Thursday 21 August 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014 Posted by Jake No comments Labels:
Posted by Jake on Thursday, August 21, 2014 with No comments | Labels:

Academies run by favoured 'superhead' received advance notice of Ofsted checks
Academies run by a superhead praised by the government for producing schools that "outperform the rest" of the state sector had secret advance notice of Ofsted inspection dates. Evidence uncovered by this newspaper suggests that three schools in Norfolk, all overseen by Dame Rachel de Souza, knew of impending visits by inspectors days, and sometimes weeks, before Ofsted arrived. One school was even able to draft in teachers who had never previously taught there to perform in front of inspectors, according to whistleblowers. Another, keen to make good on the advantage, was said to be a "hive of activity" in the days directly leading up to the inspection. By law, schools can only be given half a day's notice of an inspection. De Souza, a favourite of Tory ministers who was made a dame in the New Year honours for services to education, became an Ofsted associate inspector earlier this year, although the inspectorate denies this part-time role would have given her access to schedules of upcoming visits. The revelations raise questions about the credibility of Ofsted, which has come under attack in recent years for becoming overly associated with the political goals of the government, including the promotion of the academy model, where schools are outside local authority supervision. Labour peer Baroness Morgan was removed as chair of Ofsted in May to be replaced by David Hoare, a trustee of the UK's largest academy chain, AET. GUARDIAN

SFO probes banks accused of duping small firms over new government loan scheme
Banks are accused of misusing the Enterprise Finance Scheme set up to provide government-backed loans to small companies who cannot get access to traditional credit. The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is looking at claims that banks have used the scheme to pass companies’ risky loans onto the taxpayer instead. It is also reviewing allegations that banks mis-sold these loans by duping customers into believing that they would only be liable to pay 25 per cent of the debt if their company failed. Launched in 2009, the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme is designed as a lifeline for small and medium sized firms who lack the security to get a bank loan. Under the initiative, the Government guarantees to pay the bank 75 per cent of the loan if the borrowing business fails – making it less risky for the bank by transferring the risk to the taxpayer. But companies claim they were persuaded to take out these loans on the basis that the guarantee also covered 75 per cent of their own losses if their business failed. Firms which also had an overdraft and therefore should not have qualified for the scheme say they were persuaded to take out a government-backed loan on this basis - with the catch that their bank overdraft was cut or removed. DAILY MAIL

Employment tribunal cases drop 80% following new fees of up to £1,200, designed to end “frivolous claims”
Last year the government introduced fees of up to £1,200 for claimants to pay for tribunal hearings. But a TUC report says it has resulted in a 79% fall in overall claims taken to employment tribunals, with women and low-paid workers the worst affected. Their analysis of government figures shows there has been an 80% fall in the number of women pursuing sex discrimination claims, with just 1,222 women taking out claims between January and March 2014 compared with 6,017 over the same period in 2013. The number of women taking pregnancy-discrimination claims fell by 26%. Race discrimination cases have dropped by 60% over that period, while disability claims have fallen by 46%. There has been a 70% drop in workers pursuing claims for non-payment of the national minimum wage and an 85% drop in claims for unpaid wages and holiday pay. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "It is not fair for the taxpayer to foot the entire £74m bill for people to escalate workplace disputes to a tribunal, and it is not unreasonable to expect people who can afford to do so to make a contribution. For those who cannot afford to pay, full fee waivers are available." But Bristol and Strathclyde university researchers say the system is complex and claimants have found it hard to establish whether they are eligible. GUARDIAN

Workplace Pension fees merry-go-round: April 2015’s fee cap could save us £1bn, but pension providers threaten to recoup it through other charges, passed on by employers as lower salaries and dividends
The 0.75pc a year cap on charges will apply to workplace pensions linked to the stock market. It is a Government initiative to tackle “rip-off” levies that deplete customers’ savings. Ministers initially said this new ceiling would transfer £200 million from insurance company profits “into the pockets of savers”. But Royal London, which has 11m customers, calculated that the sum passed to savers by the industry would be “monumentally higher”. Phil Loney, CEO of Royal London, said: “We estimate the total reduction in long-term insurer income may well reach £1 billion.” Pension companies such as Royal London take annual fees for managing money saved into company schemes. The charges can range from below 0.5pc a year to more than 2pc. Reducing the higher charges to 0.75pc will allow savers’ funds to grow more quickly to the detriment of pension providers. But Mr Loney said the charges cap could do more harm than good, indicating that Royal London and similar providers might hit employers with supplementary fees. These would fall outside the 0.75pc government cap, which relates specifically to the management charges paid by staff. Tom McPhail, head of pensions at financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “There could be a sort 'money-go-round’ where insurers put extra charges on employers, who pass these on to staff in the form of lower pay rises and to shareholders in the form of smaller dividends. If that happens there will be little overall benefit to the people the Government is trying to help.” Gina Miller, a campaigner for fairer investing and founder of wealth manager SCM Private, said: “The charges cap must include all implicit and explicit costs or it will be misleading”. TELEGRAPH

One million working families forced to spend more than half their income on rent or mortgage
Spiralling rental costs and stagnant wage growth mean 1.6million households are forced to spend more than half their disposable income on housing, a new report warns. Of these, close to one million are working households where occupants are spending the majority of their income on rent or a mortgage – even though they are in employment. The number of so-called ‘housing pinched’ households has surged since the early 2000s, the report from think tank the Resolution Foundation said. As many as 11 per cent of working London households fall into this bracket, compared to three per cent in the North East and Northern Ireland, it found. It predicted that numbers could rise further as house prices continue increase, rising interest rates push up costs for mortgage payers and slow wage growth gnaws away at household incomes. A separate report by financial research firm Verum says UK household debt has more than quadrupled since 1990, despite interest rates being at historic lows. In 1990, total household debt in the UK stood at £347billion, but it soared by 314 per cent to £1,437billion in 2013, with people in their thirties and forties carrying most of its weight. While in the past those aged 35 to 44 have been the main drivers of economic growth, they are now the age group with the highest level of debt, burdened by mortgages and struggling to pay them back amid low wage growth. Verum warns that the high levels of debt being serviced by Britons posed a ‘serious threat’ to the economic recovery, especially as rates are due to start rising next year. DAILY MAIL

Rail fares to rise by average of 3.5% in January – up 25% since 2010
Rail fares will rise by an average of 3.5% in January, with some increasing by up to 5.5%, adding hundreds of pounds to the cost of commuters' season tickets. Calls for the government to curb planned rises intensified as Labour said it would cap fares on every route and indicated it was considering an election pledge to cap increases at the rate of inflation. Protests took place at stations across the country as campaigners pointed out that ticket prices have risen nearly four times as fast as wages. The 2015 rise will mean fares have gone up by 25% since the coalition government took power. GUARDIAN

UK taxpayer faces £220m bill over e-borders contract termination
The e-borders programme, devised by the Labour government in 2003, was designed to vet travellers entering or leaving the country by checking their details against police, security and immigration watchlists. The contract was ended by the government in July 2010 because the Home Office said it had no confidence in Raytheon, the company that won it in 2007 and which had fallen a year behind schedule on delivery. However, an arbitration tribunal has now awarded the Massachusetts-based company £49.98m in damages after it found that the processes by which the now-defunct UK Border Agency reached the decision to scrap the agreement were flawed. The Home Office must also pay Raytheon £9.6m for disputed contract-change notices, £126m for assets acquired through the contract between 2007 and 2010, and £38m in interest. GUARDIAN

Standard Chartered fined $300m by US financial watchdog
The latest payment follows the bank's failure to tackle problems with its anti-money laundering compliance that the New York regulator required following an earlier $340m settlement in 2012. "If a bank fails to live up to its commitments, there should be consequences. That is particularly true in an area as serious as anti-money-laundering compliance, which is vital to helping prevent terrorism and vile human rights abuses," said Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the DFS. Lawsky alleged the British lender failed to catch millions of higher-risk transactions that should have triggered further investigation. Back in 2012 the British bank paid a $340m fine to the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) after it was accused of helping Iran launder about $250bn, keeping false records and handling lucrative wire transfers for Iranian clients. GUARDIAN


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