Victory for SMEs Fighting the Staircase Tax

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid introduced new legislation this week that will reverse the impact of a ‘staircase tax’, which has unfairly affected up to a thousand businesses.

An earlier Supreme Court judgment saw hundreds of businesses that operate in adjoining units or rooms, but are accessed from a common corridor or staircase, receiving separate rate bills for each unit.  The ruling also saw businesses facing higher rate bills, with some paying more due to the loss of small business rate relief.

The introduction of the Bill means these firms will be able to choose to have their rates recalculated under the old single bill system and any savings due backdated.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said “For years firms in adjoining units or rooms rightly received one rates bill, but this court ruling meant they faced multiple bills for operating in an office linked by a communal lift or stairs.


This was a completely unreasonable burden on businesses which this legislation will put a stop to.

We’re giving those businesses affected the option of getting their rates bills recalculated and any savings due backdated.”


Subject to Parliamentary approval of the Bill, those businesses who have been directly impacted by the Supreme Court judgement can ask the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) to recalculate valuations based on previous practice.

It can then have its bill recalculated if it chooses, and backdated. This includes those firms who lost small business rate relief.


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Adult Social Care Spending Could Amount to Half of All Revenue From Local Taxes by 2035

A new Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report, Adult social care funding: a local or national responsibility?, funded by the Health Foundation, argues that ongoing reforms to local government finance risk creating a growing funding gap for adult social care and conflict with efforts to provide high-quality care services across the country.

The government plans to abolish general grant funding for councils from 2020, meaning councils will depend on council tax and business rates for the vast majority of their general funding. But revenues from these taxes are unlikely to keep pace with the rising costs of adult social care services, leaving councils with increasingly tough choices about which services to prioritise.

The report identifies the following challenges:

  • Even if council tax revenues increased by 4.5% a year – more than double the rate of projected inflation – adult social care spending could amount to half of all revenue from local taxes by 2035. That is up from just 30% today.
  • If councils did meet these costs from their local tax revenues, the amount left over for other services – including children’s services, housing, economic development and bin collection – would fall in real terms (by 0.3% a year, on average).  In other words, decades more austerity for services that have often already seen cuts of 20% or more since 2010.
  • Even if larger tax revenue increases could be delivered, or growth in the cost of adult social care constrained, ongoing changes to the way local government finance is allocated mean that different councils could find themselves with revenues that differ significantly from their spending needs. This is because there is now less redistribution between councils as spending needs and local tax revenues change over time.

If councils’ relative spending needs and their shares of revenues are moving differently, delivering consistent access to and quality of social care across England could be difficult.  Either the social care services you can access could become increasingly dependent on where you live.  Or the money councils have for other things could bear the brunt of adjustments, impacting access to children’s services, public health services, housing services and bin collection.

The report concludes that there is no easy way to square this circle without backtracking on reforms to local government finance and reintroducing general grant funding.

“With increasing demand and costs, council tax and business rates revenues are very unlikely to be enough for councils to fund both adult social care services and the other services they are expected to provide,” said David Phillips, associate director at IFS and an author of the report. “At the very least, the government will have to provide an increasingly large top-up via the Improved Better Care Fund or similar ring-fenced grants. Alternatively, it could decide to keep and, over time, increase the general grant funding for councils that it currently plans to abolish in 2020. More radically, it could devolve revenues from other more buoyant taxes, such as income tax, to councils to help fund local services.”

“The government has to decide whether it thinks adult social care is ultimately a local responsibility, where councils can offer different levels of service, or a national responsibility with common standards across England,” said Polly Simpson, research economist at IFS and another author of the report. “If it opts for the latter, it cannot expect a consistent service to be funded by councils’ revenues, which are increasingly linked to local capacity to generate council tax and business rates revenues. In that case, centralised funding for social care would seem more appropriate, and could allow closer integration with the NHS, which is also centrally funded. But it would make England even more centralised than now, and go against the government’s devolution agenda. All in all, a difficult circle to square.”

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EFG Short Story Award Shortlist Announced

This year’s Sunday Times/EFG Short Story Award shortlist includes six Americans, five of them women, making it the first time the international prize has had an all-American shortlist and only the second time that women have featured so heavily on the list.

Now in its ninth year, the Prize retains its reputation for thought-provoking themes. The stories in this year’s shortlist tackle the subjects of pornography, the abuse of power and Trumpism. In Miranda July’s story, The Metal Bowl, a woman’s inner life is animated by the memory of an amateur poronographic shoot she did in her youth, while Courtney Zoffness’s story explores the relationship between a high school student and her over-attentive tutor who is arrested for sexual predation. In Victor Lodato’s Herman Melville, Volume 1, a young homeless woman must fend for herself in a small Oregon town, while Allegra Goodman’s story F.A.Q.s explores the ambivalence and longing that college-aged children feel towards their parents. Curtis Sittenfeld’s story, Do-Over, describes the moment two old classmates meet shortly after the presidential election of Donald Trump, while Molly McCloskey’s story Life on Earth, set in Washington DC, tells the story of a brief affair between two people at opposite ends of the jostling political spectrum.

The Award accepts entries of 6,000 words or under, published in English, from fiction authors from anywhere in the world who have been published in the UK or Ireland.

The Award reflects The Sunday Times’ support for outstanding writing and the rich literary heritage of the newspaper, and the ongoing commitment of EFG, a leading international private bank, to the literary world.

The prize is managed by the Society of Authors and the 6 shortlisted writers and their entries are:

  • F.A.Q’s by Allegra Goodman
  • Herman Melville, Volume 1 by Victor Lodato
  • The Metal Bowl by Miranda July
  • Do-Over by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Life on Earth by Molly McCloskey
  • Peanuts Aren’t Nuts by Courtney Zoffness

The winner will receive £30,000 and their five fellow shortlistees will each receive £1,000. The winner will be announced at a gala dinner hosted by EFG at Stationers’ Hall in London on Thursday 26 April. Read the shortlisted stories.

This year’s judges are Sebastian Faulks, Petina Gappah, Mark Lawson, Tessa Hadley and Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of The Sunday Times.

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Work Underway in Coventry to Join Up Health and Social Care Services Reviewed by CQC

The Care Quality Commission has published its findings following a review of health and social care services in Coventry.

The report is one of 20 targeted local system reviews looking specifically at how older people move through the health and social care system, with a focus on how services work together.  The reviews look at how hospitals, community health services, GP practices, care homes and homecare agencies work together to provide seamless care for people aged 65 and over living in a local area.

The CQC found there was a system-wide commitment to serving the people of Coventry well.  Coventry was at the beginning of its journey in ensuring all services worked well in a ‘joined up way’ together.

However, the review also highlighted some areas where further work is needed to ensure all those responsible for providing health and social care services work effectively together:

  • There needs to be effective joint strategic planning and delivery for the people of Coventry based on the current and predicted needs of the older population, to include British Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) and hard to reach groups.
  • System-wide performance data must be used to drive improvements, implement solutions and set targets in which all parts of the system have a shared responsibility, and provide opportunities for collaborative reflection and learning.
  • While acknowledging that there is an alliance between Coventry Health and Wellbeing (HWB) and Warwickshire HWB, the system leaders in Coventry need to build on this and become more engaged with the development of the STP’s ‘Better Care, Better Health, Better Value’ programme.
  • A strategic plan for the health and social care workforce in Coventry, linked to the STP’s wider ‘Better Care, Better Health, Better Value’ programme workforce plan, needs to be delivered.
  • A joint public engagement strategy needs to be created and delivered to include how the system will reach seldom heard groups.
  • A single point of access health and social care navigation system for people and carers to easily find the support and advice they need should be provided.
  • Numbers of avoidable admissions from care homes need to be reduced by extending successful initiatives such as the ‘React to Red’ scheme, introducing pharmacist led medication reviews and increasing coverage of GP input into care homes.
  • The system should develop a shared view of risk across health and social care by identifying forums where staff groups can come together, build relationships and identify ways to establish a consistent approach to the process of risk assessment and positive risk taking.
  • Discharge planning needs to consistently start at the beginning of a person’s journey through hospital and remain a key focus during their stay.  Care home and home care providers should be involved in discharge planning at an early stage of a person’s stay in hospital.
  • Improvements are needed around medicines on discharge processes to reduce delays and improve the safety of those who have been discharged to care homes.
  • Improvements in the ability to discharge patients from hospital at weekends by increasing senior clinical decision makers and supply the support needed for care homes to accept weekend discharges for new residents are needed.
  • The speed of transfers from hospital to care homes needs increasing, by increasing care home providers’ confidence in assessments.
  • Improvements in the working relationships between the CCG and GPs are required.

Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector of Primary Medical Services and Integrated Care, said “Staff at the front line of services were committed to providing high quality, person-centred care and we saw good examples of multidisciplinary working.”

“There are, however, areas where improvements are needed to ensure people receive the best all round care through the health and social care system in Coventry. We found there was a reliance on ensuring services worked together in a joined up way taking place organically and a lack of pace and shared strategic approach in achieving this.”

“In the past there had been some challenging relationships and silo working, but these were improving and relationships across the system were, for the most part, positive.”

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UK Universities to be Rated by Subject Quality, Outcomes and Potential Earnings

Teaching excellence will be rewarded and poor quality teaching exposed under a new rating system for English universities, the Universities Minister has announced this week. 

In a global first, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has launched a new tool that will rate universities either gold, silver or bronze by subject – holding them to account for the quality of their teaching, learning environment and graduate outcomes.

By extending the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework – or TEF – to subject level the government aims to:

  • help prospective students compare the different courses on offer across institutions, to make sure they get the most out of their university education;
  • shine a light on course quality, revealing which universities are providing excellent teaching, and which are coasting or relying on their research reputation.

The Department for Education has launched a 10-week public consultation, seeking views on the design of the new framework.  This will run alongside a pilot of the scheme, which has 50 universities and colleges taking part, including the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), De Montfort University and the Open University.

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said “The new subject-level TEF will give students more information than ever before, allowing them to drill down and compare universities by subject. This will level the international playing field to help applicants make better choices, and ensure that more students get the value for money they deserve from higher education.”

The new framework will take into account student feedback, drop-out rates and graduate outcomes to help deliver the objectives of the review of post-18 education launched by the Prime Minister last month, ensuring that students get the value for money they deserve from higher education.

In response to the announcement Universities UK said: “We welcome the change in tone in relation to the new regulator. Universities are committed to working in the interests of students, so it is important that the OfS works constructively with the sector.

“As the OfS begins work in April, it is vital that it wins the confidence of students and the public and establishes itself as an independent and effective regulator, free from political interference.

“It is good to see that the OfS’s focus remains on ensuring students get good quality education and that high standards are maintained.”

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Free Introduction to Screenwriting Course For Budding Writers

The University of East Anglia is offering a free online course for writers looking to develop screenwriting skills.

The course explores the key concepts and fundamental principles involved in the process of screenwriting, over 2 weeks, taking 3 hours per week, and best of all it is free!

Why join the course?

Screenplays form the starting point for most dramatic films, the essential work from which all other filmmaking flows. All of the tender romance, terrifying action and memorable lines begin at the screenwriter’s desk. This free online course will introduce you to the basic elements and key concepts behind a professional screenplay.

The University of East Anglia’s School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing have built this course with instructors and recent alumni from their famed course in Creative Writing.

Where could this course take me?

The course is a must for anyone new to scriptwriting and for more experienced writers who wish to raise their scriptwriting to a professional level. It will establish a common vocabulary for approaching the screenplay and form the basis for upcoming courses in dramatic adaptation, the crime screenplay, and other genres and skills.

What and how will I learn?

You’ll learn from a mixture of basic theory, script analysis and practical exercises. Exploring key principles as they’re expressed in great films, then immediately applying these concepts. Videos, articles and discussion steps will offer you the opportunity to learn and engage with other learners on key concepts and ideas.

By the end of the course, you will understand the key concepts necessary to write an effective screenplay and be fluent in the language used to discuss the form.

Find out more at 

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Over 70% of Those Looking For a Care Home Are Influenced by CQC Ratings

Choosing adult social care in England is one of the biggest sources of stress compared to other key life events, according to a survey carried out for the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The survey findings reveal that seven in ten (70%) adults who were responsible for choosing care in a care home or at home – either for themselves or a loved one – over the last three years have found it more stressful than choosing their child’s nursery or school, or a venue for their wedding or civil partnership.

People’s experiences varied across the country, with the highest proportion of people in the North East (60%), Yorkshire and Humber (56%) and the North West and East Midlands (both 54%) saying that choosing a care home was their most stressful life decision.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, these regions are some of those where CQC has found the highest proportion of adult social care services rated as Requires Improvement and Inadequate.

Conversely, two of the regions where the lowest proportion of people had said that choosing a care home was their most stressful life decision – East of England (44%) and the West Midlands (49%) – are where CQC has found the highest proportion of adult social care services rated as Good and Outstanding.

Elsewhere in the survey findings, when analysing what had the greatest influence on people’s choice of care home, the vast majority (72%) of respondents stated that seeing the care home for themselves was the most important influencer in helping them make their decision.

44% of respondents said that understanding the quality of care based on its CQC rating and its latest inspection report influenced their decision the most, with 76% of respondents who knew the CQC rating for their care home then going on to say that this knowledge made them feel more confident that they were making the right decision.

One in ten people said that using CQC’s inspection findings helped them decide a particular care home was not the right choice for them or their loved one.

Other findings from the survey reveal that the ability of a care home to meet people’s individual needs and its general ‘feel’ was the most important factors when making their choice, more so than its proximity to family and friends and cost.


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Parliamentary Treasury Committee to Investigate SME Finance Market

The Parliamentary Treasury Committee has launched an inquiry into the SME finance market.  The enquiry will look at competition in the market, the various sources of funding available to small businesses, including crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending, and whether the current regulatory framework provides appropriate protection to SMEs when they borrow money, taking into account the lessons to be learned from RBS’ Global Restructuring Group (GRG).

This inquiry has been divided into a number of themes:

Funding options available to SMEs

  • The availability and uptake of different sources of funding for SMEs, including banks, peer-to-peer lenders and crowdfunding
  • The level of competition in the SME lending market and the impact of recent regulatory initiatives
  • Trends in SME finance and how potential changes to regulation and redress may affect the market
  • Any sources of finance which SMEs will not consider or approach and why

The ability of SMEs to resolve disputes and access fair and reasonable compensation when they borrow money

  • The effectiveness of existing arrangements for dispute arbitration and settlement
  • The merits of the Financial Conduct Authority’s proposals for expanding SME access to the Financial Ombudsman Service
  • The case for establishing a new “tribunal” body for settling SME banking disputes and the means by which such a body could be created
  • The design, governance and operation of such a tribunal body, and the potential relationship between it, the Financial Ombudsman Service, and the Financial Conduct Authority
  • The impact of additional avenues for redress on (i) the balance of power between SMEs and lenders; and (ii) the supply of, and demand for, credit

The regulation of SME lending

  • The level of protection currently afforded to SMEs when they borrow money
  • The case for bringing lending to SMEs within the regulatory perimeter, including (i) the likely impact on the supply of, and demand for, credit; and (ii) lessons learned from past misconduct
  • Other non-regulatory or quasi-regulatory options for policing SME lending, such as the establishment of industry codes and standards

You can keep up to date with developments on the committee’s website – click here.

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Lack of Clear Policies and Procedures Leads to Inadequate Rating by the CQC

Croydon’s Edridge Road Community Health Centre has been rated as Inadequate overall by the Care Quality Commission.

The centre, which is run by The Practice Surgeries Limited, was rated Inadequate for being safe effective and well-led. It was rated Requires Improvement for being caring and responsive following the inspection in November 2017.

Key Concerns

  • The practice did not have a system to manage and follow up patients who had been referred for suspected cancer.
  • There was no safety netting in place to ensure the cervical smear test results are appropriately disseminated to clinicians.
  • The practice did not have clear systems to manage risk so that safety incidents were less likely to happen.
  • Significant events were not always recorded contemporaneously.
  • Inspectors found patients were at risk of harm as the system in place for the monitoring of patients on high-risk medicines was ineffective.
  • Patients found the appointment system easy to use but some of the patients CQC spoke to reported difficulty in accessing appointments. Some Care Quality Commission comment cards received confirmed this.

The practice has been told that it must:

  • Ensure care and treatment is provided in a safe way for patients including the safe management of medicines, two-week wait referrals, cervical smear results and record keeping.
  • Ensure that systems and processes operated effectively to ensure good governance including complete and contemporaneous record keeping, a recall system in place to manage patients with long-term conditions and regular multidisciplinary team meetings.
  • Improve the recording of fire drills for staff learning.
  • Improve documentary evidence of discussions from meetings for sharing and learning amongst staff.
  • Improve cervical screening.
  • Improve the uptake of childhood Immunisations.
  • Undertake regular health checks for all patients with a learning disability and improve the identification of carers.
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61 Universities To Be Hit By 14 Days of Strikes

The Universtiy and College Union (UCU) has written to 61 universities to inform them of an escalating wave of strikes over a four-week period, starting on the 22nd February and running through into March. The strike dates are:

  • Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)
  • Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
  • Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)
  • Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

Due to their academic calendar four universities – King’s, Queen Mary, Edinburgh and Stirling – will not take action in week one. They will start their action in week two on Monday 26 February. They will then walk out for two days on Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 March.

The dispute centres on UUK’s proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. UCU says this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘Staff who have delivered the international excellence universities boast of are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by vice-chancellors who seem to care more about defending their own pay and perks than the rights of their staff.’

Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on UK campuses, but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.’

Universities affected by strike action

  • University of Aberdeen
  • Aberystwyth University
  • Aston University
  • Bangor University
  • University of Bath
  • Birkbeck College
  • University of London
  • Bristol University
  • Brunel University
  • Cambridge University
  • Cardiff University
  • London City University
  • Courtauld Institute of Art
  • Cranfield University
  • Dundee University
  • Durham University
  • East Anglia University
  • Edinburgh University
  • Essex University
  • Exeter University
  • Glasgow University
  • Goldsmiths University of London
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Hull University
  • Imperial College London
  • Institute of Education
  • Keele University
  • Kent University
  • King’s College London
  • Lancaster University
  • Leeds University
  • Leicester University
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
  • Liverpool University
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Loughborough University
  • Manchester University
  • Newcastle University
  • Nottingham University
  • Open University
  • Oxford University
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • Reading University
  • Royal Holloway University of London
  • Royal Veterinary College University of London
  • Salford University
  • Senate House University of London
  • Sheffield University
  • SOAS University of London
  • Southampton University
  • St Andrews University
  • Stirling University
  • Strathclyde University
  • Surrey University
  • Sussex University
  • University College London
  • Scottish Association for Marine Science at University of the Highlands and Islands
  • Ulster University
  • University of Wales
  • University of Warwick
  • University of York

A series of online petitions have been launched calling for universities to refund students for lectures that are cancelled due to the industrial action.

Georgia Davies, a 21-year-old second year English and Modern History student at the University of St Andrews, calculated that 14 days of lost lectures represents £768 of her tuition fees.

“I get 12 hours a week in lectures and tutorials which means that a single hour costs me £32. Consequently 14 days of action is the equivalent to not getting £768 of face-to-face contact with my lecturer,” she said.

“While students support their lecturers in this dispute, they also want to get value for money for the fees they have to pay.

“It isn’t fair that we are paying £9,000 in tuition fees and they’re taking away two weeks that we’ve paid for.”

The action was also greeted cooly by some student union presidents. In an online statement, Megan Croll, union president at Durham University, said she could only support action targeting “university activity, rather than student learning”.

She wrote: “I could not support strike action where the goals were to cause as much disruption as possible to students, thus using student outrage and frustration as an amplifier to give weight to the academics’ case to the university.”.

The Students Guild at the University of Exeter said it was “concerned” by the detrimental effect the strike would have on students, particularly those in their crucial final year.

“The Guild intends to hold both parties to account for any impact on the Exeter student experience,” a statement read.

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