The Wired-Gov Team welcomes everyone back to what looks to be a very challenging New Year, with a newsletter that covers press releases over the Christmas holiday period
CLG: What about doing the same for central government spending? - £bns of public money will be subject to increased scrutiny by citizens & councils, Communities Secretary John Denham has claimed.
Local Spending Reports provide information about how public money is being spent in local areas including money going to police & fire services, transport and health. But at the moment if people want to see not only what is being spent, but also what that money is delivering they would need to trawl through an array of different data, reports & statistics.
Changes are being proposed to improve the way that local spending reports are produced & presented. At the moment they exist as a series of ‘excel’ spreadsheets. From summer 2010 they will be published online in a clear & user friendly format that will enable the data to be easily interrogated.
Greater transparency will make it easier to look right across all the local services in an area and spot evidence of duplication or waste. It will help all local authorities to ‘health check’ whether public money going into the area is delivering value for money and delivering the very best services. It will help more councils to follow the lead of the 13 local authorities currently involved in Total Place pilots.
The Places database already holds data for over 600 indicators at a number of spatial levels. By March 2010 an improved mapping facility will allow users to look at spending in an area by clicking on & scrolling over high quality maps.
Defra/BIS: Yet another problem for the next government - Ensuring food security is just as important to Britain’s future as energy supply, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Hilary Benn, told delegates at the recent Oxford Farming Conference, where he unveiled the Government’s food strategy - Food 2030.
Farming & food businesses contribute more than £80bn to the economy & represent the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, employing 3.6m people. The Strategy sets out the challenges facing Britain in maintaining a secure food supply at a time of rapid population growth & climate change and following the big price increases seen in 2008 caused by droughts & the rise in the price of oil.
He also said that government & food businesses needed to support consumers by providing more accurate information about the origin & nutritional content of the food they buy and called on all retailers to sign up to the Pigmeat Labelling Code of Practice, due to be published in February 2010.
Also announced elsewhere by BIS, was the launch of a new science strategy (to help improve the security & sustainability of our food system) by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Professor John Beddington. The UK Cross-Government Strategy for Food Research and Innovation aims to provide the evidence to support effective, joined-up policies and ensure the development & dissemination of new knowledge, technologies & skills.
Delivering safe, affordable & nutritious food for a growing global population, whilst ensuring sustainability and coping with climate change will require a multi-disciplinary research approach. The strategy sets out current & future programmes and highlights some past successes, good practice and where joint working is already strong, both on research projects & cross-cutting issues.
DH: 1 can only hope 1 gets the service 1 needs - A new FREE 3-digit number – 111 - making it ‘easier’ for patients to access non-emergency healthcare wherever they are, 24 hours a day, has been given the go ahead by Telecoms regulator Ofcom. The new 111 service is intended to assess callers’ needs to ensure they receive the right service, first time. It will route patients to a locally available service or provide appropriate advice & information.
When someone calls 111, they will be assessed straight away. If it is an emergency, their call will be immediately passed to the ambulance service who will despatch an ambulance without the need for any further assessment. For minor illnesses & injuries the 111 service will be able to provide immediate clinical advice. Should the caller need to see a GP, they will be referred to the nearest local centre.
The 111 service will be piloted by the local NHS in England in the North East, the East of England and the East Midlands from 2010 to evaluate the benefits to the public & the NHS, before potentially rolling it out nationally. Health authorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland & Wales may consider whether to introduce the 111 service, following the outcome of the pilots in England.
HMRC: Typical, they raise the allowance when only bankers can afford to buy anything! - The value of goods that travellers can now personally bring into the UK from a non-EU country, or receive through the post without needing to pay customs duty, has increased.
Travellers arriving in the UK by commercial sea or air transport from a non-EU country can now bring in up to £390 worth of goods for personal use (excluding tobacco & alcohol - which have separate allowances - and fuel) without paying customs duty or VAT. Those arriving by other means, including by private plane or boat for pleasure purposes, can bring in goods up to the value of £270.
Individuals who buy goods over the internet or by mail order from outside the EU will now only be charged customs duty if the value of the package is above £135 and the actual amount of duty due is over £9. Although the duty limits have changed, import VAT is still due on packages valued at over £18. However, if a package is received as a ‘gift’, VAT will only now be charged if its value exceeds £40.
ScotGov: When some supermarket alcoholic drinks are cheaper than bottled water - A group of Westminster MPs has followed the Scottish Government's lead and backed minimum pricing as a key weapon to tackle alcohol misuse. The House of Commons' Health Select Committee's report on alcohol follows an investigation, which featured evidence sessions from contributors ranging from health experts to representatives from the alcohol industry & supermarkets.
Their recommendations call on the UK Government to introduce minimum pricing and new licensing rules modelled on ones already introduced in Scotland. The Committee expressed 'concern' that UK Government policy was 'much closer to, and too influenced by, the drinks industry and the supermarkets than those of expert health professionals'.
The report also rejects allegations by the alcohol industry & retailers that minimum pricing would harm moderate drinkers as 'not a serious argument' and dismisses claims that consumption levels are not affected by price as 'economic illiteracy'.
Newswire – HCTC: If the Treasury does not publish the facts, then the market will make up its own - The House of Commons Treasury Committee recently released its Report on the 2009 Pre-Budget Report (The Treasury’s Pre Budget Report was published on 9 December 2009). The Report emphasises that a plan to restore the health of the public finances must deal with the structural deficit.
While the Treasury aims to cut the deficit from 9% of GDP to 3.6% of GDP in 4 years, the Committee notes that despite the Treasury's belief that the Pre-Budget Report contains sufficient detail about the way in which the structural deficit would be reduced, the expert witnesses it examined all criticised the document for not providing enough information about how this will be achieved. In particular, the Committee sees no good reason for the Treasury failing to produce more detailed illustrative figures for future expenditure.
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