20 February 2004
A government task force formed to help councils meet the decent homes target is set to be disbanded after fewer than three years.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is considering whether to move ten Community Housing Task Force advisers from its London headquarters to regional government offices.
The break-up of the task force is likely to coincide with a major ODPM reorganisation following next month's departure of Genie Turton, director general for housing, planning and homelessness.
Richard McCarthy – the former chief executive of the Peabody Trust who moved to the ODPM last November as director of sustainable communities – is expected to be the main beneficiary, inheriting overall responsibility for housing and planning from April 1.
The ODPM has confirmed that Joe Montgomery, head of the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, will take charge of a new group tackling disadvantage, which will co-ordinate the work of the NRU along with the Social Exclusion and Homelessness units.
The imminent break-up of the task force, launched in summer 2001, has angered its former leader, Sarah Webb, now director of policy at the Chartered Institute of Housing.
'I don't understand how this will help local authorities trying to meet the decent homes target,' she said. 'One of the unique and important features of the CHTF is that, while they are remote workers, they meet together regularly as a team and are plugged into Eland House [the ODPM's London offices].'
Initially, CHTF advisers helped councils organise stock transfers but, since 2002, they have been able to look at options such as arm's-length management organisations and the Private Finance Initiative. 'It's a partnership between local and central government that should be being replicated elsewhere, not disbanded,' said Webb.
An ODPM spokeswoman said the future location of the task force was still being reviewed. 'Its tasks and targets remain unchanged,' she added.
Other features of the reorganisation would be announced closer to April 1.
CRB plans new database to speed up checks
The Criminal Records Bureau could launch its own freestanding national database of criminal intelligence this year, which could widen its access to government bodies and speed up its disclosure service, it has emerged.
In a paper sent to the Bichard Inquiry, which is examining the safeguards around children following the Soham murder case, the Home Office details a pilot project between the CRB and 12 police forces.
The database, known as PLX, would contain the names and addresses of individuals on whom local police forces hold intelligence information. The database would not list the actual information but would flag up which local police force to contact when the CRB was conducting its vetting checks.
A spokesman for the CRB told Public Finance that the new system would ensure that individuals could be tracked regardless of their locations. 'This would dramatically speed up enhanced disclosures. Instead of having to write to forces and wait for responses, we'll be able to pass applications if 98% of forces don't have any information,' he added.
The CRB is also planning to expand its checking powers to other bodies such as Customs & Excise and the British Transport Police using this database. This would need a change to the primary legislation but would close a loophole whereby a paedophile accused of smuggling child pornography would not be picked up by the CRB check.
The Home Office is also considered introducing regular re-vetting to a wider range of workers but concedes that this would have 'resource implications' for employers and registered bodies with charges for disclosures set to rise again in April.
SEN schools need more support, says Ofsted
Local education authorities need to provide better support to maintained special needs schools to help them set improvement targets, according to Osted inspectors.
A report by the schools standards watchdog, published on February 20, shows that most special educational needs (SEN) schools visited by inspectors 'are good at tracking the progress of individual pupils', but warns that many have not developed the expertise to set wider standards for improvements.
Setting targets for pupils with special educational needs reports that since 1998 there has been a statutory requirement on all schools to set targets in relation to national expectations for raising attainment. 'However, special schools that educate pupils with moderate, severe or profound learning difficulties have usually set zero-rated targets, because most of their pupils would not be achieving national levels,' the watchdog claims.
In March 2001, the Department for Education and Skills issued guidance asking SEN schools to set different, incremental targets for pupils. That has led to improvements, the report claims, but LEAs and the DfES could both do more to help the schools better collate information and improve further.
Chief inspector of schools David Bell said: 'In general, schools are meeting the challenges, but more support needs to be given by LEAs.'