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In brief …. 14 May 2015



Superfast broadband spreads

More than half a million business and domestic premises acquired superfast broadband (defined as providing download speeds of at least 24 Mbps) in the first quarter of the year, taking the total to 2.41 million, according to the government's latest Broadband Performance Indicator.

This has prompted the Department for Culture, Media & Sport to claim that the number has now reached more than 2.5 million, although this is yet to be confirmed.

This has been supported by Broadband Delivery UK grants to local authorities and budget transfers totalling £301.4 million since 2012.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said: "Superfast broadband is currently available to more than 80% of homes and businesses in the UK, up from zero in 2009, and the government funded roll out is on track to ensure 95% of the UK has access to superfast broadband by the end of 2017."

Scotland raises game on rural payments

Scotland's chief agricultural officer has claimed a hike in online activity for Rural Payments and Services following improvements to the website used for the service. David Barnes said it has been available 99% of the time since it was launched in January, had attracted nearly 3 million views and been visited by 49,797 unique users.

"We have been getting really positive feedback about the major update we installed at the end of April which has massively sped up the system," Barnes said. "Feedback is hugely important to us, and my team have been in daily contact with the NFUS and other industry stakeholders, especially farmers' agents - who are heavy users of the system - as we continually work to improve the service."

The changes, notably the provision of a print facility requested by farmers, were made in response to the opening of the Single Application Form (SAF) window in March. Since the update in April the average load time has increased by more than 60% to just 7.4 seconds.

Up to 12 May, 5,538 SAF applications had been submitted, of which 3,239 were online. A further 6,014 have been reported to be in draft form online. The Scottish Government has already sent pre-populated forms to customers who used a paper SAF last year.

Bexley hits tax collection high

The London Borough of Bexley has recorded a record council tax collection rate of 96.5% for 2014-15. Its outsourcer for the service, Capita Local Government, has also reported that business rate collection came in at 98.5%.

This follows improvements to the council tax pages on the council's website, with easier navigation and a new system to encourage residents to do more for themselves. Also, the proportion of residents paying their council tax via direct debit increased by 7% in the past year, taking the total percentage of payments made this way to 71.4%.

Council leader Teresa O'Neill said: "Giving people the chance to make online payments, set up their housing benefit claims and direct debit orders from the website, and to inform us of any changes in their circumstances has helped our tax collection rate rise significantly."

NPS to run Welsh Assistance Fund

Northgate Public Services has been chosen for the third year in succession to run the Welsh Discretionary Assistance Fund. From its Wrexham Business Centre it will manage the £8.4 million available to people in need of urgent assistance through the year, following the delivery of £14 million over the past two years.

NPS said that in the first 24 months of the scheme, over 270,000 calls have been received and over 91,000 applications processed. Having applied the criteria set out by Welsh Government, over 58,000 applications (67%) have been approved over this period, with payments made to vulnerable individuals or families. Those not awarded were signposted to other agencies for alternative advice or support.

CLCH does Capita deal

The Central London Community Healthcare (CLCH) NHS Trust has entered into a strategic partnership with Capita that involves ICT provision, along with HR and estates management services. It is worth £80 million over 10 years.

CLCH is one of the primary healthcare providers for London boroughs including Barnet, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea. Capita will focus on its back office support.

Croydon NHS body signs for paperless PACS database

Croydon Health Services NHS Trust becomes the latest health service institution to use a standards-based method to extend its picture archiving communication system (PACS) database as a route to meeting its target for a paperless NHS by 2018.

It has purchased a Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA) content platform from content management company SynApps Solutions to store patient X-ray images as it migrates off its National Programme for IT contract. The supplier said this will underpin the trust's new PACS solution and enable it to share all kinds of content more effectively across different departments.

Croydon NHS has renewed a core PACS contract with specialist supplier Sectra. It hopes to be able to safely share patient images with other healthcare providers.

Advanced partners with Mouchel

Advanced Business Solutions has signed a strategic partnership with Mouchel, bringing together two suppliers of business applications, processes and services to local government.

It will enable the combination of Advanced's e5 financial management system with Mouchel's support services. This will enable councils to transfer the risk in managing their transactional financial processes within accounts payable and receivable functions.

In addition, Advanced and Mouchel will work with local authorities to identify procurement efficiencies across their annual budgets to help drive best value from suppliers through cost reductions and early payment discounts.

Ark Data Centres deals with Interoute

Ark Data Centres, which recently launched the Crown Hosting Data Centres joint venture with the Cabinet Office, has chosen Interoute to provide a high capacity data centre network between its Wiltshire and Hampshire campuses. This will provide colocation services for the public sector.

Interoute has constructed a private managed optical network between the Ark campuses, helping to significantly increase the storage capacity offered under the Crown Hosting venture. The services have been certified as CESG Assured Service (Telecoms), and Interoute was recently awarded Direct Network Service Provider status by the Cabinet Office.

Picture from Rept0n1x, Creative Commons through Wikimedia

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