Saturday News Review

Covenant will be law

David Cameron will unveil the move next week in an attempt to defuse anger over the treatment of Britain’s soldiers, sailors and airmen – particularly when they retire or return from service abroad. It had been feared that the Prime Minister was backing away from a pledge to give the Armed Forces “a new military covenant that’s written into the law of the land”. However, a defence minister told The Daily Telegraph that the Government’s plans, to be announced in the House of Commons on Monday, would put the covenant “on a statutory basis for the first time”. Military chiefs are said to be unhappy about recommendations made by Lord Hutton of Furness’s independent report on public sector pensions that would end final-salary payouts for the Armed Forces and raise their retirement age. Mr Cameron’s original promise to put the agreement on a legal footing was supposed to be fulfilled by the Armed Forces Bill, which is passing through Parliament. Whitehall lawyers warned ministers that making legal promises to provide certain public services could expose the Government and the Armed Forces to lawsuits. – Daily Telegraph

‘Greenest Government ever’, you must be kidding

Exactly a year on from David Cameron’s pledge to make the newly elected coalition the “greenest government ever”, 15 charities will today warn the Prime Minister that, without stronger leadership, his promise will be left “in tatters”. Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Christian Aid, WWF and Greenpeace are among the signatories of the letter, which accuses the government of “losing its way” with environmental policy after initially highighting the green agenda as a central plank of coalition policy. The letter praises the government for delivering the Renewable Heat Incentive, introducing plans for a Green Investment Bank, and signing up to the international biodiversity deal agreed at the Nagoya summit last year. But the group warns of “perceived uncertainty about the direction of UK policy” over the past year, which it blames for the UK’s plummeting from third to 13th in the international league table of attractiveness to clean energy investors. – Business Green

Is it really a year since David Cameron, newly ensconced as prime minister, assured us that the coalition would be the “greenest government ever”? It’s an anniversary worth remembering, if only to consider how, in environmental terms, Cameron’s government seems stuck in reverse. But cast your mind back further to 2006, when Cameron took a trip to the Norwegian Arctic to pose with huskies and become personally acquainted with the effects of climate change. At the time, he said “since becoming leader of the Conservative Party, I have sought to push the environment up to the top of the political agenda.” Vote blue, go green was the message. So with the help of our own cheeky version of Mr Cameron and a team of eager huskies stationed outside the Houses of Parliament, we want to make sure the prime minister and his government don’t make a mockery of commitments made in opposition and in government. Because on recent evidence – and even with the traditionally greener leanings of the Lib Dems – I’d say we’re a long way off having the greenest government ever. –

Missed target after missed target

The Coalition has missed dozens of key targets during its first year in power, official documents revealed yesterday. Updated ‘business plans’ released by the Government show that 87 major ‘milestones’ have been missed across Whitehall in the five months since the plans were first published. Documents show that welfare chiefs have been forced to abandon plans to automate the processing of all benefit claims, after deciding it was ‘not possible’.  The ambitious proposal was included among publicly stated goals in the Department for Work and Pensions’ business plan for completion by October next year. But in the latest update, officials admit it has already proved impossible and massively watered down the project. It will instead deal with 75 per cent of claims for just one type of benefit. The documents also confirm that the commission investigating the creation of a British Bill of Rights will not report until the end of next year – a whole year later than originally hoped. – Daily Mail

While other Whitehall departments have published details of their intentions for the next four years, the Department of Health said yesterday it would not release any information until its “listening exercise” on the controversial shake-up is complete. The move comes as Health Secretary Andrew Lansley struggles to defend the reforms, which include putting GPs in charge of commissioning services. Across the board government departments have missed dozens of their own key targets leaving the business, environment and “big society” projects months behind schedule. In total, 87 “milestones” have been missed, forcing ministers to rewrite the deadlines to give themselves extra time. But it is problems in the Department of Health which continue to provide the biggest headache for ministers. – the Independent

Government wine cellar avoids the cuts

The lavish £2million wine cellar owned by the government has been spared from the Chancellor’s cuts. There are 39,000 bottles in the store, including a 1961 Chateau Latour, which sells for up to £10,000 a time. Both Tory and Lib Dem MPs were critical of the stock before they took power. But it emerged yesterday the bulk will be kept, despite George Osborne’s claims that every penny is needed to pay off the deficit. Some of the most ­expensive vintages are to be sold off and the proceeds used to pay for what the Foreign Office refers to as reception wine. Old Etonian Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham insisted the Government needs fine wine for entertaining visiting dignitaries. Mr Bellingham said: “If we sold the cellar, we’d have to go out and buy wine and that would be much more costly. The purchase of wine is going to be self-financing.”- Daily Mirror

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