Third of hospitals crippled by debt, MPs warn

A third of hospital trusts are in financial difficulty and may never achieve foundation status, MPs have warned.

Dozens will have to merge or be broken up, meaning that services will be cut and patients forced to travel further to neighbouring hospitals, the public accounts committee has found. Some could even be forced to close.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, blamed the “dismal legacy” of private finance initiative bills and “inadequate leadership,” which had left trusts flailing under unsustainable debt. Ministers had hoped all NHS hospital trusts would become foundation trusts by 2014, allowing them greater freedom.

But the MPs found that around four in five of the 113 trusts which have not yet achieved foundation status were in financial difficulty. And 20 hospital trusts have declared that they will never be able to meet the tough financial conditions required by the Government, meaning they will be merged or broken up.

The committee warned that that would “inevitably reduce the range of services provided by some hospitals”. Half of the trusts who said they could not make the foundation status are in the capital. “Nearly half of all hospital trusts have not yet achieved foundation trust status,” said Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee.

“The Government wants almost all trusts to do so by 2014 and this is clearly a very tall order.

“The Department [of Health] reassured us that none of the trusts’ current plans involve closing hospitals, but some trusts are in such a poor financial state it is difficult to see why other organisations would want to take them on.”

Many hospitals are suffering because they are saddled with large private finance initiatives (PFI) deals that means they are effectively heavily “mortgaged” and have large debts.

Earlier this week, the Kings Fund think tank warned that patient safety was being put at risk because hospitals are under an unsustainable financial burden.

Chris Ham, chief executive of the fund, said: “The report once again highlights the severe financial and clinical problems facing some hospitals.

“Our own report published earlier this week shows that these problems are particularly acute in London where much needed service changes have been delayed as a result of the Government’s health reforms.”

The study follows a report in October from the National Audit Office which said many NHS trusts in England are struggling to become foundation trusts due to financial problems. Foundation trusts were created under Labour in 2004 and so far 139 hospitals have achieved the status.

Of 113 still to go, four out of five have financial problems, 78 per cent have strategic issues and two-thirds have performance and quality problems, the report said. The Government has promised to help a small number of trusts to repair their situation but said it would only be in exceptional circumstances.

Mr Lansley said: “The report by the committee confirms that Labour left some parts of the NHS with a dismal legacy of PFI bills, hidden bailouts, and in some cases inadequate leadership to face these challenges and those of the future. While there are plenty of top performing trust boards, we are determined to root out poor performance by shining a light into every area of the service.”

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British businesses ‘forced to hire migrants due to lack of skilled British workers’

The laziness of the English is proverbial in Australia so I have no doubt this story is true

Businesses are being ‘held back’ due to a chronic lack of ‘skilled workers’ in Britain and have to hire workers from overseas, a report reveals today.

The British Chambers of Commerce said nearly 60 per cent of businesses with more than 50 employees hire ‘some migrant workers’ because they ‘are unable to find the skilled workers they need in the UK’.

The damning verdict comes as the latest Office for National Statistics figures showed unemployment has hit a 17-year high of 2.62million.

John Longworth, director general of the BCC, said: ‘Many firms lack confidence in the ability of the education system to deliver the right people for the job. ‘For some, hiring workers from overseas allows them to access the skills they need.’

These were not necessarily technical skills but some of the most basic abilities, from turning up punctually to an interview to being able to write basic English or to do the elementary maths, the BCC said.

According to ONS figures, the number of British-born workers with a job has crashed by 311,000 over the past year. But among foreign-born workers, the numbers jumped by 181,000 over the past year.

The majority of the migrant workforce of about half of businesses is from the outside the EU, the BCC said.

Mr Longworth said: ‘Business needs a migration policy for growth that allows UK firms to hire workers with the skills they need. ‘This does not have to be at odds with promises to reduce net migration.’

The Department for Business said: ‘The Government is working with business to put practical skills at the heart of our education system.’

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Cambridge University dons get advice on the intricacies of the handshake

Cambridge University is so desperate to avoid upsetting foreign students that it has cautioned its academics against automatically shaking their hands in case it causes offence.

The world renowned institution has sent out a directive to its admission tutors explaining that some people are culturally sensitive to the traditional style of greeting. They advise that “suitable body language conveys welcome just as well”.

The missive sent out by the university’s Cambridge University Admissions Office has caused anger and consternation among the dons who say it is treating them like “social misfits”. “It seems to be totally bonkers,” said a don who wished to remain anonymous.

“We are not social misfits. We know when to shake someone’s hand and when not too. All this seems to be stupid and pointless and could make interviews even more awkward.”

The advice is given on an “online training course to interviewers” in addition to the Undergraduate Admissions Handbook 2011-12. Academics were sent an alert advising them to read the instructions.

Under the headline: “Welcoming the Applicant” the instructions add: “There is a certain amount of cultural sensitivity relating to handshakes. Suitable body language conveys welcome just as well.” No further advice is given but the press office yesterday said that the instructions applied to Muslim women and certain people with disabilities.

“It is not banning handshakes, it is just saying that best practice in some cases such as Muslim women who do not want to shake hands and certain people with disabilities,” said a spokesman. “Dons should read the situation properly and bear in mind that not all people will want to shake hands.”

The instructions seems to relate to the growing multicultural nature of admissions to British universities. Some 280,760 international students were admitted to universities last year – more than double the number a decade ago.

But the instructions still felt patronising and overly politically correct to a number of academics. “This is ridiculous,” one said. “It would be obvious if someone objected to handshakes and we would know what to do. We don’t need instructions.”

Another academic said: “The more you police these things and try to transcend normal instinctive forms of interaction, the more terrifying they get all around.”

Sally Hunt, the University College Union general secretary, said: “While I am sure this advice is well-intentioned, academics are grown-ups and are intelligent enough to know when to shake a person’s hand or not. “What matters is that potential students from all backgrounds are made to feel welcome and given an equal opportunity to show their potential.”

Expert advice on cultural relations suggests that most people around the world have no objection to the handshake although they may prefer other types of greet.

Some religions, such as Orthodox Judaism and Islam, may object to being touched by a member of the opposite sex. Other cultures may object to shaking hands if one of the people involved has a cold or other contagious disease.

One adviser suggests that if there is any doubt then a smile may be the best alternative. No one, anywhere, ever takes offence with that friendly act, he adds.

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Cutting British dole for those who fail to take up jobs ‘goes against human rights’

Plans to cut the dole for people who refuse to look for work could be contrary to their human rights, MPs warned last night.

Ministers want to impose a condition that those who are able to look for or prepare for work should be required to do so as a condition of receiving benefit – and those who do not should face a financial sanction.

But the parliamentary Human Rights Joint Committee has decided that to do so could put the human rights of the ‘unemployable’ at risk.

They also said that taking away jobseekers’ allowance from these people could plunge some families into destitution – something which would amount to ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’.

The committee also criticised Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s plan to impose a welfare cap of £26,000 a year, to ensure that families on benefits do not receive more than the average worker.

And they said taking sickness benefit away from people after an assessment could also have a ‘discriminatory impact’.

It means the committee believes Mr Duncan Smith’s new provisions could potentially be challenged in the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

Discussing the threat to cut the dole of the workshy, the report said: ‘We believe there is a risk that the conditionality and sanction provisions in the Bill might in some circumstances lead to destitution, such as would amount to inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, if the individual concerned was genuinely incapable of work.’

However, it added: ‘We do not consider that making benefits conditional on compliance with work-related requirements is in breach of the prohibition on servitude and forced labour in Article 4 of the ECHR.’

On plans to reassess people on incapacity benefit, it added: ‘We are concerned that some of the proposals… may be implemented in a way which could lead to a discriminatory impact and which does not demonstrate a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the legitimate aim that is sought to be realised.’

The report also criticised the housing benefit cap, saying it was wrong for the government to set the level of the cap with reference to the average income of all households. Instead, the reference should be the average income of households with children.

It added: ‘We are also particularly concerned about the possible disparate impact on some disabled people and we recommend allowing some additional discretion to exempt disabled people facing exceptional hardship from the benefit cap and from the provisions concerning under-occupation of social housing.’

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: ‘This Bill has been open to an unprecedented level of examination from stakeholders, members of the public to politicians, which we believe will help ensure these reforms give us a welfare system fit for the 21st century.

‘The changes to the welfare system will protect those who need the most help, with more support, whilst encouraging others to take responsibility for their own lives and the lives of their families.’

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The BBC gets something right

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, has been forced to go to bat for Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson after the television host jokingly suggested striking public sector workers should be shot in front of their own families. Yep. That sounds like Clarkson to us.

According to the UK’s Guardian and Telegraph dailies, members of the UK Parliament then began calling for the government-owned BBC to oust Jezza, with Labor Party member Jim Sheridan asking whether or not Clarkson was a luxury the BBC couldn’t afford. Around 32,000 people sent complaints to the network about the host’s disparaging remarks, but Thompson countered, suggesting that Clarkson is one of the UK’s chief cultural exports at the moment.

The BBC executive also said far more people would be upset to see the gregarious host disappear from Top Gear than had complained about his flippant remarks.

This is just the latest episode in a long line of Clarkson’s skirmishes with various nationalities, religions and organizations, but it doesn’t look like the British personality is going anywhere any time soon.

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“Studio schools” to open to cut teenage unemployment rate in Britain

Thousands of teenagers will be able to transfer to a new wave of “studio schools” at the age of 14 to boost their chances of finding a job, it is revealed today.

Ministers will announce the creation of a dozen new-style schools that are designed to act as a bridge to the workplace and cut the number of NEETs – young people not in education, employment or training. Under plans, schools will operate longer days and work outside standard academic terms.

Each pupil will be expected to spend between four hours and two days a week on work placements with businesses linked to the school and teenagers will be assigned a personal coach to act as an academic “line manager”.

The reforms come amid fears that too many teenagers are currently finishing full-time education lacking the skills needed to succeed in the workplace.

According to a recent report from the Confederation of British Industry, more than two-thirds of employers believe school and college leavers lack vital “employability skills” such as customer awareness, while 55 per cent say they are unable to manage their time or daily routine.

Last month, it emerged that the number of NEETs had hit a record high, with almost one-in-five young people – 1.16m – being left without a job or training place.

But the latest move is likely to be criticised by teaching unions who claim it risks creating a “two-tier” system, with brighter children remaining in mainstream schools and colleges while others transfer.

Today, the Department for Education will announce the establishment of 12 studio schools – catering for around 3,600 teenagers – in areas such as Liverpool, Stevenage, Stoke-on-Trent and Fulham, west London.

Each one, opening in 2012, will be linked to a series of local employers, with the Fulham school partnered with the BBC and Fulham FC. Six are already open in Luton, Huddersfield, Durham, Manchester, Maidstone and Coalville in Leicestershire.

Under plans, pupils will be able to transfer out of ordinary schools to attend them between the age of 14 and 19.

The Government said all subjects would be taught “through projects, often designed with employers” – with disciplines such as science being linked directly to local engineering firms or hospitals.

Schools will operate a longer day to give pupils a better understanding of the demands of the workplace.

Along with their studies, pupils will carry out work placements for four hours a week, rising to two days a week of paid work for those aged 16 to 19. They will also get the chance to take vocational qualifications linked directly to the needs of local employers.

Ministers have already announced plans for dozens of University Technical Colleges – similar schools for 14- to 19-year-olds in which pupils spend roughly 40 per cent of the week learning a trade such as engineering, manufacturing, fashion and information technology.

But the National Union of Teachers has already claimed that the new schools could effectively lead to a two-tier system with weaker pupils pushed onto vocational courses while the brightest are encouraged to take A-levels.

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Struggling British schools ‘being let down by poor teaching’

More than a third of schools inspected under a tough new Ofsted regime have been branded not good enough amid continuing concerns over poor teaching.

Some 35 per cent of primaries and secondaries visited in July and September were rated no better than satisfactory, it emerged.

Ofsted said fewer than one-in-seven of the 873 schools subjected to recent inspections were awarded its highest mark of outstanding. It was down sharply on the fifth of all schools falling into the category but an improvement on judgments made during the last academic year.

The disclosure comes just weeks after the watchdog warned in its annual report that too many state schools were being let down by “variable” standards of teaching.

It found that underperforming schools relied too heavily on worksheets and a narrow range of textbooks during lessons, while teachers spent too long talking and set “low-level” tasks that failed to develop pupils’ knowledge.

In a report published today, the watchdog said there was a “strong relationship” between the overall judgement made on schools and the quality of teaching, with the same mark “being made on 90 per cent of inspections in this period”.

The move comes after a speech by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, in which he suggested hundreds of schools did not deserve the “outstanding” accolade because their teaching was not up to scratch.

“It is a worry to me that so many schools that are still judged as ‘outstanding’ overall when they have not achieved an outstanding [in] teaching and learning”, he said.

Ofsted currently rate schools on a four-point scale – inadequate, satisfactory, good and outstanding.

Since 2009, inspections have been more closely focused on the worst schools, with those previously given higher marks left for longer and weak establishments given more regular visits.

According to figures, some 20 per cent of schools are currently judged outstanding based on their last inspection, with 50 per cent rated good, 28 per cent satisfactory and just two per cent inadequate.

Based on inspections carried out in July and September this year alone, just 13 per cent were judged outstanding and 52 per cent were good – suggesting they are finding it much harder to win the very top rating.

A further 33 per cent of schools were merely satisfactory and two per cent were given the lowest mark.

However, the figures were a significant improvement on inspections of schools carried out under the new Ofsted system throughout the 2010/11 academic year, when just 11 per cent were outstanding and 44 per cent were given the two lowest marks.

From next year, inspections will be subjected to further reform, with Ofsted rating schools on four key areas: teaching, pupil achievement, behaviour and leadership.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We’re driving up standards across the board – recruiting the brightest graduates and giving them outstanding training.

“The tough new inspection regime coming into force next month will root out weak teaching. There is compelling evidence shows that poor teaching has a critical link with bad behaviour – it’s right take a hard line on this.”

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British police harass climate skeptic

The first blogger to break the Climategate2 story has had a visit from the police and has had his computers seized. Tallbloke’s Talkshop first reported on CG2 due to the timing of the release being overnight in the USA. Today he was raided by six UK police (Norfolk Constabulary and Metropolitan police) and several of his computers were seized as evidence. He writes:

After surveying my ancient stack of Sun Sparcstations and PII 400 pc’s, they ended up settling for two laptops and an adsl broadband router. I’m blogging this post via my mobile.

That means his cellphone. In his blog report are all the details. including actions in the US involving WordPress and the US Department of Justice.

Strange and troubling that they’d seize his computers for comments dropped onto a US service (wordpress.com) from the cloud. There wouldn’t be any record on his PCs of the event from FOIA’s placing comments, that would be in the wordpress.com server logs.

Either there’s more than meets the eye or they have no idea how the blog system works.

UPDATE: I’ve been in contact with Roger (Tallbloke) and he tells me that he is not a suspect, and that they’ll clone his hard drives and return the computers to him. – Anthony

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About jonjayray

I am former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party. The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody
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