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Lessons of the Covid procurement process


4 min read

At the outset of the Covid pandemic, government was granted extraordinary powers by parliament and made extensive use of emergency procurement regulations to award contracts for goods and services without tender. But the need to act fast did not give government licence to act fast and loose.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been keeping a close watch on the eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money spent on Covid. By the end of July 2020, more than 8,600 contracts had been awarded, with a value of £18bn. The lion’s share was let by the Department of Health and Social Care with a total value of £16.2bn.

To set this in context, in 2019-20 the department awarded 174 contracts worth £1.1bn, less than seven per cent of the value of contracts it and its national bodies awarded between January and July 2020 in response to the pandemic. By value, the Department for Education’s group was the second largest (£556m), followed by the Cabinet Office (£279m).

But despite these huge sums, the government did not publish contracts in time and kept poor records of why some companies won multimillion-pound contracts. Of the 1,644 contracts awarded across government up to the end of July 2020 with a value more than £25,000, 75 per cent were not published within the 90-day target.

There are nearly 10,000 sea containers of PPE sitting on docksides and in warehouses costing £6.7m a week to store

Ministers have repeatedly argued that worrying about paperwork was not a priority. But the lack of transparency fuelled concern about the fairness of awards. While millions of people were shielding or tightening their belts, the public was rightly concerned to see middlemen earning enough off the back of taxpayer-funded contracts to buy country estates.

The committee has kept a particularly watchful eye on procurement and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

PPE accounted for 80 per cent of the number of contracts awarded, and 68 per cent of the total value. Across government, more than 6,900 contracts were awarded, totalling £12.3bn. In order to triage offers to supply PPE, the government established a “high-priority lane” for recommendations made through ministers, government officials, MPs, and members of the House of Lords. Records on why these companies were fast-tracked were limited or non-existent.

Ministers remain defensive about their approach, but Whitehall has acknowledged that lessons need to be learnt. The Cabinet Office commissioned and accepted the recommendations of a review by Nigel Boardman into Covid-19 contracts to improve procurement processes and the way government manages actual and perceived conflicts of interest. It also accepted in full the National Audit Office’s recommendations for improving procurement.

While the story over PPE contracts is not yet over (only this month we have been alerted to another instance of an established PPE supplier failing to win a contract), the PAC is turning its attention to the PPE stockpile.

There are nearly 10,000 sea containers of PPE sitting on docksides and in warehouses costing £6.7m a week to store. Around 2.1 billion items have been found to be unsuitable for use in medical settings, equating to more than £2bn of taxpayers’ money.

The government is yet to create any robust plans for repurposing and distributing PPE that is not fit for medical use and has not yet identified where costs could be recovered due to undelivered or substandard PPE.

The PAC recently published a report summarising lessons from its 20 evidence sessions on the government’s response to the pandemic.

One of the key messages that we mustn’t lose sight of is that government is spending hard-earned taxpayers’ money. The storage costs for PPE equates to nearly £350m a year. The entire NHS budget in 2019-20 was £123bn (rising to £149bn in the year of the pandemic). On top of that, £37bn has been allocated to the first two years of Test and Trace. This is serious money. The PAC is clear about its role challenging spending and why transparency and value-for-money has never been more important.

 

Meg Hillier is the Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch and chair of the Public Accounts Committee. 

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How can you make the most of this year’s Conservative Party Conference?


Alex Hancock

4 min read

Over four days, Conservative Party Conference attracts a wide array of people connected to and interested in the Conservative Party, including members, politicians, journalists, and lobbyists; and across the Main Hall, Exhibition zone, bars and Fringe Events, there’s always something happening. With so much going on in such a short space of time, how can you make sure you make the most of this year’s Party Conference?

Read the Fringe Guide
Navigating the hundreds of fringes can be a difficult process, particularly if you rely on winging it. The Party releases the handbook along with your ticket – so make sure you have a look and familiarise yourself with the events you’re keen to go to.

Download the App and follow #CPC21
As well as reading the fringe guide, it’s worth downloading the Conference app. There’s a handy scheduler, which will alert you before events start, speaker updates, venue maps and the option to submit questions for fringe events, as well as other features.

It’s also worth following the Conference hashtag #CPC21 across social media – some events aren’t on the app or handbook, and it’s a good way of checking out what’s popular with the membership and public affairs professionals.

Visit the Exhibition
The exhibition is always fun to walk around, see famous faces and grab freebies. Make sure you have a go at the interactive stalls, and photo opportunities, and if there’s a point during Conference you feel overwhelmed, find the Guide Dogs for a quick cuddle!

Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with a stranger
With the variety of attendees drawn to Conference, you could end up sat next to a councillor, lobbyist, or even an MP. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with a stranger, you could end up with a new contact, or even a friend!

Finding that perfect MP
If there’s a key Secretary of State or Minister on your stakeholder list, you might think Conference is the perfect opportunity to corner them for a chat about your work. In reality, Conference is vast, and high-level politicians are often flagged by large security teams and won’t have time to stop for a chat. If you’re struggling to find who you’re looking for, try attending a fringe event where they are speaking on a panel, and raise your issue through a question instead.

Make yourself heard
Get your voice heard. Asking a question at a fringe event is a good way to raise the profile of your issue, and you’ll be surprised how many people will want to know more about your work post-fringe. However, during events, make sure you keep questions short and relevant, rather than making long statements that are difficult for speakers to respond to.

Factor in time between events
Make sure you leave plenty of time between events, factoring in bumping into people you know on the way. Don’t miss opportunities by having too tight a schedule and allow for flexibility!

Head to the Midland Bar
The Midland Bar is the hub of Party Conference in Manchester. As Manchester Central and the Exhibition close for the evening, everyone heads to the Midland Hotel for evening fringe events and networking at the bar. It’s the perfect place to spot MPs, meet new people and put the world to rights over a gin and tonic.

Start Early
After a night in the Midland, you might not think there’s anything worse than heading into Conference early. However, there’s lots of early breakfast events, often with interesting speakers. Perhaps more importantly, you can grab that much needed bacon roll hangover cure!

Wear comfortable shoes!
Conference is a long four days, and opportunities to sit down are few and far between. Events run from early in the morning to late at night, and there’s lots of walking, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes!

Queue early for the Prime Minister’s Speech
If you want to go to the PM’s speech on Wednesday morning, make sure you’re up early. It’s the most popular speech at Conference and to be guaranteed a seat in the auditorium, you’ll need join the queue a few hours beforehand.

Keep an eye out for who you’re sitting with, MPs and Ministers are always present.

If you miss out on a seat, or want to snooze your alarm, don’t worry! There’s also an overflow room where the speech is screened.

Follow up with new contacts
Conference doesn’t end when you get the train home – make sure you follow up with the new contacts you’ve made via a quick email or LinkedIn request.

 

Alex Hancock is the Political Engagement Manager at Dods, leading on high-level media and political campaigns, including the hugely successful Woman in Westminster: The 100.

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Robots are the key to future proof nuclear decommissioning


Credit: Sellafield

We have seen what can be achieved with robotics at Sellafield. Now is the time to realise their long-term potential.

Last month, over 350 attendees from across the globe joined a virtual nuclear decommissioning event and heard about the exciting world of robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Sellafield and across the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) group.

The Nuclear Engineering International conference included a presentation from five Sellafield Ltd representatives who highlighted how robots are creating a clean and safe environment through land, air and water.

Rav Chunilal, head of Robotics and AI at Sellafield Ltd set the scene by describing how robotics can bring benefits of cost and schedule reduction to the UK taxpayer, build innovation and strengthen collaboration with industry and academia.

He said: “The UK has a huge decommissioning challenge, and I’m delighted that robotics and AI has been recognised as one of the front runners in achieving this mission.

“We are not just looking at the challenges at the Sellafield site, but also across the NDA group’s UK sites. This is a growing field, we need to pick up the pace and embed this work into business as usual in a safe and secure manner.

 “Robots can be used to perform repetitive, difficult and time-consuming jobs remotely – freeing up our people to take on roles that are more fulfilling and rewarding, ultimately helping deliver our organisations purpose. We will focus on the long-term uses of these technologies as they continue to develop and evolve.”

Robotics Programme Manager Chris Ballard then highlighted how in water ‘we need our robots to scour our ponds, pick up and cut material and then sort the nuclear inventory sitting underneath the surface.

‘We’re currently developing ‘tetherless’ underwater robots with basic artificial intelligence, which can move around our ponds with minimal human intervention – and without the usual heavy connection that can get caught and impede operations.’

On land, Capability Development manager Chris Hope discussed how ‘we require robotic systems to remotely characterise, dismantle and treat the waste that is generated from decommissioning. 

‘We are exploring a range of solutions that could enable safer, faster, better value remediation of nuclear sites.  These include remote waste cutting facilities using industrial robots and lasers, large scale in-situ decommissioning platforms and most recently Boston Dynamics SPOT the quadruped robot’.  

We will focus on the long-term uses of these technologies as they continue to develop and evolve

Legacy Ponds ROV manager Keith Pickup explained how ‘Sellafield Ltd continues to work with our colleagues in the National Nuclear Laboratory and supply chain to develop solutions. For example, the newly developed remote operated vehicle (ROV) had to negotiate a 30-metre vertical drop in to water before travelling through a 20m inspection route around obstacles.

‘The ROV they built – with extra tough components and extra radiation shielding – has now been successfully tested in our ponds, giving a better understanding of the store condition and evidence Sellafield can use to plan future stores. It is also fully reusable and can be sent back in to check on possible degradation over time.’

Engineering & Maintenance Remote Handling Lead Peter Allport then discussed how in the air, ‘we have identified drones that can carry out detailed infrastructure inspections quickly and safely, at a reduced cost.

‘The inclusion of artificial intelligence means that they can operate independently and spot degradation much sooner. The UAV team at Sellafield has been at the forefront of developing and trialling flights beyond visual line of sight in the UK with sees.ai and the Civil Aviation Authority.’

With robots being such a fundamental part of our future, and new opportunities for their use being identified all the time, the robotics and AI team has set up a new joint venture incubator, The Robotics and AI Centre in nearby Whitehaven.

Chris Ballard added: “The Robotics and AI Centre will enable us to collaborate with our partners on innovation and R&D in solving real challenges under one roof, bring together the work being done by robots across Sellafield and build on the opportunities they offer. This will be the stepping stone to realising greater benefits for a much larger Robotics and AI Collaborative space in West Cumbria.”

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GGF Introduces “Evolve – a framework for better business”


At its annual Members’ Day, the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) launched a Member-wide consultation on “Evolve – a framework for better business”.

Presented by James MacPherson, GGF Health, Safety and Environment Manager, Evolve is a framework of values and principles to help GGF Members become even better businesses. The long term aim is to build a modern industry of socially responsible, sustainable, and people centered companies using modern, organisational culture and risk and resilience solutions.

It’s an evidence-based framework that has inspiration from organizational science, high hazard industries and much more, to guide members forward with values of culture, resilience, and human performance.

The Evolve framework has been approved by the GGF Health and Safety and Environment Committees, however to ensure that as many Members as possible have the opportunity to feedback and contribute to the framework in the final months of 2021, there is a full consultation process in place that will include:

  •  A full consultation document available for October 2021 with all the evidence and information behind the structure and values
  •  October, November and December webinars on each value with Q&A
  •  Presentations and Q&A at all GGF Regional Meetings for the rest of 2021 and into 2022.

On the launch James MacPherson commented, “The concept of GGF Evolve is something that I have been working towards since joining the GGF. Until the last few months, I never quite knew what it would end up looking like or being called, but I knew that when it comes to managing our operational risks and cultures that we – companies, individuals and the industry – need to evolve. Being the industry’s main trade organization, the GGF represents the whole supply chain and therefore is in a unique position to take modern evidence-based approaches to risk management and resilience. We are excited to guide our members into a modern, evidence-based approach to managing their risks and cultures. I am looking forward to delivering the free webinars every month, not only to GGF members but to all those in the industry, who want to evolve.”  

GGF Evolve will be formally launched from January 2022 for all GGF Members to pledge to “Evolve into a Better Business”.

The GGF Evolve promotional video can be viewed via the GGF’s YouTube channel here

You can sign up for the free monthly GGF Evolve webinars here 



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Quarries & Nature 2021 – 11am, Wednesday 13 October 2021 – Industry showcases its contribution to nature and biodiversity


MPA’s Quarries & Nature 2021 will take the form of an hour long online showcase of the great work that the industry has delivered over the last 50 years, celebrating the scale and diversity of the restoration, biodiversity and conservation work undertaken by members.

Attendance is free of charge and is open to anyone in the industry plus their professional contacts and networks. Register here free of charge and share this link with colleagues.

Filmed on location at a range of restored sites, including Ouse Fen Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire, part of the Hanson-RSPB Wetland Project which will deliver the UK’s largest reedbed, BBC Presenter Sybil Ruscoe, will be joined by leading nature conservationists Tony Juniper, Chair, Natural England, Beccy Speight, Chief Executive, RSPB and Craig Bennett, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts, together with representatives from partner organisations, member companies and MPA.

In the 50th anniversary year of the first industry Restoration Awards, the story will feature progress over the years and an overview of the habitats, species and work that the industry is pioneering to support, conserve and restore biodiversity. The winners of the MPA Nature Photo Competition 2021 will also be revealed.

Nigel Jackson, MPA Chief Executive said:

“The UK quarrying industry has long recognised the opportunity to enhance biodiversity through careful quarry restoration, with the first formal restoration plans devised and implemented in the 1950s. But in 1971 the Sand and Gravel Association (SAGA), one of the predecessor organisations that merged with others to eventually form the MPA, hosted the first awards to celebrate the restoration of quarries.

In the year of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15 part 1) we are proud to tell the 50 year success story of our industry’s contribution to restoration and biodiversity with priority habitats the size of Nottingham already delivered and more the size of Liverpool on the way.”

MPA is marking the 50 days until 13 October on Twitter and LinkedIn by highlighting one mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile, invertebrate or plant which has flourished thanks to the restoration and ongoing management of former quarries. Follow these on Twitter @MineralProduct and @Quarries_Nature and on LinkedIn @Mineral-Product-Association and share.

Programme may be subject to change.





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Construction’s perseverance shines in CIOB award category winners


Since the last CMYA took place in 2020, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has not stopped this year’s CIOB award winners achieving above and beyond in their respective endeavours.

Categories introduced this and last year have produced a range of impressive finalists, with the winners coming from Merthyr Tydfil Council, BAM Construction and Henry Boot Construction respectively.

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council are the winners of CIOB’s first Client of the Year award. In a field of strong entries from areas such as Commercial, Sport and Leisure and Education, the client of Morgan Sindall and a Capita design team had a vision for a state-of-the-art new facility and a modern high quality transport hub which stood out. When Wales’ 3rd busiest Bus Station needed a revamp they took on the challenge, and the addition of electrification of public transport and the commissioning of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) is a story in itself. They further impressed judges with examples of collaborative working and shared vision.

This year’s Team of the Year brought you the ‘T-Zone’ building within the King’s Cross redevelopment. From day one, the team from Bam Construction displayed excellent communication with the client, ensuring that financial and programme planning was based on collaboratively formed designs pre-construction. This exemplary behaviour remained throughout the whole process. The project itself achieved a design stage certification of BREEAM Outstanding, and is also on track to achieve this at construction stage.

Lydia McGuinness of Henry Boot Construction is this year’s Rising Star.

She has achieved success on construction projects for the NHS, education and social sectors, completing HNC and BSc Honours with top marks while working. An active STEM and CIOB ambassador, she is involved in all site activities and ensures her experience, enthusiasm and skills make the difference. “Stepping up to the mark”, “ahead of schedule” and “confident manager” were key phrases from the glowing set of third party testimonials.

Caroline Gumble, Chief Executive of CIOB, said:

“The inaugural CIOB Awards have been everything I had hoped for – the standard of entries was very high and I was incredibly impressed by the calibre of our finalists. Many congratulations to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council as winners of CIOB’s first Client of the Year award and to the Bam Construction Team of the Year award winners for their work at King’s Cross.

I’m also delighted to congratulate Lydia McGuinness as the winner of our second year of the CIOB Rising Star award. These awards are an important way to acknowledge the emerging talent in our industry and recognise the hard work and dedication shown by those likely to be leading the industry in years to come.”

For more information on these awards and how you can nominate next year, see here.



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Global poll highlights UK has strongest understanding of 5G health myths



A recent YouGov poll has found that concern about 5G is the lowest in the UK when compared to other countries.

This is a significant shift in attitudes when at the height of the pandemic the UK experienced attacks on its mobile infrastructure fuelled by misinformation and conspiracy theories.

Our own research conducted in October 2020 showed that just over a third (38%) of people in the UK agreed that 5G did not pose a health risk. In 2021 YouGov’s research found a significant shift in attitudes towards 5G when its own findings, based on a survey of 2000 UK adults, found that three fifths (59%) did not register concerns about 5G.

Mobile UK and the industry developed the #5GCheckTheFacts campaign to directly address questions about 5G and health and to raise awareness about the technology. 

Our aim in running this campaign has always been to provide facts about 5G technology which can be easily understood, from verified sources and presented in a way that is informative.

The findings from YouGov suggest that the UK population is now less likely than other countries to engage with or be influenced by conspiracy theories and misinformation. 

Internationally YouGov found that 52% of people in India are concerned with 5G compared with just 16% in the UK. Additionally, this report highlights that investment in this technology is not enough to combat fears without good programmes to inform and educate people. Notably, China (42%) and the UAE (48%) are high on this list of concerned populations despite significant growth and market penetration of 5G technology.

This survey highlights the importance of a clear, simple and factual need for information about 5G that not only addresses people questions and queries but also raises awareness about the benefits of this important technology. From healthcare to food production, manufacturing and transport, 5G will touch and transform every aspect of the way we live.

Since our #5GCheckTheFacts campaign started in January this year we have had over four million Twitter impressions and seen impressive growth across all our social media channels. The campaign was recently shortlisted for a Connected Britain award and it has reached over 60 million in media coverage.

The #5GCheckTheFacts campign will continue to raise awareness and provide clear and fact-based information.

For the full survey results see: https://today.yougov.com/topics/technology/articles-reports/2021/07/19/5g-gauging-concern-around-world

For more information and guides on 5G and to learn more about the #5GCheckTheFacts campaign visit our dedicated website section: https://www.mobileuk.org/5g-and-health

*Survey published in July 2021 by YouGov America. To see the full analysis visit: https://today.yougov.com/topics/technology/articles-reports/2021/07/19/5g-gauging-concern-around-world



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Where next for UK international aid after the cuts?


4 min read

With less money in the aid budget, it’s more crucial than ever that we spend this vital, lifechanging funding in the best way possible.

It is a cliché to say how much the world has changed since March 2020. But nowhere is that more true than in the UK’s approach to international development. As Covid hit and the needs of communities in the world’s poorest countries grew, rather than rising to the challenge, the Conservative government merged the UK’s world-renowned Department for International Development with the Foreign Office.

It then cut our aid spending to 0.5 per cent of gross national income, and – despite the commitment to spending 0.7 per cent remaining on the statute book – introduced two near-impossible fiscal tests the UK economy must meet before restoring the target. In practice this amounts to an indefinite cut to the UK’s aid spending.

We need to understand where and how the aid budget is being spent

With less money in the aid budget, it’s more crucial than ever that we spend this vital, lifechanging funding in the best way possible. To do this, we need a clear strategy that places development at the heart of the UK’s broader international policy, and transparency that enables communities in countries around the world and UK taxpayers alike to know how that money is being spent.

The government’s long overdue Development Strategy should provide an opportunity to map out a set of clear aims for UK aid. I hope it allows the UK to adopt a front-footed approach to development, working collaboratively with low and middle income countries to recognise the challenges they face, from climate change to corruption, and to work with them in tackling these issues. In our interconnected world, any failure to do so will ultimately impact upon us here in the UK.

And we need this strategy more urgently than ever. The severe cuts to the UK’s aid budget over the last year appear to have been made with no underpinning principles to guide what is cut and what is saved. How else can we explain the stinging cuts to spending on girls’ education, a policy area the Prime Minister himself has championed?

With the budget squeezed so tightly, it’s imperative we safeguard the quality of UK aid. One of the strengths of the UK’s approach to development is the framework of legislation and rules that underpin it, from the International Development Acts to the development assistance committee rules. It’s a basic form of quality assurance that ensures UK aid meets internationally recognised standards. This framework must be embedded within the strategy, alongside a clear role for scrutiny bodies such as the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and my own select committee, to enable checks on the quality of aid spending.

To allow these checks to take place, we need to understand where and how the aid budget is being spent. This has been a continual source of frustration for my committee over the last year, with incomplete or contradictory information from the government about which countries and which projects will receive UK aid. We need clarity on the figures urgently, so imagine what it must be like for the NGOs running vital projects, uncertain if their work is about to be cut.

With the UK hosting multiple international presidencies this year, this should have been an opportunity to lead from the front in development policy. The US has voted to increase its aid budget. France has recently put into law its commitment to the 0.7 per cent target. With a smaller budget, UK aid will have to do more with less, spending in a more focused way to deliver for the poorest in the world.

Now is the time for Labour to set out our commitment to advocate on behalf of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities, to create a fairer, more prosperous world for all.

 

Sarah Champion is the Labour MP for Rotherham and chair of the International Development Select Committee. 

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GGF Progress and Ambition Highlighted at Members Day


The Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) annual Members’ Day conference proved a great success with an inspirational speech by Lord Andrew Stunell on energy efficiency and net zero, which was then followed by four major announcements underlining the GGF’s position as the leading trade organisation in the industry.

Due to the pandemic and following a safety first approach, for the second successive year, the event was held virtually and was well attended despite how busy the industry is at the present time.

GGF President, Tony Smith opened proceedings which followed with presentations from John Agnew, GGF Group Managing Director on the progress of the GGF’s activities and Anda Gregory, GGF Chief Development Officer on how the GGF is increasing the industry’s market knowledge.

Key announcements

  • GGF acquires the assets of The Palmer Report to support the GGF’s ongoing research, the FENSA knowledge hub and the recently published Market Knowledge Report. (read more)
  • New GGF Apprenticeship Scheme than will fund up to £4000 worth of training per apprentice to be launched in January 2022. (read more)
  • GGF set to launch Evolve – a new framework to help companies improve their cultures, risk management and operations to make them safer and more environment-friendly. (read more)
  • Launch of a new research report “Glazing – A Route to Net Zero” commissioned by the GGF to demonstrate the importance of glazing for the Government Net Zero targets. (read more) 

Tony Smith, GGF President commented:

“It was an incredible day and I am sure all members who attended found the presentations relevant for their business and the major announcements a clear statement of intent by the GGF as the industry’s leading trade body. I would to thank all who attended and the GGF Staff for putting it all together. It was a truly exceptional event.”

The event packed with information and high quality content, received positive feedback from Members who clearly found the day both informative and engaging. With eight guest speakers and contributions from GGF senior staff on a range of topics, the day included 10 presentations and two open forums where Members could ask questions of the GGF Board and Management, as well as a panel discussion on training in the industry.

Guest speaker Lord Andrew Stunell, President of the National Home Improvement Council (NHIC) delivered an inspirational and engaging speech on zero carbon and commented:

“It was a pleasure to speak at GGF Members to convey the growing concern of the rising levels of CO2 and the challenges and opportunities for the construction industry on net zero. Two hundred years ago there were 280ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the world’s atmosphere.  By ten years ago it was up to 389, and the figure this week is 413.  We are well past the safe threshold of 350ppm.  Even if the world reaches zero carbon by 2050, CO2 levels will go on rising until then, with all the impact we can already see getting worse meanwhile.  That’s why we have to take action immediately. We need urgent action by Government to regulate and incentivise, we need big changes in the market to make good energy performance as desirable as a new kitchen. Industry needs to make big changes, to skill up, build capacity, and work across trade and skill divides to make a joined-up offer to customers and to retrofit one million homes a year for the next twenty years. The choice for GGF members is; to either be subcontractors on the margin or take their place inside the biggest construction investment programme ever.”

The GGF also announced a newly commissioned research report titled “Glazing – A Route to Net Zero”, which was presented by GK Strategy (GGF’s political advisers) and will be an industry first when launched later this year.

On the event, John Agnew, GGF Group Managing Director commented:

“It was an excellent day and the feedback we have received has been nothing but positive. Our announcements on the new projects and initiatives were well received as were our guest speakers and presentations. Members’ Day once again demonstrated why the GGF continues to be the proactive leading trade organisation for the glass, glazing and fenestration industries. My thanks all who took part and attended.”

Anda Gregory, GGF Chief Development Officer added:

 “I was pleased to provide an update on the GGF’s new research programme and the also to announce the acquisition of the assets of the Palmer Report. Aligned with the re-launch of the FENSA knowledge hub and much more activity in this area the GGF will be the go-to place for the industry’s market knowledge, trends and insights.”

As well as net zero, training and market intelligence, the range of topics covered included; changes to building regulations in the parts relating to energy efficiency, ventilation, fire safety, security, health, safety and environment plus a special presentation by Mark Oliver of Cambridgeshire Trading Standards on Assured Advice from a Primary Authority Partnership. 

The GGF would like to thank the following guest speakers for contributing to Members’ Day 2021.

  •  Lord Andrew Stunell
  •  Joe Cormack, Scott Dodsworth and Jamie Cater from GK Strategy
  •  Sharon Alderton of Total Support Training
  •  Greg O’Donoghue (Home Improvement Consultant and Trainer)
  •  Ian Smith, Kickstart (Department of Work and Pensions)
  •  John Ogilvie, Ambassador for Building our Skills
  •  Mark Oliver, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards

In the coming months, the GGF will be making more announcements on; the progress of its multiple projects being created to benefit the GGF Membership and the industry as well as the developments from dialogue with the Government on issues impacting the industry.

To find out more about the GGF’s latest announcements and projects please visit the GGF website: www.ggf.org.uk



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Out of work families can not afford the cut to Universal Credit


4 min read

The cut will reduce real terms support for an out of work family to the lowest level since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

Universal Credit has had a troubled journey since being announced by ministers in 2010. But its strengths have been plain during the pandemic. In a few weeks after the first lockdown in March 2020, the number of claimants doubled from three million to six. On some days, 100,000 new Universal Credit claims came in. The system – supported by thousands of rapidly redeployed civil servants – coped admirably. It was an impressive achievement.

Ministers in 2010 made a strong case for merging the different legacy benefits together, not least to simplify the system for claimants. There are, however, serious flaws with the design adopted for Universal Credit. A recent Work and Pensions Committee report highlighted the worst, which has driven the shameful growth in foodbank demand over the past decade: the five-week delay between applying for benefit and receiving the first regular benefit payment. That must be fixed.

But the current plan to reduce Universal Credit back to its pre-pandemic level, removing the £20 per week uplift which was – boldly and rightly – introduced at the first lockdown, could deal a decisive blow to the benefit’s reputation.

Somebody worrying about how to afford their next meal cannot focus on finding a job

It will reduce real terms support for an out of work family to the lowest level since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. The economy is now 50 per cent larger in real terms than it was then. But the government’s proposal is that real terms support for unemployed families should be no larger at all.  

It will be at the lowest proportion of average earnings since the modern welfare state began in 1948.  The cut will take effect as prices surge – food prices, shown in the September inflation figures, and energy bills, with the price cap lifted. In real terms, unemployment support will be significantly less, when the uplift is removed, than it was before the pandemic.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee met a lone father of two children who told us the cut would “leave us with that big question again: do I go hungry, do my kids go hungry or do we keep the house warm?” Somebody worrying about how to afford their next meal cannot focus on finding a job.  

The cut will hit working families hard too. Working lone parents will lose £86 per month. One parent in full time work told us that: “If one of the children gets a party invite, which some weeks is my worst nightmare … then I have to find the money for them to be able to do that. It is kind of a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul all of the time anyway. There have been months where I have to decide which bill I am not going to pay this month… The extra £86 a month has allowed for us not to be doing that so much.”

Taking the uplift away at a time of surging costs will reduce support for working parents and unemployed parents below the basic minimum which we all want people to have, to enable them to look for work, to look for a better job, to care for their children. We will instead inflict grinding hardship.

The secretary of state claimed, wrongly, you could make up the extra £20 by working an extra two hours per week. Parliament needs to understand what this will do to families, even if ministers don’t. It’s not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

Every former work and pensions secretary since 2010 opposes the cut. It will leave the system unable to do its job. I hope, even now, that wiser counsels will prevail.

 

Stephen Timms is the Labour MP for East Ham and chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.

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