Review of the Papers, Tuesday 28 August


  • Large businesses are subjected to an excessive number of tax investigations with only small sums of money at stake, according to a National Audit Office report. Despite an attempt to focus more closely on high-risk businesses, Revenue & Customs was still carrying out many low-value inquiries, the spending watchdog said in a report on the management of large business corporation tax out on Wednesday. Almost 60 per cent of the inquiries being pursued in February this year were expected collectively to produce less than 1 per cent of the total tax yield generated by compliance checks. Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons' public accounts committee, said that Revenue & Customs was, in effect, treating all its inquiries as of equal importance. "It must ensure that it directs its efforts where the most tax is at risk."
  • A radical overhaul of NHS strategy which will give patients a right to know the success rates of every specialist unit in every hospital is being planned by leading surgeons and government officials. For the first time, patients will be allowed to compare the quality of the clinical care provided in each NHS department. People with a particular medical condition will be able to assess the quality of the relevant specialist teams at rival NHS hospitals before choosing where to go for treatment. In some specialties, results for individual surgeons may be available. The strategy of increased transparency is being driven by three fundamental changes in the NHS: The medical royal colleges want to find a reliable method for deciding whether individual consultants are fit to retain a licence to practise under the government's plan for regular reviews of doctors' professional standards. NHS commissioners want to know the quality of every hospital department so they can purchase more care from units with the best outcomes and put pressure on under-performers. Health ministers want to give more data to patients to help them choose the right hospital on medical grounds instead of them relying on local gossip or promotional material from trusts about quality of meals and availability of car parking.,,2157370,00.html
  • A £3 billion series of policies designed to boost the achievements of pre-school children has had no effect on the development levels of those entering primary school, a study suggests. Although there have been big changes in early years education, children's vocabulary and their ability to count and to recognise letters, shapes and rhymes are no different now than they were six years ago. The results of the study from the University of Durham will come as a huge blow to the Government after a string of initiatives that have cost more than £3 billion since 2001 and that include the early childhood curriculum, the Sure Start programme, free nursery education for all three-year-olds and the Every Child Matters initiative.
  • Local authorities are continuing to monopolise provision of education services in state schools, despite government attempts to open up the market to private providers, the Confederation of British Industry warns on Tuesday. The employers' organis­ation says many town halls have failed to transform themselves from direct providers of school services, such as governor support and curriculum development, into bodies that commission these services from the private sector. The new role for local education authorities (LEAs) was spelt out in last year's Education and Inspection Act.  The CBI says that while the government has gone some way to break the "virtual monopoly" enjoyed by some LEAs, it has not "challenged local authorities sufficiently" and schools need to be encouraged to use their new freedoms. The Could Do Better report argues that the private sector had proved itself to be a powerful stimulus for raising standards in schools.
  • Junior doctors are being forced to remain in jobs that they did not want and have been threatened with disciplinary action if they move. The debacle of the Government's new recruitment system for junior doctors continues to worsen for the thousands caught up in it. Doctors who accepted a training job earlier in the year, believing it was the best they could hope for, were told they risked being referred to the General Medical Council [GMC] if they accepted a better offer. Letters sent out by the medical deaneries offering junior doctors their training post include a paragraph saying a complaint will be made to the GMC if the doctor accepts the job and then changes their mind.
  • Senior judges have warned ministers they risk a re-run of their clash with the courts over control orders by introducing new proposals that will place "massive restrictions" on certain convicted violent offenders after they have left prison. The Council of HM Circuit Judges has told ministers that the proposal to introduce a violent offender order - similar to sex offender orders but which apply to violent offenders after they have served their sentences - lacks any intellectual rigour and is based on hardly any reasoned argument or analysis.,,2157378,00.html
  • Moves to slash red tape could weaken the Health and Safety Executive's authority to inspect premises and tackle careless employers, ministers have been warned. A draft code aimed at reducing bureaucracy proposes lighter regulation for compliant businesses and tougher enforcement for rogue employers - in line with recommendations made by Sir Philip Hampton in his 2005 report. But unions and the Centre for Corporate Accountability, a charity that promotes workplace safety, fear the proposals could inhibit the HSE. "It would allow even more safety failures to be undetected and allow those breaches which are detected - even when they are serious - to escape criminal accountability," warned David Bergman, CCA director. Frances O'Grady, TUC deputy general secretary, said: "There is an implication that on-the-spot inspections should be very limited. This means in reality that the chances of bad employers being detected are very slim - unless they actually kill someone.
  • Council tax inspectors have clocked up 200,000 air miles flying the world to pick up tips on increasing bills for homeowners, it was claimed yesterday. Over the past year officials have visited their counterparts in Australia, the Far East, North America and various European countries to discuss ways of revaluing the 21 million homes in England. The Whitehall department for local government has also admitted making 650,000 miles of flights as part of its remit to oversee parish councils and town halls. The Conservatives, who compiled the figures based on answers to parliamentary questions, described the foreign trips as "alarming" and said they pointed the way to punishing rises in the council tax burden.


  • The Conservatives accused Gordon Brown on Monday of deliberately avoiding a confrontation with trade unions over public sector pay after it emerged that local government workers are to receive salary increases next year that breach the Treasury's commitment to a 2 per cent ceiling. Chris Grayling, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, said Mr Brown was seeking to "buy off the unions" to avoid conflict at next month's TUC and Labour party conferences, his first since becoming prime minister. "The truth is that the unions are stronger today in the Labour party than they have been for some time," said Mr Grayling. "Gordon Brown needs the unions to bail out Labour's finances, so he just can't afford a confrontation with them."

Lib Dems

  • The Liberal Democrats have a ‘perception problem' with business, which believes the party lacks influence and peddles tokenist policies, the Lib Dem business spokesman has admitted. Lembit Opik claimed his new role shadowing the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform was a chance to build new relations with employers. "If they don't like how the Lib Dems have done business before, there's a chance for them to help me put it right," the MP told the Financial Times. Business has tended to invest relatively little effort in lobbying the Lib Dems, although the party could hold the balance of power if there were a hung parliament after the next election. Lib Dem policies - such as their adamant opposition to nuclear power and advocacy of higher taxes for private equity partners - are seen as evidence of a wider hostility to the corporate world.


  • Gordon Brown is facing a deepening party split over Europe after it became clear that more than 120 Labour MPs, including several senior ministers, want a referendum on the new EU reform treaty. The figure - more than a third of the Parliamentary Party - was disclosed by Ian Davidson, a Scottish Labour MP who, despite being close to Mr Brown, is co-ordinating the strong internal campaign for the British people to be given a say. Mr Davidson, who has written to Mr Brown on behalf of the Labour rebels demanding major changes to the proposed EU Treaty - or alternatively a referendum - told The Daily Telegraph that support among his fellow MPs was running at levels similar to 2004 when Tony Blair had to give way and promise a plebiscite.