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Northern Ireland Civil Service chief Sterling announces retirement

1 day 23 hours ago
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NICS chief says he is "proud" of how civil servants have handled “significant pressure” of working without ministers

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Photo: Kelvin Boyes

David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, has announced he will retire at the end of August next year after more than four decades as an official.

Sterling, whose entire stint as NICS head has been marked by a lack of ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, took up the post from Malcolm McKibbin in June 2017, having previously been permanent secretary at the NI Department of Finance.

Civil servants have effectively been running the country in the absence of ministers since a power-sharing agreement collapsed in early 2017. Sterling has said it is "unacceptable" that officials have been left in charge of Northern Ireland, and today he said it had “been among the most challenging and difficult in the history of the Northern Ireland Civil Service”.

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He added: “We have found ourselves in the unique situation of working without ministerial direction to keep public services running and deliver the best possible outcomes for our people at a time of unprecedented challenge.

“The enormity of the task has put significant pressure on the NICS and I am proud of the way we have responded.”

The Executive Office said Sterling had announced his retirement to allow a competition for his successor to be launched at the earliest opportunity after the executive is restored. He told party leaders as well as colleagues this morning.

Responding to the announcement, cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said: "I’d like to thank David Sterling for his decades of dedicated public service to the citizens and communities in Northern Ireland and to his country, notably in the past few years in the absence of the executive. He is an outstanding colleague with whom we will continue to work closely in his last few months as head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and whose well-earned retirement we will mark at the appropriate time."

Sterling's service

Sterling, who will turn 62 in March, joined the Northern Ireland Civil Service on 13 February 1978. The first half of his career was spent working on policing and criminal justice policies.

Reflecting on this experience in an interview with CSW this year, Sterling said: “I worked through the 80s and the early 1990s here, including through the hunger strike in 1981 [when 10 Republican prisoners died during a six-month protest]. I saw the worst of times in Northern Ireland; I attended a lot of funerals.

“That probably did shape me. I feel a sense of pride that the civil service came through those times and continued to provide good service to the community in the most difficult of circumstances. It was an organisation which, by and large, represented both sides of the community throughout that period.”

He told CSW he was “very seized of the importance of the Good Friday Agreement, and the settlement that it has provided, the accommodation that’s been reached between the two communities which should ensure that we don’t go back to those dark times”.

Sterling described the first phase of devolution between 2000 and 2003 as “heady days” despite being challenging in very different ways to his early career. By then, he was working in the finance department and involved with helping the new executive set its budget.

“It was fast paced, it was long hours, it was very demanding but ultimately it was very rewarding because even at the time getting a budget agreed amongst the parties in the executive was no mean feat. Seeing [politicians] work together for the first time to actually govern this place was hugely satisfying.”

However, the NICs chief also acknowledged problems with the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme run in Northern Ireland, which was partly to blame for the collapse of the power-sharing agreement in 2017.

The RHI scheme was launched in 2012 and offered substantial subsidies to farmers who agreed to use renewable energy sources to heat buildings.

However, in what became known as the "Cash for Ash" scandal, it emerged that the scheme lacked effective cost controls and enabled some property owners to turn a profit by heating buildings they had not heated previously. The RHI closed to new participants in 2016, and the UK parliament passed legislation in March that will drastically cut the subsidies available to remaining RHI scheme participants.

Sterling, who was perm sec at Northern Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when it was launched, has apologised several times on behalf of the civil service for the failures of public administration. He has also issued an apology to the civil service on behalf of those at DETI. “Given that I was in the department at the time the scheme was set up, I know very well that this was a relatively small project in what at the time was a relatively small department,” he told CSW. “And I think it is unfair that the whole of the civil service becomes criticised for what happened in one relatively small part of the service.”

In today’s statement, Sterling said: “Throughout my career, including my time as head of the civil service, I have been impressed and humbled by the work of civil servants across departments and I want to thank them for the great work they do every day to help make people’s lives better.”

Tags HR Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Categories Government and politics About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd.

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Main political parties ‘unlikely to deliver’ on education pledges, leading think tank says

1 day 23 hours ago
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Further-education plans also come under scrutiny as Labour promises not to be a “top-down micromanager from Whitehall”.

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Out of reach: manifesto commitments on education. Photo:  Ben Birchall/PA

None of the major parties are likely to deliver their “bold pledges” on education, a leading think tank has said, as Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives all face criticism for providing too little detail on their plans for post-16 education.

The Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Green Party have all committed to large spending increases if they win the election on 12 December. They have said the funds will reduce opportunity gaps and improve educational attainment – but the policies in their respective manifestos are “unlikely to deliver on these aspirations”, according to the Education Policy Institute.

The warning came the same week as the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that Labour and the Lib Dems may have underestimated how much their plans for adult education could cost.

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EPI researchers found that polices set out in the Tory manifesto could cause the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils to stagnate or increase, despite a promise to give “every child the same opportunity”.

Under the plans, “half of disadvantaged secondary schools will not be seeing real terms increases in funding next year,'' the report’s lead author Jon Andrews said. 

And, while Labour’s commitments to extra education funding were deemed enough to improve standards, its plans to scrap the regulator Ofsted could “offset the gains” of the funding.

Labour plans to abolish university tuition fees were also dismissed as being “of no benefit to attainment or reducing the disadvantage gap”, according to Mr Andrews. 

The report praised the Lib Dems’ commitment to early years-funding, but EPI added that the party needed a more “carefully phased strategy” to be considered credible.

And both Labour and the Lib Dems may have underestimated the cost of their policies on free school meals, which could lead to them having to cut into other parts of their schools budgets, it added.

Labour has pledged a total of £25bn over three years towards education, as well as plans to cap class sizes to 30 pupils, ensuring qualified teachers and reversing cuts to the Pupil Premium.

The Conservatives have promised a more modest £14bn over three years, including cash for special-needs support, boosting teacher salaries and building more free schools, and to give more powers to Ofsted.

Natalie Perera, EPI's head of research, said: "All of the main parties are united by one thing - bold ambitions to raise attainment and close gaps. However, our analysis shows that while each party has some well-designed and helpful policies, none has a properly evidence-based strategy to meet their ambitions.”

Further education

The think tank also warned that none of the parties had provided enough detail on their plans for further and technical education.

“There is little detail across manifestos on how technical education will be addressed in a new government. Our assumption is that current government policy on reforming qualifications including T-Levels will continue, but there is no detail on what funding will be provided and how quality will be ensured,” the report said.

Nor is there any “clear focus from any party” on the benefits of recruiting younger apprentices or improving the quality of apprenticeships, it added.

All three parties have promised significant funding increases for further education, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats have proposed “extremely large rises in spending and eligibility” for adult education, the IFS said in an analysis this week.

The Labour manifesto promised an annual £3.3bn worth of extra spending and subsidies – a near 90% rise – for adult education up to 2023. The estimate did not include plans to abolish higher-education tuition fees.

The party has also promised to “reverse privatisation” of FE colleges, but shadow education minister Gordon Marsden said this week this would not meaning abolishing private providers, saying a Labour government be an “enabler, not a top-down micromanager from Whitehall”.

The Liberal Democrats costed its plan to offer “skills wallets” worth up to £10,000 for each adult to access life-long learning opportunities at £1.6bn a year by 2024-25 – a 24% increase on existing funding levels.

But the IFS warned both parties faced a risk “that spending might exceed plans if take-up is higher than expected, or even of fraud if the process is not well-regulated”.

By contrast, the Conservative Party has promised to spend £600m extra a year by 2022 on a National Skills Fund.

And while all three parties have pledged large increases to further-education spending, the IFS warned that school sixth forms could lose out under the Conservatives’ plans.

But the IFS said under the Tory plan, school sixth forms would see a fall in spending per student because of growth in student numbers, and because they were unlikely to benefit from the party’s promised extra cash for T-Levels.

Author Display Name Beckie Smith and Eleanor Langford Tags Skills & Education Categories Education and skills Government and politics About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith. Eleanor Langford is a reporter for PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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Labour plans business development agency to champion small firms across government

1 day 23 hours ago
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Plans to support entrepreneurs "from the moment the seed of an idea is planted" also include apprenticeship levy revamp

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Rebecca Long-Bailey (left) and Jeremy Corbyn visit wind turbine facility Vestas on the campaign trail. Photo: PA

The Labour Party would create a cross-government Business Development Agency to act as a one-stop shop for business support and to open up government contracts to smaller companies.

Plans to establish the agency were among 20 pledges to support small businesses and rejuvenate Britain’s high streets announced by shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Long-Bailey said that the agency would “create thriving businesses within our communities, bringing life back to local economies” via a network of business advisers operating out of larger Post Bank branches to provide guidance for local businesses on how to access support and finance.

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It would also promote the use of small and medium-sized enterprises across government, helping them to access government contracts so that they could better compete with larger businesses, and create a central, online portal for business support.

Other pledges in Labour’s business plan included scrapping quarterly tax reporting for businesses with a turnover of under £85,000, through ending the requirement in HM Revenue and Customs’ Making Tax Digital rollout. It would also give business more flexibility over how they use the apprenticeship levy, including the option to use it for all accredited training schemes.

The pledges included the nationalisation of the broadband business of BT to provide free full-fibre broadband to all business premises, as well as improving the UK’s economic infrastructure through Labour’s National Transformation Fund Unit, and creating a National Education Service to provide universal life-long learning.

Announcing the 20-point plan, Long-Bailey said: “Small businesses, the lifeblood of our economy and our communities, are being stretched to breaking point by global corporations that evade their taxes and fail to pay their suppliers on time. This inequality scars our country.

“Small businesses are vital to a thriving economy. Labour wants business support and finance to be available for entrepreneurs from the moment the seed of an idea is planted.”

Responding to the announcement on behalf of the Conservatives, international trade secretary Liz Truss said: "Despite what they claim, Labour are not on the side of small businesses.

She added that smaller companies "don't need a new quango, they need certainty".

"All Corbyn's Labour will bring is higher taxes and uncertainty with no plan for Brexit".

The Liberal Democrats' business spokesperson, Sam Gyimah, said: "Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has dropped any pretence of being friendly to industry, returning to plans from the 1970s to take over company shares and nationalise swathes of the economy."

He also accused both Labour and the Conservatives of being united by Brexit, "the most anti-business policy of all".

Tags Cross-Government Efficiency Economy, Business & Infrastructure Skills & Education Categories Business and industry About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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PCS launches legal action against Home Office over subs payment changes

2 days 19 hours ago
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Biggest civil service union targets Marsham Street after £3m DWP payout

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Mark Serwotka Credit: PCS

The Public and Commercial Services union has launched a legal bid for compensation from the Home Office over the cancellation of a system that saw union subs automatically deducted from members paypackets and passed directly to its coffers.

Last year the PCS won a £3m payout from the Department for Work and Pensions following the 2015 termination of the “check-off” system of automatically deducting subscriptions from staff pay.

The out-of-court settlement came after two union members sued the department for compensation in the wake of a 2016 High Court ruling that check-off had been ended unlawrully because the move was not subject to proper consultation.

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PCS collected 90% of its income via check-off when DWP and the Home Office – among other departments – stopped the system in a move linked to plans announced by the then Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude to end check-off for public sector workers under the trade union bill. PCS said the move was an an attempt to slash trade unions’ funding, saying it made it more complicated for members to sign up.

PCS’s financial records show it lost 37,000 members in 2015 – 16% of its total membership.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said seeking compensation from the Home Office was part of a systematic bid to make sure the union did not lose out financially after the ruling that the change had been unlawful.

“A deep moral and financial injustice was done to our members which was a deliberate attempt to bankrupt PCS,” he said.

"The unprecedented, multimillion-pound compensation payment we received is just the beginning of our fight for justice.

"The removal of check off was politically motivated, aimed at undermining the union’s ability to defend its members’ jobs and to effectively oppose the Tory government’s devastating austerity programme.

“Instead of negotiating with the union properly, ministers thought it more expedient to unlawfully target us financially.”

Civil Service World asked the Home Office for a response, but the department said it would be “inappropriate to comment” on potential legal proceedings.

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Labour promises to cap class sizes under drive to improve school standards

2 days 22 hours ago
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Education funding pledge comes after figures reveal teacher training shortfall

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Labour has vowed to cap class sizes at 30 children as part of a drive to improve school standards across the country.

The party said it would achieve its target by recruiting nearly 20,000 new teachers and pumping £25 billion of additional investment into schools in the next three years.

A further 25,000 unqualified teachers currently working in schools would also be trained in the first five years of a Labour government.

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Labour also said cuts to the Pupil Premium, which gives headteachers extra funding for disadvantaged pupils, would be “fully reversed”, while billions would also be spent tackling overdue repairs and safety measures in schools.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “Labour will transform education standards in this country for every child, capping class sizes and ensuring every child is taught by a qualified teacher in a safe school building.

“We will invest in record per pupil funding, restore the pupil premium and close the gap in support for children with special educational needs and disabilities, to give every child the support they need.”

She said the Conservatives in government had “slashed school funding for the first time in a generation, leaving pupils taught by unqualified teachers, crammed in to super-sized classes, and not receiving the support they need”.

The moves were announced as the OECD economic think tank revealed British school children are more likely to be miserable compared to their classmates in other countries. It also comes after it was revealed that the Department for Education has failed to hit its teacher training targets for the seventh year in a row.

But Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran said the party had no hope of delivering their “copied” policy.

“Our schools and colleges should be world class, but instead Conservative cuts have led to staff being sacked and schools closing early to balance the books,” she said.

“While Labour have attempted to copy the Liberal Democrat policy to employ 20,000 more teachers, they have no hope of meeting this target.”

“With thousands of EU teachers coming to work in schools each year, Labour cannot square these promises with delivering Brexit.”

Author Display Name Anahita Hossein-Pour Tags Operational Delivery Skills & Education Categories Education and skills Government and politics About the author

Anahita Hossein-Pour is a reporter for PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets at @anahitahpour

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Lib Dems confirm Defra would go if party wins power

2 days 22 hours ago
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Food and rural affairs lead says Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources would spell the end for current environment ministry

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Lib Dems leader Jo Swinson Credit: BBC

The Liberal Democrats have confirmed that proposals to create a new Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources would spell the end for Defra if the party wins power in next week’s general election.

Machinery of government changes for the new department form part of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto for the 12 December vote, however the document does not clearly spell out the party’s thinking on the future for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

When the document was launched last month, the creation of the new department – alongside cabinet-level Chief Secretary for Sustainability in the Treasury – appeared to be a partial resurrection of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, scrapped by Theresa May in 2016.

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However, while DECC coexisted with the environment department from its 2008 creation until it was consigned to the history books three and a half years ago, the Liberal Democrats have indicated the ministry would now replace Defra.

Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and food and rural affairs spokesperson, clarified the party’s stance in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme.

Asked if the new department would be the end of the road for Defra, Dodds replied: “It would be replacing Defra, yes”.

“It’s not so much about the title of a department, but what we do,” she said.

“What we’re going to be doing is making sure that our food producers and our farmers have the right support that they need to produce food profitably for the future of this country and that we profile the needs of our rural communities as well.”

As well as bringing forward Theresa May’s net-zero carbon emissions target by five years to 2045, the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto has pledged to increase government spending on climate and environmental objectives to 5% of total expenditure within five years.

It also includes a target of requiring all new homes to meet tough low-energy targets, based on the Passivhaus standard, by 2025 and promises to invest heavily from a £130bn infrastructure fund to accelerate the transition to ultra-low emission transport.

The new chief secretary for sustainability at the Treasury would be tasked with coordinating government-wide action to make the economy sustainable, resource-efficient and zero-carbon. They would be the enforcer for a requirement that every government agency should account for its contribution towards meeting climate targets.

The manifesto also proposed the creation of a £5bn fund for flood prevention and climate adaptation that would aim to improve flood defences, and introduce high standards for flood resilience for buildings and infrastructure in flood risk areas over the course of the parliament.  

The new Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources would also coordinate the planting of 60 million trees a year and introducing requirements for the greater use of sustainably harvested wood in construction.

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Post-Brexit regulations and ‘biggest defence review since the cold war’ among Johnson’s 100-day pledges

2 days 22 hours ago
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Prime minister sets out priorities that also include a Budget after the UK leaves the EU

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Up to speed: Boris Johnson attempts to change the wheel of a Formula One car at Red Bull Racing, before setting out his 100 day plan Photo: PA

The Conservatives have pledged to set out details of the UK’s future policy plans for trade, agriculture, fishing and the environment and to begin an in-depth defence review within 100 days of winning next week's general election.

Setting out the key actions he would take if the Conservatives form a majority government after 12 December's vote, prime minister Boris Johnson said that a government led by him would have left the European Union by the 31 January deadline – well within the first 100 days. 

As well as having passed the withdrawal agreement he agreed with the EU and moving on to trade talks with the bloc on the future relationship, Johnson said that the government would also hold a post-Brexit Budget in February to implement the party’s pledges to raise the threshold at which national insurance is paid.

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Setting out “the future schemes for trade, agriculture, fishing and the environment once we leave the EU” would also be a priority, as would be launching what the party called “the biggest review of our defence, security and foreign policy since the end of the cold war”. This would likely be a new Strategic Defence and Security Review, to update the last one undertaken in 2015.

Other legislative changes that Johnson pledges to complete in the first 100 days include halting the automatic release of serious violent and sexual offenders at the half way point of their sentence, putting plans to increase school funding into law, and introducing higher charges for migrants who are treated in the NHS.

In addition to setting out “the future schemes for trade, agriculture, fishing and the environment once we leave the EU”, other policy pledges include beginning cross party talks to find an enduring solution to the challenge of social care, as well as developing new Australian-style points-based immigration system.

Setting out the plans, Johnson said: “If there is a Conservative majority next week, we will get Brexit done by the end of January. 2020 will then be the year we finally put behind us the arguments and uncertainty over Brexit. We will get parliament working on the people’s priorities – delivering 50,000 more nurses and 20,000 more police, creating millions more GP appointments, and taking urgent action on the cost of living.”

However, Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities and local government secretary, said that the Conservatives had already been in government for 3,494 days.

“In those days we’ve seen child poverty soar, rising homelessness, rising food bank use, and violent crime is up too,” he said. “The NHS has more people waiting for operations, and record staff vacancies.

“As the Conservatives approach 3,500 days of failure, it’s clear that more of the same failed austerity, privatisation and tax giveaways for the few is not the answer.”

Tags Brexit Energy & Environment Health Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Policymaking Skills & Education Transformation Categories Environment Government and politics Health and social care About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd.

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Environment Agency begins Lincolnshire flood repairs

2 days 23 hours ago
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Staff bring out specialist equipment to fix breached river banks as response efforts focus on longer-term measures

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Flood-repair work in Lincolnshire Credit: Environment Agency

Staff from the Environment Agency have begun work to fix a breached riverbank in Lincolnshire in the latest phase of response to last month’s devastating floods.

After an intensive phase of work to aid inundated communities – in conjunction with local authorities – EA efforts are increasingly focusing on longer-term infrastructure repairs after record rainfall pushed rivers in the county to their limits.

The agency said work started at the weekend to restore the Barlings Eau’s breached riverbank, with teams using pontoons and amphibious diggers for the installation of what is expected to be at least 40 metres of piling that will be required to repair the bank

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Only after the piling is in place will the EA be able to pump floodwater away from adjacent agricultural land and rebuild the washed-away bank with clay and soil.

Elsewhere in the county – one-third of which is below sea level – repairs are under way at Timberland Delph, where agency teams moved 100 1-tonne sandbags and equipment into place to protect the bank from further damage ahead of long-term remedial work.

Temporary repairs are also in place on the Billinghay Skirth, where a number of homes have been protected while engineers plan a permanent fix.

EA area director Norm Robinson said that despite the autumn’s extreme rainfall, less than 1% of Lincolnshire’s agricultural land has been affected.

“We know how devastating flooding can be for those affected, which is why we’re completing repairs as quickly as possible,” he said.

“This work will have to be done in stages, but throughout the process, we’ll continue working closely with the internal drainage boards and the National Farmers Union, and we are in near daily contact with the landowners affected, giving advice, guidance and updates on our progress.

“Over the coming days and weeks, Environment Agency teams will continue to carry out inspections, monitor defences, and carry out any further repairs as needed.”

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Labour nationalisation plans ‘could disrupt other policy goals’

3 days 23 hours ago
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Key question is whether services would be better managed in the public sector, IFS says

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Photo: PA

Labour's plans to nationalise rail, mail, water, energy and broadband services could undermine other policy goals such as decarbonisation, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The think tank said the move to bring these companies into public ownership would increase government assets by more than £200bn and add 310,000 employees to the state workforce.

"It would also bring at least £150bn of debt onto the public balance sheet on top of the sum paid out to the current owners of these assets in compensation," according to the analysis. “The cost of appropriately paying for these companies is uncertain as many of them are privately owned, though it would certainly come, at the very least, to many tens of billions of pounds."

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Researchers Sam Crossman, Carl Emmerson and Lucy Kraftman said the move to take these firms into public ownership would have a wide-ranging impact on the economy, and could hinder other government aims.

“These are important industries for the operation of the UK economy. They are economically big in themselves, but that understates their importance to the operation of the UK economy more broadly. Reorganising the ownership and structure of these industries, while simultaneously achieving the ambitious targets that have been set (for instance the rapid decarbonisation of the electricity and gas grids), risks years of disruption.”

Although they note that “a certain amount of state control in these industries is not uncommon in the rest of Europe”, and that “having a privately managed and owned water industry makes England and Wales outliers relative to elsewhere in Western European”, the scale of nationalisations proposed by Labour has "been almost unheard of in the last half century” in comparable countries.

The think tank proposed that an alternative approach to exercise greater control over these areas of infrastructure could be to beef up the regulatory framework for the sectors.

“These are, after all, all industries subject to significant regulatory control and it is unclear which of Labour’s stated objectives could not be achieved via changes to the current system of regulation,” the report said.

Kraftman said: "The industries that Labour plan to nationalise are vital to the UK economy. The key question is whether they would be better managed in the public sector, and what nationalisation can achieve that changing the current regulatory frameworks cannot.

“At least in the short run, Labour’s current plan would lead to significant disruption which could easily, for example, lead to a hiatus in progress towards decarbonisation in the energy sector. One should have very clear evidence for the long term benefits before embarking on such a complex and costly set of changes."

But shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused the IFS of pursuing a "nakedly ideological" agenda.

"Labour’s proposals for nationalisation will enable us to speed up the transition to a sustainable economy and enable us to meet our decarbonisation targets all the sooner," he said.

"Arguing for sticking to a regulation approach, after years of its failure, is a nakedly ideological stance and one at odds with all the evidence."

Additional reporting by Kevin Schofield

Tags Economy, Business & Infrastructure Policymaking Procurement & Commercial Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd.

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Union slams 'misleading' demands to return pension overpayments

3 days 23 hours ago
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PCS, the biggest civil service union, blames "maladminstration" for payment errors

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The PCS union has branded attempts to recover millions of pounds in overpayments to civil service pensioners as “misleading”, saying maladministration is to blame for the errors.

The union, which represents some 200,000 current and former civil servants, condemned pensions administrator MyCSP’s handling of the overpayments, which were discovered in a recent review and date back 15 years, in a statement yesterday.

More than 2,000 ex-civil servants are facing repayment demands adding up to £2.7m, MyCSP’s chief executive, Mike Thurstan, revealed in a letter to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in October. People have been overpaid by an average of £1,200, with the highest bill reaching £34,000.

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The review, which began in 2016 and concluded this year, found at least 12,000 people had been paid too much or too little pension, with the majority having been underpaid.

PACAC chair Sir Bernard Jenkin wrote to MyCSP demanding answers after CSW revealed pensioners were facing demands for large sums of money – sometimes reaching tens of thousands of pounds and dating back more than a decade.

CSW’s investigation found multiple, unrelated errors in the information given to MyCSP by employers when people retired, including mistakes in calculating overtime payments and missing pay data, had led to them being paid the wrong amount.

Thurstan then admitted in his letter that in many cases, the administrator had failed to recalculate pension payments after they were given corrected figures by the employers, which include government departments.

“This meant that a number of pensions, which should have been revised, had not been,” he said.

In a statement yesterday, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The maladministration involved here is very serious... We believe the root cause was the rush to outsource pension administration and shared services and it is simply unacceptable to subject pensioners to hardship and distress years later as a result”.

PCS has called on the Cabinet Office, which is ultimately responsible for the pension scheme, to write off the overpayments. The department has so far refused, saying Treasury guidance on managing public money means it must try to recover the cash.

The most recent tranche of letters sent to pensioners warn that if they do not begin paying the money back within 28 days, MyCSP will automatically put them on a “repayment plan”.

“We will deduct your overpayment from your pension each month until we have recovered the overpayment in full,” the letters said.

PCS claim this demand for immediate repayment to start is misleading, as the Pensions Ombudsman has still to rule on whether the issue relates to maladministration. "PCS advice not to agree to repay at this stage still stands. If you have received such a letter you have the right to object. If you do this, making clear that the overpayment is due to maladministration, the deductions cannot be made because the Pensions Ombudsman has still to rule on the issues relating to maladministration," according to the union.

Responding to the union's statement, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We recognise the inconvenience this will cause some former employees, but we are obliged to recover overpayments where it will be of benefit to the taxpayer to do so.

“We must ensure pensioners are paid their entitlement... we offer a number of repayment options to those who have been overpaid.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Finance HR Categories Government and politics About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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UK commits to European Space Agency with £1.9bn funding

4 days 10 hours ago
News

Government announces country will continue to take part in key programmes

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Credit: European Space Agency

The government has made a major commitment to the European Space Agency with the announcement of a five-year investment programme worth almost £2bn.

The UK Space Agency has said that that, between now and the middle of the next decade, it will fund European programmes to the tune of £374m a year. The government said that this will “secure UK involvement” in a range of major projects.

This includes the Lunar Gateway programme to build a new space station orbiting the moon, the construction of an early-warning system for solar storms, and research dedicated to the use of space technology in the delivery of next-generation communication such as 5G and satellite broadband.

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The UK will also take part in a £180m global project to bring back to Earth geological samples from Mars for the first time.

The UK has already, effectively, dropped out of the ESA-run Galileo project to develop a European satellite navigation system. For the last 18 months the government has been investigating the potential of building its own sat nav platform.

But the commitment to the ESA – which is independent of the European Union – means that UK firms will now be permitted to bid for contracts on other European space programmes.

Business secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “We are delighted to be making this investment in ESA today. From improving communication and connectivity, to helping us monitor the impact of climate change and protect our power grid, our membership of this international organisation will further our position as a space, innovation and climate superpower.”

The UK was a founding member of the ESA in 1975. The organisation now has 22 full member states, while Canada and Slovenia also have agreements permitting them to “fully participate in the programmes of the ESA Education Office”.

Author Display Name Sam Trendall Tags Finance Science & Technology Categories Defence and Security Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this article first appeared.

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Is the UK on track to agree a post-Brexit US trade deal? What leaked papers tell us

4 days 18 hours ago
Opinion

Last week’s leak gives some insights on trade talks, but the government needs to be more open to get the best results

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One of the most misleading questions to ask when considering future UK trade agreements after Brexit is whether Department for International Trade has enough negotiators and is therefore ready. Modern trade agreements cover such a wide range of topics that they involve nearly all departments as well as the devolved assemblies.

Public debate about the impact of a US trade deal on the NHS and UK food standards show why the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have to be involved, and in both cases there will be a devolved interest. But there are many other examples, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy having ownership of sectoral interests such as automotive; the Ministry of Justice for discussions on whether inward investors should have recourse to private tribunals (known as Investor State Dispute Settlement or ISDS); the Intellectual Property Office for discussions on patents; the Treasury on tariffs; HM Revenue and Customs on customs procedures; and so we could continue.

We need to ask whether the whole of government is ready, and the leak of notes from UK-US trade talks provide us with that opportunity. So it’s good news that, as we’d hope to see, the UK side includes representation from across Whitehall in meetings with US officials. For example, discussions on digital trade include the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as policy owner, and on mutual recognition agreements include the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency as a relevant regulator.

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What we can’t see is that each of these sessions with the US is likely to be prepared and debriefed with an even wider range of relevant departments and agencies, to ensure that the UK’s approach truly represents the whole of government. This is one of the most time consuming parts of trade negotiations.

The discussions covered are not yet negotiations, and it is clear reading them that the UK has at present few agreed policies. For example, most of the sessions for which we have notes for meeting 5, in November 2018, consist of discussion of the chapters agreed by the US in their updated trade agreement with Mexico and Canada (USMCA). It is important to note that it is entirely normal for trade negotiations to start with both sides asking questions of the other.

However, this also indicates one problem the UK faces, and why talks may therefore take longer than is currently expected. For at the moment, when asked about the UK’s approach to different policy areas we can only talk about the current situation, not that which may evolve after Brexit. To take an example which arose in the election campaign, the US and other trade partners will want to know the UK approach to state aid, but this may take some time to develop after Brexit. When granting preferential access, you want to be sure that a country will not gain an unfair advantage – the sort that generous state aids could provide.

Another problematic area for future UK negotiation is the role of devolved administrations. For example, in discussions around state-owned enterprises, in round five the US asked about the UK’s “sub-central” level and was told that to an extent these details are still being worked out. In round three, a note says the UK will need to be ready to answer US questions “regarding the roles and powers of the devolved administrations”. Internal UK conversations have not been resolved at the time of writing, and we can expect the devolved administrations to make a strong case for inclusion on the UK side in talks.

The interface of US and EU talks is also made obvious in the notes. It is clear that the US expects the UK to move away from the EU regulatory approach, particularly in the area of food (SPS, or Sanitary and Phytosanitary in trade talks terms), and there was considerable deflation from the US around Theresa May’s Chequers proposals for a common rulebook with the EU, now of course abandoned by her successor. Another area in which the US wishes to see UK diverge from the EU is in voluntary standards and conformity assessment of products (TBT, or Technical Barriers to Trade). The UK will have to make a choice in these areas and as yet we know little about how this will be handled.

One interesting challenge the civil service faces is that the full extent of trade talks is not widely understood, including by those businesses who stand to gain or lose by provisions within them. Although the UK public consultation in 2018 yielded 600,000 responses, a huge number in any context, the level of detail in many I’ve seen from business is insufficient for government use in detailed talks. Subsequently, DIT has set up a number of expert advisory groups, but many of those involved remain sceptical the level of detail is right.

This leak may help a little with awareness, but the government needs to be more open to get the best results. This will include clarity that a trade deal sets rules for any part of trade between two countries, which could include elements such as the NHS and visas; that businesses have to be precise with their asks around removing current trade barriers; and that to get preferential access to a larger market like the US you need to pay a price, like adopting their food standards.

The papers do not help us to judge whether the UK is on track to conclude a successful trade agreement, not least given the uncertainty of the policy landscape. One final point of reflection is the difference between the message coming from the US to UK officials, of encouraging progress, and to other stakeholders in private, of a UK government hopelessly unprepared. This is all part of the game of trade negotiations, but speaks perhaps to a certain naivety on the part of UK officials. Trade talks take place between officials, but also involve businesses, NGOs, thinktanks and MPs, among others. The official-to-official exchanges are proceeding, but there’s a lot more to concluding a trade agreement.

Author Display Name David Henig Tags International Affairs & Security Operational Delivery Partnership working Policymaking Categories Government and politics International Relations About the author

David Henig is director of the UK Trade Policy Project at the think tank ECIPE, and a former UK civil servant who worked for three years on EU-US TTIP talks

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All right meow: Foreign Office chief mouser Palmerston returns after mysterious absence

4 days 22 hours ago
News

Fur-miliar face returns to the Foreign Office as officials are warned to give him space

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Foreign Office staff have been issued with a strict set of protocols to follow as the department’s chief mouser, Palmerston, returns to work after a period of “stress leave”.

The FCO cat has been absent from his King Charles Street home in Whitehall since July, sparking rumours about possible ill health or retirement.

But in a surprise announcement yesterday, permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald revealed that Palmerston had been put on temporary leave after he was found to be “over-grooming” because of stress.

Too many treats, an overwhelmingly large territory and intrusions on his personal space were among the reasons given for the much-loved feline’s distress.

Palmerston was taken in by one of McDonald’s assistant private secretaries to recuperate, the Foreign Office chief told staff.

“During his summer holiday, Cabinet ministers, colleagues and overseas visitors have asked me anxiously about his whereabouts,” McDonald wrote in a blog announcing Palmerston’s return to Whitehall this week.

“He is happy, healthy and full of energy. His pelt is glossy and mostly grown back. We need now to keep him that way,” he said.

The announcement came a month after the mouser’s official Diplomog Twitter account was forced to quash rumours that he was too ill to work, telling followers that “reports of my ill-health are false”.

McDonald urged staff to follow a new set of “Palmerston Protocols”, which ban anyone except the cat’s official volunteer carers from feeding him and tell staff to respect his personal space.

“We must remember why he needed a break, and change our behaviour towards him,” he said. 

The rules also tell staff to allow the cat, who is named after the UK’s longest-serving foreign secretary Lord Palmerston, to choose whether or not to interact with staff in a newly-designated and smaller territory than before.

The Palmerston Protocols are designed to ensure my welfare and happiness in the FCO. My care is under constant review by a dedicated team of voluntary carers, who will be monitoring whether the Palmerston Protocols work. Mice - watch out! I’m coming back! (4/4)

— Palmerston (@DiploMog) December 2, 2019

McDonald explained: “Cats are territorial. They fret when their territory is bigger than they can manage.”

He told staff not to disturb Palmerston while he is sleeping. “He has full choice and control of who he deigns to greet or imperiously ignores,” the perm sec added.

Palmerston joined the FCO in 2016 from the rescue charity Battersea to control pests. As with all chief mousers in government, he is fed and cared for entirely by volunteers.

His colleagues include No.10 rival Larry, Treasury mascot Gladstone and Cabinet Office mother and son duo Evie and Ossie. Evie, who was adopted from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust in 2016, was promoted in April to become the face of the Government Equalities Office.

Author Display Name Beckie Smith About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith

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Home Office launches user-centred design drive for digital services

4 days 23 hours ago
News

Department seeks partners to ‘avoid shortfall of essential skills’

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The Home Office is to launch a two-year project to implement user-centred design principles across its technology and digital services.

A contract notice – the first of it two that will be published – reveals that the department wants to work with external suppliers that can “help meet demand for user-centred design capability… on a range of internal and public-facing services, from discovery to live”.

The tender document adds that “a large proportion” of government services currently fail to meet to specifications of the 14-point Service Standard in a number of areas, including “understanding users and their needs, solving a whole problem for users, making the service simple to use, [and] making sure everyone can use the service”.

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The department said: “Growing demand for user-centred design capability means we need experts in content design, interaction design, user research, service design and accessibility to increase our capacity and support efforts to deliver user-centred services that meet Service Standard requirements. We need an alternative procurement route to avoid a shortfall of these essential skills, which would put delivery timelines and standards at risk.”

For this first procurement, the Home Office is seeking to appoint a supplier to a two-year contract of as-yet-unspecified value. Bids for the work are open until midnight on Friday 13 December, with a deal scheduled to come into effect on 10 February.

Employees from the winner will join a team “civil service-led” team composed of contractors and government employees. 

Most of the work will take place in the Greater London area, but bidders “must be capable of providing the service nationwide”. 

The second of the tenders for a “user-centred design partner” is set to be published on the government’s Digital Marketplace platform in due course.

Author Display Name Sam Trendall Tags Digital, Data & AI Operational Delivery Science & Technology Transformation Categories Science, technology and research About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this article first appeared.

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Cabinet Office agrees pay deal with up to 10% wage boost for lowest paid

4 days 23 hours ago
News

Department is the latest to get permission from the Treasury to exceed 2% pay guidance

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Staff in the Cabinet Office are to get a salary increase of up to 10% after the department received permission from the Treasury to exceed the 2% pay guidance for 2019-20.

The department's pay deal, agreed after talks with the FDA trade union, will see the lowest-paid staff receive an up to 10% pay bump, while all staff will receive an increase of at least 2%.

The agreement is based on a 3% increase of the Cabinet Office paybill. The deal will see the lowest pay level in the department – the bottom end of band C – rise by 10% from £20,594 to £22,653. The band C minimum outside the capital will increase by 8%, from £17,489 to £18,890.

The bottom rating of all other pay bands – from B1 to A+ – will increase between 4% to 9%. Nearly half of all Cabinet Office staff (48%) will benefit from the uplift to the minima, according to the FDA. The union said this will address some of the lowest starting salaries in Whitehall, which it said have been a stumbling block for recruitment and retention.

Pay
Scale Pay Band Current
minimum 2019 minimum Percentage uplift Current
maximum

2019 maximum (unchanged)

National Band C £17,489 £18,890 8% £20,796 £20,796   Band B1 £21,808 £22,700 4% £26,570 £26,570   Band B2 £29,083 £30,500 5% £35,794 £35,794   Band B2+ £34,265 £35,635 4% £40,248 £40,248   Band A £43,039 £47,000 9% £56,524 £56,524   Band A+ £54,430 £57,000 5% £65,308

£65,308

London Band C £20,594 £22,653 10% £24,491 £24,491   Band B1 £24,759 £25,997 5% £30,168 £30,168   Band B2 £31,339 £31,339 5% £39,100 £39,100   Band B2+ £36,930 £38,700 5% £43,889 £43,889   Band A £48,965 £52,500 7% £60,635 £60,635   Band A+ £58,562 £61,900 6% £70,877 £70,877

Staff above the pay band minimums will receive an award of between 1% and 3.75%, dependent on their position in the pay range.

Position in Pay Range        Consolidated Award Non Consolidated Award On or Above Maximum 1% (one-off pensionable award) 1% 75.1-99% percentile 2% 0% 50.1-75% percentile 2% 0% 25.1-50% percentile 2.5% 0% 10.1-25% percentile 3%  0% 0.1-10% percentile 3.75% 0%

In a statement, the FDA said its members in the Cabinet Office were working tirelessly on major projects from preparing for Brexit to implementing political and constitutional reform. The union welcomed the Cabinet Office making the case to the Treasury for a pay increase above the 2% pay guidance.

Treasury pay guidance for 2019 set out that departments could increase paybills by 2%, but any increase beyond this level required Treasury approval. As well as the Cabinet Office, approval has been given for higher increases to the Department for Exiting the European Union, but the Department for International Trade's bid has not been approved. HMRC chief executive Jim Harra has also revealed that his department is in talks with the Treasury about agreeing a higher increase.

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The FDA told CSW that the Cabinet Office deal is “only a start”.

“Much more is needed to bring all civil servants up to a proper level after years of pay restraint, and to ensure the civil service can attract and retain the best people,“ they said.

The FDA, whose members approved the deal, told CSW that it is “only a start”.

“Much more is needed to bring all civil servants up to a proper level after years of pay restraint, and to ensure the civil service can attract and retain the best people,“ they said.

Payments under the new pay structure took place in November.

Responding to the pay deal, Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said: “The headline increase from the Cabinet Office is welcome, especially because there is no link to negative changes to terms and conditions, and those at the bottom end of the scale are getting more.

“For too long the civil service has had stagnant pay growth with workers expected to do more for frequently a real-terms pay cut. With the Cabinet Office taking the lead in this way we hope other departments will adopt this as a minimum standard.”

Tags HR Leadership & Management Categories Government and politics About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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Stats authority warns parties on 'unclear' manifesto claims on schools funding

4 days 23 hours ago
News

Figures in Labour and Conservative manifestos could give an "unclear impression" of future spending on schools, UKSA says

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Both the Labour (above) and Conservative manifestos lacked crucial context for spending figures, UKSA said. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire/PA Images

The UK’s two biggest political parties have included figures that could give an inaccurate picture of schools spending figures in their manifestos, the statistics watchdog has warned.

The UK Statistics Authority said yesterday that the Labour and Conservative pledges for the 12 December election both repeated claims the regulator had commented on previously.

The Labour Party document says that 83% of schools face cuts next year – a claim UKSA addressed in January when it was first used by the National Education Union. The watchdog said it had found “a number of issues with its presentation”: most notably that the calculation was a comparison between 2015-16 and 2021-21, and did not relate specifically to next year.

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The Labour manifesto does not explain this calculation, which the NEU added to its website after discussions with the Office for Statistics Regulation in January. “Without this context, the headline statement is likely to give an unclear impression of future changes in school budgets,” the UKSA said.

The Tory manifesto meanwhile repeats a claim that a Conservative government would provide “an extra £14bn funding for schools”. UKSA said in October that the figure, published in a statement by the Department for Education, “could mislead” if it were presented without an explanation of how it was calculated.

The £14bn increase is set to happen over three years up to 2022-23. The statistic was calculated by adding and rounding up three years of increases and does not account for inflation, UKSA said.

“In October, we therefore emphasised the need for clarity on what the figures represent. The manifesto fails to provide this clarity,” it said.

It added: “The manifesto introduction mentions a time frame when referring to this increase, however when explaining changes in school funding dates or baselines are not given. The manifesto also translates the figure into a per week basis. The basis for the per week calculation is unclear.”

UKSA has made several public statements on schools funding statistics over the last two years. In October 2018 it said it would investigate DfE’s use of schools that included tuition fees to demonstrate its record on schools spending.

And in May, Ed Humpherson, head of the OSR, UKSA’s regulatory arm, told the department to examine “not just whether [ministers’] statements correctly quote the statistics, but also whether, in the context, the use being made of them is liable to mislead”.

His intervention came after a schools minister Nick Gibb told Channel 4 News that the government had “protected school funding in real term terms” since 2010 and that since 2017 had been “giving more money to every local authority for every pupil in every school”, without making it clear that the figures referred specifically to 5 to 16-year-olds.

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Finance Skills & Education Categories Economics and finance Education and skills Government and politics About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith

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MoJ reviews licence conditions of terrorists released from prison after London Bridge attack

5 days 22 hours ago
News

Review comes after attack by Usman Khan left two people dead

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Floral tributes for victims of the terrorist attack. Photo: PA

Ministry of Justice officials worked through the weekend to review cases of around 70 convicted terrorists released under licence following the London Bridge attack that lead to the death of two people on Friday.

The department is reviewing the licence conditions of every convicted terrorist released from prison on licence after the attack, in which Usman Khan killed Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones.

Khan was convicted and imprisoned for his role in a failed plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. He was initially sentenced to an eight-year jail term for public protection, at at the end of which he could only be released if the Parole Board for England and Wales judged he was no longer a threat.

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However, in 2013, the Court of Appeal replaced the sentence with a 16-year fixed term, of which Khan should serve half in prison, and the other half under licence.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, said yesterday that 74 people has been similarly jailed for terror offences and released early, who were now having their licence conditions reviewed.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, justice secretary Robert Buckland confirmed MoJ officals had been reviewing all of these cases.

“It is combined approach, not just the Ministry of Justice but the police and security services are all working together,” he said. “My officials have been working over the weekend on the 70 or so cases of individuals who have been convicted of terror offences and released on licence.”

He said the department was working on “satisfying [itself] about the details and making sure that, first of all, any licence conditions are being complied with and if not, the individuals can be and will be recalled to prison". He said civil servants were also concened with "making sure that any licence conditions are as comprehensive as possible”.

Khan, who was killed by police after the attack, was attending a prisoner rehabilitation conference at Fishmongers' Hall in London Bridge on Friday, at which Merritt was a co-ordinator and Jones a volunteer.

Buckland said the MoJ had already issued an order “that events such as the one that was happening on Friday will not be attended by people on early release on licence".

“I’ll be meeting my officials this morning, to satisfy myself about [the monitoring of] not only those cases but also people who are about to be released, but also a wider groups who were not convicted of terrorism offences, but who present an extremist risk in the prison system,” he said.

An MoJ spokesperson told CSW that the department had drafted in extra staff over the weekend to review cases.

Also appearing on Today, former Parole Board chair Nick Hardwick argued that “cuts and reorganisations of the prisons and probation service have made them much less able to do their jobs and keep the rest of us safe”.

The government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme split the probation system in two in 2015, with 21 private Community Rehabilitation Companies monitoring medium and low-risk offenders. The National Probation Service retained oversight of high-risk offenders.

However, this reform is now being reversed.

Hardwick said: “We’ve neglected the criminal justice system and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

He also urged parties to avoid  “political point-scoring” after the attack, adding that politicising the deaths was “deeply disrespectful to the family and friends of the people who were killed”.

Tags Justice and Public Safety Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Categories Government and politics About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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Plan for government owned Trainline-style online ticket shop unveiled by Labour

5 days 22 hours ago
News

Party proposes government-run ‘one-stop shop’ for all train trips, as welll as one-third cut in fares

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Labour would create a “one-stop shop” for rail tickets to rival Trainline website if it moves into government after the election.

The new service would form part of their plans to take rail franchises back into public ownership within five years of coming to power. The party says the new central online booking portal would replace the “confusing ticket sales of private train operators”.

But the site would also be a major competitor to third-party companies such a Trainline, which floated on the London Stock Exchange this summer with a valuation of £2.2bn.

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Labour says the new site would be necessary to simplify the process of purchasing tickets form the various operators, after research shows there are 55 million types of fare available.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said of the plans: “Labour's publicly owned rail company will provide a simple one-stop shop for ticket information and purchase, replacing the confusing ticket sales of private train operators. The independent ticketing websites and apps that currently provide a valuable service will continue as at present.”

The party also announced today it would cut most rail fares by a third from January next year if it wins the election.

Regulated rail fares are currently set to rise by 2.7% from January, in line with the rate of inflation.

But Labour is promising to scrap the existing system with a "simple, fair, affordable and transparent" regime of rail fares if it wins office, and claims that the average commuter is set to save £1,097. The reduction would cover most peak time fares and season tickets, and Labour said it would represent the biggest ever reduction in rail charges.

The party forecasts that the pledge will cost £1.5bn, drawn from existing Department for Transport budgets.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Travelling by train is my favourite way of getting around the country but for too long a fragmented and privatised rail system has ripped-off passengers.

"Taking back control of our railways is the only way to bring down fares and create a railway network that is fit for the future.

"Labour will bring about real change on the railways because we are on the side of passengers."

However, the Conservatives accusing Corbyn of pushing an "ideological" plan to bring the railways back into public ownership. 

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: "This is another desperate attempt from Labour to distract from their inability and unwillingness to be straight with people on where they stand on Brexit, and the fact they would raise taxes on low and middle income workers across the country."

Labour also revealed plans to make England one of the best countries in the world for walking and cycling.

If they win the election the party has promised to create a new healthy streets programme, modelled on towns in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The party would also build 5,000km of cycleways, as well as providing universal affordable access to bicycles and grants for e-bike purchases.

Author Display Name Alain Tolhurst and Matt Honeycombe-Foster About the author

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for CSW's sister publication PoliticsHome, and Matt Honeycombe-Foster is the news editor of PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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Richard Johnstone

Labour pledge to replace DWP on day one of new government ‘impossible’

6 days 11 hours ago
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IfG analysis finds that main parties’ manifesto pledges risk creating uncertainty and distraction

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Labour cannot deliver on its pledge to scrap the Department for Work and Pensions overnight, according to an Institute for Government analysis of election pledges to restructure the machinery of government.

While the Conservatives have not made any proposals to change departments, or create new ones, other parties are proposing radical changes.

In Labour’s case, these include creating a Department for Housing, transforming the Government Equalities Office into a Department for Women and Equalities, replacing DWP with a Department for Social Security, and creating a Ministry for Employment Rights.

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The Liberal Democrats want to create a Department for Climate Change and Sustainability, move many of the Home Office’s responsibilities to other departments and appoint a chief sustainability secretary in the Treasury.

While the Green Party has proposed a Department for the Green New Deal, and splitting the Home Office into ministries for sanctuary and the interior.

Tim Durrant, associate director at the IfG, has examined the promises of the main parties to restructure government.

“Deciding on a name for a new department is the easy part. Each party needs to think through exactly what their proposed new departments would do,” he said.

“Labour’s pledge to replace DWP “on day one” with DSS will be impossible. DWP is the largest government department, both in terms of staff and budget, and has a presence across the entire country.

"Rebranding its entire estate would be a big project alone, but Labour also wants to “completely change the culture” of the department, and scrap its flagship policy, Universal Credit. Such a huge amount of change will take time and effort; that, and not changing the department’s name, should be the focus of Labour’s plans."

He argued that while creating a new government department to deal with a high-priority issue may appear to be a decisive move, the main parties’ manifesto pledges risk creating uncertainty and distraction.

Abolishing government departments and creating new ones is fraught with difficulty, and parties need to think before they act in their threats to replace government departments if they come to power, he said. The analysis echoes concerns outlined in a report by IfG into the cost of machinery of government changes earlier this month. This revealed that the average cost of setting up a new government department can be up to £34m and includes the impact of lost productivity as staff adjust to the new organisation.

There is one glaring omission from all of the parties’ plans for new departments: the future of the Department for Exiting the EU, said Durrant

Uncertainty over the long-term future of a department that was created to oversee the UK’s Brexit negotiations means that parties should plan now what they would do with DExEU “rather than make a potentially confusing snap judgement at a later date.”

He commented: “If the parties are serious about making changes to the structure of government departments, then they should first think through the questions that are raised by their restructuring plans.

Author Display Name Jonathan Owen Tags Brexit Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Transformation Categories Government and politics Image description PA Twitter Link

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Richard Johnstone

Latest civil service & public affairs moves — December 2

6 days 11 hours ago
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New appointments in the civil service, UK politics, and public affairs, via our colleagues at Dods People

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Government departments

  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Suzanne Burke named as the interim small business commissioner.
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Christopher Campbell has been appointed Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Republic of Ecuador in succession to Katherine Ward.

Devolved Authorities

Welsh Government

  • Welsh Industrial Development Advisory Board:  Alun Jones, Ben Pritchard, Mark Rhydderch-Roberts, Nigel Morgan, Samantha Toombs and Sioned Edwards appointed as members

Local Authorities

  • Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner: Ray Bisby appointed to be Acting Police and Crime Commissioner until the 7 May election of a new PCC.
  • Gloucester City Council: Richard Cook replaced Paul James as leader of the council.
  • Argyll and Bute Council: Pippa Milne to become chief executive on 19 December.
  • West Sussex County Council: Nathan Elvery stood down as chief executive, and Lee Harris is in the role on an interim basis.
  • By-election Results 28 November: Oxfordshire County Council – Pete Sudbury elected for Wallingford – Green gain (caused by the resignation of Independent councillor Lynda Atkins); Wiltshire Council – Jo Trigg elected for Trowbridge Lambrok – Liberal Democrat gain (caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Deborah Halik); North Norfolk Council – Liz Withington elected for Sheringham North – Liberal Democrat hold (caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Brian Hannah);

Industry

If you and your organisation would like to be included in this section, then email us at editor@dodsgroup.com

Interest Groups

  • St John Cymru: Helen Smith named as chief executive, having been in the role on an interim basis.
Author Display Name Dods People Tags HR Leadership & Management Parliament Categories Government and politics Image description PA Twitter Link

 

 

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