Government must publish NHS risk register, rules tribunal
The Government has lost its appeal to keep the NHS risk register from being published, days before MPs get their last chance to debate and vote on its controversial health reforms.
The register, drawn up by civil servants for ministers, details serious potential problems that could be caused by the Health and Social Care Bill.
The Department of Health had appealed against a ruling by the Information Commissioner, made last November, that it should disclose the register after it turned down a freedom of information request.
Officials including Lord O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary, argued at an Information Tribunal earlier this week that disclosing the dossier would inhibit civil servants from speaking their minds to ministers in the future. They also said it would be “wildly” misrepresented for political ends.
But the tribunal panel rejected the Department’s case, after John Healey, until recently the Shadow Health Secretary, argued that it was in the public interest for the register to be released due to the “exceptional” nature of the reforms.
This morning, Labour called on the Prime Minister to order the “immediate release” of the register. However, it appears ministers want to stall any decision until after next Tuesday, when Labour has called an opposition debate and vote on the Bill in the House of Commons.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are still awaiting the detailed reasoning behind this decision. “Once we have been able to examine the judgment we will work with colleagues across Government and decide next steps.”
Mr Healey, who has been calling for release of the register since November 2010, said: “Ministers must now respect the law, release the risk register in full and let people make up their own minds on the NHS changes.
“Today’s legal judgement must put an end to the Government’s efforts to keep this information secret. “They have dragged out this process for 15 months, while Parliament has been legislating for their NHS plans. “It’s near the end of the eleventh hour for the NHS bill and Parliament rightly expects this information before it takes the final irrevocable step to pass the legislation.
“The Government could appeal, and prolong this legal row. But I call on the Prime Minister to accept today’s court verdict and order the Department of Health to publish the risk register immediately.”
Andy Burnham, who replaced Mr Healey as Shadow Health Secretary, added: “The Prime Minister must accept today’s ruling with good grace and order the immediate release of the risk register. “The Government has a technical right of appeal but morally it has nowhere to go.”
The Tribunal actually made decisions on two separate registers: the Strategic Risk Register, about ongoing threats, and the Transition Risk Register, about the threats of reform. It decided to allow the Department’s appeal to keep the Strategic Risk Register from being published, but not its appeal for the Transition Risk Register.
Mr Burnham said: “This ruling unravels the Government’s attack on Labour and highlights the difference between the strategic and transition risk registers. In upholding the ruling on the transition risk register, they have today put beyond doubt the difference between the two documents.”
Mr Burnham has also sent a letter to Liberal Democrat MPs ahead of the party’s spring conference in Gateshead this weekend, urging them to vote against the Bill on Tuesday. He said it was “not too late” for them to stop it entering the Statute Book, which he claimed would be “a disaster for the NHS”.
He wrote: ” I feel certain that the long-term best interests of your Party are better served by acknowledging that and doing something about it, rather than acting out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to the Coalition.” He continued: “The truth is Labour’s narrow political interests are probably best served by the Coalition simply ploughing on with this disastrous Bill. But, even so, I desperately want them to stop.
“I know the NHS can only be preserved for the rest of this century by building a broad consensus that goes beyond any one Party. Nothing matters more to me than protecting the NHS and that is my motivation in making this appeal to you.”
Lord Owen, the former Social Democrat Party leader, called for the Bill to be put on hold as a result of the tribunal’s decision. He said: “The attempt to railroad this legislation through both Houses of Parliament has raised very serious questions about the legitimacy of this coalition Government.
“Now at the last moment Parliament has a chance to assert its democratic rights and the many Liberal Democrat peers, who know in their heart of hearts that this legislative procedure is fundamentally wrong, have the opportunity to stand by their principles.”
*The Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Midwives and other health organisations have written to Nick Clegg urging him and his MPs to “do what you can to withdraw the Health and Social Care Bill”.
The heads of eight organisations, also including the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and Society and College of Radiographers, also advised the Deputy Prime Minister to “rethink” his position and “consider the full impact of these reforms on our ability to provide care to patients”.
Mr Clegg is in Gateshead over the weekend for the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference, at which the bill is due to be debated.
Opponents of the bill hope a motion will be passed calling for it to be dropped at the 11th hour.
The short letter, organised by the Royal College of GPs, concludes: “Our mutual concern remains providing and planning the best possible quality of care to our patients. We hope you will consider the wealth of our experience, and will look at ways for us to work together to make the health service secure, stable, and safe, now and in the future. “We call on your party, and the Coalition Government, to work with doctors, nurses and other health professionals to find an acceptable way forward in the best interests of our patients.”
Migrants with no English become ‘jobless sub-class’: They must speak it like a native, says British minister
Immigrants who do not learn English become a virtually unemployable ‘sub-class’, a Cabinet minister claimed yesterday. Eric Pickles said it was unacceptable that children were leaving school unable to speak the language ‘like a native’.
No other senior politician has been so outspoken on such a contentious issue. Mr Pickles, who is in charge of community cohesion and integration, said: ‘In terms of wanting people, encouraging people, to be part of British society, they can’t do that unless they have more than an understanding of English.
‘If we don’t get our resident population with an understanding of English, then they become a sub-class that is virtually unemployable or are stuck in a ghetto.
Official figures suggest that around 17 per cent of pupils in state primary schools, and 12 per cent in state secondaries, do not speak English as a first language. The equivalent figures six years ago were 12 per cent and 10 per cent.
Announcing a £10million grant to ‘actively encourage’ the teaching of English, the Communities Secretary said Labour had exacerbated the problem by regarding minority groups as victims. He told parliament’s weekly magazine The House that his aim was ‘real integration, an opportunity for people to meet, to mix, to be engaged in activities beyond their ethnic group’.
Suggesting the last government had made the situation worse with its attitude to minorities, Mr Pickles said: ‘Sometimes they called it a problem, sometimes they called it a challenge.
We need to be a little bit more upfront about it and say Britain is stronger, much stronger, because of British Hindus, British Sikhs, because of British Muslims, because of British Jews.’ Mr Pickles was scathing about Labour’s doctrine of multiculturalism, describing it as ‘the politics of division’.
He insisted public bodies should no longer ‘bend over backwards’ to translate documents into dozens of languages and migrants must be asked to learn English and demonstrate an understanding of the British way of life. Schoolchildren should be educated in a ‘common culture’, promoting a British identity that crosses class, colour or creed, he suggested.
Events such as the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, meanwhile, should be used to celebrate the nation’s traditional culture and to ‘fly the flags of Britain’ with pride.
Mr Pickles said the Government’s integration policy ‘essentially builds on what we have in common, rather than to seek differences’.
Explaining that his own upbringing shaped his views on cohesion, Mr Pickles added: ‘I can remember asking my mum why there was a sign up in a shop that said “no blacks in here” or something to that effect in Bradford, when I was not very old at all. ‘It is quite right that we have introduced laws to outlaw that kind of thing. Nobody should feel frightened in the United Kingdom.
People should feel safe in their beds, they should feel comfortable in their neighbourhoods.
‘These dreadful extremists want to create fear in the minds of the community. We have always been of the view that if the Muslim community of Britain, British Muslims, are seen as the enemy within, then the forces of extremism win. We should be able to unite on the things we have in common, rather than constantly harp on the things that we have that are different.’
Mr Pickles launched a strong defence of the right of Muslim women to wear the veil. ‘We are a tolerant nation and frankly I have absolutely no patience in adopting a kind of French system that is going to remove people from wearing headscarves,’ he said.
Labour questioned Mr Pickles’s choice of language. Hilary Benn, opposition communities spokesman, said: ‘Eric Pickles should be thinking of practical ways to ensure that anyone settling in this country is able to speak English rather than talking about sub-classes and ghettos.’
Tom Brake, Lib Dem backbench home affairs spokesman, said: ‘We need to sing the praises of our immigrant communities rather than consign them to a ghetto. Migrants often make superhuman efforts to learn English and end up creating jobs that benefit British workers.’
£70,000 for a British warden who slipped and fell on ice … while putting up ‘beware of ice’ signs
As the park warden picked his way through the snow and ice he should have known every step was a health hazard. After all, the signs he was putting up all around the park said so. ‘Be careful in the ice and snow,’ they boomed in big bold letters. But somehow the warden hadn’t got the message himself.
As he selected the best locations for the warning alerts, he went head over heels on the icy ground, badly hurting his back, neck, wrist and arms.
Now his council bosses, who had no doubt sent him on his mission with the aim of preventing compensation claims, are facing a £70,000 claim from one of their own. It seems health and safety can be downright dangerous at times. Not to mention expensive.
Leicester council has agreed to settle the case out of court after admitting the accident could have been prevented. The final payout has yet to be decided but £70,000 has been set aside to compensate the unnamed park warden and cover legal fees.
So how could the warden’s spectacular slip-up be blamed on the council? The recent purchase of 150 pairs of slip-on shoes with studded soles might be a clue. The council has ordered the winter weather shoes, which cost £13 each, in the hope of avoiding any more such injuries to outdoor workers. The accident came to light in a report from the council’s ‘risk committee’ into action it has taken to avoid expensive compensation claims.
The report explains that, under the Employers’ Liability Act, councils are obliged to ‘provide all necessary equipment for staff to safely carry out their role’. And since the council spent £1,950 buying ‘snow/ice traction aids’ (snow shoes to the rest of us), there have been no more workers taking a tumble in wintry conditions.
The prevention doesn’t stop there. The council has also spent £7,500 on tracking devices for its fleet of gritters, to monitor which of the city’s roads have been gritted.
That initiative followed a claim from a member of the public who slipped and broke an arm. The council claimed the road had been gritted but couldn’t prove it and ended up having to pay out £16,000. The tracking devices have helped successfully defend four similar claims since then.
Leicester council would not say where the warning sign accident happened or whether the warden was still an employee. Last year it revealed it had paid £356,000 in compensation to 61 staff since 2008, for accidents ranging from broken teeth to sore backs.
Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: ‘Councils and other large organisations have increasingly found themselves targeted by lawyers who encourage people to make claims.
‘The Government needs to look at the best way to give those with genuine injuries access to justice, while deterring lawyers who are out to make a quick buck.’
Who wants police chiefs to edit a free press?
In the atmosphere of press unfreedom created around Britain’s Leveson Inquiry, it seems ‘the public interest’ is now to be defined by… the London Metropolitan Police
What is meant by reporting in ‘the public interest’, and who is to define it? We are told that this is one of the big questions facing Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into the British press. Now, it appears, we have an answer. In the non-brave new world of press unfreedom that the Leveson Inquiry is helping to create, the ‘public interest’ is apparently to be defined for us by…. the Metropolitan Police.
Last week Leveson started the second phase of his inquisition into the crimes against humanity, sorry, the ‘culture and ethics’, of the tabloid press, which is supposed to deal with relations between the media and the police. The first star witness was Sue Akers, deputy assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, in charge of the investigation into alleged criminal acts by newspapers. She baldly announced to Leveson and the world that there had been ‘a culture at the Sun of illegal payments [to police and public officials] and systems created to facilitate those payments’.
Never mind that the 11 Sun journalists and executives arrested on suspicion of bribing public officials have not even been charged with, let alone convicted of, any such offence. DAC Akers of the Yard apparently felt free to declare that all and sundry at the Sun had effectively been found guilty by a jury of one good woman and true (her).
Worse, the pious DAC indicated, this supposed corruption had not been carried out in the cause of good journalism: ‘The vast majority of the disclosures made [by officials] have led to stories which I would describe as salacious gossip, not what I would describe as being remotely in the public interest.’
The notion of senior uniforms ruling on what is ‘remotely in the public interest’, and thus what the press should and should not be reporting, might normally be associated with a nice little police state. Yet in the UK, the anti-tabloid atmosphere around the Leveson Inquiry has now reached the point where a police chief can try to lay down the law on what information we should be allowed to read and hear, drawing a line between information published as ‘salacious gossip’ (tabloid journalism, bad, open to prosecution) and stories in ‘the public interest’ (quality journalism, good, potentially justified). When did the Old Bill take on the new powers to police the minds of tabloid journalists and their readers?
This snobbish division between the ‘Goodies’ and the alleged ‘Baddies’ of the British press (to borrow Hugh Grant’s infantile phraseology) runs right through the Leveson debate about regulation. Now it has been given the Metropolitan Police seal of approval. Goodbye Press Complaints Commission, hello deputy assistant commissioner?
Many concerns have been expressed about ‘unhealthy’ and ‘too close’ relations between senior police officers and the Murdoch press. Yet those concerns are being exploited to justify a far more dangerous relationship, one where rather than the media poking around in police business, the Met take a close interest in the affairs of the press – with the collaboration of newspaper management and the support of crusading journalists.
Scotland Yard has been embarrassed by criticism of the Met’s early conduct of the phone-hacking investigation, and revelations about links to the press which led to the resignation of its commissioner. Now the Met’s new leadership is trying to reassert the Force’s moral authority by pursuing a zealous campaign against the evil tabloids that allegedly besmirched the honour of naive and innocent police chiefs.
In this surreal atmosphere, Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun estimates that the police war on the heinous atrocities of hacking phone messages and buying information from public officials has now become the largest-scale investigation in British criminal history. Leading lights among Kavanagh’s fellow Sun journalists have been arrested in dawn raids while police squads tear up their floorboards. Meanwhile News Corp’s own Management and Standards Committee has been tearing up the book on protecting journalists and their sources, handing over millions of emails and internal documents to the Met and setting up the Sun’s own people for arrest. So much for the ‘ethical’ backlash against bad practice in the press.
These are dangerous developments in the policing of a free press, the like of which have not been seen in recent times. Yet so shrunken is the esteem in which press freedom is held in the UK today that even supposedly liberal-minded journalists have effectively turned into police cheerleaders. Take Nick Davies, the crusading Guardian reporter whose investigations are credited with bringing the phone-hacking scandal to light. After DAC Akers’ appearance before Leveson last week, Davies wrote correctly characterising the inquiry as a ‘defining power struggle’ between the state and the press. Yet he came out as an Akers backer in that struggle. So blinded are high-minded journalists by anti-tabloid bigotry and Murdoch-phobia today, many seem to have lost sight of the simple truth that state encroachment is far more dangerous to a free press than the most debased abuse of such freedom by journalists could be.
There are some forgotten principles that need to be reintroduced into this debate. For instance, that the freedom of the press, like any aspect of free speech, is not divisible or something that can be rationed out only to the ‘Goodies’. That it should not be up to a deputy assistant commissioner – or indeed a Lord Justice – to decree what is or is not in the ‘public interest’ to publish; that is a matter for the public to decide, on the basis of all the information that is freely presented to them. And that anybody with an ounce of feeling for liberty should strive for all they are worth to get the police, and the judges, out of the debate about the future of the press.
Meanwhile, Nick Davies has just been announced as the winner of the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism. According to the Guardian report of their man’s triumph, ‘The organising committee, in its citation, praised Davies’ “dogged and lonely reporting”, the impact of which forced “a humbled Rupert Murdoch” to close the News of the World…’ Thus a journalist wins a top prize for helping to close down a newspaper, while a senior cop is praised for laying down the law on what the press should be free to publish. Welcome to the alternative unfree universe of Planet Leveson.
British University access watchdog ‘should be abolished’, says peer
Leading universities should select students on merit without fear of appearing elitist, one of Britain’s top lawyers warned today.
Institutions should resist tailoring admissions to recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds amid fears that crude targets can damage standards, according to Baroness Deech, chairman of the Bar Standards Board.
She said that showing preference towards particular groups of students was the “hallmark of totalitarian regimes” over the last 100 years.
Lady Deech, the former principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford, called for the abolition of the Office for Fair Access, which was set up by Labour to ensure poor students were not put off higher education.
She also said universities should use the courts to protect their independence.
Currently, each university in England is obliged to set admissions targets designed to increase the number of places for students from deprived backgrounds, state schools or areas with a poor record of going on to university in exchange for the right to charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees.
Last month, Prof Les Ebdon, the incoming head of OFFA, pledged to subject universities to heavy penalties for failing to hit their benchmarks.
But writing in Times Higher Education magazine, Lady Deech said: “In considering the make-up of university students, there should be no place for talk of ‘over-representation’ or ‘under-representation’, any more than there should be when considering the make-up of the Cabinet or Olympic teams.”
She compared the use of admissions targets to “quotas” imposed on schools and colleges by China during the Cultural Revolution and Eastern European states in the Cold War. “Historically, restrictions against and preferences towards particular groups of students have been the hallmark of totalitarian regimes,” she said.
“They had in common the practice of handicapping the children of the intelligentsia in university admissions and jobs, and favouring the children of the ‘peasants’ and the ‘workers’.”
Lady Deech, a crossbench peer, insisted that universities had a duty to use outreach programmes to aid the poor and help boost social mobility – but not through admissions targets.
She said schools and families remained the biggest barrier to leading universities, adding: “There are too many teachers who are anti-elitism and who discourage pupils from aspiring to enter top universities, and there are too many students who choose a local university so as to remain at home or who have families that discourage their ambitions.”
Lady Deech called for universities to treat OFFA “with resistance”, saying they should “press for its abolition”.
But Sir Martin Harris, the current director of fair access, said the comments displayed a “misunderstanding about how OFFA actually works with universities to help them achieve their access aims”.
“We allow universities a great deal of autonomy in how they approach improving access, allowing them to set their own access targets in line with their access plans,” he said. “Universities spend significant sums of money on access measures – over £390m of their additional fee income according to our most recent monitoring – and it’s only right and natural that they should want to have ways of measuring their progress and evaluating what is working best.
“OFFA has always been clear that raising aspirations and attainment among school pupils from an early age is critical to giving everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education the opportunity to do so.
“However, universities have an important role to play in this and, quite rightly, there is not a university in the country that feels they should duck this responsibility.”
British Liberal minister says green tax must be cut to save companies
Cabinet rebel pushes Osborne to remove £740m burden of commitments to reduce carbon emissions
Vince Cable is pushing Chancellor George Osborne to scrap a £740m environmental burden on British business in this month’s budget. It is understood that business department officials have asked the Treasury to remove the carbon reduction commitment (CRC).
This forces an estimated 20,000 non-energy intensive businesses that still use lots of electricity and have bills of around £500,000, such as supermarket and hotel chains, to pay a price for every ton of carbon they emit.
This was introduced in 2010 as part of the Government’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions by 4m tonnes a year by 2020 and has also been estimated to raise £740m for Treasury coffers from 2013-14, when a carbon floor price is also introduced to bolster the CRC.
However, critics argue that the CRC has so far failed to show any signs of reducing emissions, as those big businesses still need electricity to keep their lights and computers on, and so is essentially just a tax in a time of financial struggle.
A source who has lobbied against the CRC said that though it was unclear whether the Treasury will surrender to the business department’s demands, the issue was on the agenda for possible inclusion in the Budget.
He added: “Businesses are struggling with the cost of CRC, which is mandatory, and its administrative burden. CRC has quickly become a blunt tax instrument that is hated by industry.”
A major Treasury concern is how it would recover what would become a near-£750m black hole in its finances. There are suggestions that this could be offset by an increase of the Climate Change Levy, which is placed on fossil fuel-based energy used by non-domestic private or public organisations to encourage them to find greener sources of fuel. However, business does not want the amount to be entirely recouped through this levy, as it would result in a hike of as much as eight per cent to their energy bills.
CRC is a cap and trade system. Businesses measure energy-use, work out the CO2 emissions and then buy allowances of what is currently fixed at £12 per tonne, but will soon fluctuate in the open market.
If they buy too many they can sell them on and if they have too few, businesses must reduce their emissions or purchase additional credits.
The CBI has been particularly vocal in its criticism. Last year director general John Cridland said that the CRC and similar measures were “counter-productive” and “hold back investment and growth”. If the Treasury rebuffs the business department’s proposal, it will be another blow to Mr Cable’s authority having been so publicly slapped down on his idea to split-up Royal Bank of Scotland and create a “British Business Bank” that would focus on lending to SMEs.
A letter to David Cameron and Nick Clegg dated 8 February outlining his idea was leaked earlier this week and dismissed by government insiders. A leading opposition MP said that Mr Cable’s letter read like “a plea”. “This wasn’t the letter of someone with power, is more like someone in my position had written it,” the MP added.
Speaking last night at Mansion House, Mr Cable renewed his assault on the Conservatives. “It is especially acute for innovative firms who find themselves trapped in a “valley of death” unable to raise funds to develop a proof of concept and cover the risks of early-stage growth.”