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In the News

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

Speaking about his report Dr. Burgess said:
* There are over 928,000 rural households living below the official government poverty threshold of £16,492 household income per annum…... 
* The lack of affordable homes to rent and to buy continues to be the single biggest issue highlighted to me on my visits. I heard about growing numbers of people not qualifying for social housing, but not earning enough to afford to buy a house either……   
* There are now nearly 400,000 fewer young people aged 15-29 in rural areas than there were 20 years ago……..
* The loss of key services and their contribution to the vitality and sense of community within rural areas has been another recurring theme. 
DWPAll this for just £3m extra spread over 3 years? - The Office for Disability Issues has published its ‘Independent Living Strategy', a cross-government strategy, which is intended to support disabled people to do the things non-disabled people take for granted.

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

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

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

The first six months of the full M42 trial saw average journey times fall by more than a quarter on the northbound carriageway and drivers' ability to predict their weekday journey times improved by 27%. Alongside this, overall fuel consumption reduced by 4% and vehicle emissions fell by up to 10%.
HSE:  The hidden cost of building - The Health and Safety Executive has highlighted unacceptable performance by the refurbishment sector of the construction industry.  Geoffrey Podger, HSE's Chief Executive, said:  "Over one in three construction sites visited put the lives of workers at risk and operated so far below the acceptable standard that our inspectors served 395 enforcement notices and stopped work on 30% of the sites…….. Our inspectors were appalled at the blatant disregard for basic health and safety precautions on refurbishment sites across Great Britain.

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

HSE's construction division reported that basic safety precautions were being flouted and issues such as work at height remain a huge concern.  Over half of the enforcement action taken during this inspection initiative was against dangerous work at height, which last year led to the death of 23 workers.
DCSFBut will the legal duty be adequately funded? - The Government has tabled an amendment to the Children and Young Persons Bill that would create a new duty on LAs to give parents caring for disabled children breaks from their caring responsibilities.  Local authorities already have the ability to provide short breaks, under the Children Act 1989, but the Government believes that there should be a specific requirement for short break provision.

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

While providing an essential service to parents struggling to meet their caring responsibilities, short breaks also give disabled children and young people the opportunity to access enjoyable activities and mix with their peers.
PCSThey are definitely not happy - Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union members working for conciliation service ACAS, whose job it is to resolve industrial disputes, have voted for strike action in a dispute over their own pay.  Staff are angry over the continued refusal by the government body responsible for mediating in industrial disputes to hold substantive negotiations on the 2007 pay offer (due for settlement in August 2007 – seven months ago).

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

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

Last week saw members in the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) take part in their first ever one-day strike over pay levels that fall way behind those paid to other emergency services and below inflation cost of living increases. 
For information on forthcoming public sector events please click HERE to visit the WGPlus Events Calendar

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General News

UKSA: The new UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) which takes up its powers in April 2008has urged the Government further to tighten the rules by which Ministers and their officials are allowed privileged access to statistics before they are published, because they are ‘simply not strong enough to combat the public perception that there is political interference in the production and presentation of statistical outputs.’
The Government has proposed 24 hours advance notice, but the UKSA has called for the period to be reduced to 3 hours in line with international best practice.  The Authority has also called for a large reduction in the number of officials who receive access and in the range of outputs where pre-release access is granted at all.
HMRC: Helping students manage tax better and develop good financial habits is the focus of a new Student Tax Advice campaign launched by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The campaign was promoted with a Student Tax Aware Week which ran from 3 - 10 March 2008.
As part of the week's activity new printed student tax information materials were distributed on campus; a Student Tax Refund Calculator was made available on Facebook and tax information films placed on YouTube.
FSA: New figures published by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) show that one in five mortgage holders are concerned about meeting their repayments in the next 12 months.  When asked how they would meet these costs, a quarter of them said they had no plans.
The FSA is launching a £2m advertising campaign and checklist to help consumers make informed financial decisions and find the right mortgage for them.  It is especially focusing on people whose fixed rate or discount deals are coming to an end this year – 1.4 million short-term fixed rate mortgages are due to end in 2008.
BERR: Low paid workers can look forward to a slightly bigger pay packet from October 2008, after the PM announced the adult National Minimum Wage (NMW) rate will rise from £5.52 to £5.73 (a 4.1% rise). The rate for 18-21 year olds will also increase from £4.60 to £4.77, while the 16-17 year old rate will rise from £3.40 to £3.53.
The Government says it has also boosted funding for enforcement of the NMW and is planning tough new penalties for rogue employers who underpay staff as part of the Employment Bill, now before the Parliament. It has also announced new measures which aim to enforce the minimum wage and crack down on rogue employers, including:
* A fairer method for dealing with national minimum wage arrears
* Toughening up penalties for those who break the law
ESRC: As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, researchers are inviting the public to help collect evidence on the role siblings play in people’s lives.  The resulting research will help to shed light on sibling relationships that often last throughout our lives and so help the work of family therapists, social workers and many more.

People of all ages are asked to anonymously complete a postcard with the gender & age of themselves and any siblings, plus any notes about these relationships.  Postcards will be available in 20 locations around the UK during the ESRC Festival from 7th to 16th March.  People can also complete the card online.

The researchers are part of the 'Timescapes' study which explores the ways in which personal & family relationships unfold over time and how those relationships shape who we are.  The focus is on relationships with significant others: parents, grandparents, siblings, children, partners, friends and lovers.

Policy Statements and Initiatives

DIUS: A future consultation to open up opportunities for towns and cities to bid for new university campuses and centres of higher education has been announced. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will lead the consultation into expanding the programme (no dates as yet).
Since 2003 17 new higher education centres have been opened or have had funding committed.  The Government wants to accelerate the pace of development and expects to have 20 more opened or agreed over the next six years.  Filled to capacity, the new 20 centres could provide study places for up to 10,000 students.
DH: Health and Care Minister Ivan Lewis has invited local authorities to bid for £80m of funding to build extra care housing that would allow older people and those with long-term conditions to live in a home of their own. People who are unable to continue to live in their own homes have traditionally had their choices limited to care homes creating a number of problems including couples finding they can no longer live together, a loss of autonomy and not having their own space.
Extra Care Housing offers a real solution to these problems as it gives people a home of their own where wide ranges of care and support services are provided on site.  Tenants enjoy greater privacy & independence, couples can stay together and social & leisure opportunities can be enjoyed at the resident's convenience.  In addition, homeowners may be able to keep some of the equity in their property.
CLG: Speaking at a regeneration conference in central London, Hazel Blears unveiled plans for a new White Paper focused on empowering citizens. Her ‘radical plans’ are meant to ‘unlock talent in local communities and give people a real say on improving local services and promoting active citizenship’.
The White Paper, which is expected to be published in the summer, will be built around four key pillars:
* improving deprived areas through regeneration and promoting work and enterprise
* encouraging active citizenship and reviving civic society and local democracy
* improving local public services
* strengthening local accountability
A launch document Unlocking the Talent of our Communities outlines the opportunities for people to contribute their views on policy development either by email, letter or through an online discussion forum. There is no specific date by which comments should be sent in, but the on-line forum closes on 10 April 2008
Home Office: The Home Secretary has announced that the identity card scheme will start with non-EEA foreign nationalsin November 2008; initially starting with categories most at risk of abuse, which include foreign nationals seeking to enter or remain in the UK as a student or on a marriage visa. Fingerprints will be collected before they are issued with a card, which will show the details of the holder's immigration status and entitlements - whether they are allowed to work or access benefits and how long they can stay in the UK.
From the second half of 20092009, the scheme will be extended to those working airside in the country's airports. 
From 2010 young people will be able, on a voluntary basis, to get an identity card, which will assist them in proving their identity as they open their first bank account, take out a student loan or start employment.  Later that year the scheme will be opened to voluntary applicants of any age. British citizens enrolled on the National Identity Register will be able to choose whether to have a passport or an ID card or both.
ScotGov: Finance Secretary John Swinney has welcomed the results of Procurement Scotland, which was officially launched last week. An online auction last December for IT hardware for public sector bodies saved over £1.2m, compared to an earlier auction at the start of 2007.
Procurement Scotland, initially set up and known as the National Centre of Procurement Expertise, is a core part of the Scottish Government and will implement national strategies for buying common goods & services used by the public sector, from electricity to office equipment, from paper to professional services.
WAG: A unique survey that asked thousands of people across Wales about their experiences of services like health, local government and education has found that between 70-90% of the Welsh public have positive views about the public services they use.
The results of the Living in Wales Survey – which is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK - were made public last week.
ScotGov: Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Fiona Hyslop, has confirmed that the Schools of Ambition scheme is to be supported with £11.5m over the next three years. Under the programme, schools are supported through a three-year transformational programme, each receiving around £300,000 funding and additional support and challenge throughout.
The schools are a mix of already high performing schools wanting to reach even higher and those that need to improve after poor inspection reports. Participating schools are encouraged & supported to share emerging learning with their immediate colleagues and are committed to sharing with the wider community. A series of conferences, seminars and publications will be used to promote the lessons learned.


UK-IPO: A public consultation (closes 26 May 2008) on the amendment & consolidation of the Trade Mark Rules 2000 has been launched by the UK Intellectual Property Office.
DWP: The Government has published draft regulations to increase FAS payments to 90% from people's normal retirement age.  In order to make enhanced payments as quickly as possible, the written consultation period on the draft regulations is to be limited to two weeks (closes 20 March), rather than the full 12 week period that might be appropriate in other circumstances.  There is cross-party and stakeholder support for this move.
Subject to the Parliamentary timetable, the Government aims to have the Regulations approved in May before the Whitsun recess. Some amendments the Pensions Bill 2007 will be required and two further packages of regulations later this year. In addition, changes have been made to the FAS website to provide more detail for members on the status of their winding up pension scheme.
FSA:  The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has published a consultation paper on amendments to the sponsor regime for Listed companies. The consultation paper (closes on 6 June 2008) sets out proposed changes to the sponsor regime (the rules governing sponsors are set out in LR8 of the Listing Rules – SeeBusiness and other Briefings’ section for more details.

Annual Reports

Socitm: The results of the latest edition of Better connected, the tenth annual survey of local authority websites published by the Society of IT Management (Socitm) show that four councils have achieved the full E (excellent) site ranking.  The E sites are: East Sussex CC, Gloucestershire CC, Salford City and Tameside MBC.  This compares with 2007 when just one ‘E’ site was found (Barking & Dagenham), who fell short this time on one aspect of accessibility.

37 questions were around five ‘scenarios’ based on typical website user needs:
* looking for information about libraries
* using registration services (ie births, marriages & deaths)
* arranging waste collection and recycling
* obtaining housing information
* finding out about council tax and finance
Defra: Environment Minister Jonathan Shaw urged the public and local authorities to continue the fight for cleaner streets as he published a new environmental survey, which showed that graffiti tags and dog fouling have decreased since last year, but cigarette ends are still the most widespread kind of litter on our streets - found in 78% of sites surveyed - and fast food litter remains at the same level as last year.
The Local Environment Quality Survey of England is carried out annually for Defra by ENCAMS, the organisation behind the Keep Britain Tidy campaign, and monitors a representative sample of 54 local authorities across England to give a national and regional picture of how clean our streets are.

General Reports and Other Publications

HM Treasury: Otto Thoresen has published the final report of the Thoresen Review of Generic Financial Advice, which sets out a high-level blueprint for a national money guidance service to provide the people of the UK with the knowledge, understanding and confidence to make better decisions about money issues.  It recommends that the service should offer a combination of telephone, Internet and face-to-face guidance.
The Report’s recommendations include the setting up of a national Money Guidance service to be run by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) focusing on giving people information & guidance on budgeting, saving & borrowing, protection, retirement planning, tax & welfare benefits and jargon busting.  It should stop short of recommending specific products.
CLG: Independent research, carried out by Warwick Business School over three years, evaluates the impact & effectiveness of the Beacons Scheme, which recognises excellence & innovation in local authorities and promotes best practice in services which are key to improving quality of life.
The large majority of councils agreed that the awards encourage networking with peers, sharing information and ideas, and over three quarters of those who visited or engaged with Beacon winning authorities said they had made changes as a result of the interaction.  Award winners claimed that winning boosted staff morale and motivated further improvement.
HM Treasury: The Finance Ministries of Sweden, the UK and Germany have published a joint vision for shaping an inclusive globalisation through human capital. ‘Social Bridges II - The importance of human capital for growth and social inclusion’ takes up the basic idea of building social bridges by combining modern economic and social policies to provide flexibility, fairness & opportunity for all.
Social Bridges II aims to provide a new impetus to the ongoing and future discussions on modern & inclusive policy responses to globalisation from the perspective of Finance Ministers.  Effective and efficient policy development, using a social bridges approach, can increase social inclusion and contribute to an improved economic & fiscal position, delivering sustainable levels of public spending and generating increased revenues.
NAO: The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report on the work of the Parole Board which found that assessing the risk posed by offenders is difficult.  Determinate sentenced prisoners, though, are having their hearings on time and the Board is reducing the backlog of cases where offenders are recalled while on parole.  
But with a 31% increase in the Board’s workload between 2005-06 and 2006-07 only a third of hearings for life sentence cases are being held on time. Two thirds of oral hearings for those serving life sentences have been deferred at least once.
The assessment of the risk of harm posed by offenders can be undermined by the absence of important documents.  In 97 of 276 cases (35%) reviewed by the NAO, involving offenders serving a life sentence an Offender Assessment System report or a Life Sentence Plan was not included.  
The proportion of offenders released early who were recalled for committing a further offence remained stable at 6% over the same period, suggesting that patterns of reconvictions have remained broadly constant and that standards of risk assessment by the Board are being maintained when identifying those offenders ready for release into the community.
NAO: Holding managers to account for the resources they have been allocated is key to improving financial management at Defra, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO). Effective monitoring by the Department’s Management Board and greater integration between the Department’s systems for monitoring performance delivery and financial expenditure would help the Department to better manage its budgets.
The NAO recommends that the Department’s Management Board set budgets from 2008-09 onwards that balance with the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review and develops benchmarks to test the rigour of proposed budgets and to provide confirmation that these resource bids accord with the Department’s strategic objectives.
WAG: Speaking at the first ever conference of Natur, the new Welsh Institute of Countryside and Conservation Management, Ms Davidson revealed the progress being made on their Environment Strategy and Action Plan and outlined plans for the second Action Plan. She also emphasised the important role that green spaces in urban areas will play in this.

The One Wales document commits the Welsh Assembly to a 3% reduction in carbon emissions, and an ambitious agenda on waste, energy and local environmental quality.  The Minister explained that more work was needed to protect and enhance the environment for Wales.
HM Treasury: Sir James Crosby's independent review, Challenges and opportunities in identity assurance, has been published. The review looks at how to maximise the economic & social advantage to the UK from having the most effective ID assurance systems and infrastructure.
NAO: According to the National Audit office (NAO), many of the long standing problems in providing offenders with effective & useful learning and skills training have yet to be overcome following the establishment of the Offenders’ Learning and Skills Service (OLASS).  Offenders have severe learning & skills needs: half of offenders in custody have no qualifications, almost 40% have a reading age beneath that expected of a competent 11 year old and nearly half of offenders were excluded from school.
Offenders who find employment upon their release are less likely to re-offend, which is why improving their training & skills could contribute to a reduction in crime levels.  The level of training provision at each prison is based on historical funding allocations which do not necessarily match current learning & skills needs.
There are also problems in getting offenders to complete a course once started.  One of the main reasons for this is the disruption caused when they transfer between prisons.  Training records are often not transferred with them and differences in the courses being run reduce the potential for continuity in learning.

Legislation / Legal

TfL: Changes introduced by the Department for Transport mean that the definition of a private hire vehicle in London is changing from 1 April 2008.  A private hire vehicle (PHV) was described in the original 1998 Act as a ‘vehicle constructed or adapted to seat fewer than nine passengers which is made available with a driver to the public for hire for the purpose of carrying passengers’.
Section 54 of the Road Safety Act 2006 has now removed the term ‘to the public’ from the 1998 Act.  This makes it irrelevant whether a vehicle is provided solely for contract work or to the public at large.   It may now include community transport vehicles and non-emergency ambulances.
Vehicles operating in London that now fall under the Act will require a private hire licence, as will their drivers.  Any company that hires out these vehicles and drivers will also have to hold a private hire operator licence.  If a vehicle is being hired for self-drive, or has nine or more passenger seats, it will be exempt from the licensing requirement.

EU Legislation, Initiatives, etc.

BERR: The Government has laid draft regulations in Parliament for a new law that will protect consumers from aggressive and other unfair sales practices. Consumer Affairs Minister Gareth Thomas confirmed that if approved in debate the Consumer Protection Regulations (CPRs) will come into force on 26 May 2008.
The regulations are intended to replace & improve on provisions in 23 pieces of existing legislation - establishing a modern framework fit for the 21st Century that is easy for consumers, businesses and enforcers to understand.

Business and Other Briefings

FSA: The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has published new rules requiring firms to record telephone conversations and other electronic communications to help deter & detect market abuse in the UK.  From March 2009, firms will have to record all telephone conversations and electronic communications relating to client orders and the conclusion of transactions in the equity, bond, and derivatives markets.
Following consultation, the retention period for recorded calls and communications has been reduced from 3 years to 6 months.  Mobile phone conversations have been exempted from the taping rules but this will be reviewed in 18 months time.  In addition, discretionary investment managers will not be required to record telephone conversations and electronic communications with firms that are subject to the taping rules.  
FSA:  The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has published a consultation paper on amendments to the sponsor regime for Listed companies. The consultation paper (closes on 6 June 2008) sets out proposed changes to the sponsor regime (the rules governing sponsors are set out in LR8 of the Listing Rules.
The key proposals are to: clarify the application of the Principles for sponsors; remove the existing concept of the suitability experienced employee to demonstrate competence and replace it with a firm-wide approach to sponsor competence; modernise the approach to sponsor independence by focusing on procedures for identifying and managing conflicts; and revise guidance as to what will generally be accepted as appropriate systems and controls for sponsors.
HM Treasury: Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Angela Eagle MP, has launched a consultation (closes on 30 May 2008) to modernise the governance arrangements of Lloyd's of London and to remove restrictions which impede the way the Lloyd's insurance market operates through a Legislative Reform Order (LRO).
UK-IPO: A public consultation (closes 26 May 2008) on the amendment & consolidation of the Trade Mark Rules 2000 has been launched by the UK Intellectual Property Office – See ‘Consultations’ for more details.
This Brief gives details of an article: How HMRC will handle late applications to apply to re-register under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007.
This Brief gives details of an article: Animal Rescue Charities - VAT liability of the sale of abandoned dogs and cats.
This Brief gives details of an article: VAT: access to Intrastat data.

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