Friday, 31 August 2012

Free schools underwhelmed

Two new free schools are opening in Suffolk next week with less than half of their places filled by pupils. Saxmundham Free School will enrol 104 children when it has space for 216, while Beccles Free School has 68 pupils and a capacity for 162. Critics said it showed the government should not have granted approval for the new high schools. In the Times, Philip Collins makes the case for opposition to free schools being nonsensical. “At a time when pupil numbers are rising, it makes no practical sense to oppose people, most of them teachers rather than parents, who are devoting a lot of time and effort to improving schools where they live,” he says. However, the Labour Party will warn today that millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is being wasted on free schools that fail to open or lack proper parental support. Meanwhile, the LGA has said that hard-pressed parents should not end up forking out for expensive uniforms because their child is attending a new free school or a converted academy that is 'rebranding' itself.
Source: BBC News  

Parking fines increase

The Independent reports Freedom of Information figures that show there are 6% more traffic wardens than in 2008 and one council in 10 has enlarged its force of traffic wardens by at least a fifth. At the same time, 17% of councils have cut the amount of free parking in their areas. The paper suggests that at a time when most local authority expenditure is contracting councils are using parking fine revenue to replace cuts in Government funding. Town halls collected £340mn in parking fines over the past 12 months with nearly 10mn fixed penalty notices a year being given to motorists.
Source: The Independent

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Tories failing to build social homes for poorest people, Labour says

Social homes will be built at a rate of just one a year in Grant Shapps's Welwyn Hatfield constituency this parliament, Labour says. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
Conservative councils will build on average 20 social homes for the poorest people in society by the end of the parliament – and in the housing minister's own back yard, just one house a year will be built until 2015, according to a survey.
Freedom of information requests by the Labour party to 324 local councils showed that Tory local authorities were building fewer than half as many social homes as Liberal Democrat councils and fewer than a fifth of those in Labour authorities, which were planning an average of 100 properties for the poorest over the next three years. Of the 324 councils, 246 responded to the Labour request.
Concern exists that the number of social homes, be they in council hands or built by housing associations, has collapsed under the coalition. Last year there was a 91% fall, from 35,690 to 3,305, in the number of social homes, where rents are roughly a third of market rates, being built.

Council tax benefit figures

Figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government have revealed that £1.1bn of council tax benefit has been lost to fraud and error since 2006, with £200mn lost in this way alone last year. Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said councils should use new powers over the benefit to tackle the fraud and waste. “Today's figures show that when councils take over the benefit there is lots of money to claw back from wasteful mistakes and fraudsters cheating the system”, he comments. Local authorities are to be handed full control over administering council tax benefit next year, including powers to vary the criteria for receiving it. But the move will be accompanied by a £450mn cut in the overall budget, forcing councils to find savings of almost 10%. Some councils say the move is a thinly-veiled attempt to hand them responsibility for making unpopular cuts.
Source: The Daily Telegraph,

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Rise in bills

Economists are racing to revise their end-of-year forecasts for inflation because of the wave of price rises from banks, energy and telecom suppliers that are expected this autumn. Andrew Sentence of PwC has said that the rise in bills could push inflation back above 3% by the end of this year. It is currently 2.6%. Mr Sentence has previously forecast that inflation measured by the consumer prices index (CPI) would fall to about 2% in December. "With the current trend in prices, it is possible that the MPC will again have to write letters to the Treasury explaining why inflation is above 3%, in my experience, the MPC is not very good at predicting the impact of global factors on domestic UK inflation," he said. Capital Economics, revised up its end-of-year forecast for the CPI from 1.4% to 1.8%. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), is also planning to revise up its CPI forecast from 1.9% by the end of the year.

Council tax revolt

The Observer claims that David Cameron is facing a revolt in his own Oxfordshire "backyard" as local Conservatives join a national outcry over council tax reforms that they say will cost people on low earnings more than £420 a year from next April. The paper reports that West Oxfordshire DC, which covers the PM’s Witney constituency, has decided to go it alone and keep the existing system throughout next year. Plans to scrap council tax benefit and leave it to individual councils to devise their own support schemes from April next year are part of the government's drive to devolve power to the local level. In 2010-11 council tax benefit was paid to 5.8mn people at a cost of £4.82bn. At the moment Whitehall covers 100% of each local authority's costs for the benefit. But from next year they will be given 10% less to run their own schemes.

Source Observer

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Smoking in pregnancy leads to asthma in children later on

Smoking during pregnancy is associated with wheeze and asthma in preschool children, a new study has found.
The conditions also occured where the child was not exposed to maternal smoking in late pregnancy or after birth.
The study, led by Dr ├ůsa Neuman of Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, reviewed data on 21,600 children, including 735 who were exposed to maternal smoking only during pregnancy.
"Epidemiological evidence suggests that exposure to maternal smoking during fetal and early life increases the risk of childhood wheezing and asthma, but earlier studies were not able to differentiate the effects of prenatal and postnatal exposure," said Dr Neuman.
The study adjusted the data for sex, parental education, parental asthma, birth weight and siblings, and found that maternal smoking only during pregnancy was associated with increased risks for wheeze and asthma between the ages of four and six.
"These children were at increased risk for wheeze and asthma at preschool age. Furthermore, the likelihood of developing wheeze and asthma increased in a significant dose-response pattern in relation to maternal cigarette consumption during the first trimester," he added.
"These results indicate that the harmful effects of maternal smoking on the fetal respiratory system begin early in pregnancy, perhaps before the woman is even aware that she is pregnant," Dr Neuman said.
"Teens and young women should be encouraged to quit smoking before getting pregnant," Dr Neuman said.
The findings are published online in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

courtesy of Yahoo

Friday, 10 August 2012

10 things I wish I had known about . . . student banking

I have never been very interested in finance or economics, and due to recent newsworthy events, banking has fallen even further down my list of interests. Nevertheless, I found that setting up a bank account in the UK/USA was a stressful and complicated process, so I thought I would share a few pearls of wisdom with anyone headed stateside for the upcoming academic year.
1) Don’t delay
Get a bank account as soon as possible. It is one of the least fun admin jobs when you arrive in your new home, but get it out of the way. Using your UK bank card will cost you (typically a percentage of your bill if you use a credit card, or a flat fee if a debit card, but do check with your bank for specifics), so it pays to get an American account set up as soon as you can.
2) Reconnect with your British Bank
If you are intending to return to the UK after studies, or to spend your holidays back home, chances are that you are keeping your British bank account open. It is a good idea to look into its policies on overseas charges. You may find your bank partners with one in the US (e.g. Barclays partners with Bank of America) and that fees are cheaper if using the cash machines of a partner bank.
3) Get a Social Security Number
Not all students are eligible for a Social Security Number (often abbreviated to SSN). If you have any kind of employment (and your visa may restrict you to working on campus), you will be able to apply for one of these. Having this American equivalent to a National Insurance number will make opening an account (especially if you want a credit card) very useful.
4) Check your credit
Surprisingly, in such a global world, credit ratings do not seem to travel. Even if you have a spotless credit rating in Britain, you are an unknown to a US bank, and so getting a credit card card may be tricky. If your university has its own Credit Union, this may offer you a credit card on better terms than a bank, and may not require a credit history.
5) Think local
Banking in the US is very different to in the UK. Although there are a few national banks, many people bank with a local institution. Check out the banks that are based in your town, city, or state.
6) Be a slave to the machine
We are spoilt, in the UK, by being able to access cash for free from most cash points. Many American banks charge you a fee for using another bank’s ATM – so pick your bank carefully. Either choose a big national bank that has cash points across the country (if you intend to travel), a local bank with machines convenient to you, or any bank that waves such fees.
7) Check out cheques
Try not to gasp, as I did, when having to shell out for a cheque book. It seems criminal, to me, to have to pay for the ability to write a money transfer on a piece of paper. On the plus side, you can usually get pretty cheques with landscapes on them. Or you can do as I did, upgrade your account temporarily and get a free chequebook with a variety of naff cheques. I reserve the ones with hideous soft-focus pictures of dogs chasing a ball for payments I most resent (taxes, fees, etc).
8.) Go online
One thing I quickly realised in the US is that nothing is free. Even the most basic of accounts often cost you something. I managed to get a free current account, however, by going online. I am not entitled to speak to a bank ‘teller’ in my local branch, but can do all the basics (cash cheques, access my statements, make transfers) through my online account and bank machines.
9) Read the small print
If someone back in the UK wishes to transfer you some money, check out the terms and conditions. I was recently charged a 10 per cent fee and a flat rate of thirty dollars when receiving a transfer. Never again.
10) Don’t be too scared
I was terrified about banking – that I would fall foul to fees and misunderstand terms and conditions. Don’t forget that you are the customer, and that banks can often offer you more than they initially advertise. Get this tedious bit of admin over as soon as you can, and then student life in the US will be a much more pleasant, easy, and cost-effective matter.

with courtesy of Daily Telegraph

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Role Model for Somalian Boys

When Mo Farah stepped onto the track in the Olympic Stadium  last night the proudest member of the 80,000-strong was his former PE teacher Alan Watkinson.
Mr Watkinson took Farah under his wing when he arrived in London from Somalia aged eight and helped propel him on a journey that would see him become one of Team GB’s most loved stars. Farah went on to become ranked number one in the world over 10,000m and fourth at 5,000m When Somalia sank into civil war, the runner was brought to live in Hounslow with his mother and three brothers by his British-born father, who was living in the UK.

When he started junior school he was equipped with only three English phrases: “excuse me”, “where is the toilet?” and, unhelpfully, “c’mon then”.

Mr Watkinson met him three years later when he was struggling academically at Feltham Community College and suffering from the language barrier - Farah has since become an award-winning athletics writer.
He noted that Farah had a passion for football but it was his speed on the pitch where he shone.
Mr Watkinson said: “If he was going to have an chance to progress, someone was going to have to take him under their wing - there were so many distractions that could get in the way.”
He entered Farah for a cross country course and finish second.
A few weeks later he finished fourth in a county championship, despite not having spikes.
Soon afterwards Mr Watkinson told him he could run for Great Britain.

He won seven school cross country titles and Mr Watkinson signed him up with an athletics club.
By the time he was a gangly 14-year-old, Farah won the English schools cross country championship.
Mr Watkinson drove Farah to athletics meetings, using the trips around the M25 as impromptu English lessons.
The father-of-one said today: “Mo’s a gregarious, lovable guy, he’s modest and what you see is what you get.
The pair are close friends and Mr Watkinson was best man at Farah’s wedding when he married his long-term girlfriend, Tania.

Guests also included Steve Cram and Paul Radcliffe, a long-time supporter of Farah who paid for driving lessons so he could compete.
The long distance runner has become a role model for young Somalis.
Farah’s aim after 2012 is to switch to marathon running.
Mr Watkinson, who works at School Sport Partnerships in Hounslow, said: “Marathons would be a fresh challenge for him - he started off as a child running the mini-London Marathon, which he won three or four times.
After the Great Britain preparation camp in Portugal, Farah went to France for altitude training.
with courtesy of Evening Standard.