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Public excluded from government data – PAC

Government data needs to be made easier to access and to understand, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned.

The committee said that

government data produced for public consumption must be “easy to understand”. It praised some data releases – such as crime maps and school performance – but criticised the data available on adult social care.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge MP said: “It is simply not good enough to dump large quantities of raw data into the public domain. It must be accessible, relevant and easy for us all to understand. Otherwise the public cannot use it to make comparisons and exercise choice, which is the key objective of the transparency agenda.”

Broadband strategy ‘preoccupied with speed’

The Government’s broadband strategy focuses too much on speed and not enough on universal access, according to a critical report from the House of Lords Communications Committee.

They suggest the priority should be to close the digital divide between those with good internet access and those without, rather than aiming for the best possible speeds for only certain parts of the country.

The Government has promised the rollout of superfast broadband by 2015.

Nine-year low for police officer numbers

Police officer numbers in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level in nine years, statistics from the Home Office show.

Full time equivalent (FTE) officers in 43 forces across England and Wales numbered 134,101 at the end of March. This is a fall of 5,009, or 3.6%, on the previous year. However, the number of volunteer special constables was up 10.4% to 20,343, figures show.

6 | public sector executive Jul/Aug 12

Energy bill ‘unworkable’ – Tim Yeo

The Treasury has been accused of making the energy bill “unworkable” by the Commons Energy & Climate Change Select Committee and its Conservative chairman Tim Yeo MP.

The legislation would scrap systems of subsidy for large- scale renewable energy and encourage nuclear power through a new system of ‘contracts for difference’ – where companies would sign long-term agreements to supply and pay for low-carbon generation.

It is well-known that the DECC and energy secretary Ed Davey have been engaged in a long-

running feud with the Treasury and chancellor George Osborne over energy policy and subsidies.

The energy committee has said the

proposed spending cap

to limit green levies that can be passed onto consumers in energy bills could introduce an “unacceptable” level of risk to companies looking to invest.

Yeo said it would create the risk of higher household bills, limit investment and reinforce the dominance of the ‘Big 6’ energy companies. He asserted that the Treasury demanded changes to the bill to placate windfarm-hating backbench Tory MPs. Major cuts to support for onshore wind would “cause serious damage to the industry,” he said, highlighting that wind is the cheapest way to meet renewables targets.

Yeo said: “The Government is in danger of botching its plans to boost clean energy, because the Treasury is refusing to back new contracts to deliver investment in nuclear, wind, wave and carbon capture and storage.”

In a BBC interview, he

specifically blamed Tory backbenchers, saying: “Under the guise of reducing bills for consumers, the chancellor will actually be increasing consumers’ bills. I don’t know if the backbenchers realise this but surely the Treasury does – yet it keeps pressing on with an action that’s clearly political to assuage MPs who don’t like turbines in the countryside.”

Gordon Edge, director of policy at wind industry body RenewableUK, said botched reform could lead to “less diversity in the market, higher prices for consumers, over reliance on imported dirty fuels, and the potential of tens of thousands of low carbon jobs lost”, and called for further clarity on the proposals.

Davey said: “We are determined to use the pre-legislative scrutiny period to develop a robust and effective bill with the interests of both consumers and investors at the heart.”

DWP long-lists 15 councils for Universal Credit pilot Fifteen

local authorities have been long-listed as potential pilot sites for Universal Credit,

the Department for Work and Pensions has announced.

The councils will focus on delivering face-to-face support for people claiming benefits under the new system and help with budgeting and job searches.

The pilot aims to reduce fraud and error as well as reducing homelessness.

The 15 sites were selected from 38 bids; a separate selection will take place for Wales and Scotland.

The selected sites for England are: Barnet; Bath and North East Somerset; Birmingham;

Hammersmith & Fulham (in consortium with Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Westminster); Leeds; Lewisham; Melton; Newcastle-under-Lyme; North Dorset; Oldham; Oxford; Rushcliffe; a consortium of North Yorkshire authorities led by Scarborough; West Lindsey; and Wigan.

Welfare reform minister Lord

Freud said: “All the recommended local authorities offer very exciting ideas on how they might help people with their claims for Universal Credit and progress into work. We are now working through the long-list with a view to announcing the final dozen or so successful authorities across Great Britain in the summer.”

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