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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Eric Pickles puts stop to flawed Regional Strategies

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles is scrapping Regional Strategies and their centrally imposed building targets that failed to increase housebuilding.

Regional targets intended to build 3 million homes nationally by 2020 were put in place by the previous Government despite fears that they would force councils to cut into the Greenbelt. However, the reality is that construction has slowed down so much the country is facing the lowest peacetime housebuilding rates since 1924.

An order laid in parliament today will revoke Regional Strategies with immediate effect. Councils will now have the freedom to prepare their local plans without having to follow top-down targets from regional quangos and bureaucrats that prescribe exactly what, where and when to build.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:

"Communities will no longer have to endure the previous government's failed Soviet tractor style top-down planning targets - they were a terrible, expensive, time-consuming way to impose house building and worst of all threatened the destruction of the Green Belt.

"Today I'm revoking regional plans with immediate effect - hammering another nail in the coffin of unwanted and an unaccountable regional bureaucracy."

"I promised to get rid of them and today I'm revoking regional plans with immediate effect - hammering another nail in the coffin of unwanted and an unaccountable regional bureaucracy. They were a national disaster that robbed local people of their democratic voice, alienating them and entrenching opposition against new development.

"Regional Strategies built nothing but resentment - we want to build houses. So instead we will introduce powerful new incentives for local people so they support the construction of new homes in the right places and receive direct rewards from the proceeds of growth to improve their local area."

Mr Pickles also pledged that direct and substantial benefits for councils who support construction would be the centrepiece of this radical restoration of local power. The money will be used to help ensure more new homes are built for local people, and matched with more new jobs and investment.

From today, power will be handed back to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning that can get the country building again. Communities will, once again, be able to solve local housing challenges in a way that makes sense for them. In return councils will be offered powerful new incentives that ensure they benefit from development they welcome.

Travis Perkins buys BSS for £557m

Travis Perkins has agreed to acquire BSS Group for £557m which will see it become the UK's biggest plumbing and heating distributor.

Robert Walker, the chairman of Travis Perkins, said: "We are confident this transaction can deliver significant value for the shareholders in the enlarged group."

Travis Perkins is paying 435.4p for each BSS share, split between 232.9p in cash and 196.4p in new shares, based on Travis Perkins' closing price yesterday of 753p. It also includes 6.09p to pay the final dividend on BSS's shares. BSS shares closed at 427p.

The takeover price is 34 per cent above the closing price of 325p of BSS's shares on 27 May, the day before Travis Perkins revealed it was in "advanced discussions" about acquiring BSS. Travis Perkins said the enlarged group would have the scale to purchase products more "competitively" and would benefit from global sourcing. Along with other efficiencies, such as combined distribution routes, it expects to make annual pre-tax cost savings of at least £25m in 2013.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Major review of Building Schools for the Future Planned

Education Secretary Michael Gove has set out a complete overhaul of capital investment in England’s schools. Bringing an end to Building Schools for the Future (BSF), he said ‘In the light of the public finances, it would have been irresponsible to carry on regardless with an inflexible, and needlessly complex programme.’

The key elements of the announcement to Parliament are:

  • 706 schools will be opened under new arrangements being agreed today, of which nearly 386 schools are projected to be new build; 262 to be remodelled or refurbished; 26 to be ICT-only. The building programme in 32 further schools is yet to be confirmed.
  • 715 schools will no longer be rebuilt or refurbished through BSF of which nearly 180 schools are projected to be new build, over 319 to be remodelled or refurbished and 63 to be ICT-only. The building programme in 153 schools has not yet been confirmed.
  • That 123 academy projects in development which have not reached financial close will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
  • That in 14 cases, prioritised locally as 'sample' projects - the first taken forward in the area - will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis in recognition of local need. Although financial close has not been reached, very significant work has been undertaken to the point of appointing a preferred bidder at 'close of dialogue'.
  • That the Government is launching a comprehensive Review of all capital investment in schools, early years, colleges and sixth forms. Led by Sebastian James, Group Operations Director of DSG international plc, the Review team includes Kevin Grace, Tesco - Director of Property Services, Barry Quirk, Chief Executive of Lewisham, John Hood former Vice-Chancellor of University of Oxford and Sir John Egan, former Chief Executive of Jaguar and BAA.
  • The review will guide future spending decisions over the next Spending Review period (2011-12 to 2014-15). It will look at how best to meet parental demand; make current design and procurement cost-effective and efficient; and overhaul how capital is allocated and targeted.
  • That the department is reducing its End Year Flexibility (EYF) requirements by £1bn to help ensure no additional borrowing this year. This is in line with the Government’s plan to reduce the deficit, and the Treasury’s announcement today that Departments have agreed to address unrealistic inherited spending commitments for 2010-11, where funding was reliant on underspends through the (EYF) system or additional funding from the Government’s Reserve. The Department expects to be able to manage most of this through better financial management and tighter controls. Because of the size of the reduction, however, the Department will have to make £169.5m savings from capital budgets where commitments are no longer affordable.

The Secretary of State also announced that he will be ending funding for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) design advice service associated with the BSF programme.

Call to cut planning and consents red tape

Proposals for simplifying the planning and consents environment, encouraging development and growth and cutting the amount of red tape faced by business and government, has been published today by the Penfold Review.

The Review recommends measures that could free up resources, save time and money, and deliver real benefits not only to developers and investors, but also to consenting bodies in England. Local communities in towns and villages could also benefit from greater transparency and clarity about how decisions are made.

The Review recommends:

• Simplifying the non-planning consents landscape by removing some individual consents and rationalising other groups of related consents;

• Giving developers easy access to clear, accurate and up-to-date information;

• Delivering greater certainty for developers and removing duplication by improving the way planning and non-planning consents operate together;

• Improve the co-ordination and governance around decisions involving multiple decision makers;

• Strengthening the service culture of decision-making bodies by, for example, setting timetables for the determination of non-planning consents; and

• Creating a clear system for oversight of the planning and non-planning landscape.

Mark Prisk, Minister for Business, said:

“Businesses involved in construction and development should not have to deal with a regime made more complicated through needless red tape and procedure”.

“We need innovative solutions that simplify how government can deliver real benefits for business, saving time and money and encouraging growth.”

“Across government we need to carefully consider this report and I thank Adrian Penfold for his valuable contribution to our work on cutting down the burden on business.”

Adrian Penfold said;

“My Review presents a package of measures that would deliver real benefits to developers by removing unnecessary burdens and speeding up processes."

"The proposed changes should also give people more influence over what happens in their local communities, thanks to more efficient, transparent and accountable processes.”

"Decision-making bodies also stand to benefit by making changes that enable them to free up resource and redirect it towards their highest priorities."

“Establishing non-planning consents regimes that are more responsive to the needs of all users and that effectively interact with the planning process is very important in helping to drive sustainable economic growth"

The Government will consider the recommendations from the Penfold Review in detail and will publish a formal response in the autumn.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Lovell maintenance business expands with Powerminster Gleeson Services acquisition

Morgan Sindall Group’s affordable housing division Lovell is set for a major expansion of its housing maintenance business with the acquisition of Powerminster Gleeson Services (“Powerminster”) from MJ Gleeson Group plc.

All Powerminster’s contracts, and the company’s 178-strong workforce, will transfer to Lovell Respond, the Lovell response maintenance business. The move brings together the two businesses’ complementary expertise and geographical presence to significantly enhance the range of services offered by Lovell to its social housing partners.

Powerminster delivers comprehensive planned and reactive maintenance solutions, including a 24/7 responsive service, to the social housing sector. It specialises in providing long-term estate management services on Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes. Lovell Respond’s current business is mainly focussed on the Midlands, whilst Powerminster has a strong presence in the North West, North East and South East of England. Bringing the two together creates a leading reactive maintenance and estates management services business.

“This is an important strategic acquisition for the Group,” says Paul Smith, chief executive of Morgan Sindall Group plc. “It gives our existing response maintenance business significant critical mass, creating a nationwide offering and substantially enhancing the range of services we provide. It also leaves us better placed to take advantage of the response maintenance element of future social housing PFI schemes.

“Social housing contracts are increasingly being tendered on a combined planned and responsive maintenance basis. This acquisition ensures that we can continue to meet our clients’ needs and further builds on the strong position we hold in the social housing market.”

Your Freedom

The Government will today ask the public for their ideas to reduce pointless regulation and unnecessary bureaucracy.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has launched the Your Freedom website giving people the opportunity to suggest ideas on restoring liberties that have been lost, repealing unnecessary laws and stripping away excessive regulation on businesses.

Mr Clegg urged people to use the site to make their voices heard. He said:

“For too long new laws have taken away your freedom, interfered in everyday life and made it difficult for businesses to get on. We want your ideas on how to change that, ideas on how we restore hard-won freedoms that have been lost, on how we repeal unnecessary laws that have amassed onto the statute book, on how we strip away the restrictive regulations that stop businesses from innovating. This debate isn’t new – people are already talking about it around kitchen tables, in staff rooms, online – but what is new is that for the first time in a long time, Government is listening and we’ll put the best suggestions into practice. It’s a totally new way of making policy – a totally new way of putting you in charge.”

The public will be asked to consider three questions:

  • Restoring civil liberties: which current laws would you like to remove or change because they restrict your civil liberties?
  • Cutting business and charity regulations: which regulations do you think should be removed or changed to make running your business or organisation as simple as possible?
  • Repealing unnecessary laws: which offences do you think we should remove or change and why?

Users of the site will be able to comment on and rate their favourite ideas and relevant departments will then respond to the most popular workable ideas.

The views expressed on Your Freedom will be taken into account in the Freedom Bill later this year.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Worker deaths in Britain fall to record low

New figures released today reveal that the number of people killed at work in Britain fell last year to a record low.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released the provisional data, which shows that 151 workers were killed between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010 compared to 178 deaths in the previous year and an average number over the last 5 years of 220 deaths per year.

Judith Hackitt, the HSE Chair said:

"It's really very encouraging to see a further reduction in workplace fatalities in the past year. This is performance which owes much to good practice, leadership and employee engagement. No doubt the recession has resulted in lower levels of activity in some sectors and a decrease in the numbers of new inexperienced recruits has also contributed to this fall in fatalities.

"We should also remember that 151 families are mourning the loss of someone who last year went out to work and never came home. Being one of the best health and safety performers in the world means continuing to strive to drive these numbers down further - not getting complacent about what we've collectively achieved and recognising the new challenges as we emerge from the recession.

"As with all health and safety statistics, today's announcement is a combination of encouraging news about improvement but also a salutary reminder of the tragedies of lives lost at work."

Despite the overall improvement, agriculture, the most dangerous industry in Britain, has recorded a sizeable increase in deaths. 38 workers died on farms in the last year, marking a disappointing return to levels of earlier years after a record low of 25 deaths in 2008/09.

Judith Hackitt added:

"We are especially concerned to see the continuing high levels of fatalities in agriculture.

"The fact that many of these lives have been lost in family businesses is a double tragedy. Not only have families been ripped apart, but businesses that have been handed down through generations have been ruined.

"No industry can or should regard high levels of workplace death and injury as being 'part of the job'. It doesn't have to be this way as many other sectors have shown by their improvement."

Large falls have been recorded in some of the other historically most dangerous industries in Britain:

  • 41 fatal injuries to construction workers were recorded - a rate of 2.0 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to an average of 66 deaths in the past five years and a fall from the 52 deaths (and rate of 2.4) recorded in 2008/09.
  • 42 fatal injuries to services workers were recorded, a rate of 0.2 deaths per 100,000, compared to an average of 72 deaths in the past five years and a fall from the 62 deaths (and rate of 0.3) recorded in 2008/09.
  • 24 fatal injuries to manufacturing workers were recorded, a rate of 0.9 deaths per 100,000, compared to an average of 38 deaths in the past five years and a fall from 33 deaths (and rate of 1.1) in 2008/09.

Judith Hackitt said:

"We need the agriculture industry to recognise that it can address the problem and learn the lessons from these sectors. Improvements can be achieved even in any industry sector with leadership and by focusing on the priority issues."

The new figures show that compared with the latest data available for the four other leading industrial nations in Europe - Germany, France, Spain and Italy - Great Britain has, for more than the last six years, had the lowest rate of fatal injuries.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

£1 billion fund to help regional business

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today launched a £1 billion Regional Growth Fund to help areas and communities at risk of being particularly affected by public spending cuts.

The fund, which will operate in 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 will help areas most dependent on public sector employment as the country makes the transition to private sector-led growth and prosperity. Both private bodies and public-private partnerships will be able to bid for funding by demonstrating that their proposal will bring in private investment and support sustainable increases in private sector jobs and growth in their area.

Speaking in Bradford after the first Coalition Cabinet meeting outside of London today, Nick Clegg said:

"While we sort out the nation's finances we can also help to foster a thriving and more balanced economy so that no region or community gets left behind.

"The Regional Growth Fund will create the conditions for growth and enterprise in the regions by stimulating investment and create sustainable private sector jobs.

“Alongside our commitment to waive some employment taxes for new businesses starting up in targeted regions of the country, this fund can make a real difference to companies during difficult times."

Nick Clegg also set out plans for local enterprise partnerships that will bring together councils and business on an equal footing with one voice, replacing the current Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). In a joint letter sent to councils and business leaders today, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles have asked them to consider forming new local enterprise partnerships that can provide strategic leadership in their local areas and create the right environment for business success and economic growth.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary said:

“We are determined to rebalance the economy towards the private sector, so it’s important we create a more effective structure to drive economic growth and development across the country.

“We want a structure that reflects the genuine interests and commitment of enterprise, local councils and other stakeholders like universities and colleges. Local enterprise partnerships will provide that vision and then take on the task of renewing local economies and tackling local barriers to growth. Today we are asking them to tell us about their vision and I’m looking forward to what they’ve got to say.“

Balfour Beatty appointed preferred bidder for Oldham Building Schools for the Future project

Balfour Beatty, the international infrastructure group, announced that it has been appointed as preferred bidder by Oldham Council for their Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, which is worth up to £175 million.

This BSF Programme involves the delivery of new buildings and upgrades to eight of the Borough’s schools, a pupil referral unit and the construction of a new school in Chadderton. The initial phase of construction, which will commence in January 2011, will involve the delivery of the new-build Oldham Roman Catholic School at its new site and the partial rebuild and remodelling of North Chadderton School. Upgrades, expansions and new buildings for the other schools will commence between 2012 and 2014, with all construction work completed by 2015.

All construction and facilities management will be carried out by Balfour Beatty. ICT services across all the schools will be delivered in conjunction with Northgate, a leading provider of ICT educational solutions.

Commenting today Balfour Beatty Chief Executive, Ian Tyler, said:

“We are delighted to have been awarded preferred bidder status for Oldham Council’s BSF scheme. We look forward to developing a Local Education Partnership with the Council and Partnerships for Schools to deliver excellent design and value for all schools in the programme, as well as maximising the economic benefit to the Borough.”

Balfour Beatty will invest equity of £3.2 million into the delivery of the first sample school, Oldham Roman Catholic School,

Monday, 28 June 2010

Six companies awarded contracts to develop more energy efficient lighting for homes

Six British companies have won support for carrying out technical feasibility studies in the first phase of a major initiative to develop more energy efficient lighting for our homes.

The £1.2m research fund, from the Technology Strategy Board and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), will help the companies to become market leaders in the best ultra energy-efficient lighting, which will contribute to reduced energy consumption in our homes.

The companies have been awarded up to £40,000 each to carry out work, over the next three months, to show the technical feasibility of their proposed concepts. The feasibility studies will then be assessed and the proposals with the most promising technologies will receive up to £450,000 to develop and evaluate prototypes or demonstration units, which will then be subjected to a vigorous 6-month field trial.

Environment Minister Lord Henley said:

“It is vital that all aspects of society think about what they can do to live more sustainable lives and help to preserve the natural resources we have. Efficient lighting can also help consumers make significant savings on their energy bills. This exciting competition gives six companies the opportunity to put Britain at the forefront of the global effort to produce new innovative and low-energy products.”

The contracts have been awarded through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). Mark Glover, the Head of SBRI, said:

“Ultra energy efficient lighting could transform Britain’s homes and energy use. The more efficient the lighting, the more money we save on our energy bills. At the end of the demonstration period, we want to see high-quality, compact ultra-efficient lighting that everyone would be happy to use at home. We have the opportunity to become a world leader in the manufacture of this technology, which would create new jobs and boost the British economy.”

The six British companies awarded the feasibility study contacts are: Cambridge Consultants Ltd, Juice Technology Ltd, Marl International Ltd, PhotonStar LED Ltd, Tridonic Atco (UK) Ltd and Zeta Controls Ltd.

The companies have until 9 September 2010 to submit their feasibility study reports and they will be notified of the decision regarding full development contracts in early October 2010.

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