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  1. Chris Ship

Ukraine brief shows allies don't speak with one voice

These documents are certainly tricky, they are not very helpful. It makes it look like Britain and her allies are not speaking with one voice when it comes to the threats of trade sanctions.

As much as I am surprised that these documents can still be photographed going in and out of that door -- and they are certainly not the first ones, it does prove that you get a different approach in the public and in the private.

The document was photographed in the hands of officials heading into No 10 Credit: @Politicalpics

In fact, there is even a line in here, which says that they should stick to generic messages in the public realm and that sanctions should be reserved for private messaging to Mr Putin himself.

Tonight Mr Cameron spoke to both the leaders of France and Germany, they are all preparing for this emergency EU summit on Thursday. But the thing is, when you see things like this, you do have to wonder what sort of consequences 28 members of the EU could agree on.

Report: Govt departments in £17m credit card splurge

Government departments and bodies have spent almost £17 million on credit cards, the Sunday Times (£) has reported.

According to the newspaper, the spending includes stays at expensive hotels, pub lunches, jewellery and even a £70 bill for a bunny outfit.

Government spending on credit cards reaches '£17m'. Credit: PA

The information was reportedly previously hidden because government departments, regulators and quangos only publish details of individual payments on cards of more than £500.

Using freedom of information rules, the newspaper asked 33 government bodies for details of all payments below £500 on government procurement cards (GPCs) and other publicly funded credit cards.

Ten departments, including the Home Office, HMRC, the Ministry of Justice and the Cabinet Office refused to release the data while others provided only partial information.

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Higher rate calls: departments 'don't monitor revenues'

Central government departments "do not have a clear idea" of how much their services benefit from higher rate numbers, according to a report by the National Audit Office.

Callers to central government departments spent £56 million on calls last year. Credit: PA

Although none of the departments reviewed keeps revenue directly from higher rate lines, many of them receive deductions in the cost of other services instead.

But the report said departments don't monitor the revenues that the third party providers receive, despite guidance from the Cabinet Office.

The report said: "In some cases departments have foregone revenue without being able to demonstrate a corresponding benefit either to callers or departments themselves."

Premium government calls: how much do they cost?

Government services have been found to be using premium rate lines for most of the calls they receive, costing callers an estimated £56 million last year.

But how much are you likely to be charged for a phone call to a public service?

Almost two-thirds (63%) of calls are made to 0844/0845 numbers, known as higher rate numbers, which are generally not included in mobile phone packages.

  • 0844 numbers have an average cost per minute of 5.6p from landlines and 17.1p from mobiles.
  • 0845 numbers cost on average 4.2p per minute from landlines and 17.6p from mobiles.

A further 15% of calls to government services are made to so-called Freephone numbers, which start with the prefix 080. Again, these are also not usually included within 'free minutes'.

  • Freephone numbers are indeed free from landlines.
  • But from mobiles they cost an average of 16.2p per minute.

Government 'making progress' on higher rate calls

The Government has admitted that high charges for public service phone calls are "inappropriate", but says it is making progress towards fixing the issue.

The Government's Digital by Default agenda aims to ensure services are improved by going digital. Credit: PA

A Government spokesperson said: "We agree that it is inappropriate for vulnerable people to pay high charges for accessing vital public services and we are clear that a more consistent approach is needed.

"The Cabinet Office now runs a cross-departmental group to consider customer telephone lines. This group has made good progress in drafting guidance on prefix number selection and establishing best practice."

The spokesperson also said growing use of digital alternatives were helping reduce the problem: "We are transforming a first wave of 25 exemplar services, to be digital by 2015."

Higher rate Government calls 'take too long to answer'

The Public Accounts Committee has said calls to government services, including those charged at premium rates, take "too long to answer".

Government service call waiting times have been criticised as well as their costs. Credit: PA

In its report on the number of premium lines used by public services, the committee said across the first quarter of 2013/14 average call waits at HM Revenue and Customs were seven minutes.

Chairperson Margaret Hodge said: "The industry benchmark is to answer 80% of calls in 20 seconds but most departments do not have such a target and their performance falls wide of accepted industry standards.

"Performance by departments varies but is often astonishingly bad.

"HMRC managed to answer only 16% of the calls it received on its tax credits helpline on the deadline day for notifying the department of changes of circumstances."

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Government 0845 numbers 'unacceptable'

The chairperson of the the Public Accounts Committee has said customers of Government services should be able to contact them easily and cheaply.

Margaret Hodge said callers to Government services must be informed of the costs involved. Credit: PA

Margaret Hodge said: "Charging customers higher rates by making them use 0845 or other high rate numbers is not acceptable, especially when the customers are often vulnerable people.

"We found that one third of customer telephone lines across Central Government used higher rate numbers. Half of those lines serve the poorest people."

Higher rate lines include those run by the Department for Work and Pensions, helplines for victim support and the Bereavement Service and the inquiries and complaints line of the Student Loans Company.

Government helpline calls charged at premium rate

More than half of all calls by the public to central Government departments are charged at a premium rate, a report has revealed.

One third of government lines were found to be premium lines. Credit: PA

Published by the Public Accounts Committee, the report shows that over 100 million calls - 63% of all calls to central Government services - were made to higher rate numbers in 2012/13.

The estimated total public cost to those calling premium Government numbers was £56 million in that year.

Defra: We want customers to get a good deal on water

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed the government's move to examine water prices next week.

The Government is working across the board to reduce the cost of living and help hard-working households who are feeling the pinch.

We want to ensure customers get a good deal from the water sector and will be setting out our approach next week.

– Defra statement

Water companies next to face Government scrutiny

Prime Minister David Cameron will take action to help households struggling to meet rising water bills, his spokesman said.

British water firms are next to face political scrutiny over pricing. Credit: PA

"There'll be some progress next week on water bills," the spokesman said. "The prime minister wants to see household expenditure being brought down."

His comments suggested that Britain's biggest water companies could join energy giants at the centre of a political row over the rising cost of living ahead of an election in 2015.

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