In the News
OFT /CIOB: Not quite what the government meant by ‘sustainable housing’ - Following one of the largest ever Competition Act investigations, the Office of Fair Trading has issued a Statement of Objections (SO) against 112 firms in the construction sector in England. The OFT formally alleges that the construction companies named in the SO have engaged in bid rigging activities and, in particular, ‘cover pricing’.
Cover pricing describes a situation where one or more bidders collude with a competitor during a tender process to obtain a price or prices which are intended to be too high to win the contract. The tendering authority, for example a local council or other customer, is not made aware of the contacts between bidders, leaving it with a false impression of the level of competition and this may result in it paying inflated prices.
In addition, the SO formally alleges that a minority of the construction companies have variously entered into one or more arrangements whereby it was agreed that the successful tenderer would pay an agreed sum of money to the unsuccessful tenderer (known as a 'compensation payment'). These more serious forms of bid rigging are usually facilitated by false invoices.
No assumption should be made at this stage that there has been an infringement of competition law by any of the companies named in the SO. The 112 parties concerned now have the opportunity to make written & oral representations which the OFT will take into account before making a final decision as to whether competition law has been infringed, and as to the appropriate amount of any penalties the OFT may decide to impose on each of the firms concerned.
Chris Blythe chief executive of The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) said: “This is obviously not the industry’s finest hour, and as a result this should be the end of cover pricing…... Clients of the industry are not the only ones to have suffered from bid-rigging, everyone suffers. Other construction companies who have been excluded by anti-competitive activity have been affected as well.”
The CIOB is a member of the Anti-Corruption Forum, led by Transparency International. The Forum is an alliance of UK professional institutions, business associations and companies with interests in the domestic and international infrastructure, construction and engineering sectors. Its purpose is to promote industry-led actions to help eliminate corruption.
ScotGov: What house-builders should be co-operating on - A report promoting better design to raise the quality of Scotland's future built environment has been unveiled by Culture Minister Linda Fabiani an architectural & building seminar in Edinburgh. The report - Design At The Heart Of House Building - is an good starting point for architects, developers and local authorities to work together to deliver higher quality, design-led, sustainable housing and communities - a key ambition of the Scottish Government.
Addressing delegates from across Scotland's building and architecture sectors, Ms Fabiani stressed how the Scottish Government is striving to be more 'user friendly' to developers and others involved in the building process, citing the recent move to bring architecture policy, building standards and planning together in a new Directorate for the Built Environment.
The report's conclusions & recommendations include:
* there needs to be a wider understanding of the process of private sector housing development, noting how design quality has become a more important component in the development process
* the increased importance of using well-qualified designers who understand the development process
* government & local authorities can help private house-builders raise design quality by providing research support for the housing sector on issues such as sustainable design and by ensuring the planning departments are adequately staffed & skilled
The publication also calls for an adequate supply of both green-field and brown-field land to address rising development demand, while noting the need for a wider understanding of the overall process of private sector housing development.
DfT: Saving the environment or just fuelling a world food shortage - The government claims that motorists will be able to fill their tanks with greener fuels now that a new initiative has come into force in the UK. The move is known as the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) and requires 2.5% of all road fuels sold to come from biofuels, rising to 5% by 2010.
Motorists will fill their vehicles as normal, but the change is expected to save 2.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2010. Alongside this, a review into the indirect impacts of biofuels has already been announced by Ruth Kelly to ensure that the full economic and environmental impacts of biofuel production are taken into account in the formation of UK policy beyond 2010.
WAG: Wales provides flexible business support - The Welsh Assembly Government is launching a new, streamlined system of business support that will make WAG backing for new or growing enterprises faster, simpler and more responsive to their specific, individual needs. This new, integrated model will replace all existing products, services and communications channels.
Flexible Support for Business will be by a new Single Investment Fund and dedicated relationship managers will work with companies to provide a tailored package of assistance to help unlock the growth potential of those businesses.
Changes to the national customer entry point have gone live with the introduction of a new number ‘03000 6 03000’ for existing companies and those people wishing to start up in business. The new website, www.business-support-wales.gov.uk, will become the government portal for businesses in, or looking to invest in, Wales, and will begin to replace existing Welsh Assembly Government websites that currently provide information related to supporting business, including the Business Eye site.
ScotGov: Waste Food need not just be thrown away - Up to £6m will be available over three years to fund innovative projects to treat organic waste. Funded through the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the Organics Capital Grant Scheme (applications close 30 June 2008) will support businesses in the private, public and voluntary sectors seeking to treat organic waste, with a particular emphasis on food waste.
WRAP will provide up to 30% of the capital cost of in-vessel composters (IVCs), anaerobic digesters (ADs) and thermophilic aerobic digesters (TADs). These plants are capable of treating organic waste (garden waste and food waste). By 2011, WRAP aim to have established an additional 125,000 tonnes of capacity in Scotland to treat organic waste.
The announcement comes in the same week that the Scottish public were again urged to 'love food' and 'hate waste'. This campaign is a key part of the work ongoing to reduce food waste and achieve the targets set out in the Household Waste Prevention Action Plan (Scotland) to reduce the amount of food waste from Scottish households by 10,000 tonnes by 2008 and 15,000 tonnes by 2010.
Applications for the first round of funding from the £200,000 2008 pot have already closed, so community groups have just one month left to apply for the second & final round of grants, which are being managed by the London Cycle Campaign.
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RNI: The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry began its full Hearings on Tuesday 15 April 2008. The Inquiry has gathered tens of thousands of documents relating to its investigation from a wide variety of sources. More than 350 people have been invited to provide witness statements and live witness evidence is not expected to begin before the week of 28 April 2008.
The Full Participants in the Inquiry are Rosemary Nelson's family and other organisations; the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the police officers who conducted the original murder investigation, the Northern Ireland Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Security Service.
A team of former police officers, headed by Robert Ayling (formerly Acting Chief Constable of Kent) was asked to prepare a report on whether the investigation of Rosemary Nelson's murder was conducted with due diligence. The team examined thousands of documents generated during the original murder investigation and Mr Ayling's finished report has been submitted to the Inquiry.
UK OC: A new partnership between the NHS Choices and UK online centres seeks to increase awareness of the range of information available, and support people without IT access or surfing skills to get to grips with both computers and the NHS Choices site.
More than 300 UK online centres will form a network of NHS Choices Community Champions, led by a flagship centre in each region. Over the next 12 months, they aim to reach more than 150,000 people, and drive both understanding & use of the NHS Choices website.
WAG: First Minister Rhodri Morgan recently toured Amazon’s enormous new logistics centre in Swansea Bay, which will create 1,000 new jobs this year with a further 1,700 full and part-time over the next five years. The facility is roughly the size of 10 football pitches and is the largest of their four UK centres – the others being in Glenmrothes and Gourock in Scotland and Milton Keynes in England.
ACE: It’s going to be a fantastic summer for carnival lovers and hip hop fans thanks to two new grants from Arts Council England, South East, announced last week.
Rising Styles - previously known as Brighton Hip Hop Festival - are set to receive a £25,000 windfall and Brighton Carnival is celebrating the news of a £40,700 cash boost. Both awards mean the Brighton-based arts organisations will be bringing the city streets to life with a buzz of sound, colour and energy this July.
STFC: Scientists and engineers from around the world met in Australia recently to ‘kick off’ the preparatory phase for the biggest project ever undertaken in radio astronomy. The international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be 50 times more sensitive than any existing facility and will probe some of the biggest questions in the Universe, including searching for earth-like planets and potential life, looking at the first objects in the Universe, testing theories of gravity and examining the mystery of dark energy.
The SKA has been identified by the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) in its 2006 Roadmap for research infrastructures of pan-European relevance. The corresponding Preparatory Phase project, called PrepSKA, will now pave the way for the SKA, with a three year programme to draw together international efforts from around the world to finalise a detailed, costed technical design and to develop the governance and legal framework for the project.
The UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is the co-ordinator for PrepSKA and has appointed Professor Phil Diamond of the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics to lead this activity, which starts in April 2008 and runs until 2011.
FA: Fellow’s Associates (FA) claims that citizens across Shropshire will see significant improvements in housing benefit and council tax services, designed to radically improve benefits take-up for the area’s most vulnerable communities and reach out to those who may be missing out on their entitlement.
Under a 7-year agreement with Northgate Information Solutions, Shropshire citizens will benefit from:
* the use of self-service systems, enabling people to make full applications online and send in the evidence that is required to assess claims
* a faster benefits assessment process, through enabling staff to conduct assessments in people’s homes
* faster & more efficient responses to enquiries, with staff able to view customer status and transaction history in detail
* the use of mobile & SMS services to better reach out to the community and target those most in need
Policy Statements and Initiatives
WAG: The Welsh Assembly Government has begun the process of recruiting business professionals to help deliver a key ‘One Wales’ commitment. The ‘One Wales’ programme commits the Assembly Government to the creation of a Strategic Capital Investment Board (SCIB), which will initially control a dedicated £400m fund that will be allocated to capital investment projects over the next three years.
The Assembly Government is looking for up to seven business professionals with a strong appreciation of the economic scene in Wales and private capital & corporate finance expertise. The closing date for those wishing to apply is the 8 May 2008. It is expected interviews will be held during June 2008.
ScotGov: Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced funding of £6m to tackle childhood obesity at a recent international summit on health inequalities hosted in Edinburgh. The funding will help at least 20,000 overweight & obese children and forms a key part of the Scottish Government's agenda for tackling health inequalities.
Health boards will be tasked with setting up family-focused healthy weight treatment programmes for children aged between 5 and 15. Designed to engage children in practical and educational sessions, the programmes will promote healthy eating & physical activity and address the psychological, social and behavioural causes of weight gain.
ScotGov: Plans identifying cash savings of £600m over the next financial year have been published by the Scottish government. The Efficiency Delivery Plans also contain details of how the government will move towards 2% savings in both 2009/10 and 2010/11.
Examples where savings will be made include:
* Drug Purchasing
* Countering NHS Fraud
* Through analysing Forestry Commission Scotland’s assets against meeting SG objectives
WAG: Minister for Social Justice and Local Government, Dr Brian Gibbons, has visited Treorchy Comprehensive School to see a new anti-grass arson education initiative in action. Police and Fire officers are working together to deliver talks to Key Stage 3 pupils in comprehensive schools all over Wales, targeting areas that have traditionally been affected by a high number of mountain and grass fires.
During these talks, pupils watch a specially commissioned DVD which shows the dangers & implications of deliberate fires. The officers will then leave an education pack with teachers to help them facilitate follow-up workshops.
DIUS: A consultation to build stronger & more flexible links between business and universities has been launched by Minister of State for Higher Education, Bill Rammell. The High Level Skills consultation (closes 7 July 2008) will seek views from employers, students, colleges and universities on how to raise the skills of those already in work and also ensure graduates are equipped with the knowledge & abilities that businesses need to compete globally.
Last year the Government announced new moves to foster closer ties between universities and industry, with an aim of 20,000 full-time equivalent additional students being co-funded by employers and the Higher Education Funding Council for England by 2010/11.
Guidance Notes and Best Practice Guides
Acas: If you are a manager overseeing a team, or a colleague concerned for your co-workers, how can you approach the difficult issue of mental health? Acas, the employment relations service, outlines their advice on how to spot and deal with mental health problems at work.
The advice coincides with Depression Awareness Week (21 - 26 April 2008) which is focusing on employment this year.
Newswire – GSR: A new on-line ‘Rapid Evidence Assessment Toolkit’, published by the Government Social Research Unit, will help government social researchers provide timely responses to policy questions. An increasingly useful methodology, Rapid Evidence Assessments (REAs) can provide quick summaries of what is already known about a policy or practice.
Although it uses systematic review methods to search & appraise literature and other sources of information, REAs differ from systematic reviews in that the extent of the search is guided by time & resource constraints.
Developed & written by GSR members and the Institute of Education’s EEPI-Centre (Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre), the Toolkit covers themes including:
* when to use REAs
* carrying out & commissioning REAs, and
* communicating findings
ScotGov: Increased awareness of childhood sexual abuse, and better support for adult survivors, should now be available, thanks to a new booklet. Yes You Can! Working with Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse is designed to help health professionals and those working in the care and voluntary sectors to feel more confident in applying best practice to support survivors of abuse.
As well as forming part of the Scottish Government's overall approach to supporting mental wellbeing, the booklet also ties in with SurvivorScotland, the National Strategy for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse.
ScotGov: NHS compliance with hand hygiene rules has risen by 19% in a year to 87% according to a new report. Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, said that despite the 'excellent progress', staff need to maintain their efforts to reach the target of at least 90% compliance by November 2008.
The figure was revealed in the second audit report prepared by Health Protection Scotland (HPS) and it follows work carried out by specially-trained Hand Hygiene Local Health Board Coordinators (LHBCs), who monitored hand washing routines by staff in hospitals across Scotland.
General Reports and Other Publications
OFT: The OFT has published a report to measure the overall value of ‘consumer detriment’ in the UK economy, which estimates that the cost to UK consumers over the last 12 months was around £6.6bn. 'Consumer detriment' refers to any instance where a customer suffers as a result of their dealings with an organisation, partly or wholly as a result of the organisation accidentally or deliberately treating the customer unfairly.
For every 1,000 consumers interviewed, 542 problems were identified and, across the whole of the UK population, this equates to an estimated 26.5m problems over the last year. The report found that on average, the highest level of financial detriment occurred in the insurance sector, followed home maintenance and improvements, and personal banking.
DH: The Department of Health's Chief Scientist and Director General for Health Improvement and Protection, Professor David Harper, has published his progress review on the implementation of the 2003 Genetics White Paper.
Key achievements of investment in this area have been the establishment of the:
* UK Genetic Testing Network (UK GTN) in 2003 to support equitable access to genetic testing services to patients based on clinical need, not where they live, and
* National Genetics Education Centre to work with regulatory and professional bodies to ensure all healthcare professionals in the NHS have an understanding of the role of genetics in the care they provide
ScotGov: A joint thematic inspection report on wildlife crime has been published by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland (HMICS) and the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland, which highlights the need for:
* a clear wildlife crime reduction strategy from the Scottish Government and
* an inclusive national partnership structure to take this forward
The report followed a debate at the Scottish Parliament on 4 October 2007 relating to increasing concerns about wildlife crime. The remit of the inspection was to consider & make recommendations on the arrangements for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime.
Legislation / Legal
ScotGov: Plans to extend a pilot scheme which helps tackle the underlying causes of offending have been announced. As well as providing continued funding for the existing Structured Deferred Sentence pilot areas, this approach is to be extended to cover courts across two Community Justice Authorities areas - Glasgow & Tayside.
The SDS is a low-tariff intervention providing structured social work intervention for offenders post-conviction, but prior to final sentencing. It is primarily aimed at offenders with underlying problems such as drug or alcohol dependency, mental health or learning difficulties or unemployment. It is not used for violent, serious or sex offenders.
Ofwat: The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) has fined Thames Water 0.7% of turnover (£9.7m) for misreporting information and delivering poor service to customers. It is now publishing final notices penalising the company, after proposing to fine the company last September.
Deficient systems and low business priority on reporting non-financial data led to the company misreporting customer service information, which has damaged the regulatory process. Thames Water's shareholders will bear the entire cost of this penalty. It will not be passed on to its customers.
The Consumer Council for Water has responded to the announcement by saying that it ‘is surprised that Ofwat has decided to reduce the fine, and disappointed that the money will go to the Treasury, rather than to benefit consumers’.
Dame Yve Buckland, National Chair of CCWater, said: "Penalties can and should directly benefit consumers, and make it very clear to companies that breaking the rules will not be tolerated. Where penalties occur, consumers should benefit first. They should not be just another source of income for the Treasury”.
WAG: Deputy First Minister and Minister for Economy & Transport, Ieuan Wyn Jones has used the National Assembly for Wales’ historic new lawmaking powers to put forward plans to improve school transport in Wales, by laying before the Assembly the draft of the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008. The Measure will allow Local authorities to change school start and finish times in order to make transport arrangements more effective, efficient or environmentally sustainable.
The aim is to have the main provisions in place for the start of the academic year in 2009 and he has made clear his intention to seek fresh legislative power for the National Assembly to take further action on bus regulation and safety issues.
Mr Jones will also issue new guidance to local authorities on Home to School Transport which sets out best practice for the provision of high quality, safe and effective home to school transport for pupils.
Charity and Voluntary Sector
BIG: The pressure is on for communities who want a £50,000 slice of the Big Lottery Fund’s People’s Millions. Groups across the UK have just one month left to put in their bid to enter this year’s TV contest which has £5m in Lottery good cause cash to award across the UK.
The BIG Lottery Fund are joining forces with ITV to encourage local organisations to enter the People’s Millions contest before the noon deadline of 15 May 2008. The People’s Millions gives local groups the chance to appear on TV and to win a grant of up to £50,000 to improve and enrich their local community.
The Big Lottery Fund has 90 awards of up to £50,000 up for grabs – five awards in each of the 18 ITV regions across the UK. Projects will go head to head on TV with the chance of winning the public’s support and sharing in up to £5 million of Lottery good cause money.
VSO: International development charity VSO has become the 22nd member of NetHope, an information technology consortium of leading non-governmental organizations specializing in humanitarian relief, emergency response and conservation.
NetHope enables members to extend their communications infrastructure and internet-based applications in developing countries around the world. Members share knowledge and collaborate on ICT solutions, leveraging their power for capacity building and creating best practices in the field.
ScotGov: Services for people in Aberdeen with learning disabilities will be provided through an enterprising third sector approach, it has been announced. The move follows talks between the Scottish Government, the City Council, the Wood Family Trust and social enterprise Inspire, aimed at continuing the work of Aye Can, an Aberdeen City Council social work project.
Aye Can was scheduled for closure on July 31 but Inspire aim to enhance it into a much more ambitious aluminium & steel recycling business which will make a real contribution to the environment, save upfront 29 jobs for people with learning disabilities, and provide potential for additional jobs. Under a new partnership, Aye Can will re-open on August 1 operated by Inspire, with funding support from the Scottish Government, the Wood Family Trust and Aberdeen City Council.
Business and Other Briefings
DWP: The Government plans to increase powers requiring employers to provide contributions to a pension scheme if their actions could threaten the security of members' pensions. The changes would give the Pensions Regulator stronger powers to reduce the risk to members' interests by scheme changes or corporate transactions.
They would apply to an employer or their associates, including investors in the employer who might seek to profit from the scheme. The powers would only be targeted at risky situations to avoid putting onerous burdens on employers. The vast majority of pension schemes would not be affected. A consultation document will be published shortly and any subsequent legislation will be introduced at the earliest opportunity.
HMRC: New rates of interest have been announced, covering quarterly instalment payments and early payments of corporation tax not due by instalments, in respect of accounting periods ending on or after 1 July 1999. These new rates of interest, which take effect from 21 April 2008,are a result of the recent movement in market rates.
The rate of interest charged on underpaid instalment payments of corporation tax changes from 6.25% to 6%.
The rate of interest on overpaid instalment payments of corporation tax, and on corporation tax paid early (but not due by instalments) changes from 5% to 4.75%.
HMRC: Employers can see for themselves just how easy it is to file their end-of-year return online, in a new video podcast from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The short film, which can be downloaded onto an iPod or viewed online, shows the main features of HMRC's PAYE Online system. Viewers are taken through the registration process, and given a taste of what it's like to file online.
The deadline for filing employer end-of-year returns is 19 May 2008. Employers with 50 or more employers must file online, while those with fewer than 50 employees have the option to file on paper or online.
WAG: The Welsh Assembly Government is launching a new, streamlined system of business support that will make Government backing for new or growing enterprises faster, simpler and more responsive to their specific, individual needs. This new, integrated model - Flexible Support for Business - will replace all existing products, services and communications channels – See ‘In the News’ section for more information.
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