News round-up – February 27_2

26 Feb 09
The Conservatives have called on the government to use public funds to rescue Private Finance Initiative projects that have ground to a halt because of the credit crunch.

27 February 2009

A system for improving the efficiency of government buildings is to be rolled out across the public sector, it has been announced. The Office of Government Commerce has already made its Property Benchmarking Service mandatory across Whitehall and is now expanding it to all public bodies. The service is part of an OGC property initiative that aims to generate savings of £1.5bn a year by 2013. It enables comparison of public buildings’ operational costs, space usage, workplace productivity and environmental consumption. OGC chief executive Nigel Smith said: ‘In the current economic climate, it is essential that public sector organisations utilise tools and initiatives that can help guarantee them value for money. This service will do just that.’

An alternative response system for 999 operators has been approved by the Department of Health for use in ambulance control rooms. It will allow staff to make immediate referrals to urgent care services for patients who don’t need an ambulance. The system, NHS Pathways, has been used successfully in the Northeast for two years and has safely handled more than 1 million calls. Operators can give patients a wide range of options and advice in one phone call, from dispatching an ambulance to referral to a local service. Health minister Ben Bradshaw said: ‘Out of hours care has changed dramatically over the past few years with extended GP opening hours, walk-in centres and minor injuries units offering a range of options. It is important that patients get the right treatment at the right time.’

A comprehensive inquiry into primary schooling has found that too much emphasis on testing and basic literacy and numeracy is depriving children of a broad education. The primary curriculum: an alternative vision was published on February 20 by the Cambridge Primary Review. It is the latest in a series of interim reports from the inquiry, which will publish its full findings later this year. The review identified a catalogue of problems with the existing curriculum, from ‘a policy-led belief that breadth and standards are incompatible, when the evidence consistently shows the opposite’, to ‘excessive micro-management by government and national agencies’. It argued that teaching of science, the arts and humanities is suffering and proposed a broader framework for study, with 12 core aims and eight domains of knowledge, skill and enquiry.

Swansea City Council is to re-examine the feasibility of providing a tram system for the area. Liberal Democrat councillor Rob Speht, who has been campaigning for the return of trams to the city, told Public Finance that the initiative would involve drawing together new and existing information, including public consultation and funding options. He said: ‘The starting point would be to do very much like Nottingham, use public-private finance. Fund it 75% through private finance, between £300m and £400m. We’re looking at five to eight years’ time. I’d like to think we will have managed to climb our way out of the current situation by then and will probably be in the middle of the next boom.’

The government is to provide £5m for six state-of-the-art helicopters for nine police forces. One helicopter will be used as part of a trial project to enable neighbouring police forces to work together by sending the nearest available aircraft to incidents across force borders. Policing minister Vernon Coaker said: ‘Air support units play a crucial role in helping police protect communities against crime.’ The police aircraft fleet comprises 29 light and medium twin-engined helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft, operating from 29 units in England and Wales.


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