News round-up – March 13_2

12 Mar 09

13 March 2009

Ministers have promised to review planning targets for councils as part of a wide-ranging purge of red tape. Responding to the Killian Pretty review of the planning system, published last year, the Department for Communities and Local Government said it would explore new ways of measuring performance as part of expected changes to the local authority performance framework in 2011. Further financial incentives for councils will also be considered as part of a review of the Housing and Planning Delivery Grant, the DCLG announced on March 5. Housing and planning minister Margaret Beckett claimed the reforms, which will also affect schools and hospitals wishing to extend buildings, could save the economy up to £300m per year.

Crown Court cases in London and the Southeast are being subjected to delays and disruption because services are running at close to full capacity, the National Audit Office has found. An inquiry into Crown Court administration found the number of cases heard increased by 5% between 2005 and 2007. The Courts Service has been forced to use magistrates’ courtrooms to meet the demand, the NAO said. The report also identified weaknesses in training programmes available to staff, and concluded that organisations’ IT systems were harming efficiency.

More than a third of housing associations are paying their board members, with larger landlords more likely to offer payments than smaller ones, research by the National Housing Federation has found. Lucy Ferman, principal author of the study, published on March 5, said RSLs that offered pay were ‘overwhelmingly positive’ about the impact it had on governance. But the study found that large, high-profile associations were governed effectively without board members receiving money. ‘The traditional voluntary ethos remains alive and well,’ Ferman added.

The Office of Fair Trading is getting better at maintaining competition in markets, and must now strengthen the skills and experience of its managers, a National Audit Office study has found. The report recognised that the OFT had made a ‘determined effort’ to improve, following NAO recommendations in 2005 and further criticism from the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee in 2006. The progress report, published on March 5, said the OFT was also addressing the perception that it was interested only in high-profile cases by launching a series of investigations into local markets. The NAO highlighted steps taken by the body to complete its investigations more quickly, saying timescales had more than halved in some cases.

The Environment Agency is to take charge of a scheme to cap aviation emissions. The European Union Emissions Trading scheme — which caps net carbon dioxide emissions from aviation at average 2004 to 2006 levels — will come into force for flights arriving at and departing from EU airports from January 1, 2012, following agreement in Brussels in late 2008. The scheme means that businesses must buy allowances from other sectors to cover any emissions above their allotted cap, encouraging greener aviation.

Parents are overwhelmingly in favour of Ofsted inspections and believe they lead to improvements in schools, according to research carried out by Ipsos Mori. However, 65% of those surveyed believe the two days’ notice schools are given ahead of a visit from Ofsted is too much. The survey, carried out on behalf of the regulator, found 92% of parents were in favour or strongly in favour of inspections, while 82% thought they would lead to improvement in schools. Ofsted inspection reports were considered ‘helpful’ by 84% of parents, but a fifth did not know whether their children’s school had been inspected.


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