31 October 2008
A light-touch licensing system should be introduced for private landlords, while letting agencies should be subject to mandatory regulation, a review into the private rented housing sector has recommended. The review, headed by Julie Rugg of York University's Centre for Housing Policy, also called on councils to reward good landlords, tackle bad ones and spread awareness of tenants' rights. Housing minister Margaret Beckett said most people were satisfied with their experience of private renting but added there was a lot to do to protect vulnerable tenants from the minority of unscrupulous landlords.
The Highways Agency's case to use a public-private partnership contract for an improved motorway communications system was 'doubtful', the Commons Public Accounts Committee has said. MPs said the agency had failed to take account of the fact that costs under a conventional public procurement could have been lower than expected. The contract also took five years to complete instead of the expected two. The National Road Telecommunications Service promises to give drivers real-time information about traffic jams and delays. The PAC said the agency should use the system to better manage motorway traffic.
The NHS should make better use of everyday technology such as e-mail and the internet to improve access to care. Two reports from the King's Fund think-tank, published on October 24, said patients should be able to go online to book GP appointments, view their medical records or look at test results. Alasdair Liddell, a senior associate at the King's Fund, said: 'New technologies, even basic ones, are not embedded in the health service. Consumers are increasingly expecting to use technology in their health care.'
An amendment to the Pensions Bill will allow people to purchase six years' worth of extra National Insurance contributions in order to enjoy a higher state pension. The government said the change would particularly benefit women and carers who often have incomplete National Insurance records and therefore receive a low state pension. The changes will apply to those who reach state pension age between April 2008 and April 2015. Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell said: 'This is fair, affordable and straightforward — and it will give more people the chance of a more secure future to look forward to in retirement.'
A research centre set up to assess the impact of third sector organisations opened on October 23. The Third Sector Research Centre based at the University of Birmingham — a joint venture between Birmingham and Southampton universities — will look at the evidence base around the work of charities, social enterprises and community organisations. Its £10.25m funding will come from the Economic and Social Research Council, Office for the Third Sector and the Barrow Cadbury Trust. The new third sector minister, Kevin Brennan, said the centre was an 'important part of the government's strategy to create the environment for a thriving third sector'.
The Commons transport select committee has branded progress on reducing deaths on the roads as 'disappointing'. In a report published on October 29, the MPs called for new road-death reduction targets and recommended that the drink-drive limit be lowered, roadside breath test devices approved and there should be tougher penalties for alcohol-related offences. Committee chair Louise Ellman said that it was a national problem affecting people's lives.' She said 3,000 deaths and 250,000 injuries were 'a staggering annual toll to pay for mobility'.