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In the News

P&HSOOverstretched or cutting corners to save money? - In a new report, the Local Government Ombudsman and Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman find that the level of care provided by Buckinghamshire County Council and Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Mental Health Partnership Trust for a man with severe learning disabilities was unacceptable.

They said that the care needs of 'Frank' were never properly assessed and, in their joint report, they also identified a number of significant failings in the level of care he received and in complaint handling.

The report says Frank and his parents had a right to expect that the Care Home would provide him with appropriate care in an environment conducive to his development, but sadly that did not happen.  They found that there had been fault by both the Council and the Health Trust which caused adverse effects for Frank & his family including acute anxiety and distress and some financial loss.  The Ombudsmen recommended that the Council and the Health Trust pay £32,000 compensation.

This is the first time that the two Ombudsmen have collaborated on an investigation in this way.  Although they have separate jurisdictions over different parts of the complaints, they felt collaboration was in the best interest of Frank and his parents as many aspects of the health & social care complaints are inextricably linked.

The Ombudsmen reported jointly using powers under the new Regulatory Reform (Collaboration etc. between Ombudsmen) Order 2007, which has enabled them to work together more effectively in investigating and reporting on complaints which cross their jurisdictions.
Press release ~ Injustice in Residential care: A joint report by the Local Government Ombudsman and the Health Service Ombudsman for England ~ Local Government Ombudsman ~ Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman ~ Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Mental Health Partnership Trust ~ DH: No secrets: guidance on developing and implementing multi-agency policies and procedures to protect vulnerable adults from abuse ~ DH: Vulnerable adults ~ DCA – Mental Capacity ~ DH – Dignity in Care ~ The Dignity Challenge ~ Dignity in Care Practice Guide ~ General Social Care Council (GSCC) ~ AEA report: Adult Protection Data Monitoring ~ Commission for Social Care Inspection ~ AEA partnerships ~ Protection of Vulnerable Adults scheme in England and Wales for adult placement schemes, domiciliary care agencies and care homes: A practical guide ~ Platt review on Social care ~ Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) ~ Care Services Improvement Partnership ~ Healthcare Commission - Review of dignity in care

MoJBut it was this government that made it illegal to protest - Justice Secretary Jack Straw has announced new proposals which he claimed will give Parliament more power to hold the Government to account and strengthen its relationship with the people.

Key reforms include:
* Managing protest around Parliament - Removing the legal requirement to give notice of demonstrations around Parliament and obtain the authorisation of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner
* Role of the Attorney General - Introducing a new requirement for the Attorney General to report to Parliament on an annual basis
* Judicial Appointments - Removing the Prime Minister from the process for appointing Supreme Court judges
* Treaties - Formalising in law Parliament's role in scrutinising treaties (excludes European Union treaties)
* Civil Service - Putting the Civil Service's core values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality into law
* War Powers - Process Parliament should follow to approve any commitment of Armed Forces into conflict
* Flying the Flag - Relaxing restrictions that currently allow the Union Flag to be flown on only 18 designated days on UK Government buildings
IfLDid ‘Sir’ sign the register in time? - As the deadline arrives for all further education college teachers to register as members of the Institute for Learning (IfL), the professional body for teachers and trainers in the learning & skills sector has announced that over 100,000 teachers are now registered as members.

Existing FE teachers in England were required to register by 31 March 2008, and to abide by the IfL code of professional practice (to be launched in April 2008).  They will also have to undertake at least 30 hours' continuing professional development (CPD) each year.  By virtue of changes to Learning and Skills Council (LSC) provider contracts, these requirements will be extended to teachers and trainers throughout the wider sector, who will have to register by September 2008, or within six months of starting to teach.
DCSFA vital change in policy but will it be funded sufficiently? - Kevin Brennan and Beverley Hughes joined the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Children's Services to launch Care Matters: Time to Deliver, a practical guide for local partners on how to improve the lives of children in care.

Local Authorities and those working with children in care will be asked to focus on providing stability; listening more carefully to children in care, ensuring every child has a strong, stable relationship with their carers and having aspirations which are as high for these children as they are for their own.

The implementation plan sets out the steps Local Authorities need to take, including:
* Considering friends and family care first
* Placing children close to home so they can stay in touch with friends & family, where that is in their interest
* Ensuring that a child's education is not disrupted by unnecessary change of placement and school place
* Giving children in care the option to stay on in care or with their foster carers after the age of 16
* Giving children a personal adviser up until the age of 25, if required

The implementation plan comes as the Children and Young People Bill makes its way back into the House of Commons for its second reading.  Over the next year, the DCSF will issue statutory guidance on measures in the Bill and on other proposals that do not need primary legislation such as:
* Virtual School Heads
* Child Trust Fund
* Designated Teachers
* and improving the health of looked after children
WAG:  One way to prove whose ‘Master’ - Robert Curtis has developed a device to help owners medicate their pets after spending hours unsuccessfully trying to persuade his German Shepherd to take her tablets.  The result – which he has now patented & trade marked - is TOOK IT! which he says is nigh on 100% successful and will be launched at the 36th International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques and Products of Geneva (2 – 6 April 2008).

TOOK IT! is a small receptacle filled with semi solid food – when the lid is lifted it leaves an indentation in the food where the tablet can be inserted and covered.  The small slug of food containing the concealed medication can then be ejected on to the animal’s food bowl and swallowed whole.

Curtis is one of several inventors who will be exhibiting on the Wales Innovators Network (WIN) stand and hopes to licence the product for manufacture, marketing and distribution.

WIN is funded & delivered directly by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) and is designed to support, help & encourage individual Welsh inventors and innovators to turn their ideas into commercial reality.
DCMSThe problem is parents don’t have the same IT skills of their children - Ed Balls and Andy Burnham have welcomed the Byron Review of the risks to children of potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games and pledged to act immediately on taking forward her proposals.

DCSF and DCMS will now work together with other key Departments including Home Office, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to take forward Dr Byron's recommendations.

Forthcoming EventInside Brussels X & XI: Public Affairs in the New Europe
15th-16th April & 7th-8th October 2008
Since 1986 the ECPA has been the only organisation to concentrate its efforts on training for Public Affairs excellence. ‘Inside Brussels’ focuses this experience to help its participants understand and predict the ever-changing patterns of power in the European Union. There is no better way to understand how Europe works than to spend two days in the corridors of European power. ‘Inside Brussels’ is the only programme that takes you inside Parliament, the Commission and the Council to examine how these institutions work and how they interact. Participants will meet and debate with officials, MEPs and lobbyists. How does the puzzle fit together? How do you influence it? Take a journey through the public affairs process at the heart of Europe. The programme deliberately mixes both nationalities and functions. It is usually attended by a mix of corporate specialists, NGOs, trade association personnel, civil servants, consultants and diplomats. It is normally taught for sixteen participants in an intense, small group atmosphere. The programme is taught twice a year in April and October. The 2008 programmes will include consideration of how the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon will affect the public affairs process. Click here for more information and to register.

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

DfT: Acting star Joseph Fiennes is the voice of a new Government campaign to remind motorists of the dangers of driving when tired. One in five of all crashes on major roads are caused by tired drivers but research shows many motorists are ignoring the simplest sign - the common yawn - that it's time for a break.
Many drivers believe they can fight fatigue but the only real cure is sleep.  The THINK! campaign's advice is straightforward:
* Don't start a long trip if you're already tired.
* Plan your journey to include a 15-minute break every two hours.
* If you feel drowsy find a safe place to stop (not the hard shoulder).
* As an emergency measure drink two cups of coffee or a high-caffeine drink and have a rest for 10-15 minutes to allow time for the caffeine to kick in.
YF: Four Yorkshire companies who have improved their business by exporting overseas have received awards in recognition of their international success.  The awards, made by Yorkshire Forward and UK Trade and Investment, are part of their drive to encourage regional businesses to grow through international trade.

The awards went to:
* EnviroVent - Best New Exporter
* Bradford food giant Mumtaz - Best Market Entry Strategy
* Flexseal - Most Improved Exporter
* Lubrizol - Best Exporter

Laura Humbles, an International Trade Advisor for UKTI operating in West Yorkshire received the award for Best Trade Advisor, in recognition of her work with regional businesses over the past three years.
ScotGov: Last week marked another major step along the road to a zero waste Scotland, with the launch of the 2008 Composting at Home Campaign and the first meeting of the Zero Waste Think Tank.  The Campaign is a partnership between Waste Aware Scotland, WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme), the Scottish Government and all 32 Local Authorities in Scotland.

The new Waste Aware Scotland Home Composting mini site provides information on how to begin composting, what you can compost and 'doctor compost' to solve all your composting problems.

VSO: As it marks its 50th anniversary, leading international development charity VSO is launching a bid to reach out to the 'missing middle' and reverse a recent decline in professionals in their 30s & 40s volunteering to work with poor communities around the world.
The charity says that despite an overall increase in the number of volunteers, the proportion in their 30s and 40s has halved since 2000.  VSO is finding potential recruits in this age group increasingly feel unable to volunteer, because of pressures such as getting on the property ladder, career progression, financial commitments or meeting family responsibilities, that don't affect older 'golden gappers' or younger people.  
They also fear that volunteering will not be valued as good experience by current or future employers, so VSO is calling on businesses to make a commitment to support sabbaticals for employees who want to share their skills through recognised volunteer schemes.
MO: Daily temperature extremes have risen by up to 4C over the last 50 years, say climate experts from the Met Office Hadley Centre. Research published during March in the Journal of Geophysical Research explored how observed extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures, across different world regions, have changed since 1950.
Minimum temperatures have seen the biggest increases, most notably over Russia and Canada, where the coldest days are now up to 4 C warmer than they were in the middle of the 20th Century. The largest changes in maximum temperature were found across Canada and Eurasia where they have typically warmed by 1 to 3 C. Warming across the UK was found to be between 0.5 and 2 C.
OSOrdnance Survey has tested how well information from OS MasterMap Address Layer 2 could improve the fit between billing details and locations on a utility’s delivery network. OS’s address geography was matched against utility records in a series of urban postcode units containing an average of 21,500 addresses. The results show an average of 16% more properties being identified & referenced to the relevant part of the infrastructure.

Two elements of Address Layer 2 made the difference: the inclusion of ‘alternative addresses’ such as aliases, locality and district names; and details of multi-occupancy residences where flats and apartments share postal delivery points. Ordnance Survey supplies these with the reference details of their parent delivery address, making it easier to identify all properties receiving utility and other non-postal services.
MoD: A fleet of Airbus A330-200s will replace the RAF's TriStar and VC-10 aircraft under a £13bn PFI deal signed with AirTanker Ltd, Baroness Taylor, the Minister for Defence Equipment & Support has announced.
The aircraft - which will be owned by AirTanker under the terms of the deal, although they will fly in RAF 'colours' - will undertake air to air refuelling and passenger air transport tasks.  The aircraft are expected to enter service around 2011, to serve for three decades.
The FSTA fleet will customarily carry a minimum of 80 tonnes (100,000 litres) of aviation fuel per aircraft. The total fuel dispensing rate from the aircraft is approximately 5,000 litres/min or about 80 litres per second.  A Mini Cooper would be filled in less than 2 seconds. Using all three refuelling points, you could fill 125 Mini Coopers a minute - more than 2 a second.
STFC: Scientists are increasingly being asked to communicate the social & ethical aspects of their research. However, there are few opportunities for early-career researchers to develop their skills in discussing these issues.
Perspectives - a poster session with a difference – could provide valuable experience in discussing your research with a non-specialist audience. The scheme is open to postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers funded by the UK research councils and also provides training in producing & presenting a poster.  Finalists will present their posters at the BA Festival of Science in Liverpool, where prizes will be awarded by a panel of expert judges. Application deadline: 21 May 2008.

Policy Statements and Initiatives

CLG: Local Government Minister John Healey has set out measures that councils already have to tackle potential moves by owners to try & avoid council tax liability and gave a zero tolerance pledge to intervene with further measures if evidence suggests deliberate dereliction of properties is taking place.
Changes to the out of date system of reliefs are intended to remove perverse incentives to keep buildings empty and encourage owners to bring them back into use, helping to revive high streets & town centres. Charities, community amateur sports clubs and companies in administration will also be granted a complete exemption from rates on their empty properties.
CLG: Yet another ‘red tape busting’ review to weed out bureaucratic hurdles and create a more efficient planning service for the public and business, has been launched by the government. The review 'Planning Applications: a faster and more responsive system' will examine what can disrupt the progress of an application from when it is submitted up to & beyond when a decision is made. 
New investment to empower local people to use the planning system to shape their communities has also been announced.  Planning Aid funding is being doubled to £3.2m this year, to enable more people to benefit from free independent advice to help them comment on proposals, make representations at inquiries, or submit a good planning application.
ScotGov: Alex Salmond has challenged the recently formed Scottish constitutional commission to put forward the proposals they develop to be included in a referendum on Scotland's constitutional future. 
The First Minister laid down the gauntlet to the review's members as he launched the second phase of the Scottish Government's National Conversation, where he welcomed representatives from Scotland's civic institutions to an in-depth discussion about the implications of constitutional progress for life in Scotland.
The National Conversation was launched in August 2007 with the launch of Choosing Scotland's Future - a document built on the premise that the people of Scotland are sovereign and should be allowed a referendum to decide how they are governed. The public are invited to join the National Conversation by logging onto a dedicated website where they can add comments to a Blog which began last week.
DCSF: A package of measures designed to revitalise geography in schools and sit alongside the new ‘more flexible curriculum’ has been announced by Schools Minister Jim Knight, in a bid to reverse the declining numbers studying the subject. Teachers will be provided with interactive resources to bring to life 'hard to teach' topics like fieldwork and subjects such as climate change, diversity & social cohesion.
Knight said he would extend the Action Plan for Geography, with £1.8m investment over the next three years and announced that the Royal Geographical Society and the Geographical Association had won the contract to deliver the next phase of the Plan.


DH: The Department of Health has launched a consultation (closes 17 June 2008)to seek views on the registration of health and adult social care providers, including the regulation of primary care services to ensure patients continue to receive safe, good quality care closer to home.
'A consultation on the framework for the registration of health and adult social care providers' puts forward proposals on which services will be required to register with the new regulator and the requirements that they will need to meet. This will include the registration of primary care services, which now provide more complex services to a high volume of patients in community settings.
ScotParl: The Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee has launched a review (closes Friday 30 May 2008) of the Parliament's process for scrutinising the Scottish Government's budget. The scrutiny of the budget for the 2008-09 financial year was completed in February and the Committee is now seeking views on the current process and how it can be improved.

Guidance Notes and Best Practice Guides

NSG: A new series of skills seminars from the National School of Government and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) will help leaders take a strategic view of property to extract maximum value from this expensive, but often ignored, asset base.
The National Audit Office recently reported that central government’s gross annual expenditure on property could be reduced by £326m by bringing cost performance of individual buildings in line with the best private sector practice.  However, it has also confirmed that, despite progress, central government is still a long way from achieving value for money. 
The half-day and one-day seminars are designed to support both the OGC initiative and the newly-published RICS publication ‘Public Sector Property Asset Management Guidance’, which applies to the wider public sector.
Defra: Defra has launched a free national information & advice service for farmers thinking of converting to organic production methods.  The new advisory service - Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS) - which will be delivered by Natural England (NE) on Defra's behalf - will provide conventional farmers with free & impartial information and advice on the principles and mechanics of organic production to help them decide whether conversion is appropriate for their enterprise.
Work is currently underway on developing the various elements that will make up the new service, including a national helpline and information pack and a farm advisory visits service (where appropriate) to supplement the initial advice provided – Target date for launch Spring / Summer 2008.
Press release ~ Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm ~ Soil Association ~ Natural England ~ Nick Cooper, OCIS Project Manager Tel: 01483 307705.
NICE: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has published guidance on the use of continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) devices to treat obstructive sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome, also known as OSAHS.

Obstructive sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome is a condition in which a person stops breathing for a short time when they are asleep because of closing or narrowing of the throat caused by a decrease in the tone of the muscles supporting the airway.
A person with sleep apnoea often snores, may be unusually sleepy during the day and may have problems in concentrating because of lack of sleep. Major risk factors for developing OSAHS include increasing age, obesity and being male.
NICE: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the National Collaborating Centre for Women’s and Children’s Health have issued newly updated advice on the care that should be offered to women during their pregnancy.  It recommends that midwives and doctors provide women with evidence-based information about a range of key issues, such as the risks & benefits of screening tests and lifestyle advice, so they can make decisions that are right for them and their baby.

The guideline includes recommendations for doctors and midwives on the advice they should give to pregnant women about drinking alcohol.
NICE: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has published final guidance on the use of inhaled corticosteroids for the treatment of chronic asthma in adults and children aged 12 years & over. 
Asthma is a chronic condition that causes symptoms such as shortness of breath (dyspnoea), chest tightness, wheezing, sputum production and cough associated with variable airflow obstruction and airway hyper-responsiveness.  It is estimated that there are 5.2m people with asthma in the UK, of whom approximately 2.9m are women & girls and 2.3m are men & boys.  This includes 0.7m people older than 65 years & 0.6m teenagers

NICE: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance advising those who work with pregnant women & mothers on how to help them make decisions about their diet & lifestyle that will keep them healthy and give their babies the best start in life.  The guidance calls for national consistency in the quality & quantity of support available to help address disparities in the nutrition of mothers & young children from low-income and other disadvantaged groups compared with the general population.

The guidance is based on evidence showing how all those who work with families can support mothers in changing their own and their child’s eating habits, thus increasing their chances of a healthy life.
NICE: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the National Collaborating Centre for Women’s and Children’s Health yesterday have issued guidance providing clear & consistent advice to doctors and midwives on how to help women with diabetes manage their condition when they are preparing to conceive, after they have given birth and in the cycle towards their next pregnancy.

The guideline recommends that women with pre-existing diabetes should access specialist services prior to conception and be given advice on the importance of planning their pregnancy.  The guideline also highlights the importance of providing information to women on staying healthy during pregnancy such as by maintaining proper glycaemic control and taking folic acid. This will help to minimise the risks of problems for women with diabetes so that they have the best chance of a good outcome for themselves and their babies.
LLUK: New standards for both Youth work and Community learning & development have been published following their approval by the National Occupational Standards Board of the UK Co-ordinating Group and the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA).  The standards have been approved by all 4 national assemblies.
The Professional and National Occupational Standards for Youth work have been developed by Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) and recognise the full breadth of activities that youth work in the UK undertakes.  They provide statements of competence that set out the skills, knowledge and understanding necessary for any function that a youth work role is likely to perform.
Common standards for Community learning and development determine areas of common activity and aim to support the development of the sector.  They set out best practice and recognise transferable skills that will enhance individuals' opportunities in the community learning and development sector.
LLUK: In March 2007, the Welsh Assembly Government tasked Lifelong Learning UK to review the Standards for Teaching and Supporting Learning for Wales and England (originally developed by the Further Education National Training Organisation). Whilst mindful of the need for cross border transferability, the review for Wales has presented the opportunity to develop standards for teachers to reflect the uniqueness of the context in Wales.
The standards:
* are context free & level free, in order to represent all constituencies and new teachers, experienced teachers and teacher educators
* represent the teaching & learning cycle, with which all teachers engage: initial assessment, planning & preparation, teaching, assessment, evaluation and quality improvement through responding to evaluation.
Ofwat:  The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) has published its guidance for companies on how it will go about setting price limits for customers' water and sewerage bills for five years from 2010-15.  It takes account of responses to its consultation paper published last October.
The next step in the 2009 price review process will be for each company to submit a draft business plan to Ofwat by 11 August 2008.
Press release ~ Setting price limits for 2010-15 ~ Setting price limits for 2010-15: Framework and approach (closed consultation and responses

Annual Reports

Defra: Defra has published provisional 2007 estimates of UK greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the rules agreed internationally for reporting to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol and the European Union.  They correspond to UK territorial emissions and do not take account of the emissions embedded within the manufactured goods and services which the UK imports. There is currently no internationally agreed method to take account of these so-called 'embedded emissions'.
HA: The Highways Agency has published its annual Business Plan for 2008-09, setting out how it plans to create a more sustainable, reliable and safer strategic road network.  Building on the successful trial of Active Traffic Management (ATM) on the M42, the Agency will extend hard-shoulder running on motorways around Birmingham, as well as introducing measures such as CCTV, queue detection systems and variable message signs on other parts of the network.
A fundamental part of the Agency's work between now and 2011 will be to develop & deliver pioneering solutions to manage trunk road journeys, whilst understanding & controlling their impacts on the environment.
Press release ~ Business Plan for 2008-09 ~ Active Traffic Management (ATM) ~ Traffic Radio service, available on DAB digital radio and the internet

General Reports and Other Publications

ScotGov: All agencies dealing with drug addiction and its underlying causes need to refocus their talents & energies on helping addicts into recovery according to Minister for Community Safety, Fergus Ewing. Responding to the publication of the Scottish Advisory Committee on Drug Misuse (SACDM) Sub-Group's 'Essential Care' Report, Mr Ewing confirmed that the ‘path to recovery’ would be at the centre of Scotland's new national drugs strategy which will be published before the summer.
Some of the main findings of the SACDM Sub-Group's Essential Care Report are:
* There is a need for a major change in the philosophy of care for people with problem substance use
* Substance users are people with aspirations
* Policy makers, commissioners and services need to consider how they can help them recover
* Substance users have the right to the same quality of care as the rest of us
DCSF: Ed Balls has accepted recommendations from a top behaviour expert that all secondary schools should join behaviour partnerships and announced new plans for a White Paper to ‘transform the alternative provision for pupils who have been excluded from school’ and announced plans to tackle cyber bullying of teachers.
In his initial report Sir Alan Steer looks at the many complex issues that can affect behaviour in & out of school. Some of these he will consider in depth over the next few months as he works towards his final report, including the role of learning & teaching policies and looking at the right balance of parental responsibilities and school powers.
However, following Sir Alan's latest advice, there are three areas where Ed Balls now plans to go further:
* all schools should be required to be part of behaviour partnerships
* making sure that the additional £109.5m for Parent Support Advisers is targeted at schools with the highest need, and
* plans for a White Paper to see a transformation in the quality of alternative provision, including plans for more voluntary and private sector provision such as high quality vocational training and studio schools
MoD:  Commenting on the report by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee into Defence Equipment 2008, the Minister for Defence Equipment & Support, Baroness Taylor, said:
"The size and complexity of the MoD's equipment programmes with their challenges in delivery and technology must not be underestimated……. We note the Committee's observations and constructive criticism regarding other aspects of the equipment procurement process and these will be carefully considered as part of the Department's full response to the Report."
Defra: Two thirds of households recycle their food waste when councils provide a weekly collection, along with fortnightly residual waste collection, research has found. The reasons householders do or don't take part in food waste recycling are outlined in a Defra-funded study led by consultants Brook Lyndhurst. The full report, was discussed at a conference for local authorities last week and it will be published later this spring.
Working with the Resource Recovery Forum and Waste Watch, Brook Lyndhurst's project Enhancing participation in kitchen waste collection schemes - household behaviour and motivations, highlights the real scope for environmental and economic benefits of separate weekly food waste collection services for householders.
Defra is also funding work by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to trial household food waste collection systems.  WRAP is supporting 19 councils to conduct weekly food waste collection trials, to develop good practice guidance in the design and operation of food waste collection schemes.
NAO: According to a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO), by being able to switch suppliers, customers have put competitive pressures on telecom, electricity, gas, and postal providers following the removal of pricing controls. Around half of energy and fixed line telecoms customers have switched supplier and 90% of people doing so found it easy.

However, problems such as complex tariffs and a lack of information mean that some consumers, particularly those classified as vulnerable, are still unable to take full advantage of the competitive market.  In addition, the suppliers that in the past had monopolies continue to have a strong position in their original markets (46% of revenue in gas, just under 50% of revenue in electricity, and 48% by volume in telecoms).
ScotGov: Two new reports on homelessness assess evidence on local authorities' capacity to meet the Scottish Government's 2012 homelessness target. Together the reports - the Homelessness Monitoring Group and the 2012 Homelessness Support Project - help inform strategic planning for delivery of the 2012 target.

Following their publication, Stewart Maxwell, Minister for Communities said that no one should be homeless in a modern and prosperous Scotland.

Legislation / Legal

HM Treasury: The Finance Bill has been published together with the Lobby Notes, which briefly describe the clauses & Schedules in the Bill. More detailed Explanatory Notes on clauses are available from Stationery Office bookshops and also on the HM Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs websites. Further details on the Bill will be published on the HMT and HMRC websites as the Bill progresses through Parliament.
MoJ: Secretary Jack Straw has announced new proposals which he claimed will give Parliament more power to hold the Government to account and strengthen its relationship with the people – See ‘In the News’  for more details.
CC: The Charity Commission has welcomed amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Bill. In February, the Commission raised concerns relating to proposals in the Bill to establish a new regulator with the power to set compulsory standards for providers of social housing - specifically that this could undermine the independence of some charities and force them into activities that could ultimately lead to the loss of their charitable status – See ‘Charity and Voluntary Sector’ for more details.

Charity and Voluntary Sector

CC: The Charity Commission has welcomed amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Bill. In February, the Commission raised concerns relating to proposals in the Bill to establish a new regulator with the power to set compulsory standards for providers of social housing - specifically that this could undermine the independence of some charities and force them into activities that could ultimately lead to the loss of their charitable status.
The new amendments were tabled by the Government last week in advance of further debate on the Bill due to take place on Monday (31 March) in the House of Commons.  Taken together, the amendments would mean that the new regulator would now need to consult the Charity Commission on the implications of any new standards for charitable housing associations, giving the Commission an opportunity to identify any proposals that were incompatible with charity law.

Business and Other Briefings

FSA: The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has published a summary of a review carried out by its internal audit division into its supervision of Northern Rock.  The review identifies a number of areas for improvement in the execution of supervision, which will be advanced urgently by the FSA's management, via a dedicated supervisory enhancement programme.  This programme also includes a number of improvements already in train.
The Board also noted that, even if supervision had been carried out at a level acceptable to the FSA, it was by no means the case that that would have changed the outcome. The Internal Audit review identifies the following four key failings specifically in the case of Northern Rock:
* A lack of sufficient supervisory engagement with the firm
* A lack of adequate oversight and review by FSA line management
* Inadequate specific resource directly supervising the firm
* A lack of intensity by the FSA in ensuring that all available risk information was properly utilised to inform its supervisory actions
A full version of the report, with redactions to protect commercial and individual confidentiality, will be made available not later than the end of April.
Important news for Trust or Company Service Providers (TCSPs) about changes to Registration Guidance and when to register with HM Revenue & Customs.

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