent Convention (EPC), which states that patents are not available for computer programs as such.

Business and Other Briefings

BERR: New measures to boost the amount of finance raised & channelled into new & expanding businesses in disadvantaged areas have been announced by the government. The changes are designed to strengthen the ability of organisations, known as community development finance institutions (CDFIs), to attract private investment.  In turn, these organisations provide access to finance for enterprises in disadvantaged communities that have been turned down by mainstream providers like banks.
The Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR) scheme provides a tax incentive to both individuals & companies to invest in businesses & community projects within disadvantaged communities.  The tax relief is worth up to 25% of the money invested spread over 5 years. Changes to the operation of the CITR have been informed by the CITR Operational review, launched in November 2006 as part of the Social Enterprise Action Plan.
FSA: The Financial Services Authority (FSA) recently published its Business Plan for 2008/9, which sets out the FSA's programme of work for the year ahead to address the risks highlighted by the Financial Risk Outlook, published in January. The plan outlines specific FSA initiatives regarding heightened supervisory oversight in areas such as firms' liquidity, adequacy of stress testing and their general operational preparedness for unexpected events.
Published alongside the Business Plan, the 2008/9 Fees Consultation paper (CP08/02) (closes 28 March 2008) explains how the FSA proposes to raise the annual funding requirement from fee payers and provides an opportunity for comment on the fee and policy proposals.

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