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In the News

DHEveryone is entitled to a full life - 'Valuing People Now - A Three Year Strategy for People with Learning Disabilities' presents a new government vision for improving services for people with learning disabilities across health, housing, employment and community care services.  It follows a comprehensive consultation involving more than 10,000 people.

Progress will be reviewed annually.  A new National Learning Disability Programme Board and Regional Boards will help ensure the strategy works, share good practice and provide a forum for stakeholder groups to discuss progress & concerns.

Valuing People Now also contains the Government's response to the Independent Inquiry chaired by Sir Jonathan Michael.  This was set up by former Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt in response to the Mencap report 'Death by Indifference' in 2007.
CIOBJust another rushed Government Gimick? - The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has highlighted a distinct lack of construction industry representation on the new Panel on Fair Access to Professions, announced as part of the Government’s New Opportunities White Paper.  The role of the Panel is also to ensure that everyone has a chance of a career with the main professions, regardless of background.

Currently the Panel is made up of 18 members, from which it considers to be the ‘main professions’.  However, other than architecture (represented by the RIBA), there is no mention of any construction or engineering disciplines, an industry that accounts for approximately 9% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The CIOB is also critical of the apparent lack of acknowledgement for the role of professional bodies in delivering professional people and providing opportunities for life-long professional development.
HMRCA bit of help with the cost of parenthood - Mums-to-be, with babies due on or after 6 April 2009, are being urged to apply now for the new £190 Health in Pregnancy Grant.  The one-off payment is intended to help pregnant mums stay fit & healthy in the run up to the birth, and help meet some of the costs as the big day approaches.

The money can be claimed from the 25th week of pregnancy, after receiving health advice from a midwife or other health professional.  You'll be given a claim form to sign & send off, which you must do within 31 days.

When your claim is approved, the money is paid directly into your bank or building society account.  Women who apply in the first 3 months of the year will get the cash in April. Payment of the grant does not depend on the amount of household income and will not affect payments of other benefits & tax credits and is payable for each pregnancy, not each baby.
STFCLook underground for what goes on up above - Cosmic-rays detected half a mile underground in a disused U.S. iron-mine can be used to detect major weather events occurring 20 miles up in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, a new study has revealed. 

Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and led by scientists from the UK’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), this study shows how the number of high-energy cosmic-rays reaching a detector deep underground, closely matches temperature measurements in the upper atmosphere (known as the stratosphere).

For the first time, scientists have shown how this relationship can be used to identify weather events that occur very suddenly in the stratosphere during the Northern Hemisphere winter.  These events can have a significant effect on the severity of winters we experience and also on the amount of ozone over the poles - being able to identify them and understand their frequency is crucial for informing our current climate and weather-forecasting models to improve predictions.
NSGA democratic service with a worlwide reputation - Governors & senior officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq (KRG) last week joined National School of Government (NSG) representatives and Whitehall officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to mark a new phase in a skills development project for the region.

The project – funded by the KRG and delivered by the NSG – will be designed to raise the skills of Kurdish officials working in ministries and at local level in governorates, with the aim of eventually establishing a civil service college in the Kurdistan Region that could be used to train civil servants from all parts of Iraq. 

The NSG’s International Consultancy has worked with more than 80 countries from around the world to build public service organisations and provide their staff with the skills needed to make organisational improvements.
MoD:   Give them the respect & acknowledgement they deserve - Plans for the first ever national Armed Forces Day to honour our Service personnel - past, present and future – have been launched in Chatham by Veterans Minister, Kevan Jones.  The Historic Dockyard Chatham has been selected to host the first national Armed Forces Day event on 27 June 2009, which will be complemented by hundreds of events in towns and cities across the UK.

From this year on, Armed Forces Day will be held annually on 27 June, providing the nation with a dedicated day where people can come together to show their appreciation and support of the Armed Forces.
FSA: Restoring the reputation of the City - Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), recently addressed the root causes of the current global financial crisis and set out the implications for regulation and the future shape of the financial system in a lecture in the City.  He also outlined the issues that he would deal with in his review of the regulation & supervision of the banking system, to be published in March.
Press release ~ Lord Turner’s lecture

Industry NewsSpeedy Visual Communication is the key  – Probably the main cause of delay & frustration is poor communication between those who have the information and those who need to receive it in order to take appropriate action, or alternatively, understand why they have to wait before a service is provided or information is offered.

The old saying ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ has been updated by developments in audio visual technology supplied by organisations such as Asysco, whose Government and Public Sector Division supply & integrate professional AV equipment to provide digital signage & video conferencing solutions.

Typical deployments of such systems include:
* Police - Improving internal communication with immediate & constant intelligence display, security alert status, witness appeals
* Education - Engaging with students, staff, parents & visitors more effectively
* Libraries / Museums - England's libraries alone hold over 7 million audio-visual items
Local Government - Provision of citizen centric services & reinforcing community cohesion with the ability to both rapidly change the information provided and the language it is provided in
Healthcare/Hospitals - Enhanced visitor experience with directions, information services and reduced frustration in waiting areas (updated queue times).  Reinforced messages - such as 'wash your hands', switch off mobile phones' etc.
Public Safety – Multi - organisation command centres for terror / disaster / crowd / crime management & control
* Transport – Next bus in ‘x’ minutes, flight arrival delayed and other travel information
For other Industry News please click HERE

For information on forthcoming public sector events please click
HERE to visit the WGPlus Events Calendar

General News

IPO: The Intellectual Property Office has launched two new patents databases on its web site, which will help businesses identify opportunities they might otherwise not have found:
* One contains all patents in force in the UK which are endorsed Licence of Right, and are therefore open for licensing
* The other contains all UK patents which are no longer in force and therefore contains inventions which are no longer protected here
The databases are based on the design of the successful E-Patents Journal available on the Intellectual Property website and will be updated weekly.  Each provides a searchable sub-set of data from the Patents Register, and provides links back to the Register and to esp@cenet (which is the web database service for viewing patent specifications).
UK OC: Around 12,000 people made the second national ‘Get online day’ their excuse to get onto the internet and try something new online. The day, which is run by UK online centres, took place at the end of October as part of Family Learning Festival and targeted the one in three adults in the country who still don’t use computers and the internet.

There were more than 500 events running at UK online centres up & down England, offering techno-phobe parents, grandparents and carers – and even aunts and uncles – the chance to find out how getting online could help them and the rest of the family in everyday life.  Whether it was a very first taste of the internet, a first email or a first online shopping trip, families of all shapes & sizes took up the Get online day challenge.
NA: The service registers of some 110,000 seamen who joined the Royal Marines between 1842 and 1936 are now available to search & download. You can search under surname, forename, register number & date of enlistment and may uncover the names of ships & shore stations served on, details of conduct, medal entitlement and much more.
NA: Records from the 1911 census are now available online after an ambitious project undertaken by owned by brightsolid, in association with The National Archives. 36m people were recorded in the census taken on the night of Sunday 2 April, 1911.
It was the most detailed census since UK records began and the first for which the original census schedules have been preserved, complete with our ancestors' own handwriting.  It was also the first time in a British census that full details of British Army personnel & their families in military establishments overseas were included.
Over 27m people's census entries – 80% of the English records - are now online.  A further 9m records of people from the remaining counties of England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, as well as the naval and overseas military records, will be made available over the coming months
FDA: Terry Cook, President of ARC - the union which represents senior staff in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) - has responded to Digby Jones' attack on civil service numbers by calling on the government to invest in more, not fewer, tax professionals in the public service.
"Digby Jones thinks that the Civil Service could manage with half as many people," said Cook, "But even now ARC members in HMRC are struggling to contain the tide of tax avoidance and evasion………. Senior staff in local offices typically bring in additional yield of at least 20 times the costs of employing them……. HMRC's autumn 2008 report shows that for staff dealing with large business, the equivalent figure is 60 times.
LLUK: The search is on to find England's top apprenticeship employers and top individual apprentices as the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) launches its prestigious sixth annual National Apprenticeship Awards.
Sponsored by City & Guilds, the Apprenticeship Awards are designed to recognise employers who are successfully using apprenticeships to improve their businesses' performance and champion the key role apprentices play in today's business world.  The deadline for entries is Friday 27 February 2009.
MoDRoyal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Argus is to be upgraded with state of the art medical equipment in an extensive refit worth over £23m that will see the ship renovated for her crucial role in providing hospital facilities to troops in war zones.  Work began at A&P Group's Falmouth facility this week on the first major refit under a contract awarded by the MOD to A&P Group last year to support five RFA vessels.
New medical equipment to be installed includes the latest advances in CT scanning equipment, used to assess casualties by 3D X-ray imagery, as well as new sterilising kit.  As a Primary Casualty Receiving Facility, Argus can accommodate 100 casualties at any time ensuring wounded service personnel of all nationalities can receive swift primary care.
A flight deck more than two thirds of her length can accommodate any of the Royal Navy's helicopters.  Her flexible design means she is also able to fulfil additional roles such as a logistic ship, as she can be very quickly adapted to transport large amounts of equipment.
OfgemOfgem’s (Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets) panel of domestic energy consumers have told the regulator they think energy suppliers should focus as strongly on keeping their existing customers as they do on attracting new ones.  They also suggested that suppliers could reward loyal customers with bonuses or help with energy saving measures.
CIOB: The closing date for this year's Chartered Institute of Building’s (CIOB) International Innovation and Research Awards is Friday 20 February 2009.
The awards play an important role by bringing together practitioners, education & training providers and policy makers.  This interaction helps to develop, promote and implement new ideas & methods, which enables entrants to be on the forefront of excellence and innovative working.
DECC: The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has confirmed that it expects Sellafield, together with Wylfa, Oldbury and Bradwell to be nominated as potential sites for new nuclear power stations.  Each station could bring 9,000 jobs during construction, 1,000 skilled workers when operational and be worth £2bn to each region.
The announcement comes as the Government prepares to launch the next step towards new nuclear, when on Tuesday it calls for potential sites to be nominated, and publishes the criteria it will use to assess the suitability of sites.  This follows the recent £12.5bn investment by EdF in British Energy.
Press release ~ Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) ~ DECC ~ EdF ~ British Energy ~ Nuclear Development Forum ~ Office for Nuclear Development ~ Government response to the consultation on Funded Decommissioning Programme guidance ~ Consultation on the Strategic Siting Process and related documents ~ Infrastructure Planning Commission ~ Nuclear White Paper Meeting the Energy Challenge: A White Paper on Nuclear Power ~ Generic Design Assessment (GDA) ~ HSE: UK Nuclear Regulators New Reactor Assessment ~ Health and safety in the nuclear industry ~ Nuclear Directorate of the Health and Safety Executive ~ Office of Civil Nuclear Security ~ Dedicated public information website on nuclear waste ~ United Kingdom Radioactive Waste Inventory (UKRWI) ~ Nuclear Power - BERR ~ Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM)
ScotGov: One of the world's largest wave stations will be constructed off the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles, creating up to 70 jobs and advancing Scotland's claimed lead in renewable energy. Ministers have granted consent for npower renewables application to operate a wave farm with a 4MW capacity at Siadar, Isle of Lewis, Western Isles.
 It is one of the first marine renewable energy projects to be approved in the UK and follows the recent launch of the £10m Saltire Prize. The Scottish Government granted consent in September 2007 for a 3 MW array comprising 4 Pelamis machines at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.  
STFC: The C1XS X-ray camera, jointly developed by the UK’s STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has successfully detected its first X-ray signature from the Moon.  This is the first step in its mission to reveal the origin & evolution of our Moon by mapping its surface composition.
In orbit around the Moon on the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, C1XS detected the X-ray signal from a region near the Apollo landing sites on December 12th 2008.  The solar flare that caused the X-ray fluorescence was exceedingly weak, approximately 20 times smaller than the minimum C1XS was designed to detect.
Socitm: The Society of IT Management has published its latest IT Trends in Local Government 2008/9: Uncharted waters’, which is based on responses to a comprehensive questionnaire sent to heads of ICT in the 600 local public service providers in the UK.   The report, published on CD-ROM with or without the data upon which it is based, analyses technology, budgets, manpower, product ratings and market share, together with views & opinions about the future.
Findings included:
* Local authorities will spend more than £3.2bn on IT in 2008/9
* Access to information, security & privacy has leapt up the management agenda since 2007
* ICT is too often regarded as a utility rather than a means to transform public services
* A range of initiatives are being pursued to deliver efficiencies both at the tactical & strategic level
* New technologies could offer opportunities to deliver more radical changes in public service provision
* Staff turnover & recruitment difficulty has increased again since 2007

Policy Statements and Initiatives

DCMS: Coastal towns across 4 different English regions are to benefit from £12m from the Government's Sea Change programme.  Southport, Great Yarmouth, Bridlington and Hastings are the latest towns to receive grants from the scheme which aims to boost regeneration in coastal areas through investment in culture and heritage.
The programme, led by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), will give a total of £45m over three years to coastal resorts.  Blackpool, Torbay and Dover were the first towns to receive large grants last year.
WAG: A new Welsh Assembly Government funded programme (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition... Do It! or MEND for short), designed to help overweight & obese children manage their weight and become fitter, healthier & happier, is being rolled out across Wales.  The £1.4m scheme will target around 2,000 children aged between 7-13 years old and their families over the next 3 years.
By international standards Welsh children are comparatively more overweight or obese than in other nations.  Around one in five 13 year olds are overweight or obese and many obese children grow up to be obese adults.

Families will take part in a free 10 week course with others in a similar position, combining practical learning about healthy eating – including shopping on a budget – and stimulating active enjoyment of physical activity. 
Rather than focusing on weight loss, the programme uses an interactive learning approach to teach parents, carers and children weight management skills.  
DH: A signing ceremony, to mark the launch of the NHS Constitution for England, took place at Downing Street last week. The Constitution is intended to give power to patients & the public by bringing their existing rights together in one place so they know what they are legally entitled to - and how they can exercise their rights, as well as understanding their responsibilities.
It also contains a range of pledges to patients, public and staff, which the NHS is committed to achieving.  For NHS staff, the Constitution will mean an NHS-wide commitment to equipping them with the tools, training and support they need to deliver high quality care for patients.
Defra: Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, has announced that £2.3m will be provided to support the work of the National Bee Unit (over the next 2 years) in its efforts to help England's beekeepers deal with the problems facing their bee colonies. This will include identifying all those who keep bees and providing expert advice to them on tackling pests & diseases and applying good husbandry.
In addition, Defra will put an extra £400,000 towards bee health research every year for the next 5 years.  This extra funding - a total of £2m - forms part of a comprehensive bee health strategy, which is under development.
Over the last 2 years Britain's bee colonies have suffered significant losses due to a combination of potential issues including the weather, the varroa mite, and other factors requiring further investigation by researchers. Defra will publish its Bee Health strategy and further details of how this funding will be allocated in the coming weeks, after the National Audit Office publish its report on Animal Health.
ScotGov: A new blueprint for the future of specialist NHS services for some of Scotland's most seriously ill children and young people has been launched as part of the 3-year National Delivery Plan for Children and Young People's Specialist Services, which is backed by £32m of additional investment.
Following the biggest-ever review of these services in Scotland, the Plan details a number of recommendations to improve care for children and young people with conditions such as Cancer, Cystic Fibrosis or gastric disorders like Crohn's Disease.


WAG: Proposals to link bovine TB compensation payments to good farming practices and disease control measures have been published as part of the Welsh Assembly Government’s comprehensive programme of activity to eradicate bovine TB in Wales.
A key aim of the £27m WAG programme of bovine TB eradication is to amend the current system to ensure a fair deal for herd owners and taxpayers by linking compensation arrangements with the encouragement of farmers to comply with best practice requirements.
A consultation paper (closes on 10 April 2009) considers the responsibilities of herd owners and the principles of compensation and, in particular, how these principles can both encourage positive on-farm actions and help to modify behaviour to prevent the reintroduction of the disease into herds in Wales.
DfT: New powers to tackle uninsured drivers who cost law-abiding motorists £400m each year have been set out for consultation (closes 16 April 2009) by Road Safety Minister Jim Fitzpatrick (around 6.5% - around 2m - of GB motorists drive uninsured). 
The new measures will make it an offence to keep an uninsured vehicle - rather than just to drive when uninsured – hopefully making it easier to catch uninsured drivers and keep them off the roads. Uninsured driving adds around £30 a year to every motorist's insurance premium - amounting to more than £400m a year in additional premiums.  
It is also estimated that uninsured & untraced drivers kill 160 people and injure 23,000 every year. Last year a new offence of causing death by driving while unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured was introduced.
DH: The assessment process for people who need health & social care services should be quicker, simpler and more convenient - that's the message from Care Services Minister Phil Hope as he launched a consultation (closes on 17 April 2009) on streamlining the process.
The consultation aims to create a more efficient & transparent system of information sharing, to avoid patients having to answer the same questions several times and ensure that people receive the best quality care and support. It includes how best to safely & securely share personal information across health and social care services, as well as wider community services such as housing.
The consultation will run alongside a number of demonstrator sites - local authority led partnerships who will work to test & evaluate the practical changes that will need to be made and will take into account people's feedback from the consultation.  A first wave of demonstrator sites is expected to start shortly, and a call for interest in a second wave is expected in the summer.
PCSPCS and other unions have been invited to comment on the revised draft code of practice on time off for trade union duties & activities published by ACAS in December 2008, including the proposed accompanying guide.  The consultation paper combines three documents, namely an introductory note on the need to revise the code of practice, the revised code and the draft guide.
PCS intends to make a submission on both the revised draft code & the new guidance and branches & groups are encouraged to feed in comments to PCS by Friday 20 February 2009. The deadline for comments sent direct to Acas is 16 March 2009.

Guidance Notes and Best Practice Guides

DH: New guidance to help NHS & local authority commissioners ensure that people with long term conditions are more involved in decisions about their illness & treatment has been issued by the Department of Health.
The document, Supporting People with Long Term Conditions: Commissioning Personalised Care Planning, is intended to help the Government achieve its goal that, by 2010, every one of the 15m people with a long term condition will be offered a personalised care plan.
The guidance document advises that, following a care planning discussion between NHS or social care staff and a patient with a long term condition, a care plan is written to bring together all patient information.  The care plan would be accessible to both the patient and NHS, or social care staff and would record that the discussion include any goal setting & shared decision making.
DH: Health Minister Lord Darzi and NHS Chief Executive David Nicholson have unveiled plans for a new National Leadership Council (NLC) that will ‘help nurture the next generation of NHS leaders’.  The NLC will be responsible for building a strong culture of leadership across the health service.
The Department of Health has also published new guidance for talent & leadership planning that will help Strategic Health Authorities design their own leadership development plans.  It sets out how best to assess current leadership capacity & demand, as well as setting out collaborative methods to meet gaps between demand & supply.
By July 2009, SHAs will be expected to have assessed the state of talent & leadership across their area and set out measures for fostering talent at a regional level. The website for the NHS Leadership Awards Scheme goes live on 1 March 2009, when the nominations open.  However, from 2 February the website will be online with information about the nominations process.
PCSPCS and other unions have been invited to comment on the revised draft code of practice on time off for trade union duties & activities published by ACAS in December 2008 – See ‘Consultations’ above for more information.

Annual Reports

CRC: The Commission for Rural Communities will in future be producing State of the Countryside reports on a biennial reporting cycle, with the next one being published in the summer of 2010
In July 2009 they will be running a State of the Countryside conference for all those interested in rural research & analysis and for non-rural researchers interested in services, sustainability, economic and governance issues.  It will present current rural research & analytical work, with discussion & debate to help them develop the focus for their 2010 report.
MCA: The Receiver Of Wreck has published her Annual Report which reveals that in excess of 1,500 items were reported during 2008, ranging from water melons to gold nuggets, as well as tonnes of timber.  A total of 299 reports of wreck (droit) were received in 2008, which is a very small increase on the previous year's figures.
The responsibilities of the Receiver of Wreck include dealing with incoming reports of recovered wreck material, researching legal ownership of wreck, ensuring that legal owners are given the opportunity of having their property returned, facilitating agreement to and payment of fair salvage awards, and administering the Crown's (or grantee's) right to unclaimed wreck.

General Reports and Other Publications

DIUS: A new report, predicting big employment opportunities in sectors like business, education, distribution and transport over the current decade to 2017 has been welcomed by the Government. The report, 'Working Futures', was published by the independent employer body, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).
It predicts employment trends over the next 10 years and shows that despite the current economic downturn job prospects remain good. The report says that there will be some sectors of the economy where growth will be particularly strong including computing & the service sector and paints an optimistic picture for the labour market over the long term to 2017.
WAG: Improvements to the way water & sewerage is delivered to people to ensure it is fair & affordable for all was discussed by the Environment, Sustainability and Housing Minister, Jane Davidson, with water companies, the water watchdog and the Environment Agency recently.
The workshop in Merthyr was part of the Water Charging Review which the Welsh Assembly Government is carrying out jointly with Defra.
DfT: The Driving Standards Agency is proud to announce record sales of the 2007 edition of The Official Highway Code.  1m copies sold in 15 months compared to the previous 2004 edition which sold 1m copies in 20 months.  The Bookseller Magazine has also recorded this latest edition as the No1 best selling non-fiction paperback for 2008!
January 2009 sees the launch of a national media campaign promoting The Highway Code to all road users, including learner drivers and experienced motorists.  The Highway Code is for life, not just for learners.  All road users - whether car drivers, motorcyclists, fleet drivers, transport managers, cyclists or pedestrians - need to ensure they are up-to-date to help reduce road casualties in 2009.  Get your copy of the Code today for only £2.50!
NAO: The National Audit Office has published a Value for Money report on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regarding; Managing the waste PFI programme. Defra has a national strategy for waste disposal, which includes plans for meeting the EU Landfill Directive targets in England.
Local authorities have statutory responsibility for municipal waste disposal.  The Department decided that, to meet the targets, local authorities needed to invest in new waste infrastructure.  So far, 18 local authorities have signed PFI contracts with a combined capital value of £1.6bn.
HEFCE: The Higher Education Funding Council for England has welcomed the report published by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee examining the impact of Lord Leitch's 2006 review of skills.
Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:  “We support the view of the committee that the response from universities and colleges should be tailored and sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of businesses and employees in a time of economic upheaval. Understandably the committee is concerned about the sustainability of co-funded higher education courses………. We also welcome the re-statement of the importance of STEM subjects and look forward to reporting further progress this year following the publication of our 2008 report last October”.
CRC: The Commission for Rural Communities have circulated a briefing to Peers, ahead of the Grand Committee stages of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill. It highlights the complexities of rural economic & administrative geographies and suggests ways in which the Bill can be ‘rural proofed’.
In particular they are saying; ‘The proposed new economic assessment duty on local authorities is welcome.  But parish and town councils deserve (on behalf of their local communities, businesses and partnerships) to be statutory consultees alongside others.  The Bill should be amended accordingly (Clause 64)’.
ScotGov: The contribution & commitment of NHSScotland staff, supported by investment in their future & wellbeing, is essential to the delivery of better healthcare for Scotland Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Five ambitions for Scotland's health service, to help it address the key workforce challenges for 21st century, have been published by the Scottish Government and NHSScotland.
ScotGov: Early intervention is key to stopping disadvantaged children developing bad diets which can affect their entire life, Children's Minister Adam Ingram has said. The Minister spoke as Growing Up In Scotland (GUS) reports show four-year-olds from deprived areas are more likely to have poor diets and be less active.
The Early Years Framework is part of the wider work being done by the Scottish Government to tackle health inequalities.  Equally Well, the report of the ministerial taskforce on health inequalities set out how public service delivery will be revamped to achieve this.
Ofsted: Despite expectations, the use of Virtual Learning Environments across schools & colleges has been slow to take off.  However, enthusiasm and peer support from teachers & learners should help the initiative develop more widely.
These are the main findings in the report, Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings, published by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted).
Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) allow learners & staff to access a wide variety of learning materials through specially designed computer systems.  Resources such as notes & handouts, practice tests, power point presentations, video clips and links to useful internet sites are commonly found on VLEs.

Legislation / Legal

FSA: The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has welcomed the move by Alliance & Leicester, Barclays, The Co-Operative Bank, Lloyds Banking Group (including Lloyds TSB, Halifax, and Bank of Scotland), and RBS/Natwest to stop selling single premium Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) with unsecured personal loans by the end of January 2009.
Some of these firms, along with other market players, now offer or plan to offer regular premium PPI instead of a single premium product.  The FSA expects other firms still selling single premium PPI to take note of these developments.
The FSA recognises the importance of appropriate protection insurance in the current economic climate, but remains concerned over the standard of sales of single premium PPI.  Customers being sold this type of product should be told how the product works, what it covers and how much it costs – especially as the cost of the PPI is added to the loan and interest charged on this amount.
CompC: The Competition Commission's (CC) determination on price control matters in appeals brought against Ofcom by Hutchison 3G (H3G) and British Telecom (BT) has been published.  This determination was sent by the CC to the Competition Appeal Tribunal (the Tribunal) on 16 January 2009.  The appeals were brought against Ofcom's March 2007 decision on wholesale mobile phone voice termination charges.
As a result the CC has determined that the charges for connecting to the O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone networks should be reduced to 4.0 pence per minute (ppm) (1) by 2010/11.  Ofcom had decided that they should fall to 5.1ppm by 2010/11.  The CC has also determined that the charge for connecting to the H3G network should be reduced to 4.4ppm by 2010/11.  That is 1.5ppm less than the price control under Ofcom's decision.
FSA: The Financial Services Authority (FSA) last week extended its waiver from complaints handling rules regarding unauthorised overdraft charges, for up to 6 months.  This is because the test case is ongoing, and it is not yet clear how the banks should be responding to complaints about unauthorised overdraft charges so that customers are treated consistently & fairly. 
The waiver was due to expire on 26 January 2009.  The extension has been offered to those firms who signed up to the July 2008 waiver.  This represents approximately 98% of the market.  Whilst the waiver is in place, signatories will not be required to handle complaints relating to unauthorised overdraft charges within the time limits set out in the Dispute Resolution manual.

EU Legislation, Initiatives, etc.

DECC: The UK Government intends to hold its second auction in Phase II of the European Union's Emissions Trading System on 24 March 2009. The auction will comprise a competitive bidding facility only.  The bidding window will open from 8am and close at 10am on 24 March 2009.
The EU ETS sets a cap on the total emissions from the main industrial sectors across Europe, covering more than 10,000 installations in the energy and industrial sectors.  Each installation has to purchase allowances for every tonne of carbon they emit.
The number of allowances to be auctioned will be announced at least one month before the date of the auction.  In 2009 the UK plans to auction a total of 25 million allowances.

Charity and Voluntary Sector

BIG: Chair of the Big Lottery Fund, Sir Clive Booth, will be going live online on Tuesday 3 February to tackle a range of questions about the Fund’s ongoing Big thinking consultation.  Anyone logging onto the website between 3-5pm will have the opportunity to directly ask Sir Clive a range of questions about the consultation and the Fund’s priorities for distributing billions of pounds of Lottery money.
The live webchat will fuel discussion about what the Fund’s priorities should be and people are being urged to log on and join in.  It is hoped a wide range of organisations will join in the discussion and share their opinions on the future of BIG’s funding.
Big thinking the Fund’s public consultation is running until the end of February 2009, and is open to all individuals and organisations across the UK.  The Fund is responsible for distributing half of the UK’s Lottery good causes cash.

Business and Other Briefings

HMRCHM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has announced a cut in the interest rates charged on late payments and paid on overpayments. The reduced rates cover quarterly instalment payments and early payments of corporation tax not due by instalments.  The new rates took effect from 19 January 2009.
LPC: In its current remit, issued in March 2008, the Government asked the Low Pay Commission to report to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) by the end of February 2009.
On 14 January 2009, the Commission wrote to the Secretary of State for Business asking for an extension to this deadline.  The Secretary of State has agreed to this request and the Commission will now report to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Business by 1 May 2009.
HMRC: A podcast looking at how the new tax tribunal system will affect agents is now available to download free from the HMRC website.
Richard Mannion of the Chartered Institute of Taxation and Smith & Williamson questions HMRC's Brian Redford about what changes agents will see, what HMRC has done to get its staff ready and the cost implications for agents, their customers and unrepresented taxpayers.

Forthcoming Event

STFC: The Advanced Technology Showcase 2009 (Wednesday 18 March 2008) offers a unique opportunity for commercial companies to exploit advanced technologies developed by leading European research organisations with applications across a wide variety of industry sectors.
Central to the success of this event will be a significant number of high technology exhibitors looking to work with industrial, aerospace, defence and governmental partners. In today's challenging business environment these advanced technologies could give your company the competitive edge that it needs.
Representatives from the STFC Knowledge Exchange Directorate will be on hand to provide advice and support related to the transfer of space technologies to other applications and markets.

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