Headlines: January 10th, 2000

GOVERNMENT PROMISES BETTER IT PERFORMANCEThe Cabinet Office has promised that measures are in place to improve Government performance in IT, following scathing criticism of major projects by the Public Accounts Committee.

The committee has said that delays and poor planning plagued the investment of seven billion pounds last year on new systems.

And it says the well-publicised gaffs at the Passport Agency and in the installing of a major new National Insurance system were not isolated incidents. It found that there were more than 25 cases from the 1990s where the implementation of IT systems resulted in delay, confusion and inconvenience to the citizen and, in many cases, poor value for money to the

The new team installed at the Cabinet Office in October is in place to review exactly that kind of poor performance. It is already developing recommendations to help ensure that future systems run effectively, deliver value for money and apply best practice learned from previous projects.

That review covers current and pending projects across central government departments and agencies. It is expected to conclude in May 2000.


Health Minister Lord Hunt has announced that dentistry is being modernised with the go ahead for 34 ‘phone and go’ dental access centres which will provide fast and flexible access to NHS dentists.

The centres will be set up in a number of locations, including high streets, clinics and some of the new primary care walk-in centres. Patients will not need to be registered to access the service, and can make both emergency and routine appointments over the telephone.

The centres are expected to open from October this year and are likely to provide services for a approximately 250,000 people.

Two pilot centres were launched as pilots in October 1998.


A consultation paper has set out how the new London Mayor should carry out his or her strategic planning role under the Greater London Authority Act.

It covers the types of planning applications that Boroughs will have to notify to the Mayor and the procedures to be followed, including strict time limits in which the Mayor can use the power to direct refusal.

The Mayor’s planning powers are seen as an essential part of achieving a strategic vision for future development of the capital.

Three documents are included in the consultation. They are: The Town and Country Planning (London Spatial Development Strategy) Regulations 2000; The Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2000 and Draft Circular – Strategic Planning in London. Comments are invited by 15 February 2000.


New comparative figures show wide differences in the cost of NHS treatment. Ministers intend to use information in the National Schedule of Reference Costs 1999 to identify why costs differ from hospital to hospital and tackle unacceptable variations.

For the first time this year’s schedule includes details of how much it costs to treat medical conditions such as lower back pain, spine disorders, some aspects of the care of stroke patients, and pneumonia in different local hospitals.

It shows, for instance, that the cost of day case vasectomies ranges from 244 to 398 pounds. Sixty per cent of all acute hospital expenditure is now covered and by 2004 that should increase to a hundred per cent.

It’s been promised that the figures will not be used to produce crude league tables of hospital costs, as these would contain no indication of service quality.

The schedule is on the Department of Health website at: http://www.doh.gov.uk/nhsexec/refcosts.htm


After introducing radical change in primary schools, the Department of Education has now turned its attention to achievement in the early years of secondary education.

Some educationalists have pointed to this as a slack period in schools, where opportunities can be lost. The intention is that the achievements built in primary school will be harnessed from the minute children switch to secondary school.

Primary literacy and numeracy strategies will be extended into the first year of secondary school, all pupils will have clear objectives that build on what they have learned at primary school and schools will set targets for 14 year olds in English, maths and science. English and maths tests will be developed to assess pupil progress at the end of the first year in secondary school.

The necessary teaching programmes and training for staff will be piloted as from this September.


Special enforcers could be appointed by the courts to help people get the money they are awarded in civil actions.

The Lord Chancellor’s Department says too many people go to court and get a judgement in their favour, only to find it difficult to get the money the court agrees they are entitled to.

An independent sample of over 100 cases in 1997 showed that only one third of creditors were paid in full and on time and another third had received nothing.

The new enforcers could be given powers to find out about debtors’ assets from third parties and actively pursue ways of enforcing court decisions.

The proposals for enforcers come in a consultation paper. Responses to ‘Enforcement Review Consultation Paper 4: Warrants and Writs, Oral Examinations and Judgement Summons’ are invited by 3 March 2000. They should be sent to David Goss, Civil Justice Division, Lord Chancellor’s Department, Room 3.23, Selborne House, 54-60 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QW.