OGC: OGC promotes the importance of robust telecommunication networks in the Public Sector – The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) is promoting its Next Generation Networks Procurement Standards, Guidance and Model Clauses to ensure that the Next Generation Networks (NGNs) which are used to deliver telecommunication services in the public sector are reliable & robust.
NGNs are the infrastructure over which virtually all telecommunication services, including voice, data, broadband and video-conferencing, are expected to be delivered. This technology is already being deployed and is forecast to replace the existing telecommunication networks over the next few years.
With this in mind the OGC has created a set of procurement standards, guidance and model clauses for organisations to use when buying NGN-based telecommunication services. These Standards will help public sector bodies identify & manage potential risks associated with this emerging technology.
The Next Generation Networks (NGN) Procurement Standards Project was initiated as part of the Cabinet Office's NGN Risk Mitigation Programme. The objective of the Project was to produce 'best practice' procurement standards & guidance that will assist buyers of NGN-based telecommunication services and set standards that service providers will need to meet in order to supply to government.
DH: Making life less stressful - The Government will treble the number of employment advisers in GP surgeries and pilot a new £8m advice & support service for smaller businesses as part of a new approach to help people with stress and other mental health conditions find & keep work.
The package includes £13m of new dedicated funding over 3 years which will support the employer advisory service (£8m) and the Jobcentre Plus advisers in GP surgeries pilot expansion (£5m). This is complemented by already agreed funding for the roll out of GP educational programmes.
Elements of the package include:
* Development of a National Strategy for Mental Health and Work
* An advice & support service for employers, especially smaller businesses
* Expansion of the pilots placing Jobcentre Plus advisers in GP surgeries, to treble the capacity
* A mental health forum will bring together all those involved in delivering Pathways to Work support
* Wherever possible, the Pathways to Work and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programmes will be linked up as they are rolled out across the country
* Changes to the process for issuing medical certificates will reflect the emphasis on ‘capacity’ rather than ‘incapacity’
The development of the National Strategy will be launched at a high level conference early in the New Year. Detailed proposals on the employer advisory service and advisers in GP surgeries pilots are being developed and it is anticipated they will commence during the second half of 2008.
A fundamental review of the health of Britain's working age population is currently being undertaken by Dame Carol Black, the Nation Director for Health and Work. The review, which will include recommendations for improving the health and employment prospects of people of working age will report to Ministers early in 2008.
CLG: Just how much local decision making there will be remains to be seen - A Bill that is intended to make the planning system quicker, more transparent and easier for the public to become involved in has been published by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears. The Planning Bill will reform the planning system for major infrastructure projects which is increasingly struggling to deal with the challenges of the 21st century - climate change, protecting the environment and the need for new homes.
The changes are expected to bring the average time for decisions on major projects down to under a year ‘ending years of unnecessary delays on the infrastructure the country needs to tackle challenges of a modern world and help tackle climate change’. On average £300m a year will be saved, nearly £5bn by 2030.
The government claims that communities too will have a far greater say - with the Bill including a package of measures that will strengthen public participation in the setting of national infrastructure policy, the development of individual projects and planning decisions themselves.
The Bill will also simplify the local town & country planning system, improve the appeal process and puts a duty on councils in preparing their local plans to take action on climate change. Local councils will also be able to set charges on new developments in their areas to contribute to community infrastructure like roads, schools and hospitals.
NAO: Government still needs to reduce its ‘housing’ costs further - A report published by the National Audit Office has found that government departments could reduce gross annual expenditure on offices by around £330m by bringing the cost performance of individual buildings in line with private sector benchmark buildings.
Median costs paid for in 2005-06 ranged from £123 per square metre to £636 and the amount of building space allocated per person, ranged from 13.3 square metres to 21.9 square metres. The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) is currently consulting departments on the introduction of a space ‘standard’ of 12 square metres per person.
The report also found that departments are not yet on top of sustainability issues. Departments were not able to supply information on the amount of energy consumed in 2005-06 for 265 out of 877 buildings reviewed; the proportion of energy from renewable sources for 300 buildings; or the presence of a recycling scheme for 544 buildings.
The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) is looking to improve efficiency from government’s civil property estate and achieve £1.5bn of annual efficiency savings by 2013 and the report concludes that OGC and departments have made good progress in the early stages of implementing OGC’s High Performing Property initiative to make further gains on efficiencies.
The NAO recommends that departments improve their understanding of the factors that feature in improving building efficiency. Specifically, they need an accurate and up-to-date understanding of the number of people, the occupation level, number of work stations, accommodation costs and the environmental performance of the building.
DCSF: More than one type of water trough - Ed Balls and John Denham have published the Education and Skills Bill and outlined their plans to boost the skills & education of young people and adults. The Bill will raise the education & training leaving age to 18 by 2015, as well as strengthening the provision & support available to young people & adults to meet the ambition set out in the Leitch Review of achieving world class skills by 2020.
The government claims that ‘independently verified’ research estimates the economic benefits of raising the participation age to be around £2.4bn per year group over the course of their lifetime. This is because staying on longer improves the skills & employability of young people and raises their earning potential.
The Bill includes the transfer to local authorities of the responsibility for delivering Connexions services, strengthening careers education in schools and changes to transport provision. Local authorities will be required to promote young people's participation and to support them to find appropriate education & training opportunities.
MoD: Would any Minister wait 20 years to have his office redecorated? - Defence Minister Derek Twigg has given his initial response to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report on the work of Defence Estates.
Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts had previously said:
“The state of a good deal of the living accommodation provided for our military personnel is simply unacceptable. Half of all single accommodation provided by the MOD is below par. As are some 19,000 of the family houses provided.
The MOD is aware of this and trying to improve things, but it is planning to upgrade only 900 family homes each year. Which means for the next twenty years some servicemen and women and their families will have to put up with living in substandard accommodation”.
Skills shortages are adversely affecting the Department’s ability to discharge some of its key estate management responsibilities. A lack of quantity surveyors means that it cannot properly scrutinise capital works projects and may be paying too much in some cases. The shortage of safety works professionals puts its adherence to Health and Safety legislation at risk, and could have legal implications.
NAO: Spreading the cost of back office functions - A report by the National Audit Office has found that central government was initially slow to adopt shared services and that, while the momentum has picked up it is not clear that the shared services initiative is yet on a scale sufficient to deliver the level of savings that is possible.
The report looked at government’s achievements so far, and how it can get more from the shared services initiative. The Cabinet Office estimates that departments could save £1.4bn a year on finance and human resource functions by implementing shared services.
Both the NHS Shared Business Service and the Prison Service Shared Service, reviewed in detail by the NAO for this study, are on course to deliver savings, demonstrating that both are more efficient than the arrangements they have replaced.
Better management information, faster paperless transaction processing and substantial savings in procurement were all mentioned by customers of NHS Shared Business Services that had seen improvements over the arrangements they had used before.
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