Friday, 28 September 2012

Revealed: David Cameron's ignorance

'He went, he smirked, he was thoroughly humiliated. It was never supposed to turn out like that for the PM Big Dave. What does Magna Carta mean, asked David Letterman, the king of late night TV in the United States. Britain's shame-faced prime minister didn't know. But then this was nothing more than poetic justice. 

For just a couple of months ago, Cameron quite literally turned his back on an opportunity to learn everything that there is to know about Magna Carta at a special private exhibition painstakingly prepared by the London Metropolitan Archive at London's Guildhall. When he was about to be introduced to the document, with experts standing by to answer his every question, Cameron's response was to spin on his heel with a curt "I've seen that" and go into a corner to play with his iPhone. "It was breathtakingly rude," said one witness. And costly. Poor Dave. Oh dear.'

Hugh Muir, Guardian

Thursday, 20 September 2012

NHS faces £8bn cuts 'after next election'

What did I tell you?

Independent -

NHS has cash reserves of £4 billion, Audit Commission reveals

The NHS has built up cash reserves of almost £4bn even as rationing has increased, the number of nurses has fallen and the service has had to make unprecedented savings, an Audit Commission report reveals.

"This would not happen if hospitals were directly run by the NHS – money could then be moved to where it is needed most, balancing the books and safeguarding patient care," said Christina McAnea, head of health at the union Unison, which represents 400,000 NHS staff.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "It is better to plan for a surplus because it gives the NHS the flexibility to respond to the unexpected."

Like being told its budget is no longer ring-fenced?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Olympic Legacy 2012

The government has published a 10-point plan for securing a lasting legacy from the Olympic Games.

• £125m per year funding for elite sport over the next four years - up until Rio 2016.

• £300m investment to turn the Olympic site into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, open to the community.

• Bringing 20 major sporting events to UK by 2019, with more bids in progress.

• Sport England's £135m Places People Play legacy programme to fund new facilities, volunteering and participation programmes.

• £1bn investment over the next five years in the Youth Sport Strategy, linking schools with sports clubs and encouraging sporting habits for life.

• Government support for the Join In programme to build on the spirit of volunteering seen at the Games by getting people to volunteer at their local sports club.

• Introduction of the School Games programme sponsored by Sainsbury to boost schools sport and county sport festivals.

• More done to ensure PE in schools is available to all.

• £1.5m funding to the English Federation of Disability Sport to increase participation in sports by disabled people.

• Continue funding for International Inspiration, the UK's international sports development programme, to 2014.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Benefits link to inflation could be cut

The government is considering ending the annual inflation-linked rise in benefits as part of the drive to find additional savings in the welfare budget, according to the BBC. If implemented, the move could be in place by 2014 with many benefits frozen for two years, then rising only in line with average pay. State pensions will not be affected as they are now protected by a "triple lock", which means they will rise annually in line with either inflation, earnings, or by 2.5%, whichever is the higher figure.

In recent years inflation has risen at a far higher rate than average earnings. Whitehall officials say a switch since 2008-9 would have saved £14bn, according to BBC Newsnight. The Department for Work and Pensions declined to comment on the reports ahead of the benefits uprating statement, which takes place in December. "Uprating of benefits will be considered by the secretary of state and chancellor as usual later this year," they said.

The government is looking for £10bn of extra savings in the welfare budget. However, any move to break the historic link between inflation and welfare payments is likely to provoke fury among charities representing vulnerable groups.

Reports of the move come just a year after a thwarted attempt by Chancellor George Osborne to end the annual inflation-linked increase to benefits after a welfare bill last September when inflation was 5.2%. One Whitehall source close to the process told the BBC that the idea was back on the table. "A freeze [to benefits] for a couple of years would help us get to the £10bn," they said.

Any move to freeze benefits is likely to be fiercely resisted by Liberal Democrats, many of whom oppose any further cuts to welfare and believe any further savings should be funded through tax rises at the top.

Hélène Mulholland, Guardian

Co-op Group in fourth year of contract with Atos Healthcare

In July 2009, Atos Healthcare announced that it had won a contract with the Co-op group. The press release read as follows:
"Atos Healthcare, the number one occupational health provider in the UK and a business division of Atos Origin, today announced that it has won a contract with the Co-operative Group (tCG) and Co-operative Financial Services (CFS).
Under the new contract, Atos Healthcare will provide occupational healthcare services for the 82,000 employees who serve around 10 million customers a week through food, pharmacy, travel, funeral care, motor dealerships, legal and financial services. Atos Healthcare will provide pre-employment referrals and absence management including physiotherapy and workstation assessments to help improve employee wellbeing and reduce absence.
“Occupational health is a business-critical service in people-focussed organisations like ours,” said Graham Greaves, Occupational Health, Safety & Wellbeing Manager at CFS. “Atos Healthcare presented a solution that will enable us to further improve and standardise our occupational health service right across our organisation. It also demonstrated how, by implementing new management information and trend analysis tools, we can better monitor our service and ensure that it continues to meet the needs of our employees in the future.”
“We are absolutely delighted to win the contract to provide Occupational Health Services to The Co-operative Group, the UK’s largest mutual retailer,” said Gary Gear, General Manager for Occupational Health and Primary Care Services, Atos Healthcare. “This success further strengthens Atos Healthcare's position as the UK's number one Occupational Heath Services provider.” "
In light of what we now know about Atos, the discovery of the contract with the Co-op has led to disappointment amongst many of the Co-op's members. Last night, the Co-op posted the following statement on their Facebook page:
"Thank you for your comments on Atos, which we do take very seriously. As you will appreciate, as with all our suppliers, we have contractual obligations towards Atos which cannot immediately be revoked, although we will consider your views when reviewing our future relationship. It should be pointed out, however, that we began using Atos as our occupational health services provider before the Government moved to tighten the criteria for disabled benefits and as far as we understand it, this is a wholly different brief to the one we set them. Atos work with our HR department to help us to support those employees who are either on long term sick, or who are working with a disability or other health condition. We take our responsibility towards the health, safety and wellbeing of all of our employees very seriously and an occupational health assessment is just one of the many ways in which we look to support our employees."
As you can see from the comments following the statement, this has not done much to appease the members, many of whom are threatening to relinquish their membership. And it remains to be seen whether or not the Co-op feels that trying to find a way of terminating its contract with Atos is the preferred option.