General News

HCA: The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has shortlisted 265 bids totalling nearly £550m in Round 2 of its Kickstart housing delivery programme.  Bidders include a mix of Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) along with national & local developers, aiming to unlock up to 22,000 homes across the country.
In contrast to Round 1 shortlisted bids, the profile of spend for Round 2 shows a shift towards HomeBuy Direct (HBD) which (according to the HCA) reflects an improved liquidity position for the major house builders, but also a continuing need to support first time buyers who face constraints on accessing mortgages.  
Press release ~ Kickstart housing delivery programme ~ HomeBuy Direct
CABECABE has awarded £900,000 to support & strengthen 21 architecture & built environment centres in the next financial year. Applicants had to demonstrate that their proposal would increase public understanding & involvement in architecture & the built environment and help create better designed buildings, spaces & places.
Press releaseArchitecture centres
DH: An innovative FREE Quit Kit which gives smokers the right tools to successfully stop smoking has been launche,d as new research shows that 44% of smokers in England have resolved to quit this New Year. It contains calming audio downloads, a stress toy and a tool to help smokers work out how much money they are saving by quitting.
Press release ~ NHS Smoking Helpline ~ Quit Smoking Tools
FDA: The FDA has given a cautious welcome to the recent report from the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) that a 'Top Pay Commission' be established to set clear principles & benchmarks for those determining pay for senior public sector officials.  The FDA is the union representing senior public sector managers & professionals.
Press release ~ Top Pay in the Public Sector Vol 1 ~ Top Pay in the Public Sector Vol 2
ScotGov: The Scottish Government has approved plans for increasing levy charges collected by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS). The increases which come into effect from April 2010 are:
* Cattle 93p
* Sheep 13p
* Pigs 21p
Levy rates have remained unchanged since 2001 for cattle & sheep and since 1999 for pigs.  During that period, inflationary erosion (coupled with reducing numbers of livestock produced in Scotland) has impacted on QMS's spending power from levy.
Press release ~ ScotGov: Farming and Rural Issues ~  Quality Meat Scotland
Dstl: The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Ministry of Defence civilian scientists, working with the MOD Defence Clothing Project Team, has tested & trialled new multi-terrain camouflage clothing that has been proven to improve mission effectiveness across a range of different backgrounds.  It is the first time in 40 years the Armed Forces have changed the camouflage pattern.
Troops in Helmand, Afghanistan, operate in a mixed landscape: desert, woodland, mountainous, urban etc.  Dstl assessed whether a multi-terrain camouflage was better than the standard army woodland camouflage disruptive pattern material (DPM) or the desert DPM and if so what is the best pattern, or balance of colours.
The 2 current camouflage schemes were tested alongside an existing off-the-shelf multi-terrain camouflage to see which performed best across various backgrounds that soldiers are likely to encounter across the landscape in Afghanistan.  The results showed the Crye Precision Multicam performed the best, on average, across all the trials.
Press release ~ Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) ~ MOD Defence Clothing Project Team ~ Crye Precision Multicam
DH: People drinking spirits at home in England are giving themselves more than double (128% extra) what they would get in a pub if they ordered a single shot according to new figures revealed by the Know Your Limits campaign.  A series of experiments across England found that the average ‘home barman’ pours themselves 57ml when they drink a spirit such as vodka, gin or whisky – 32ml more than a standard single 25ml measure.
If that average English drinker knocked back 8 spirits drinks over a week at home, they would be drinking nearly half a litre (456ml) of vodka, gin or whisky, compared to 200ml if they’d ordered the same number of single measures in a pub or bar. These extra sips equate to 17 units instead of 7.5 units over a week – which can make all the difference for people who might wrongly think they are drinking within the NHS recommended limits of 2-3 units a day for women and 3-4 units a day for men.
The experiments also suggested that the size of your wine glass really does matter.  When asked to pour the equivalent of one unit into a large wine glass (250ml), the average amount poured was 157ml, compared to the correct amount at 13% ABV of 76.25ml.  In a smaller wine glass (175ml), it was 131ml, which is still 55ml over the correct amount at 13% ABV.
Press release ~ Know you units ~ Drink Diary ~ NHS Choices: Drinks Tracker
DFID: A pioneering new vaccine that provides more effective protection against the 2 remaining strains of polio is being used for the first time in the world in Southern Afghanistan. The new 'Bivalent' OPV vaccine (bOPV) has been developed over the last 12 months by the World Health Organisation, with the support of funding from the UK's Department for International Development.
A clinical trial that compared bOPV with the traditional oral poliovirus vaccine found that for both types 1 & 3 polio, bOPV was at least 30% more effective.  The new bOPV vaccine delivers the benefits of both in one package. This will vastly simplify and potentially accelerate vaccination & eradication efforts in war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan as well as in countries with weak health systems, such as in sub-Saharan Africa. The roll-out of the bOPV is part of DFID's new £100m drive to tackle polio over the next 5 years.
Press release ~ Global Polio Eradication Initiative ~ UKaid
DH: People who are worried about debt, housing & employment can get practical & emotional support from a new NHS helplineNHS Stresslinecallers will receive practical information & advice from trained health advisors.  If they are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, they will be directed to a wider package of financial & mental health support.  The Stressline number is 0300 123 2000 and it is open daily from 8am-10pm
The helpline, which has been successfully piloted, is linked to the Government’s flagship Talking Therapies programme and will be the focus of a new public awareness campaign in early 2010.
Press release ~ NHS Choices: Talking Therapies ~ Credit Crunch Help ~ Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) Commissioning Toolkit
BIS: An extra bank holiday will be part of the celebrations to mark Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The holiday will involve moving the late May Bank Holiday to Monday 4 June and adding an extra bank holiday on Tuesday 5 June to form a long weekend of celebration.  In keeping with the Queen’s Silver & Golden Jubilees, a Diamond Jubilee medal will be issued to mark the occasion (further details to be announced).  
A UK-wide competition for towns to bid for city status will be launched in Spring 2010.  In addition, the Queen has agreed to confer Royal Borough status on the London Borough of Greenwich to mark the Jubilee.  This rare honour is to be bestowed in recognition of the close links between Greenwich & Royalty, from the Middle Ages to the present day.  It also acknowledges the Borough’s global significance as the home of the Prime Meridian, Greenwich Mean Time and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Press release ~ Diamond Jubilee mini website
ScotGov: After 3 weeks of sub-zero temperatures, people are being asked to spare a thought for the birds that need help to survive the wintry weather. Finding food and ensuring they eat enough of it to build (& maintain) adequate fat supplies to store on the body and 'burn' for energy is the greatest test for wild birds in winter.  And the food & water that people provide can mean the difference between life & death for many. 
RSPB Scotland is asking people to follow a simple six-point 'wild bird winter survival plan' that will help wildlife during the harshest weather (see press release for details). The plea came as the Scottish Government introduced a temporary statutory suspension on wildfowling to help certain species of ducks, geese & waders get through the persistent freezing conditions.
Press release ~ RSPB ScotlandRSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2010 (Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 January 2010) ~ International Year for Biodiversity 2010
MoD: The MoD and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have completed the most comprehensive study to date of Armed Forces veterans in prison. The study, carried out by the Defence Analytical Services and Advice (DASA) arm of the MOD, compared records on approximately 1.3m Service leavers with a database of all remand & sentenced prisoners in England & Wales aged 18 & over.  It found that ex-Service personnel make up just under 3% of offenders in prison.
The next stage in this project will be to evaluate the ex-Service prison population in terms of age, gender, Service branch, length of service, rank, deployment history, time since discharge, and offence type. This qualitative analysis will ensure that resources & support can be better targeted at those who need them.
The MoD will share the findings of this study with the Howard League for Penal Reform and work closely with Sir John Nutting QC and his team to inform the independent inquiry into former Armed Forces personnel in prison which was launched in November 2009. The final report will be published on Armistice Day in 2010.
Press release ~ Defence Analytical Services and Advice (DASA) ~ Howard League for Penal Reform – Veterans Inquiry
LLUKLifelong Learning UK is supporting the development of a qualification for educational communication support workers. The DCSF have funded a consortium, I-Sign, to support the development of educational services for deaf children, young people & their families.  
Working together with LLUK and educational communication support worker organisations, the National Association for Tertiary Education for Deaf people and The Association of Communication Support Workers, Signature is supporting the development of a pathway within the Level 3 Certificate in Learning Support qualification.  An online consultation & regional events will take place in January 2010.
Press release ~ Signature – I-Sign ~ I-Sign project website ~ National Association for Tertiary Education for Deaf people ~ The Association of Communication Support Workers
OFT: The Office of Fair Trading has referred UK local bus services, excluding London & Northern Ireland, to the Competition Commission (CC).  This decision follows consultation on the results of an OFT market study into the industry, which found evidence that limited competition between bus operators tends to result in higher prices & lower quality for bus users and may represent poor value for money for taxpayers.
The study identified a number of features of local bus markets that could prevent, restrict or distort competition.
The study also found evidence that fares are higher in those areas where operators with a strong market position are not challenged by a large, well-resourced rival. The CC will now conduct a detailed public investigation and reach its own conclusions. 
Press release ~ Decision Document and other related links
Newswire – RSA: Plans for a national register of social housing tower blocks in England have been outlined by the Tenant Services Authority (TSA). It will hold details on ownership, the number of properties and the age of the tower block.  It will also list the date of the last fire risk assessment and the date of the next assessment. The TSA will begin collecting data from housing associations in February 2010.
Press release ~ Tenant Services Authority (TSA)
DfTDrivers will be warned about the potential effects of medicines in a new THINK! campaign - studies in the UK suggest that the presence of medicines in drivers killed in road accidents is around 6%. 1m leaflets will be distributed through 2,600 Boots stores, while medicine bags will be labelled with stickers prompting drivers to check with their doctor or pharmacist that they are safe to drive while taking their medicines.  If this campaign is successful it will then be rolled out to other pharmacies nationwide.
Press release ~ THINK! – Drug Drive ~ Fitness to drive: a guide for health professionals