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WGPlus provides an in-depth weekly briefing from the UK Government and Public Sector. To save your time, we research & validate the links to websites, documents and further background information. Click here for more about WGPlus

In the News

DWPWith the average gross wage around £25k some might argue that even £21k is too generous - New Housing Benefit rules came into force last week ‘bringing fairness back to the Local Housing Allowance system’ and cutting the cost of the Housing Benefit bill which has been rising continuously for a decade.

From 1st April 2011 the Coalition Government is capping Housing Benefits for private sector tenants from a staggering £104,000 in some cases to an absolute maximum of £20,800 a year for a 4 bedroom property.  A  Discretionary Housing Payment Fund will provide a safety net for those who need it, with an additional £190m being invested over 4 years to smooth the transition.

The measures coming into force apply to new claimants.  Existing claimants will be protected at their Local Housing Allowance rate for up to 6 months from the date their claim is reviewed by their local authority.  This will allow claimants time to adjust to any reduction in Housing Benefit entitlement and in practice means many existing claimants will not be affected until after January 2012.

Disabled people with a long-term health condition (who need overnight care or live with someone with similar needs) may now be able to claim Housing Benefit for a private rented property which has an additional bedroom for a non-resident carer.
CLGAfter all, a council newspaper does not really qualify as a frontline service - Measures by Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles to ‘preserve a strong, vibrant, independent local press’ are now in force as new rules governing taxpayer funded town hall ‘freesheets’ & council publicity have been agreed by Parliament.

In recent years there has been a marked growth in the frequency & scope of council publicity techniques funded by taxpayers' money, whilst local papers have struggled in a saturated news environment.  A new publicity code strengthening the rules for English councils on what can be considered appropriate spending of taxpayers' money is now in force after approval by Parliament.

Seven fundamental principles set out in the revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity will make sure that council publicity is lawful, objective, appropriate, even handed & cost effective, with regard to equality & diversity and periods of heightened sensitivity.
DWPBetter news for some, but others will lose out - Plans that will see the ‘biggest shake up of the state pension system for generations’ have been unveiled for consultation (closes on 24 June 2011) by the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb. 

In the Green Paper ‘A state pension for the 21st Century’ options are set out on how to simplify the system for future pensioners.  It includes a single-tier state pension currently estimated at around £140 a week, set above the current guarantee element of Pension Credit.  This would replace the existing combination of entitlements that make up the present state pension.

This redesign, still based around the contributory principle, would over time ‘lift millions out of means testing and also put an end to inequalities in the current system that penalises women, low earners and the self-employed’. The Old Age pension was set up in 1908 when the average life expectancy was 41.  In 1981 an average 65-year-old man could expect to live for another 14 years, today it’s over 21 years, by 2050 it will be over 25 years.

State pension reform would underpin existing plans to automatically enrol people into workplace pensions from 2012, bringing between 5-8m into saving for the first time.  A state pension for future pensioners would not involve increases in public spending dedicated to state pensions.  Any contributions accrued by people under the current pension system would be honoured.
HCA more representative NHS needed - The Government's plans to reform NHS commissioning 'need to be significantly changed', warn MPs in a report published on 5 April 2011.  The MPs propose that representatives of nurses, hospital doctors, public health experts and local communities should all be involved as decision makers alongside GPs in NHS commissioning.  

They believe it is vital to make these changes to enable the NHS to meet the unprecedented challenge it faces of finding 4% annual efficiency savings over the next 4 years.
MoDFreeing up of the promotion ladder, or waste of required trained assets? - The Royal Navy and the Army have released the details of their redundancy programmes to their personnel.  The specific trades & branches of each Service affected by the first tranche of their redundancy programmes, along with the numbers being sought from each area, have also been announced.

While some of these reductions will be achieved through a decrease in recruiting and not replacing those who leave, there will still need to be around 11,000 redundancies.  Each Service will run a number of redundancy tranches over the next 4 years with reductions planned to be fully achieved by April 2015.  Although this is a compulsory programme, volunteers will be sought.
Press release & related links

White PaperProtective Monitoring of Public Sector ICT Systems and CESG Compliance - To help government agencies and the companies that interact with them handle information security risks effectively, the Communications–Electronics Security Group (CESG) has created a framework for protective monitoring.
Following the requirements of the GPG13 protective monitoring framework will help your organization achieve the levels of log management, real-time monitoring and reporting that will increase its security, improve incident management, enable forensic analysis — and provide evidence of compliance to auditors. In addition, adherence to GPG13 is increasingly becoming a requirement for companies that wish to do business with public sector bodies.
A recent white paper explores how your organisation can fulfill all 12 of the GPG13 protective monitoring controls — and much more besides. Simply click here to view and download the paper, ‘Protective Monitoring of Public Sector ICT Systems’.

General News

DCMS: The long-awaited transformation of the Stonehenge landscape is ‘finally within grasp’, John Penrose, Minister for Tourism & Heritage said last week, as government support was announced, putting the project back on track. The plans will improve infrastructure and remove the current disfiguring visitor facilities from the vicinity of the stones.
FSASainsbury’s has withdrawn its Freefrom Chocolate Sponge Pudding with a 'best before' date of 13 April 2011, because the product contains low levels of milk protein.  Milk is not an intended ingredient and this makes the product a possible health risk for anyone who is allergic to or intolerant of milk. The Food Standards Agency has issued an Allergy Alert.
STFC: Scientists are making progress in their quest to find an improved antibiotic for a strain of meningitis that results in over half a million deaths a year worldwide.  The fungal disease Cryptococcal Meningitis is especially rife in AIDS patients and there are fears that if new drugs cannot be found, it could become untreatable.
The results are published in one of the most respected journals in the field of membrane biology - Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Biomembranes.  Further experiments will be carried out at STFC’s ISIS neutron source this week (scheduled for 4 and 5 April 2011).
DECC: The new mandatory ‘Warm Home Discount’ scheme worth up to £1.1bn over 4 years has come in to force.  Under the new scheme pensioners on Pension Credit Guarantee Credit only will automatically receive annual rebates of at least £120 off their electricity bills, with some support available for other groups too.

The scheme is projected to help around 2m households per year, with the majority of the rebates delivered by energy suppliers in the winter months.  The Warm Home Discount replaces the previous voluntary agreement with energy suppliers which ended in March this year.

Policy Statements and Initiatives

Defra: Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice, has challenged farmers to live up to their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while speaking at the launch of the farming industry’s Greenhouse Gas Action Plan. The farming industry's progress will be reviewed in 2012 as part of a wider Government review of how different activities, including Government policy, affect agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
DWP: Disabled people will continue to be able to rely on a non-means tested cash benefit as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced with a new Personal Independence Payment.  The new benefit will continue to help disabled people live independent lives and will for the first time include regular reassessments to ensure that people are getting the right level of support when they need it most. These changes will come into force from 2013/14.
DfE: Michael Gove has appointed 2 leaders in social mobility to manage the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) for disadvantaged children in the poorest performing schools. The Sutton Trust, the lead charity in a partnership with Impetus Trust, will run the fund over its 10 year lifespan.
The trusts will be responsible for making sure that grants go to a variety of different projects.  These projects will use bold & innovative methods to boost the attainment of disadvantaged pupils in underperforming schools.  Bids will be welcomed from a range of groups including teachers, charities, local authorities and academy sponsors.


Directgov: This consultation sets out, and asks your views on, proposed reforms to the civil justice system in the county courts in England & Wales.  You have until 30 June 2011 to respond.
DfT: A consultation (closes on 20 May 2011) on the implementation of new EU rules covering the licensing of lorry, bus & coach operators has been announced by Roads Minister Mike Penning.  The European rules under which hire & reward operators are licensed are being changed by a new EC Regulation coming into force in December 2011.  It will require other member states to act on information from UK enforcement agencies when operators commit infringements.
The areas covered in the consultation include the role of transport managers, how operators can demonstrate sufficient financial standing and how operators’ transport managers can demonstrate their professional competence.
Defra: Water bills will be cut for the most vulnerable households under plans announced by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman. The consultation (closes on 17 June 2011) builds on the findings & recommendations of Anna Walker’s independent review of charging for household water & sewerage services and further analysis by Ofwat on options for tackling high water bills in the South West.
HO: A public consultation (closes on 28 Jun 2011) on the future of police leadership & training has been launched by Policing Minister Nick Herbert. It follows the publication of a report into leadership & training by Peter Neyroud, former chief executive of the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA).
DfE: The Department for Education has announced new & clearer guidance for teachers on how they should deal with bad behaviour, which clarifies powers of teachers to search students & use force. More than 600 pages of guidance have been cut down to 50.
The Department is also appointing a new Expert Adviser on Behaviour – headteacher Charles Taylor – who has a track record in radically improving behaviour in some of the most troubled schools.  Behaviour in good schools is not a serious problem but overall it remains a big concern for parents.  The consultation will close on 30 May 2011.  The guidance will be revised again if the Education Bill is passed.
Defra: Fishermen will have more control over how they operate & better opportunities to profit under plans to overhaul the way fishing quotas are managed in England, Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon has claimed.  
The proposals for community quota schemes focus on safeguarding small-scale fleets, enabling fishermen and other local businesses and organisations to work together to manage their overall quotas flexibly, along with increasing their ability to swap & purchase quotas and connect better with markets.  These groups would also have a seat at the table in discussions with Government, regulators and industry.  Consultation closes on 30 June 2011.
DWP: Plans that will see the ‘biggest shake up of the state pension system for generations’ have been unveiled for consultation (closes on 24 June 2011) by the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb – See ‘In the News’ section for more information.

Guidance Notes and Best Practice Guides

OFT: The Competition Commission (CC) and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) have published guidance setting out good practice principles for the design & presentation of consumer survey research in merger inquiries.
The guidance is designed to assist companies and their advisors wishing to submit research evidence to the two authorities during merger inquiries, and is likely to be of particular interest to legal firms, management consultancies, economic consultancies and market research agencies. Merger survey evidence submitted as part of merger inquiries is often used to help the authorities define markets or assess the closeness of competition between firms.
Defra: Climate change will bring opportunities for economic growth if British businesses think now about how climate change will affect them, Environment Minister Lord Henley said recently.  The message came at the launch of a new interactive online tool designed by Defra and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) to prepare businesses for both climate risks & opportunities.
The Climate Resilience Toolkit is a quick & simple online tool available on the Business Link website for businesses wanting to increase their resilience to the changing climate, or explore possibilities for growth by taking advantage of the opportunities climate change will bring.
The toolkit provides a tailored report for each business to help it focus on what it should be doing to prepare, such as checking the robustness of its supply chain, the threat of flooding to premises and possible changes in customer demand for products.
QCDA: The 2011 maladministration guidance materials for schools & local authorities are now available.  

General Reports and Other Publications

Newswire – CSP: The House of Commons Select Committee on Standards and Privileges has published its Report on Privilege: Hacking of Members’ Mobile Phones.  The Report presents the Committee’s conclusions & recommendations following its inquiry into the matter referred to it by the House in September 2010.
The committee has concluded that a specific act of hacking could potentially be ‘a contempt’, if it can be shown to have interfered with the work of the House or to have impeded or obstructed an MP from taking part in such work.  It has also concluded that a series of acts of hacking could potentially be ‘a contempt’, if it can be shown that the hacking has interfered with the work of the House by creating a climate of insecurity for one or more MPs.
The committee looks forward to publication by the Government of a draft Privileges Bill in the present Session of Parliament.  It proposes that the draft Bill should include a definition of what is meant by 'contempt of Parliament' and that the Bill should codify Parliament’s powers to impose sanctions, including a power for the House of Commons to fine
Newswire – TC: The Treasury Committee recently published its report, Competition and Choice in Retail Banking.  In the report the committee concludes that the pre-conditions for effective competition in the retail banking market are not present.
The committee highlights in particular a lack of price transparency & comparability in the personal current account market, as well as the difficulty of switching.  The report calls on the Government to make competition a primary objective of the new regulatory body, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).  It also recommends a ‘public interest test’ based on competition considerations for proposed future divestments of Government-held stakes in the banks.
LDA: Over 16,000 Londoners have benefited to date from the London Development Agency’s investment in employment & skills programmes, according to a report launched yesterday.  The LDA report, Great Expectations: How London delivered in hard times, sets out the challenges & barriers that long term unemployed and low-skilled Londoners face getting into work & progressing into better jobs.
DfE: The Department for Education has published the progress report of the independent review into Key Stage 2 testing, assessment & accountability. The report summarises the evidence submitted to a small review panel during a 12-week call for evidence.  Education Secretary Michael Gove ordered the review to see how the current system of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability can be improved.
Ipcc: Speaking after the Home Office published their response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report in to the work of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the organisation's Chief Executive Jane Furniss said: “As the Public Accounts Committee has previously acknowledged, the IPCC has helped to improve access to, and raise public confidence in, the police complaints system.  The system is more accessible and officers who have committed criminal or disciplinary matters have been held accountable”.
WAG: The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Peter Tyndall, has published a report on his investigation into a complaint about the actions of Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW), Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government.
The complaint was made by the parents of a young girl with a terminal illness who was cared for at a children's hospice early in 2008 before her death at home in August 2008.  The Ombudsman investigated actions taken by HIW in response to concerns the parents had raised about their daughter's care at the hospice.  The complaint to the Ombudsman also considered the role and actions of CSSIW and the Assembly Government in investigating subsequent complaints about the hospice and HIW's actions. 
The Ombudsman upheld most aspects of the complaints against HIW and a complaint against the Welsh Assembly Government but not the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW).
PC&PE: Ministers must radically improve the policy statement that will guide planning decisions on future major waste water projects such as the Thames Tunnel, say MPs in a report about the draft National Policy Statement (NPS) on Waste Water.

EU Legislation, Initiatives, etc.

EU News: The third Demography Report published recently in cooperation with Eurostat reveals Europeans are living longer & healthier lives.  It also shows how the structure of Europe's population is continuing to change with the number of over 60s in the EU is growing by 2m each year.  The report confirms recent trends and brings new data on fertility, life expectancy & migration with a special focus on mobility & migration.
The need to adjust EU policies to these developments is clearer than ever.  The report provides timely data which will feed into the European debate on demographic change.
EU News: In a report taking stock of progress made in implementing its EU-wide 2009 action plan, the European Commission praises Member States' efforts to protect critical information infrastructures from cyber attacks and disruptions.
However, the report underlines that further action in this area is required, notably to establish an efficient network of Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) by 2012.  Cyber security and the protection of critical information infrastructures are vital for people & companies to trust the internet and other networks and are a key priority of the Digital Agenda for Europe.
EU News: Waste generated by European industries & consumers is increasingly being reprocessed into secondary raw materials & new products instead of being buried in landfills.  However, in the past there has been a lack of clear criteria determining when a material recovered from waste ceases to be waste and can be dealt with as other products or raw materials.

The first end-of-waste Regulation adopted recently sets such criteria for iron & steel scrap and for aluminium scrap.  It aims to stimulate European recycling markets.  This Regulation means clean & safe metal scrap does not have to be classified as waste provided producers apply a quality management system and demonstrate compliance with the criteria by a statement of conformity for each metal scrap consignment.
EU News: The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has now been legally binding for over a year – primarily on the EU institutions (European Parliament, Council and the European Commission) when preparing new European laws, but also on national authorities if they are implementing EU law.

As part of its efforts to make fundamental rights a reality for citizens in the EU, the European Commission is reporting for the first time on how the Charter is being applied.  The Annual Report on the application of the Charter shows that fundamental rights are relevant across a wide range of policies – from data protection to immigration & asylum – and that public interest in the Charter runs high.
EU News: Improving the safety & daily lives of European citizens thanks to radio navigation, guiding tractors by satellite for high-yield crops, optimizing response to humanitarian crisis. This crucial role of space is reflected in the European Commission communication presented this week as a first step of an integrated Space Policy to be developed with the new legal basis provided by the Lisbon Treaty.  

The new Communication aims at reinforcing Europe’s space infrastructure and calls for increasing support for research to increase European technological non-dependence, foster cross-fertilisation between the space sector and other industry sectors, and boost innovation as a driver of European competitiveness.
EU News: The European Commission and the US Government, under the framework of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), have agreed on a set of 10 fundamental principles for trade in information & communication technology (ICT) services.

The EU and the US, in cooperation with other countries, will promote these principles worldwide in order to support the global development of ICT networks & services and allow service providers to compete for contracts with local incumbents on an equal footing.

Charity and Voluntary Sector

DWP: Almost 300 voluntary sector organisations are to be part of a national programme to tackle long term benefit dependency in what will be a massive boost to the Big Society, announced Employment Minister Chris Grayling recently.
The 18 private & voluntary sector organisations named as preferred bidders will get the freedom to ‘design support that actually works, rather than having to do what's prescribed by Whitehall.  In return providers will be paid by results - with more for those who get the hardest to help off benefits and into work.
Press release ~ DWP: Work programme

Business and Other Briefings

PwC: The publication of the Finance Bill last week also coincided with other announcements from HMRC on issues affecting residency which will have wide ranging effects.  

Perhaps the most significant announcement indicated that HMRC would challenge the residency position on non UK residents if they were to spend more than 10 days working back in the UK during a year, potentially subjecting their entire income to UK tax.  A great many individuals who have considered themselves to be non resident for a number of years may find their residency positioned challenged.
This brief advises HMRC customers of a change in policy in respect of the taxation of Employee Benefit Trusts
This brief announces HM Revenue & Customs guidance on the new Special Relief which replaces equitable liability from 1 April 2011.
This brief explains which excise duties will see time limits increase from three years to four, and the transitional arrangements that will apply between 1 April 2011 and 31 March 2012.

Industry News

OS: Following approval from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the legal process to form GeoPlace has now been finalised and production of the ‘national address gazetteer database’ to provide one definitive source of accurate spatial address data for England & Wales is now on track for delivery in the Autumn 2011.
GeoPlace is a public sector Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) jointly owned by the Local Government Group and Ordnance Survey.  Products produced from the national address gazetteer database will be available to all customers through Ordnance Survey.  The public sector, including local and central government, emergency services and health, will licence GeoPlace products through the Public Sector Mapping Agreement, which took effect on 1 April 2011.  

Forthcoming Event

ACE: South east individuals, organisations & venues are invited to join one of the UK's biggest celebration weekends for London 2012. Now in its fourth year, London 2012 Open Weekend, supported by BP, is a yearly showcase of art, dance, film, music, heritage & sport events and activities.  All events are free & aimed at getting as many people involved in 2012.
This year's Open Weekend takes place from 22 to 24 July 2011, with the theme 'celebrate one year to go by showcasing your best.' Successful registrations will be given access to the Open Weekend brand centre, helping you promote your event and involvement with London 2012.
Press release & links

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