Budget boost for education and health

Headlines: July 4th, 1997

Gordon Brown, in his Budget statement, announced an injection of more than £3b for education and health. Education will receive £2b, made up of £1b extra for local authority spending on schools and £1b for school repairs to be spent up to 2002. The additional £1.2 funding for the health service will go into patient care.Local education authorities will now be able to tackle the problem of class sizes. The new money will allow them to start hiring teachers. The £1b will also be spent on books and equipment, including information technology equipment and more training for teachers and headteachers. There will be more specialist schools and resources to develop effective programmes to improve discipline and cut truancy.

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Dobson unveils health strategy

Headlines: June 27th, 1997

Health Secretary Frank Dobson unveiled his strategy for health at the annual conference of the NHS Confederation. A key feature of the strategy is moving from competition to co-operation. Mr Dobson said, “We have got to get every part of the NHS working together. We simply can’t afford some of the wasteful crack-pot competition that the internal market provoked at the outset. I know as a result of the bitter experience of competition, the idea of co-operation is making a comeback.”The strategy will be supported by Government action across the board. He said: “We have got to have an NHS fit for the 21st century. That’s because we want the people of this country to be fit enough and well enough to meet the challenges of the coming century. And that can’t be achieved by the NHS alone. We have got to use the whole machinery of Government to tackle the things that make people ill. And we are taking action – action against tobacco, action against alcopops, action to improve food safety. Air pollution chokes us all and most of all it chokes older people and children. The Department of the Environment, Transport, and Regions is taking action to reduce traffic pollution. All these measures, and more, will improve the nation’s health.”

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Robinson axes PFI Panel

Headlines: June 25th, 1997

Geoffrey Robinson, Paymaster General, with responsibility for the Private Finance Initiative, is to disband the PFI Panel. Since the Panel was set up in 1994 it has acted as facilitator, catalyst and ‘dynarod’ to move the initiative along. It has identified over 1000 potential projects and contributed to getting projects valued at £7.9b across the starting line. The Panel also has a role in disseminating ‘best practice’ and in training.The decision to axe the Panel follows a recommendation by Malcolm Bates, Chairman of Pearl Assurance, who has carried out a review of the PFI machinery. He told Geoffrey Robinson that whilst he acknowledge the value of the Panel he felt their role was unclear.

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New steer for Child Support Agency

Headlines: June 25th, 1997

The CSA, which has the responsibility for making sure parents provide financial support for their children, has had a stormy passage since it was launched in 1992. Harriet Harman, Minister for Social Security, catalogued its failures and laid the blame on the previous Government. She claimed that the willingness of fathers to pay maintenance was misjudged and that this was compounded by a lack of clear and consistent targets. The Agency focused on raising revenue and action was targeted on those already paying some maintenance rather than those who were outside the net.She has now given the Chief Executive, Faith Boardman, a new steer. Her priorities are to:

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New Director takes forward Government’s agenda for London

Headlines: June 19th, 1997

Genie Turton has taken over from Robin Young as the new Director of the Government Office for London. The Office brings together the London regional offices of the Departments of Trade and Industry, the Department for Education and Employment (Training Enterprise and Education Directorate) and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Robin Young becomes Head of the Economic and Domestic Affairs Secretariat at the Cabinet Office.This is a critical time for London as the finishing touches are being made to the Government’s plans for a new strategic authority and mayor. Both initiative will be watched closely to see how well the two pronged approach to creating greater coherence succeeds. The proposal for a mayor is seen as a threat to local government by many, but others view it as an opportunity to expand democracy and accountability at a local level across a wide range of services. The challenge for London is to find a way in which the mayor could operate across all agencies: councils, quangos, and national government departments. The Director of the London Government office has a vital role to play in responding to this challenge.

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Departments get together to tackle environment issues

Headlines: June 19th, 1997

The Government has signalled a further move to addressing issues which span administrative boundaries with the announcement of the new Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said: “The challenge is to search for solutions which combine social and environmental improvements while promoting economic growth, employment and regional competitiveness. I want care for the environment to be at the heart of all the Government’s policies.”An early task facing the new Department is to draw up a comprehensive integrated transport policy to address the issues of congestion and pollution. It is more than two decades since this was attempted and Mr Prescott said: “For too long, there has been an uncoordinated approach to the provision of transport infrastructure and services. Transport decisions need to be integrated with the wider planning system. My aim is to produce a White Paper early next year which will provide a sustainable framework for decision-making during the remainder of this parliament and the years beyond that. Critically it will set interim objectives for the remainder of this Parliament, against which we may be judged.”

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Success of PFI underestimated

Headlines: June 18th, 1997

Disappointment at the slow progress of the Public Finance Initiative may be premature. Explanations for stunted growth such as ‘the traditional methods of the public and private sectors are difficult to overcome’ may be wide of the mark. The Treasury estimates the total projects at the turn of the century to be £10b.This figure is challenged by the Private Finance Initiative Journal survey of 500 projects which found the total value of deals to be £15.8b. This figure includes £7.7b currently in negotiation with a preferred partner. The Treasury’s estimate for these project is very similar at £7.9b. The estimates of the Treasury and Journal differ in their estimates of future deals. The Journal’s survey includes 107 projects worth £8.1b which have shortlisted bidders. The Treasury’s estimate only recognises £2.1b of these pipeline projects.

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International innovation awards

Headlines: June 18th, 1997

The Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) has announced a ‘Service to the Public’ awards programme for 1998. The programme is a joint venture with KPMG Centre for Government and a Malaysian partner. It will focus on the quality of service provision, including diversity, equity and quality.All submissions will be reviewed by a Jury comprised of international public administration experts who have a broad knowledge of global as well as local public administration and management issues centring on economics, social and cultural context and geographical variables. The Jury will be chaired by CAPAM Past President Gordon Draper, of Trinidad and Tobago. The ‘Service to the Public’ theme is deliberately broad to encourage all countries to participate.

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Internet window into public finance

Headlines: June 10th, 1997

The professional body for many accountants, particularly in local government and the health service, launched its web site today. David Adams, the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) said: “The launch of the web site is a natural consequence of the technological age. It will enable more people to access information about the Institute and also about public services.”The site includes public finance news, an electronic version of the successful weekly public sector finance magazine. The launch coincides with the CIPFA annual conference and this section will carry key speeches and news of other conference events.

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First PFI major IT project behind schedule

Headlines: June 9th, 1997

The 2 year project to replace the National Insurance Recording system operated by the Contributions Agency is behind schedule. The new system, which will cost the Agency about £134m, is critical to provide the necessary support for new pensions provisions which came into effect in April 1997. Six months after the Agency signed the contract with Andersen Consulting in May 1995 the first signs began to emerge that all was not well. As a result of protracted negotiations the Agency agreed in July 1996 to vary the contract and to accept a phased implementation starting in February 1997 with completion in April 1998.The replacement system is one of the largest and most complex relational database project in Europe, containing 62.5 million records. It does not use any mainframe technology. When fully operational it will support over 5000 users at the agency in Newcastle and over 100 local offices throughout the UK.

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