400% Increase In Microsoft Teams Usage: Can This Bridge The Gap Between Frontline Workers & Their Managers?

Microsoft recently made changes to its Teams and Viva platforms ahead of the February 1st Cloud For Retail general availability – and published a report alongside the changes which outlines the challenges frontline workers are facing in 2022.

According to Jared Spataro (Microsoft’s CVP for Modern Work), Microsoft defines a frontline work as “folks who were not able to go home and did all their work in person” – which can cover everyone from those staffing production lines to healthcare workers, and to hospitality staff and those working to keep power grids running.

The changes will hopefully bridge the gap between manager and worker in building workplace culture.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, had already highlighted the 2 billion (give or take) workers included in that segment which, even prior to the pandemic, would benefit from Microsoft’s tech.

9,600 employees and managers were surveyed, and covered over eight industries across five continents, which formed the report.

The report shows that, while 76% of workers felt bonded to their peers, over 60% felt that communication from higher ups wasn’t great and could be done with improvements made by their employers. On top of that, 51 per cent in non-management positions on the frontline felt less valued.

What does this mean? Following the fact that the pandemic is causing workers to decide if they would benefit from a change in employment, (according to the survey, 4.5 million Americans quit their job in November) and growing stresses, it shows a change of culture. 64 per cent of people surveyed reckoned that a pay rise would ease some of their stresses, half of the surveyed felt paid time off would help and a third suggested improvements in technology tools.

Between March 2020 and November 2021, Microsoft saw a 400% rise in Monthly Teams usage and Healthcare and Financial Services led the way at a 560 % and 550% rise respectively.

There is a danger of some employees being left to struggle, however, as older workers (aged 41 and up) had more problems adapting to the new way of working, conversely the younger workers (40 and under) found the workplace tech actually somewhat behind the technology they were used to, according to the survey.

There’s only so much that Microsoft can do of course, and there isn’t much it can do in terms of frontline worker holidays and pay rises etc but what it can do is improve the employee experience online and it’s presented Viva as a way of linking frontline workers with company culture and improving the accessibility of recourses, such as HR. It’s also making the integration of Teams to Zebra Reflexis easier to connect workforce management platforms with Teams’ Shifts application.

“Empowering frontline workers remains essential for digital transformation.”

Emma Williams, a Microsoft Corporate Vice President

The steps to teach and empower through tech are no doubt improving the lives of workers all over the world, however there are still two top ways that will reduce stress in the workplace, according to the survey: pay frontline workers more and give them paid leave.

Ukraine Target Of Sustained Hacking: Early Reports Point The Finger At Russia

Cyber Actors threatened citizens with the publication of their private data

A number of government websites in the Ukraine recently came under fire from a sustained hacking attack on the 13th of January, which involved cyber attackers distributing menacing messages which appear to be aimed at intimidating Ukrainian citizens.

A Facebook post by the Ministry of Education and Science confirmed  the attack occurred late Thursday and into the early hours of Friday morning.

During the attack, websites related to the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were inaccessible although the Ukrainian government says it’s now restored many of the affected websites.

The attackers wrote  in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish and threatened to release private data to the public, according to what was left on the websites.

“All information about you has become public. Be afraid and expect worse. It’s your past, present and future,”

Media Reports on the contents of the threatening messages

Despite the cyber attackers threats, the Ukrainian government denied that any personal data about their citizens had been leaked.

An investigation is currently underway, according to the Energy Ministry and is being conducted by a police unit which specialises in cyber-attacks.

There is, so far, no one officially named as the suspected perpetrator of the DoS attacks and the Ukrainian government says “it’s too early to draw conclusions”.

“…But there is a long history of Russian attacks on Ukraine.”

A Foreign Ministry Spokesperson

The EU’s head of foreign policy, Josep Borrell, has condemned the attack.

“We are going to mobilise all our resources to help Ukraine to tackle this. Sadly, we knew it could happen.”

Josep Borrell, EU Head of Foreign Policy

Unfortunately an attack like this is nothing new for Ukraine, as hacker groups with suspected links to Russian Intelligence have been involved in previous attacks including an attack on the country’s electricity grid in 2015, which left 200,000 people without power, with a similar attack occurring a year later.  The NotPetya ransomware also hit Ukrainian servers (among others) in 2017 and was also attributed to Russia.

So far the country has been the victim of 288,000 cyber-attacks in just the first 10 months of 2021, and 397,000 in 2020.

West Mids Transport Chiefs Have Agreed Priorities For A £1.3bn Investment In The Region

A list of preferred priorities and schemes will now be submitted by the combined authority to the Department for Transport for final approval.

 

That £1.3bn of investment will be spent on over fifty different transportation improvement projects within the West Midlands, with a full list to be published as soon as the DoT have confirmed final approval.

 

Some of the details we do know include a plan for over sixty miles of new, segregated cycle routes, thirty miles of dedicated bus lanes and priority measures, a brand-new railway station at Aldridge and a light rail line for Coventry city centre.

The money will also be used to encourage the use of electric vehicles with a network of 1,600 electric car charging hubs,  ten ultra-rapid charge points to support van and lorry drivers and with continued investment in existing metro systems.

 

Funding has also been set aside to help further develop the business case and plan for a more rapid extension of the West Midlands metro along the Hagley Road in Birmingham city centre, as well as the tram depot in Wednesbury.

 

The fifty plus schemes, to be developed over the next five years, are being funded from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement, which was awarded to the West Midlands last year by the Department of Transport (DoT) and will be topped up by a small amount of local funding.

 

Any scheme which helps promote the decarbonisation of transport within the West Midlands, increases target investment into areas with poor connectivity or the empowerment of inclusive growth have been prioritised within the plan.

 

This unprecedented investment will allow us to deliver more than fifty exciting projects as we continue to revolutionise and decarbonise public transport across the West Midlands. From an expanded Metro network and new railway stations, to more cycle routes and better electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the schemes we have agreed will benefit every area, with improved links for communities right across the West Midlands while also tackling the climate change emergency by cutting down our carbon emissions.

Andy Street – Mayor, West Midlands

UK Government Removes Community Wealth Fund Amendment From Upcoming Bill

The UK Government have just removed an amendment from the upcoming Dormant Assets Bill that would allow for the creation of Community Wealth Funds… however acknowledged  there was a lot of widespread support for the concept.

 

The amendment, previously added by the House of Lords, was removed in the House of Commons during its committee stage, meaning funding will no longer be able to be used specifically to support social infrastructure.

In its place, the Government are planning a consultation on the future correct usage of such funds and to determine if community wealth funds will be suitable.

 

I acknowledge the support expressed by many in the House for using the English portion of dormant assets funding to support, through community wealth funds, the left-behind communities, which experience high levels of deprivation and low levels of social infrastructure. However, the government wanted to protect the integrity of the consultation process, which offers the most appropriate route to make that a reality. This consultation on how funds in England are used will be launched as soon as possible after Royal Assent and will explicitly include community wealth funds as an option to consider for the English portion.

A 12-week consultation on expanding the causes money to which money can go will begin as early as this summer, with community wealth funds included as a clear option. Should it be determined that the community wealth funds are the best use of some of the English portion, the bill is already designed to provide the most appropriate avenue to make that a reality.

Nigel Huddleston – Minister for Civil Society

 

At the moment, money from the dormant assets fund can only be spent on youth, financial inclusion and social investment in England, although the devolved nations have more flexibility on the spending of the fund.

 

I am surprised that the government want to remove a measure that empowers communities and surely goes to the heart of the alleged levelling up agenda. There are members on both sides of the committee who represent areas that will benefit from this kind of initiative. The most deprived areas often have the weakest third-sector capacity and infrastructure, which adds to a cycle of disadvantage. Community wealth funds aim to halt that cycle. They are aligned with the aims of the levelling up agenda and have the potential to transform communities and lives.

Jeff Smith – MP, Labour

 

I do not believe that the minister is correct in claiming that secondary legislation is the most appropriate mechanism for deciding on the distribution. We all understand that there is limited opportunity for debate on secondary legislation, and there is, of course, no opportunity to amend it. That means parliament’s role will be limited to rubber-stamping the government’s proposals. Were the fund to remain written into the bill, the Community Wealth Fund Alliance could start the process of securing match funding and planning to get money into the most left-behind communities as soon as possible after Royal Assent.

Diana Johnson – MP, Labour

Wales Has An Additional Duty To Climate Change Due To Its Coal Mining Past – Conservationist Claims

Leading Welsh NonProfit conservationist claims Wales has a ‘particular responsibility’ to help fight climate change due to its coal mining history.

 

Ru Hartwell, director of NonProfit Carbon Link, has recently been quoted as saying Wales ‘invented’ a model for industrial development based almost exclusively on exploiting fossil fuels.

 

Carbon Link runs a tree-planting programme in Africa that is funded by the Welsh Government and has, to date, planted around four million trees in the Boré community of Kenya.

The programme has expanded a lot since they started back in 2012, from an initial planting of 1,000 cashew trees to a target of over a million trees planted in 2022, designed to provide food and sustainable lumber to the community, as well as creating vital wildlife habitats and improving biodiversity.

 

All of Carbon Links funding comes from either the Welsh Government, NonProfit charity Size of Wales or takings from their climate change charity shops.

 

It’s all about helping the local people protect their existing forest and plant new trees to suck down carbon from the atmosphere and improve the climate for everyone. One of the tragic ironies of climate change was poorer nations that had contributed least to the carbon emissions problem were being worst hit by the impacts of rising temperatures and extreme weather.

Wales has a very long history of releasing carbon.

We’ve got one of the longest legacy footprints of any country in the world because of the industrialisation that came with the south Wales coalfield. The model of industrial development based on the exploitation of fossil fuels was invented in south Wales and every other country in the world has gone on to kind of emulate that.

So, because we were the first industrialised nation, we have a particular responsibility to draw back some of that ancient, historical carbon

Ru Hartwell – Director, Carbon Link

 

Since its inception, the tree planting project has led to the establishment of the largest tree nursery in Coast Province, Kenya, and now involves over 3,000 farmers as well as 200 local schools.

 

The people here have got very small carbon footprints, they don’t drive or fly around all the time like we do in the West but for them climate change is happening right now with crop failures driven by changing weather patterns.

Anna Douglas – Ecologist, Volunteer at Carbon Link and Ru Hartwells daughter

 

The available Welsh funding has also led to the planting of a further fifteen million trees in Uganda over the past decade by other NonProfit’s, with a the Welsh Government aiming for twenty-five million trees planted by 2025.

What Happens Once the Small Charities Coalition Closes Its Doors For Good?

A breakdown of what the closure of the membership body means for the more than 16,000 organisations it serves, and what the sector needs to consider following its impact.

Small Charities Coalition announced in December that lack of funds has meant it will close in spring.

 

[We have] exhausted all possibilities to secure funding that would have put the charity on a secure, sustainable financial footing

Statement made by Small Charities Coalition

 

The umbrella body was founded in 2008 by Directory of Social Change chief executive Debra Allcock Tyler.

 

There was nowhere for small charities to go, no one place that was just for them – up until that point, I think all of us genuinely cared about small charities and most organisations offered services for them, but it wasn’t dedicated

Debra Allcock Tyler, Chief Executive at Directory of Social Change

 

The SCC was small but mighty, much like the many charities it spent the last 14 years representing, and it will close with just three members of staff and more than 16,000 members on its books.

The work that the SCC has done, the support it has provided and the representation it has given, will leave a lasting imprint on the charity sector as a whole.

 

I think the SCC can certainly leave with its heads held high. It’s done two things: provided a service, particularly for smaller, volunteer-led charities, but more generally it has shone a spotlight on small charities.

A few years ago, the bigger infrastructure bodies didn’t really know what a small charity was and didn’t really have much interest in them, whereas now the infrastructure bodies all have much better understanding and are making sure they’re speaking up for them rather than defaulting to talking about large charities.

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Communications and Research at the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

 

Small charities are on the agenda in a way they weren’t before and I don’t think you can undo that

Debra Allcock Tyler, Chief Executive at Directory of Social Change

 

She also goes on to say that a dedicated voice to amplify the message of small charities to the government and sector is necessary, and the SCC will be sorely missed.

Despite being an avenue for small charities to get funding where it cannot get it elsewhere, the SCC was no exception to financial pressures.

In order to serve some of the most hard-pressed organisations in the sector, the SCC kept its membership free of charge, as Shrubsole points out – membership fees are one of the key sources of funding that umbrella bodies can use in order to gain financial stability.

 

Trustees have taken the responsible decision when they look at the financial situation going forward, and should be praised for their foresight. It means that they can do an orderly wind-up, which is always to the good, rather than things coming to a head and then having to suddenly shut the doors, which has happened in the charity sector in the past.

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Communications and Research at the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

 

So, what happens now? Once the SCC closes its doors, what will happen with the void it leaves behind?

The SCC, and other infrastructure bodies like the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, LBFEW, the DSC and others have been ruminating the very same question.

 

The organisation is starting work on a comprehensive evaluation and learning process.

In time we look forward to sharing what we’ve learned about supporting small charities since 2008 and working with other infrastructure groups, funders and civil society to support them to embed this learning and secure a thriving future for small charities for decades to come

SCC Spokesman

 

The vital work that the SCC did was practical support through its helpline, on hand when charities needed them most – starting out, expanding or closing down.

 

Practically, it was a really important set of activities, support and resources they were building and were custodian of,” she says. “That work will need to be picked up elsewhere.

We’re thinking about how we can understand more who the SCC have been working with, and think about how we step into that space, what capacity and resources will be needed to do that.

There are many that will fall to Navca members because they’re the obvious point of call. But for some it will be the national bodies who can also step in and pick some of that up.

Maddy Desforges, Chief Executive of Navca

 

Following SCC’s closure, Shrubsole poses the question about why smaller organisations were looking to SCC for support.

 

Some of this is about content of help and some of it is about tone and culture

Some people from small charities are ringing SCC because they feel ‘They understand us – the clue’s in the name’, but is the help they are getting similar to what they could get from somewhere else?

It could be that some of the bigger organisations need to think about how to tailor their existing services to small charities, or simply make more of an effort to promote themselves to that market, so smaller organisations are more aware of them as a source of support

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Communications and Research at the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

 

Regulatory organisations such as the Charity Commission may have a role in picking up some of the pieces that will be left behind.

 

So if people who are doing accounts are being told to call the SCC even though it’s the Charity Commission’s own rules and guidance that they need help with, there’s certainly something that needs pursuing about what the commission’s role and responsibility is,” Shrubsole says – although he adds that it’s not yet clear how prevalent this issue is.

It will be a few more weeks before the complete picture emerges and it becomes clear whether there are any gaps that cannot be filled

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Communications and Research at the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

 

And, while the coronavirus may have forced the decision to close due to surmounting the financial pressures, like a double-edged sword it may have also created the best possible outcome for its closure.

The network between infrastructure bodies have been opened and strengthened to an unprecedented degree, and both Desforges and Shrubsole state that important conversations about the legacy of SCC have happened far more quickly and easily than they would have done pre-Covid.

But, as Shrubsole says, finding funding for infrastructure bodies is no easy feat and as such, those involved are nervous about taking on SCC’s full workload, on limited resources, without giving it a proper think.

 

There’s always pushback about how many infrastructure bodies we really need, but I think there is also a strength in the specialisms of those we have – they were set up for a reason, they have specific purposes and meet specific needs

We all need to step back and recognise the value of infrastructure support. It is the catalyst that allows other organisations to have their impact. If we lose these bodies, the impact won’t be immediate, it won’t be this month or the month after, but it will be incremental and it will be significant.

Maddy Desforges, Chief Executive of Navca

 

She also goes on to say that this coming financial year is key for the NonProfit sector as it needs to come up with a longer-term plan for recovery from the pandemic, which has been brutalising charity organisations for almost two years.

 

For infrastructure bodies, particularly, we need to think about what’s our plan, what’s our strategy – not as individuals, but as a sector

It’s about the [part] an organisation plays in society – you can’t call on civil society in a pandemic if it’s not there in the first place, so [you] can’t just fund it in a pandemic, you have to do it long term

Maddy Desforges, Chief Executive of Navca

IBM Cloud Suffers Global Scale “Provisioning Issues” One Week Into 2022

IBM Cloud’s services went down in the early hours – bad omen or bad luck?

IBM Cloud’s start to 2022 wasn’t all Prosecco and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ – a prolonged duration of “provisioning issues” hit IBM Cloud on a global scale in the wee hours of Thursday 6th of January 2022.

The company’s status page shows that the troubles began at 0546 UTC and continued throughout the morning, until the issues were marked as resolved at 1212 UTC.

Users may experience issues with provisioning and other resource management actions in IBM Cloud services.

IBM Cloud

Affected locations were Washington DC, Osaka, São Paulo, London, Dallas, Seoul, Sydney, Chennai, Toronto, Tokyo, and Frankfurt.

Big Blue’s “provisioning issues” followed after two days of other IBM issues, with the Load Balancer component for the Virtual Private Cloud and the Virtual Private Cloud itself, which spent an hour of the 4th of January 2022 in a state of difficulty. Dallas’ infrastructure had some woes of its own on the 3rd of January 2022 with multiple SAN virtual servers going read-only as well as the Code Engine and Block Storage for the Virtual Private Cloud struggling.

IBM Cloud’s Twitter profile states it is “Hybrid. Open. Resilient,” so the struggling servers is not a great look for a company trying to compete with industry giants.

Although, IBM Cloud is not the only cloud service provider to have run into issues – Amazon Web Services has struggled in recent months.

Japan and Europe’s New Submarine Cable Planned to Take Traffic by 2025

Network latency between Europe and Asia will hopefully be a thing of the past

European traders seeking Asia in the 15th century faced numerous obstacles: first of all, the journey took years by land or sea, and there were lethal perils. So, the dream of the “Northwest Passage” – a route that goes across the Atlantic, then over the top of North America, before trailing down to Japan.

Unfortunately, it remained a dream as the Northwest Passage saw ice, ice in Canada, and… ice. Navigating the passage was impossible for hundreds of years, and the route was not commercially viable due to, well, all the perilous ice.

The problems of the long, in some places impossible to navigate journey from Europe to Asia have followed Europeans into the 21st century, in the form of an uncomfortably long network latency between northern Europe and Asia.

And in the spirit of 1920 intrepid explorers, Finnish company Cinia and US telco infrastructure company Far North Digital have united to build a submarine cable named the Far North Fiber which will traverse the route.

At one of the cable, there’ll be Japan. It’ll go on to touch Alaska and the Canadian Arctic before ending in Norway, Finland and Ireland. The route is as follows:

 

Pan-Arctic Fibre Cable Route

One of the factors for the latency is the fact there is complexity within the existing cables. Europe and Asia are already connected via the FLAG and SEA-ME-WE3 cables, which pass through the Suez Canal and other finicky areas which are vulnerable to sabotage if someone were to be determined enough (and, you know, there are lots of determined people out there.) The other routes require cross-connection and thus, we’ve ended up with a complicated connection which has slowed down the network significantly.

Far North Fiber will solve that problem by being a shorter trip and an alternative route – kind of like a slip road.

We can see (thanks to submarinecablemap.com) that while cables are already operating in Arctic climes, some further north than this one would need to pass, they are rare. It is therefore super exciting to see this feat of engineering, should the memorandum of understanding signed by Cinia and Far North Digital come to fruition.

There plan would see the cable taking network traffic from as soon as 2025, which is achieved, would beat Russia’s Polar Express cable to market by a year. However, the Polar Express will only land in Russia after using northern waters to travel from Asia to Europe.

It is worth noting that the sea ice that once plagued the Northern Passage has dwindled over the years, opening up the route to more frequent shipping routes. Cinia and Far North Digital hope that the conditions will make their construction efforts easier.

Question Asked: How Safe For Children is the Oculus VR Headset?

Talks have been prompted due to concerns over multiple instances of child harrasment on VRChat

Meta could face a fine of up to four per cent its annual global turnover if the Oculus headset is breaking child safety rules.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will be seeking clarification on whether the device is compliant with the Children’s Code and will be seeking this clarification from Meta directly by asking about the parental control features on the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset.

The clarification comes about due to warnings from child safety campaigners who have pointed out how the £300 device lacks parental controls, which puts it in violation of the new protection code.

The campaign group Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found numerous cases of abuse on  VRChat, Oculus’ popular social tool.

CCDH found that one of these cases involved two heavily breathing men following around a young person’s avatar. Another case had a man joke joked in front of an under-18 that he was a “convicted sex offender.”

The creator of the Children’s Code herself, Baroness Beeban Kidron, states her concern over the safety of children on the Oculus platform, as it has been made too easy for children to be exposed to abuse, harassment, and sexual content.

Meta has its own age barriers in place – VR users must use their Facebook account which has a minimum age requirement of 13, but this doesn’t mean Meta is implementing the Code’s age checks, according to Kidron. All a child has to do do, hypothetically, is simply tick a check box to say they’re old enough and then they’re granted access to potentially harmful VR chatrooms.

The ICO wants answers from Meta about whether their VR headsets and services have enough measures in place to protect children’s privacy and data.

Online services and products that use personal data and are likely to be accessed by children are required to comply with the standards of our children’s code,”

We are planning further discussions with Meta on its children’s privacy and data-protection-by-design approaches to Oculus products and virtual reality services. Parents and children who have concerns about how their data is being handled can complain to us at the ICO.

ICO spokesperson

 

What is the Children’s Code?

The UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code (aka the ‘Children Code’) is a set of regulations written into law as part of the 2018 Data Protection Act. Although it came into force in September 2020, organisations were given a 12-month grace period in order to audit themselves for compliance.

The Children’s Code contains 15 standards that companies must implement in any digital services used by children: from social media sites and apps to online games, connected toys, and even educational and news websites.

If Meta has violated the code then Meta could face an onslaught of penalties.

The penalties given by officials could be anywhere from a warning being issued, a fixed financial penalty of £17.5 million being imposed, or they could face a fine up to four per cent of global turnover.

A Meta representative issued a statement and told The Guardian that the company is confident the VR technology complies with the Code’s requirements, and they are committed to honouring the rules established by the ICO.

The spokesperson then goes on to emphasise that children under the age of 13 precluded from its products under the terms and services, however the statement does not address the concerns over how easy it is for minors to circumvent the policy.

Meta is committed to a $50 million (about £37 million) initiative, which it says is to establish the metaverse’s development’s compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

UK Invests £2bn In A Future Combat Air System With Japan

UK and Japan to develop fighter jet engine demonstrator

 

The UK Government, as part of the UK’s Combat Air strategy, has just announced that they’ll be developing a joint jet engine demonstrator with Japan.

A memorandum of Cooperation has also been signed to enable future development opportunities.

 

Work on the jet engine demonstrator will start early next year, with an initial investment by the UK of £30m to be used in planning, digital designs, and innovative manufacturing developments.

A further £200m will then be spent by the UK Government on developing a full scale demonstrator power system which will support hundreds of highly skilled jobs here in the UK, including many at Rolls-Royce’s plant in Bristol.

Then, over the next four years, over £4bn will be invested into major national and international National Security endeavours to design a world-leading, bleeding-edge, Future Combat Air System.

At the same time, Japan will be developing a future fighter aircraft through its F-X programme to replace the F-2 aircraft.

 

Strengthening our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific is a strategic priority and this commitment with Japan, one of our closest security partners in Asia, is a clear example of that. Designing a brand-new combat air system with a fighter aircraft at its heart is a highly ambitious project so working with like-minded nations is vital. Building on the technological and industrial strengths of our two countries, we will be exploring a wide-ranging partnership across next-generation combat air technologies.

Ben Wallace – UK Defence Secretary

 

This all came about last summer when UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace met with Japan’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi in Tokyo to discuss the future of air combat systems.

 

As I have seen at first hand our partners in Japan have made enormous progress on technologies that can complement our own advanced skills and could help ensure both our Armed Forces remain at the forefront of military innovation.

We look forward to the continued partnership with a formidable power and close ally.

Jeremey Quinn – UK Defence Procurement Minister

Free Public Transport To Reduce Air Pollution?

A motion has been floated by Belfast’s Green Party Councillors to give all young people free public transport to help reduce the city’s air pollution.

 

A motion has been tabled by Belfast City Council that could see all young people within the city receive free public transport in a move designed to combat rising levels of air pollution in the city.

Current research suggests one in twenty-four deaths in Belfast are linked to air pollution.

 

If successful, the council motion would call on Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and Translink to create a free public transport pilot scheme for all young people in Belfast.

 

The motion has been tabled by Green councillor Brian Smyth and reads…

 

This council supports the promotion and expansion of sustainable transport in Belfast as a critical step to averting climate change, address the significant levels of air pollution, reduce congestion and improve public health. Extending and improving uptake of sustainable transport is key to our city playing its part in averting climate breakdown. In order to create a societal shift in how people access public transport, this council therefore calls upon the Minister for Infrastructure and Translink to introduce a pilot of free public transport for young people in Belfast.

 

Last November Nichola Mallon was quoted as saying she was open to exploring the idea of congestion charges within the city of Belfast to help reduce emissions and move people away from a reliance on cars for transport.

 

I think we are going to have to look at incentivising people out of their cars and I am mindful that, in other places, they are looking at issues like parking charges and congestion charges. That would be an issue that would have to be brought to the Executive, but certainly I am open to considering a range of things. We’re in the middle of a climate crisis and we need to be bold in our thinking.

 

Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs has also been consulting on a Clean Air Strategy, with two Climate Change Bills currently making their way through the Assembly.

Heads Up: Your Dynamics NAV 2017 Is Being Removed From Mainstream Support

Hopefully you’ll already be aware but if your organisation is using Dynamics NAV 2017 (what was Navision, now widely replace with Business Central) then it’s about to be removed from mainstream support by Microsoft… on the 11th of January this year.

 

Although Dynamics NAV isn’t available for new customers anymore there are still some older versions out there that Microsoft are withdrawing support for one by one and the 11th Jan, 2022 is when Dynamics NAV 2017 becomes unsupported (for mainstream support).

 

That does raise the question however… what should users be doing with their NAV 2017 systems?

Extended support… for security updates only… will still be available for another five years but it means your NAV 2017 won’t be receiving any more of those awesome and regular feature updates, which, in a constantly changing world, is quickly going to make your systems legacy.

 

There are easy options however and if you’re worried about the path your organisation needs to take now then cloudThing will be happy to discuss how Business Central can step into the gap and help.

 

Not thought about Digital Transformation before? Maybe now’s the time?

Get in touch below to speak with one of our experts to discuss replacing legacy systems that might prove to be an anchor on your progress through 2022.

Rail Commuters Face Long Delays With 25% Staff Shortages… Thanks To COVID

With rising cases of Covid across the UK, passengers are facing more rail disruptions due to high volumes of covid related staff absences.

The Rail Delivery Group said almost one in 10 rail workers were off.

 

There are reduced timetables announced by rail companies ScotRail, CrossCountry and LNER, and passengers have been made aware of potential cancellations.

Hundreds of staff are off work due to covid or having to isolate, according to Alex Hynes of ScotRail when speaking about the company.

He went on to say that, while ScotRail usually operates 2,000 services a day, it would be reducing this by 160 (8%) from Tuesday.

 

Over the last few weeks because of record numbers of Covid cases we have been cancelling too many trains so we have decided to proactively put this revised timetable in to give our customers greater certainty on the service we can offer

We have said we will offer this timetable until the end of the month but of course one of the lessons we have learnt from Covid is that we would be foolish to predict the future,

There will be a few twists and turn in this Covid tale until it’s over.

Alex Hynes, Managing Director of ScotRail

 

The reduced timetable will “prove to be a robust service for customers in the coming weeks”, according to Mr Hynes who said the operator was “pretty confident” in the changes.

Industries where people are unable to work from home are greatly impacted by self-isolation, and the rising cases of Covid have left swathes of the rail work-force self-isolating.

The operator CrossCountry has said more than one in ten staff are absent, and it’s “worsening each day.”

The Rail Delivery Group estimates that more than 6,000 staff, which includes crews and drivers, were currently absent.

The industry body advises anyone travelling to check timetables ahead of time as there would be “some short notice cancellations.”

 

We are working hard to provide the most reliable service possible and so that passengers can travel with confidence when fewer rail staff can work, a number of operators are introducing amended timetables

The Rail Delivery Group

 

Transport for Wales showed a staggering 49 cancellations on Monday, TransPennine Express cancelled 37 and Avanti West Coast cancelled 25.

Even major commuter stations, like London Victoria, have been negatively affected, with Southern stating it will not be putting on any direct services there until next Monday.

Ministers have been tasked with developing “robust contingency plans” in order to cope with the rising cases of worker absences – as Covid case numbers rise, we could see up to a quarter of staff of work.

Keep in mind, the transport sector is not the only sector hit by worker shortages, as the retail and hospitality industries are also affected by surging cases and self-isolation.

The Cabinet Office has asked public sector leaders to prepare for a worst case scenarios of 10%, 20% and 25% absence rates.

Comic Relief Are Making Red Nose Day An Annual Event

Sport Relief is set to become all-year-round campaign after years of being held alternatively with Red Nose Day.

Red Nose Day will now be held every 12 months and the details of how Sport Relief will be operated are to be announced in the following months.

Sport Relief has always alternated with Red Nose Day since it’s debut campaign in 2002, but has always raised less money than Red Nose Day.

And, after a “Difficult Sport Relief 2020”, according to Comic Relief’s latest annual accounts, despite being severely affected by the pandemic it still raised £2.3m more than the previous event in 2018, and so it plans to evolve the once biennial event into all seasons format.

Making Red Nose Day an annual event would create income stability for the charity, and also open the door to new opportunities.

 

For the first time in 20 years we’re changing from alternating Sport Relief and Red Nose Day campaigns to Red Nose Day becoming annual and returning every March, and Sport Relief evolving into a year-round brand from 2022.

Sport Relief is set to partner with major events, sports projects and sports stars, with more details set to be announced in the new year.

This is happening at a time where Comic Relief is focusing on fundraising and using pop culture and sport for social change all year round.

Alex Botha, Chief Operating Officer at Comic Relief

 

The accounts, for the year to the end of March, also show that its annual income was down by almost £4m year on year to £74.1m, partly because its income in 2019/20 was boosted by the one-off Big Night In Campaign held to raise funds during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite this, the charity recorded a deficit of £12.1m, as it spent £86.2m – down from £105.6m from the previous year.

This was achieved by a “continued acceleration of the allocation of funds raised in prior years to ensure that we have delivered the maximum impact in challenging times”, according to the charity.

To adapt to the growing pressures of the pandemic, Comic Relief reduced staff costs by more than £3m to £10.8m in 2021.

Following a 2013 criticism of the charity, in which it was discovered it held investments in arms, alcohol and tobacco, states all its investments were ethical and it has not invested in fossil fuel extraction companies since 2017.

It also reiterates its commitment to modernise and update appeal films, by producing films from Kenya, India and South Africa using local crews, and local people leading the films in front of the camera.

Scotland & Wales’ Vaccine Roll Out Gets A Boost From Armed Forces

In Scotland and Wales, the vaccine rollout has been accelerated in response to new waves of Omicron infections across the country. The number of personnel from the Armed Forces supporting the effort in Scotland is now 221, and in Wales it’s 98.

The effort has been ongoing since early October 2021, with 121 Armed Forces members leading the charge, however the increased numbers of those on task is due to last until the end of February 2022.

The Armed Forces are on hand to provide more serves alongside the vaccination roll-out, as 114 personnel are driving ambulances to support the Scottish Ambulance service – a supporting service which will be going on until the end of March, however 96 personnel will remain on task to provide ongoing support to the life changing service.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

Our Armed Forces continue to tirelessly support the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Scotland to give people and communities vital protection against this virus.

This uplift in support will help to get more vaccines into arms faster, working shoulder to shoulder with the dedicated health services.

 

Who are the people 221 supporting the Scottish vaccine programme?

Amongst the Armed Forces, personnel are made up of health care professionals and general duties personnel who will work in support of NHS Scotland and NHS Wales staff and volunteers, and the tasks involve administering vaccines and providing planning expertise. Personnel will deploy to all seven Health Boards in Wales, with two teams assigned to each board, and have been assisting with tasks in Wales since the pandemic began including community testing and PPE delivery.

They come from units across the three services – Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force.

Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack said:

Once again our fantastic British Armed Forces are stepping up in times of need to help tackle Covid-19 in Scotland and across the UK and I pay tribute to them.

The deployment of a further 100 personnel will make a significant contribution to getting people vaccinated in Scotland. As the festive season approaches, when we want to spend time with loved ones, it’s more important than ever to be protected. I urge everyone to book their jabs as soon as they are eligible.

The defence’s work to support the UK’s pandemic response has been given the operational name of “Operation Rescript” and has involved making 398 personnel available for tasks in Scotland.

All support that is being provided goes through the Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) process, and since March 2020, there have been over 430 MACA requests across the UK.

Brigadier Ben Wrench, Commander Joint Military Command Scotland said:

Whether it be responding to the impacts of storms or national health crises, the members of our Armed Forces are always prepared to deploy at short notice to support the nation and our communities.

I commend the dedication of all those serving and supporting this effort, many of whom will find themselves away from their families and loved ones this Christmas and Hogmanay.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

We are now supporting this national priority Covid-19 vaccination programme in Wales, Scotland and England.

Our Armed Forces are supporting our world class health services to accelerate the vaccine rollout and provide essential protection for people and communities. I urge anyone eligible to take up the offer of a vaccine.

Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart said:

It is critical that as many people as possible receive the vaccine in our fight against Covid-19 and I’m hugely grateful to the UK’s Armed Forces for supporting this effort in Wales as well as continuing to support the work of the Welsh Ambulance Service.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the military has stepped up to support health services across Wales with the distribution of PPE, construction of a temporary hospital in Cardiff and assisting community testing in the South Wales valleys, demonstrating the UK Government’s commitment to meet the needs of the whole of the United Kingdom.

The Armed Forces are on hand to support communities, devolved nations and civil authorities as requested, if they meet MACA principles. This includes short notice support to places like Aberdeenshire Council in order to conduct welfare checks on vulnerable people and isolated communities impacted by Storm Arwen.

Leaked Internal Facebook Documents Reveal Their Plan To Ignore EU Privacy Laws

Political News outlet Politico have released leaked exchanges between Facebooks lawyers which they claim show Facebooks intent to ignore judgements by the European Court of Justice that state US privacy laws don’t offer enough protection to allow the free transfer of personal data from the EU to the US.

 

Facebook’s lawyers (or Meta’s lawyers as we should now call them) intend to argue that because Meta uses ‘standard contractual clauses’ (SCC’s) as the legal mechanism of the transfer of personal information and data, then the ECJ’s judgement about US Privacy laws won’t apply to them.

They’re basing this argument on the Schrems II case in which the ECJ ruled the EU-US data sharing agreement Privacy Shield was no longer fit for purpose but that SCC’s were IF additional security (where necessary) was implemented to prevent excessive access to the transferred personal data by the recipient third country.

 

Meta’s lawyers also referred to the fact (in the leaked documents) that the UK was granted data adequacy by the EU last June, this, despite the fact that the ECJ had found mass surveillance activities by the UK Government to be illegal.

In the exchange between Meta’s lawyers the idea was also floated that they could argue that the US Federal Trade Commission was “carrying out its role as a data protection agency with unprecedented force and vigour,” meaning they could make the case the US, in terms of data protection, was not that different from the UK.

 

It is clear that in some important respects, the UK regime, which the Commission has assessed to be adequate under Article 45 GDPR, takes a similar approach to the US in relation to limitations on data protection rights in the context of interception of communications.

Leaked Meta Communications

 

That being said however, the adequacy granted to the UK for data transfer between the UK and EU countries is only limited to four years, with many MEP’s objecting to it at all and negotiations are ongoing even now, meaning any argument based on purely on that could face a lot of pushback.

UK’s National Crime Agency Has Discovered 225m Unexposed Passwords

It’s come to light that the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and National Cyber Crime Unit have recently uncovered a whole host of stolen passwords.

This was after Troy Hunt of ‘Have I Been Pwned (HIBP), fame announced he’d been handed them to add to his service which allows anyone to check if any of their credentials have been exposed.

Apparently, 585,570,857 passwords were shared by the NCA, with over 225,665,425 being passwords that HIBP had never seen before.

That takes the number of credentials that people can now check with HIBP to over 840 million (847,223,402 to be exact).

 

During recent NCA operational activity, the NCCU’s [email protected] team were able to identify a huge amount of potentially compromised credentials (emails and associated passwords) in a compromised cloud storage facility. Through analysis, it became clear that these credentials were an accumulation of breached datasets known and unknown. The fact that they had been placed on a UK business’s cloud storage facility by unknown criminal actors meant the credentials now existed in the public domain and could be accessed by other 3rd parties to commit further fraud or cyber offences.

National Crime Agency statement

 

The NCA haven’t revealed were these passwords came from or how they came to light (outside of their above statement).

 

Before today’s announcement, there were already 613 million passwords in the live Pwned Passwords service… so the NCA’s corpus represents a significant increase in size. Working in collaboration with the NCA, I imported and parsed out the data set against the existing passwords, I found 225,665,425 completely new instances out of a total set of 585,570,857. As such, this whole set (along with other sources I’d been accumulating since November last year) has all been rolled into a final version of the manually released Pwned Passwords data.

Troy Hunt – HIBP Founder

 

HIBP have also confirmed they’ve added a new ingestion pipeline which allows law enforcement agencies around the globe to mass upload compromised passwords, with agencices such as the FBI already availing themselves of the service.

Over 66% Of Welsh Councils Will Be Enhancing Their Telecare Services Soon

A report, commissioned by TEC Cymru and conducted by FarrPoint, has been released with in-depth information as to the telecare landscape of Wales.

Funded by the Welsh Government, TEC Cymru are responsible for supporting the shift to tech led care in Wales, with this report being a ‘state of current play’ for them.

 

A Telecare service is a remote service provided to care for citizens who are less physically mobile, able to provide reassurance, help and guidance via the phone or other assistive technologies like pendants or lifeline alarm units.

 

The research was conducted through a variety of data analysis and direct consultations and estimates there are currently over 77,000 telecare users in Wales, with over 91% of that figure aged over 65 and over 33% aged over 85.

However, the take up pf telecare varies across Wales, being delivered by Wales twenty-two councils, alongside numerous Housing Associations, with only 67% of respondents using 2025’s move from analogue to digital lines as an opportunity for digital transformation.

 

The report did highlight that the main driver for transformation across all Councils was a desire to improve and extend their services to a wider demographic, such as introducing proactive care or a full telehealth service with better interoperability between health and social care bodies.

 

As the switch over to digital approaches though a lot of support and investment will be needed to support telecare services into the new infrastructure.

Currently, only three out of twenty-two Welsh councils are using digital telecare tech and only 19% of a plan on how to manage the transition.

90% of councils have stated they feel unsupported during the transition with over 66% stating they have concerns around the migration.

 

Technology advances mean individuals can be supported in every stage of life. Telecare is an extremely positive way in which we can support the most vulnerable in society, allowing them to continue to live independent lives, often from the comfort of their own home. The digital switchover will be a hurdle for many of the telecare providers across Wales but it is one that they absolutely must overcome. As a result, more residents will be able to benefit from these types of services, providing the support and peace of mind to allow them to live independently in their own homes.

Richard Parkinson – Director, FarrPoint

 

This report provides the first analysis into the current state of the sector in Wales and will be crucial to reshaping services with the citizen in mind. It also highlights the disparity between the access, cost and type of services that citizens have depending upon where they live.  FarrPoint has previously done similar work in Scotland and England, which brought a valuable perspective on the rollout of digital telecare from across the UK. TEC has the potential to help huge numbers of people continue to live independently, and we’re committed to improving services across Wales, helping as many people as possible access the care they need.

Aaron Edwards – TEC Cymru

£116m Fund Announced By UK Gov. For Green Tech

The UK Government has just announced a £116m green ‘tech fund’ that will be distributed between direct air capture, greenhouse gas removal, SME tech innovations and business development support services, with the aim to boost job creation whilst also delivering on carbon net zero goals.

 

This £116m government investment will support businesses across the nation to turn their green ideas into reality and to develop ground-breaking projects that save energy, slash utility bills and tackle pollution. British businesses and entrepreneurs are already leading the world with innovative solutions to tackling climate change. This is not only good for the planet but will bring new jobs and investment across the UK.

Greg Hands – Energy and Climate Change Minister

 

The biggest part of the fund – £64m – will be spent on Direct Air Capture and Greenhouse Gas Removal technologies.

It’s hoped this funding will help attract further private investment, with interest in direct air capture and other forms of negative emissions tech growing.

A further £30m will be awarded through the Energy Entrepreneurs fund to 58 SME’s to help deliver better energy efficiency, storage and clean power.

 

The final share of the £116m will see £22.8m go to business development support services for SME’s developing green tech. Technical support will also be offered through the Technical Third Party Support project, which offers expertise in tech coordination, social research, carbon control and storage, generation and distribution to key projects.

 

 

Virtual Events Generated Over £39m In Donations During 2021

Virtual fundraising events continued to grow during 2021 according to an updated report released by mass participation agency Massive, in conjunction with JustGiving.

The report continues on the work done last year, collating information about virtual fundraising during a pandemic. Both reports combined information from JustGiving as well as data from 150 other virtual events that raised over £39m in 202, whilst comparing the amounts to 2020 figures.

 

The report focused on peer-2-peer virtual fundraising activities, including campaigns from Diabetes UK, Breast Cancer Now, Dementia UK and Alzheimer’s Society.

 

  • 54% of the events data was collated for were new for 2021
  • 29% of the events were a repeat from 2020
  • 17% were pivots of existing events that went virtual for 2021 (down from 38% during the pandemic).

 

Overall, the report concludes that virtual events raised more in 2021 than the previous year, with over half of those surveyed raising over £100k and the number of virtual events to raise over £1m doubling YoY.

 

“We’re seeing more people taking part in virtual events but not seeing any significant growth in levels of fundraising, so the growth we’re seeing appears to be driven by volume as opposed to value and we’ve seen a corresponding increase in marketing spend to drive that volume. In 2022 we expect to see continued success for both virtual and physical events. As ever the most successful campaigns will be the ones that adapt their offer to the changing expectations and attitudes of their audience to offer something new, regardless of whether that’s online, in real life or a mix of both.”

John Tasker, partner at Massive

 

The report echoes what we’ve seen on JustGiving this year – virtual events are no longer simply the understudy for physical events and have unique value in attracting new and diverse audiences to good causes. This time next year we expect to see a continued growth in charities blending their events portfolios on JustGiving, with a balance of virtual and physical experiences developed to suit the needs of their supporters.”

Sally Falvey – Head of Retention Marketing, JustGiving

cloudThing’s powerUP For The Membership Sector Coming SOON

Membership organisations that are already using payment schedules and adjustment managers completely in-house by way of their CRM have reduced third-party processing costs, increased data input and processing efficiency and generally just streamlined all their processes.

They’ve achieved this by following a model of reliable and repeatable methods of data classification, that is… automated process and cloud migration have made the data something that can be accessed and analysed by all those who have permissions.

Overall, their people have a reduced manual effort, less room for human error and increased collection of revenue on time, leaving more room for their members to get the most out of the organisation!

As this technology is already being implemented in membership organisations the world over – automated processing is nothing new – it means you’re not experimenting. You’re ensuring business continuity by #buildingFuture and creating a culture of resilience among your organisations.

The good news is that cloudThing is making this technology available for membership organisations to provide easy to implement solutions to all the common problems that the membership sector faces!

What can you do with the powerUps?

Well, basically everything! The automated processing schedule checks billing profiles for payments due, the direct integration with BACS means you can process payment and deliver responses and automatic notification of payments received, and it updates the billing profiles – all which will allow you to maintain that customer relationship.

Data Mill is part of cloudThing’s wider membership powerUp, which has been designed to provide immediate solutions to common problems that the membership sector faces. Sign up here to receive more information about our powerUps and its benefits.

NonProfit Sector Still Needs To Move Past ‘Tokenism’

Fundraisers have heard that much of the NonProfit sector is struggling to move beyond tokenistic gestures when it comes to highlighting the voices of marginalised groups and the communities it works with.

Jaden Osei-Bonsu, programme manager at the leadership development community interest company the Centre for Knowledge Equity, told delegates at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s annual convention that the sector needed to shift power to the communities it supported, rather than telling them how to solve their problems.

Speaking at the online convention during an event focusing on how to be an ally to marginalised groups, Osei-Bonsu called for larger charities to think about how they could work in genuine partnership with grassroots organisations which allowed them to lead programmes, rather than simply advising.

 

Historically with the charity sector, fundraising usually puts communities in a position where they are being researched or people are trying to tell them what is going to solve their problems –

Jaden Osei-Bonsu – Programme Manager, Centre for Knowledge Equity

 

Osei-Bonsu adds that the conversation should be about shifting power to communities with direct experience of the issues being addressed, as the majority of the sector is struggling to move past tokenistic gestures.

Drawing on her experience in youthwork, fellow panellist Yolanda Copes-Stepney, founder of Speak & Do, said that when engaging with marginalised communities, organisations needed to make a conscious effort to ask what results the communities wanted to see from the engagement.

She also said that, too often the young people she spoke to believed nothing would come from their involvement and that they would not be listened to.

She also said that organisations and individuals need to remember that allyship and supporting marginalised groups was ‘going to be a constant process of learning’.

It’s about asking lots of questions, and never assuming anything for them.

 

 

cloudThing Named Launch Partner For Microsoft Cloud For NonProfits

cloudThing are honoured to have been named a launch partner for Microsoft cloud For NonProfits.

 

For years, cloudThing have provided bleeding-edge software solutions to NonProfit’s in both the UK and globally, helping them digitally transform whilst donating IP to take them to the ‘next level’.

That’s why we’re so proud to have been named Launch Partner by Microsoft for their Cloud for NonProfit.

 

Microsoft Cloud For NonProfit takes Microsoft’s already awesome technology and aligns it to the NonProfit sector, considering the challenges they face daily and adapting their solutions to answer them.

Microsoft Cloud for NonProfits has been specially designed for fundraisers, Volunteer Managers & volunteer management systems, programme managers and many other unique roles and concerns specific to NonProfits.

 

Microsoft Cloud For NonProfit utilises Dynamics 365, the entire Power Platform, Azure and LinkedIn to help create a whole suite of NonProfit solutions, all underpinned by the Dataverse.

However, Microsoft Cloud for NonProfit’s will also come with advanced training for users as well tech support for the various solutions and software.

 

As part of the announcement, Microsoft’s Tech for Social Impact team has been highlighting where Cloud for NonProfits can have the most benefit:

 

  • Know your donors and supporters
  • Deliver effective programming
  • Accelerate mission outcomes
  • Secure donor and programme participant data

 

cloudThing are honoured to have been named a launch partner for Microsoft cloud For NonProfits.

The NonProfit sector is central to cloudThing’s core identity and empowering NonProfit’s with tech for social impact was one of cloudThing’s founding principles.

cloudThing have worked with dozens of NonProfit’s over the years and can’t wait to introduce them to Microsoft’s Cloud for NonProfits. – Robert Meehan – CMO, cloudThing

 

The NonProfit sector faces many challenges beyond just achieving their stated mission, and often feels a burden of responsibility to invest any money directly into their cause, rather than on organisational improvements.

This can lead to outdated processes and technology creeping into daily use, causing a slowdown in efficiency, as well as large data and skill silos between departments, volunteers, staff and supporters.

cloudThing can assist by firstly, understanding a NonProfit’s ambitions as an organisation, then helping by using technology to address challenges such as supporter engagement, personalisation of services, as well as ensuring business support staff and volunteers are productive and make use of the technology available.

Through a focus on continuous improvement, we can help supercharge your processes, and deliver digital experiences across your NonProfit, even integrating into current systems.

 

 

Chinese Quantum Computer Beats Out Google’s 55-Qubit Sycamore

Google’s Sycamore quantum computer falls short of Chinese research team’s Zuchongzhi 2.1 quantum computer.

 

A team of Chinese researchers have claimed to have created two different types of quantum computers that can perform calculations that would be completely impossible for non-quantum computers, and that can outperform other competitors in terms of speed.

You might be thinking, “what the heck is a quantum computer?”

Fundamentally they work differently to what we’d consider ‘classic’ computers. They use ‘qubits’ (quantum bits) which work by storing a combination of binary digits (bits – ‘0 1’) through superposition.

The team, helmed by Pan Jianwei, a quantum physicist from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), state they’ve designed a quantum computer that’s a 66-qubit superconductor, making it 10 million times faster than the world’s fastest digital supercomputer, and a million times more powerful than Google’s 55-qubit Sycamore quantum processor.

It has been named ‘Zuchongzhi 2.1’ after the noted 5th century Chinese mathematician and astronomer.

The 62-qubit superconducting prototype, Zuchongzhi, was unveiled by Chinese researchers in May, making the 2.1 an upgraded version.

Zuchongzhi 2.1 isn’t the only quantum computer floating around, however, in 2019 Google’s Sycamore processor achieved ‘quantum supremacy’ for the first time, which far exceeded the performance of domestic computer systems. Google says that Sycamore performed a specific task in 200 seconds – a task that apparently it would take the world’s best supercomputer nearly 10,000 years to complete.

The Zuchongzhi 2.1 research team also lays claim to having built a novel light-based photonic quantum computer, named  ‘Jiuzhang 2.0’ which is said to perform tasks and calculations up to 100 trillion times faster than the world’s fastest existing supercomputer, and large-scale Gaussian boson sampling (GBS) 1 septillion times faster.

The experiments that the researchers ran Zuchongzhi 2.1 and Jiuzhang 2.0 involved things like calculating the probability that a specific input configuration may lead to a particular output configuration.

These are simply not possible for conventional devices.

Jiuzhang 2.0 can, according to the researchers, sample the output of 1,043 possible outcomes 1,024 times faster than a ‘standard’ supercomputer.

They also noted that a sampling calculation using Zuchongzhi 2.1 is about 1,000 times more difficult to perform on a classical computer.

This indicates that our research has entered its second stage to start realising fault-tolerating quantum computing and near-term applications such as quantum machine learning and quantum chemistry. – Zhu Xiaobo – Study’s Co-Author

 

 

Green Routes & Network Expansions – What Liverpool’s £710M Funding Will Do For Transport Infrastructure

Despite vows of invigoration and interoperability, fears remain that thousands of city residents will be excluded from new transport initiatives.

 

£710m of funding could be the answer to the east of Liverpool’s connectivity, as it has long been cut off from a rail network.

It comes after Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram vowed at the Labour party conference in September to create a transport system that was ‘better than they’ve got in London.’

An announcement was made earlier this week that the funding had been secured from the government and it seems the mayor’s vow to invest in new infrastructure for transports were not hollow promises.

The will help launch the ‘transport revolution’ which will include new train stations, green bus routes and improved walking and cycling facilities.

The lofty vision of besting London’s transport system may still be in the infancy stages but the massive cash injection is setting the precedent for achieving the goals, acting as the first track being laid down.

The Merseyrail network will be extended to meet the needs of the previously hard to reach communities, such as Skelmersdale, and it is people of places with limited network services who will have been keeping an eye on the details.

Merseyrail is one of the best performing rail franchises in the country.

Down to the geography of the city, amongst other reasons, it has the luxury of full access to the rail network it operates on which results in fewer delays, since unlike competing franchises it doesn’t need to vie for precious platform space.

However, much of the east of the city is basically untouched – beyond the northern line it skips places like Ormskirk, Southport and Kirkby to as far as Hunts Cross.

The areas of West Derby, Knotty Ash, Croxteth, Norris Green, Tuebrook and Stoneycroft remain without a direct line to the city’s rail network which means a population of up to 70,000 are unable to enjoy interoperability of travel and instead have to rely on car use and bus travel.

The scale of the challenge of creating an infrastructure to rival London’s must be taken seriously into consideration and the focus must be clear, in order to create the level of connectivity throughout the entire city that London enjoys.

West Derby MP Ian Byrne feels as though network for his constituency has devolved.

For me, Steve Rotherham and his team have done a magnificent job securing the funding. It’s a fantastic advancement. I fully support the plans for an integrated London style transport system. But it’s not London yet. London has fantastic connectivity. At the moment we’re far far from that. For me, it’s a case of looking at the gaps. 60 years ago we had far better connectivity. We’ve actually gone back. Hopefully now there is an opportunity with the Metro Mayor to revisit all areas of Liverpool which it desperately needs. West Derby has huge gaps. Train connectivity is something that is unbelievably lacking. It would make a huge difference to the infrastructure in east Liverpool if we had connectivity. – Ian Byrne – West Derby MP

 

City Council cabinet member and Cllr for the ward Harry Doyle, a vocal supporter of improving the city region’s interconnectivity has pointed out that while road connections are good, there has been a lack of consideration in travel time that needs addressing directly and improved upon.

Knotty Ash is slightly further south than West Derby and it faces a whole slew of connection issues.

Firstly, it doesn’t have a train station.

It takes around the same time to get the bus from the Greyhound pub in Knotty Ash into town as it would to get the train from Chester into town. And that’s just not acceptable. For added context, Knotty Ash is six miles from Liverpool city centre. A bus journey could be between 45 minutes and an hour depending on traffic. Formby is 12 miles from Liverpool city centre. A train journey takes 30 minutes. It would take me less than half the time with a car. We have a good bus network across the city, but the travel time is not acceptable. Not when we’re trying to encourage more people to use public transport. – Harry Doyle – City Council Cabinet Member

 

‘Green corridors’ will be a core focus for the funding secured for transport reinvigoration.

It includes zero-emission hydrogen-powered double-decker buses and ‘green bus routes’ which are designed with prioritisations of travel and journey time through a combination of priority lanes, traffic signal upgrades, remodelled junctions and upgraded, accessible passenger facilities.

The most frequented and busiest bus in the region, the 10A, will be the first of the planned green routes to serve the area – it runs from St Helens to Liverpool city centre through areas like Knotty Ash and Stoneycroft.

So who are the residents in danger of being left out?

In the Northeast of the city, the people of Croxteth who are old enough will only remember, before it closed, of West Derby as the area’s nearest working train station.

The centre of Croxteth is 2 miles away from Fazakerly, which makes that area its nearest connection to the Merseyrail line.

Because of this, areas like Croxteth and Norris Green are more reliant than most on the bus services – 80% of journeys in the City Region are in fact taken by bus.

Cancer Diagnosing & Decision Making AI Approved For Use In UK

A massive game-changer for cancer diagnosis and decision making is said to be as accurate lab-testing – with results found in minutes.

 

Diagnosis of routine cancer samples has been sped up due to a ground-breaking AI-based test that predicts the most effective form of treatment from images of routine cancer samples, which also cuts costs and saves time on lab-testing – and it’s now approved for use in the UK and EU.

It’s called the PANProfiler, developed by Cambridge-based company Panakeia, and it works by analysing digital images of routine breast tumour samples that normally require being observed under a microscope by a trained pathologist to judge the best course of action.

After the pathologist has checked the sample, a further sample is sent off to discover the next steps that need to be taken, with the wait time being days or weeks for results, and costing hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

But the PANProfiler Breast Test removes all that wait time and costing. It can scan and analyse the digital image of the sample and predict whether it contains ER or PR receptors, which then categorises patients as needing hormone therapy, or HER2 which is treated by the drug Herceptin.

The test far exceeds existing tests in terms of time and cost efficiency and the accuracy is comparable to lab testing, and it’s able to do all of this in mere minutes just from a digital image. Time, in these instances, is the most precious resource for both patients and doctors. Having the patient journey significantly reduced means the time from diagnosis to treatment is cut tremendously, but also the burden on busy laboratory services is reduced – COVID-19 has undeniably created a backlog on cancer diagnosis during the pandemic and the new AI-based testing method will go a long way to freeing up those services.

As of 13th October, the test now has UKCA and CE approval for clinical use by health services in the UK and EU. It seamlessly integrates into current digital procedures being employed in cancer pathology, and is being trialled in hospitals around the UK, with expansion plans for Europe, North America and Asia.

So how did Panakeia’s innovative technology come to be?

Co-founders Pahini Pandya, a former cancer scientist at the University of Cambridge, and AI researcher Pandu Raharja-Liu found in their research that there were almost imperceptibly small differences in the appearance of cancer cells – so small in fact, that they require a computer to see – and these differences reveal the best treatment options due to the information gleaned from their molecular state.

The Panakeia team is now developing similar tests for other tumour types, in the wake of the PANProfiler Breast test’s release.

The company’s mission is to speed-up the decision-making in cancer diagnosis and treatment, spawned by Pandya’s lived experienced of waiting and waiting for the results of tests for blood cancer – a disease she sadly lost her childhood best friend to – but fortunately the results of Pandya’s blood tests came back negative.

I know first-hand the anxiety of waiting for your test results. Due to the pressure on labs, even in the best healthcare systems, diagnosis and treatment decisions can take weeks – an unacceptable and stressful delay when dealing with a fast-growing cancer. We’re excited to be rolling out PANProfiler to hospitals here in the UK and around the world to speed up access to treatment and help save lives. – Pahini Pandya – Panakeia Co-Founder

 

Raharja-Liu, who has unfortunately lost family members to the disease, adds:

This is a golden opportunity to transform cancer diagnosis. We can now do something that nobody has achieved before – to see more from every tumour sample, gathering rich information about what these cells are like and how best to treat them. – Raharja-Liu – Panakeia Co-Founder

This exciting technology has the potential to save laboratory resources and also to improve turnaround time for biomarker results for patients with invasive breast cancer. – Professor Sarah Pinder – Chair of Breast Pathology at King’s College London & Lead Breast Pathologist at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospitals

 

 

Government Answers Calls To Teach More About Black History, Cultural Change & Migration

Government plans to widen conversations of diversity with publication of new model history curriculum.

Plans for a model history curriculum have been confirmed by schools minister Robin Walker, with plans to enrich learning about “migration, cultural change and the contributions made by different communities”.

Subject expert Christine Counsell has helped developed the curriculum, after Nick Gibb – Walker’s predecessor – made plans to build a curriculum around diversity.

There have been calls for schools to teach more about black history, and so the government’s plans to take steps to develop such a curriculum have followed.

Walker told a debate organised to mark Black History Month:

We will work with history curriculum experts, historians and school leaders to develop a model history curriculum that will stand as an exemplar of a knowledge-rich, coherent approach to teaching history. – Robin Walker – Schools Minister

This isn’t the first of such curriculums to be published, as earlier this year the government released a similar non-statutory model curriculum for music.

Diversity would be an important aspect of the model history curriculum, as we demonstrate how the content, themes and eras of the national curriculum can be brought to life by teaching them in an interconnected form throughout key stages. A diverse history can be taught because history is diverse. As so many members have said today: black history is British history. The curriculum would equip teachers and leaders to teach migration, cultural change and the contributions made by different communities to science, art, culture and society We will announce further details in due course, but I am pleased to show our commitment to high quality teaching in this debate. – Robin Walker, Schools Minister

 

 

NHS To Prescribe E-Cigarettes In A World First – UK To Be Smoke Free By 2030!

The NHS hope to prescribe E-cigarettes to reduce smoking rates in the UK.

The NHS could soon be prescribing e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking.

The medical regulator is currently working with e-cigarette manufacturers in a move fully supported by the Government with the goal of making the UK smoke-free by 2030.

 

MHRA (the Medicines & Healthcare Regulatory Agency) will be publishing updated guidelines to pave the way to a smoke-free UK by 2030 through medical licensed e-cigarettes to smokers.

Manufacturers of e-cigarettes are now being encouraged to contact the MHRA and submit their products for evaluation and approval through the same regulatory process that other medicines and equipment must go through before being used by the NHS.

If any e-cigarettes pass the process, it will make England the first country in the world to prescribe e-cigarettes to smokers.

 

Once an e-cigarette receives approval from the MHRA, it will be down to individual clinicians and health practitioners as to whether they’re prescribed to a particular patient or not to help them quit smoking.

NHS advice hasn’t changed that non-smokers and children are strongly advised against the use of an e-cigarette as they do still contain nicotine and aren’t risk free… though expert clinicians in both the US and UK have stated they are much safer than smoking is.

 

Smoking remains the leading cause of premature death and, whilst rates are at a record low in the UK, there are still over six million smokers in England alone.

There are also huge variations across the country, with smoking rates over 20% in some areas but below 10% in others.

This country continues to be a global leader on healthcare, whether it’s our COVID-19 vaccine roll-out saving lives or our innovative public health measures reducing people’s risk of serious illness. Opening the door to a licensed e-cigarette prescribed on the NHS has the potential to tackle the stark disparities in smoking rates across the country, helping people stop smoking wherever they live and whatever their background. – Sajid Javid – Health and Social Care Secretary

2019 figures show that almost 64,000 people die in England from smoking or smoking-related issues which is why the OHID (Office for Health Improvement) is also throwing their weight behind this project to support it.

Reducing health disparities across different regions in the UK, including smoking rates, and keeping people generally health has wide ranging effects on the individual, their wider family and society and the economy as a whole.

To help empower goals that support that, the OHID will be working at a national, regional and local level with the NHS, academia, NonProfit’s, scientist and researchers to ensure they receive the help they need.

 

 

UK Justice System Gets Largest Funding Increase In A Decade

It will be victims, courts and prisons that benefit from the MOJ’s new funding increase.

The MOJ (Ministry of Justice) will be pumping an additional £11.5bn into their budget by the end of the current parliament, a 12% boost year on year to help drive recovery across the UK.

An additional £2.2bn will be spent on the courts, prisons and probation service; £550 million will go to cutting reoffending rates and an additional £185 million will go as a boost to victim support services.

The new spending comes with a commitment to cut crime and restore the publics trust in the UK’s justice system.

 

Another £1bn has been ear marked to boost capacity post COVID and accelerate the recovery after the pandemic. That includes £447 million to deliver a swifter access to justice by improving waiting times and reducing court backlogs.

 

The additional £185 million to be spent on victim support services will fund an additional 1,000 independent sexual and domestic violence advisors by the end of 2023/25 and a 24/7 crisis helpline for victims.

 

18,000 additional prison places will use up a further £3.5bn, the biggest prison-building program for more than a century, with an additional £250m being spent on 2,000 temporary prison places in the meantime.

The pandemic created unprecedented challenges but this settlement is the largest increase in more than a decade for the justice system. That means we can focus on building a better, more efficient, justice system for all. The extra investment will help us protect the public by bringing criminals to justice quicker, reducing stubborn reoffending rates and supporting victims better than ever before. – Dominic Raab – MP, Justice Secretary & Deputy Prime Minister

Finally, £324 million will be spent over a three-year period to increase efficiency and timeliness in civil and family court and the threshold and eligibility of legal aid will be increased in civil cases and family court, benefitting millions annually.

Crackdown On Multination Firms’ Tax Avoidance

World leaders in agreement over global tax reform for tech giants.

A new global tax deal has been agreed by the likes of the UK, US, France, Italy, Austria and Spain, in a decision to move away from national DSTs.

A new DST-credit system will ease the transition between the UK’s current DST and the beginning of the global tax system coming into effect in 2023.

An agreement of a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent on multinational firms has been met this month by 136 countries.

So who do the rules apply to?

The new global tax deal will apply to global companies with at least a 10 per cent profit margin and will see 25 per cent of any profit above the 10 per cent margin reallocated and then subjected to tax in the countries they operate.

The aim of the changes is to crack down on multinational firms who operate mostly digitally, who circumvent taxes by only paying where they have headquarters and not where they operate. The agreement also seeks to deter tax avoidance by filing profits in low-tax-rate countries like Ireland and Luxembourg.

It was found in June, according to the Fair Tax Foundation, that the biggest US tech firms paid almost $100 billion less in taxes over the past decade than stated in their annual reports.

They also state that the ‘Silicon Six’ (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix and Google’s owner Alphabet) have a severe discrepancy in their income taxes and their revenue. For example, they paid nearly $219 billion in income taxes from 2011 to 2020: about 3.6 per cent of their more than $6 trillion in combined revenue.

You might be wondering who the biggest tax avoiders are.

According to the report, Amazon and Facebook are the biggest avoiders: the researchers claimed that Amazon paid $5.9 billion in taxes between 2011 and 2020, on reported profit of $60.5 billion and revenues of $1.6 trillion.

 

Since its introduction in April 2020, the DST has netted the Treasury £300 million in the 2020/21 financial year. It charged a 2 per cent on the gross revenues of social media companies, search engines, and online marketplaces.

The revenue that the DST raised will be kept until the new system, ‘Pillar One’, comes into effect. At that point, companies will be allowed to claim back credit against future bills, the difference they paid in tax under DST and what would have been paid under ‘Pillar One’, effective January 2022.

Talks on how the new tax system will be implemented are ongoing in the coming months, with world leaders working out how it’ll be done.

 

New Cultural Change Tool Unveiled For NHS

The NonProfit organisation ‘Skills for Health’, has unveiled its new Custom Rostering System designed with an NHS workforce in mind

A new eRostering solution provided to the NHS by Skills for Health to aid workforce planning and development processes has been fully designed with the complexity of the NHS in mind; customisable, flexible and integrated.

The Custom Rostering System developed by the not-for-profit organisation Skills for Health, has been designed as a tool for culture change, and will transform planning roles within the NHS from data entry to data intelligence.

The CRS provides a top-down view of the workforce, allowing for seamless management of any staff group and creating more efficient rosters for patient care.

Skills for Health have a long history of working in the health sector supporting the workforce, including providing rostering systems,
This unique expertise has helped them build CRS, designed to support healthcare organisations maintain compliant staff schedules and improve patient care delivery.
The team have truly understood the challenges of the sector, and the complexities of managing shifts across different and complex workforce needs and contracts. Subsequently, CRS will readily create and manage short and long-term staff rosters for any staff group, maintaining compliant staffing levels, and making sure teams are crucially in the right place, at the right time. – Niamh McKenna – Skills for Health Trustee & CIO, NHS Resolution

The CRS will allow integration with multiple management systems, meaning its interoperability will allow more people to make informed decisions and reduces reliance on administrative planning work and locum staff and agencies.

CRS can integrate with numerous other systems, which means it’s a perfect tool to integrate seamlessly into any organisation, supporting digital transformation. I have been struck by the level of care and attention that Skills for Health has put into this development, building a product that exactly meets the specific needs of the health sector, and I am looking forward to seeing it in action in a wide range of settings. – Niamh McKenna – Skills for Health Trustee & CIO, NHS Resolution

Its ‘your system, your way’ ethos means it’s built on two core principles; every staff member deserves a system that works in line with their own individual contract and terms of employment; while every organisation needs to be able to manage staff in line with their unique ways of working, CRS fully customises workforce schedules for the specific needs of each NHS staff role, in any organisation.

Every staff member on the CRS has a contract associated with them, and it is through these contracts that the workforce can then be effectively and safely deployed. With its robust reporting, and by meeting the evolving and ever-changing contractual needs for all staff, proven to be so critical throughout COVID-19, CRS will enable trusts, departments and teams to continue to deliver effective rosters that allow staff to have more time to focus on patient care. – Dr Sara Munro – Skills for Health Trustee & CEO, Leeds & York Partnership NHS Trust

The CRS isn’t there just to make the administrative work easier, though. A consistently managed rota ensures the improvement of the workforce’s work-life balance and improves care for patients in turn.

I’m so excited for this much-awaited launch of CRS, Combining the deep market knowledge and insight Skills for Health brings across the sector with an innovative application of technology, this solution helps organisations and teams of all sizes to manage the most important asset of all, their people.

The focus on security, compliance and customisation for a range of unique settings make this a leading offering for any provider. The fact that it has been built with the NHS workforce in mind means trusts can feel confident when they make an investment in CRS.

Reap the benefits of all that comes from Skills for Health’s deep local knowledge, proven capability and continued engagement, while also supporting their not-for-profit mission, by finding out more about CRS today, and vitally, enable the continued development deserved by your healthcare workforce. – Daniel Langton – Skills for Health Trustee & Strategy Director and Chief of Staff, Microsoft UK.

New Unit Launched As Part of MoD’s Ongoing Data Reform

DASA launches a new unit to discover Emerging Innovations and Rapid Impact technologies within the MoD.

There’s an information reform going on in the UK military, in which it aims to use data and technology to provide an advantage to UK defence forces.

Which is why it’s exciting that the UK Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) has launched a new unit named Military Systems Information Assurance (MSIA), as part of its new Innovation Focus Area (IFA).

This follows the publication of the government’s integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy in March – and will be funded under such. Highlighted within the policy was the need for resilience, and the heightened capability of tackling cyber threats.

The new unit will cover a number of duties under the proposal; from accounting for distinct and hostile demands placed on military information systems, to seeking approaches and technologies that may be an alternative to cryptology, the most common way of ensuring the safety of information.

The different ways this can be assured include novel methods of authentication and the different ways you can store information securely in a cloud environment and at rest.

The unit will also have to seek solutions to ensure that information is not interrupted by wobbly bandwidth and intermittent communications.

Funding for the MSIA will be based on technical readiness level (TRL).

Lower-level proposals will be considered an Emerging Innovation. A proof of concept will be asked to be provided within a six-month contract and can secure funding up to £150,000, on DASA’s advice.

Higher-level TRL proposals will be considered as a Rapid Impact. Within a 12th month contract, a concept demonstrator will be required, and a bid could win up to £350,000 in funding.

Submission for applications will close on the 5th of January 2022.

This announcement by DASA follows the launch of another IFA in August which aimed to reduce the MoD’s systems exposure to cyber-attacks.

The technologies aimed to be developed included a programmed in which the MoD paid bounties to white hat hackers for discovering security bugs in its computer networks, to raise security across its networks and devices.

 

Schools Pushing Back Against Virtual Heads Over Vulnerable Children

Experts warn councils are failing their duty of In Loco Parentis.

Virtual School Heads are failing in their duty as they lack the power to get children in care the education they need as schools have been ‘pushing back’, MP’s have been warned.

Patrick Ward, chair of the National Association of Virtual School Heads, told the education committee last week that local councils were “failing as a corporate parent” because they far too often weren’t using their statutory powers to secure more school places for vulnerable and at-risk children.

What Are Virtual School Heads?

Virtual School Heads (VSH’s) have a Central Government mandated duty to promote and empower the educational achievement of children in care within the Local Authority (LA) they’re employed by.

They’re also responsible for managing their pupil premium funding and for its allocation to schools and alternative provision (AP) settings.

VSH’s also manage the early years pupil premium (EYPP) and allocating it out to early years providers that take care of ‘looked-after-children (children in the care of the LA) who are entitled to free early education.

 

Legally, schools should be prioritising looked-after-children for their admissions with some councils resorting to ‘forcing’ schools to take these admissions. However, whilst a council can force this issue, not all councils have delegated that power to their VSH’s.

 

A survey conducted in March of this year showed that councils had been forced to initiate the process directly, with around 30% being forced to do so once or more very year.

When you try and place a young person in a mainstream school, a vulnerable young person, you get a lot of pushback. Schools essentially do not want to take these young people because they believe there will be a negative impact then on their outcomes. – Patrick Ward – Chair, National Association of Virtual School Heads

Ward also went on to warn the Government that there wasn’t enough data being collected on looked-after-children missing out on education, which fed back into a lack of accountability for both local councils and Virtual School Heads.

No one holds a director of children’s services or a local authority to account, or a virtual school for that matter, over how many of their children are missing in education or in unregulated provision. The department doesn’t know. The stats aren’t held anywhere. – Calvin Kipling, Virtual School Head, Darlington

A Department for Education spokesperson said they were “taking steps to build on the success” of virtual heads and “further raise educational standards” which included a new £3 million pilot for better support in post-16 education.

They added statutory guidance is “clear” on virtual heads duties, with councils “held to account” through Ofsted.

 

However, Paul Whiteman leader of the National Association of Head Teachers pushed back to say:

Sufficient support needs to be available to support each child’s needs. If children are placed in schools that can’t meet their needs effectively and support them fully to be able to learn, then that is not a good place for the child. – Paul Whiteman –NAHT

 

 

Next Gen AI That Can ‘Think Of Itself’ Being Developed By Facebook

Current AI’s are terrible at understanding a first-person point of view… Facebook’s next gen AI will change all of that.

 

Despite popular opinion, AI software has no sense of ‘self’ and is unlikely to do so any time in the near future. However…

Facebook have just announced that they are hoping to build an AI system capable of taking an ‘egocentric’ view of the world.

 

The plan is for future AI programs to be capable of taking a more ‘human’ view of the world by learning from more first-person shot imagery and video that centres the cameras view firmly in, well, the centre.

As simple as that may sound, Facebook hope it will unlock unthought of potential to enhance AR (augmented reality) tools alongside wearable tech… For instance, your glasses could scan a room and find your car keys if you can’t see them.

 

Facebook are working on exactly that in conjunction with thirteen other universities and labs across nine countries on Ego4D, a long-term project they are funding without any outside help. So far Project Ego4D has collated over 2,200 hours of first-person video from over 700 participants just going about their daily lives.

Project Ego4D has been tasked with five developmental benchmarks for developing the next gen of AI:

 

  • Episodic memory: What happened when? (e.g., “Where did I leave my keys?“)
  • Forecasting: What am I likely to do next? (e.g., “Wait, you’ve already got your keys“)
  • Hand and object manipulation: What am I doing? (e.g., “Putting the keys in the car“)
  • Audio-visual diarisation: Who said what when? (e.g., “What was the main topic during class?”)
  • Social interaction: Who is interacting with whom? (e.g., “Help me better hear the person talking to me at this noisy restaurant”)

 

All of the above play right into the rumours that Facebook, owners of Oculus VR, are planning on launching their own branded smart glasses soon.

We expect that to the extent companies use this dataset and benchmark to develop commercial applications, they will develop safeguards for such applications. For example, before AR glasses can enhance someone’s voice, there could be a protocol in place that they follow to ask someone else’s glasses for permission, or they could limit the range of the device so it can only pick up sounds from the people with whom I am already having a conversation or who are in my immediate vicinity. – Facebook Spokesperson

 

LinkedIn Finally Says That’s Enough To China

LinkedIn is withdrawing from Chine due to mounting challenges.

LinkedIn, the last of the social media giants still operating in China has finally pulled out, citing ‘significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements’.

LinkedIn now joins Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and others in either leaving or being banned from the Chinese market.

 

Microsoft, the owners of LinkedIn, have faced huge criticism over their continued presence in China over the last few years from both campaigners and US politicians over what was seen as their continued ‘appeasement’ of the country, agreeing to censor certain groups and block others… including activists and journalists.

The platform will be replaced by a stripped-down version called InJobs, a job only site with zero social feeds or interactions.

 

Before the closure, Microsoft claimed 54 million Chinese users used their platform but in recent years they’d been ‘walking a tightrope’ to stay compliant with increasingly stringent demands from the Chinese government.

While we’ve found success in helping Chinese members find jobs and economic opportunity, we have not found that same level of success in the more social aspects of sharing and staying informed. We’re also facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China. – Mohak Shroff – Senior Vice-President, LinkedIn

This exit from the Chinese market has been a long time coming for LinkedIn:

 

  • March ’21 – LinkedIn were forced to restrict new signups to their platform after Chinese authorities insisted they censor sensitive content.
  • September ’21 – LinkedIn had to stop Chinese users of their platform viewing content published by several US journalists, academics and activists who were highly critical of Beijing.

 

Finally, someone at LinkedIn said enough was enough and the platform cut its losses, withdrawing from China completely.

LinkedIn’s replacement, InJobs, is unlikely to be able to compete with more local competition but it’s though Microsoft will want to keep a foothold in China should things change in the future.

 

That just leaves Bing, as the only major foreign-owned search engine currently operating in China… and Bing is only hanging in there by censoring its results, blocking certain searches completely (for example Tiananmen Square).

 

 

Reshuffle Causes Confusion Over Future Of Charities Minister Position

After Baroness Barran was moved to the Department for Education, there’s now an empty spot for the charities minister.

 

Since July 2020, Baroness Barran had been minister for civil society and loneliness, and will now work as minister for the school system, of which Nadhim Zahawi is the new education secretary.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been asked to confirm whether the department will continue to host the Office for Civil Society and when the minister responsible will be named.

Great honour to be appointed to @educationgovuk ministerial team. Excited to get to work but first….HUGE THANKS to @DCMS Civil Society and Youth team for all your support. Also to all the charities, social enterprises for all the work you do – especially during the past 18 months.

It has been the most difficult time and you have stepped up and delivered for our communities. Supported of course by brilliant volunteers whose generosity has been extraordinary. Thanks too to all the funders and philanthropists who have partnered with us in the past year. – Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System

 

There has seen an outpouring of gratitude and best wishes from senior leaders, as Barran was well respected in the charity sector.

Who is at DCMS?

On Wednesday it was announced that Nadine Dorries would be culture secretary, and only one DCMS minister has kept their job – Nigel Huddleston who is responsible for sport and tourism.

Julia Lopez and Chris Philp have been appointed to the department as minister of state and parliamentary undersecretary respectively. Lopez joins from the Cabinet Office and Philp from the Home Office.

There is not yet a DCMS representative in the House of Lords.

The reason for the confusion for who is charities minister is because, during reshuffles, department heads hand out ministerial portfolios after the prime minister has appointed individuals to departments.

Other Appointments

The voluntary sector has seen a number of key appointments confirmed in the Treasury, Foreign Office and newly rebranded Department for Levelling Up.

Treasury

Helen Whately became the exchequer secretary to the Treasury, which will give her responsibility for charity tax issues.

She has been an MP since 2015, and previously held roles such as deputy chair of the Conservative party, roles within DCMS, and was minister for social care until last week.

On her website it says: “Helen has worked with several charities as a volunteer and adviser and has also been a school governor.”

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is the rebrand of up the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government which is now headed by Michael Gove as of last week.

The department also sees the prime minister’s previous levelling up adviser join ranks. Neil O’Brien is the co-founder of the think tank, Onward, which set out a series of reforms for volunteering and Gift Aid last year.

Elsewhere, Andy Haldane has been appointed to head up a levelling up taskforce.

Kemi Badenoch, who had been exchequer secretary at the Treasury, has also joined this department and will continue as minister for equalities.

Foreign Office

The foreign secretary role now includes oversight of international aid programmes and is now held by Liz Truss.

This year has hit home the need for global cooperation to deal with climate change, the rise in extreme poverty, and ongoing humanitarian crises. But this work, undoubtedly, has been made harder by the cuts to UK aid.

It is critical that the new foreign secretary uses the upcoming international development strategy to ensure UK aid remains poverty-focused, and that the whole portfolio of the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, delivers long-term, sustainable development for the most marginalised communities, whilst protecting human rights and civil society space globally. – Stephanie Draper, CEO of Bond

Climate-Change Deniers To Be Barred From Google Ads

Climate-change deniers will be restricted from monetisation or displaying ads, according to Google’s new policy.

The new policy prohibits the advertisement and monetisation of content that argues against the scientific consensus to do with climate-change’s existence.

The prohibition will cover all their platforms, most notably YouTube.

The policy announcement comes in a support document where it is also stated that the content or videos that appear to promote false or inaccurate information about climate-change has sparked concern among Google advertising partners.

Advertisers simply don’t want their ads to appear next to this content. That’s why today, we’re announcing a new monetisation policy for Google advertisers, publishers and YouTube creators that will prohibit ads for, and monetisation of, content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change. – Google’s Ads Team

It goes the other way too, with content creators refusing to have ads promoting unscientific claims appear next to their videos or webpages.

The restrictions cover any references to climate change being a hoax or scam; denial of long-term observations of climate-change; and any attempts to refute that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel consumption and other Earth-damaging human activities have and continue to contribute to climate-change.

The review process to enforce the new policy will include both automated processes and human processes.

Context will play an important part in the review process to discern if the misinformation is being presented as fact, or if it is simply being discussed or disputed, and Google will ensure that the automated tools and human reviews will look closely at what is being stated within the content.

Ads and monetisation won’t be restricted on the various other climate-related topics, as the aim isn’t to stifle discussion. Debates on climate policy, impacts of climate-change, and new or burgeoning research, etc, will still be allowed to have ads or be monetised.

The guideline of the policy includes consultation from experts who contributed to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports.

It also follows as Google’s second big misinformation policy change in less than a month, making up a wider crackdown of ‘fake news’ and the misinformation that is easily spread on the internet.

Last month, content surrounding anti-vaccine misinformation was blocked by Youtube. Misinformation such as claims that flu shots cause infertility or persistent claims that vaccines cause autism are such examples of the content that is blocked on Google’s platforms. The updated policy will now cover any misinformation surrounding the substances that make up a vaccine.

There is insurmountable pressure on tech giants like Google to address the spread of misinformation on their platforms, even Facebook has invested a $1 million grant into fact-checking false climate claims.

There have also been a number of climate-awareness products launched by Google to help against climate-change, such as a Google Maps setting which finds the most eco-friendly route for users.

Currently, the Biden administration is attempting to pass the Build Back Better Act, which includes a $3.5 trillion spending package, with the intention of tackling climate change. The legislation includes a tax on methane gas, expanding tax credits for renewables and electric vehicles, and pushing utilities to use more clean energy.

These measures could reduce the US’ greenhouse gas emissions up to 936 million tonnes by 2030, according to research firm Rhodium Group.

NC3RS Seeks To End Animal Testing With £2.7M Prize Fund

NC3Rs announces challenge which aims to end the bioscience sector’s dependence on using animals for testing.

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has announced a ‘Virtual Second Species’ challenge with a £2.7m prize for anyone who can devise a solution to the use of animals, particularly drug testing dogs, in R&D.

This competition is part of the CRACK IT Challenges competition to discover a solution that will replace the need animal testing within the science community.

Participants in the NC3Rs are encouraged to create virtual models of dogs based off of existing dog study data from previous experiments, with the aim of improving animal welfare, increasing efficiency, and of course lowering costs.

Several years ago, the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) created a platform called konfer, in which the NC3Rs will use to reach over 150,000 academics from universities around the world.

The challenge set out by NC3Rs is for tech innovators to create digital dogs to predict the negative effects of drugs before they go to human trials.

The collaborative effort to revise the need for animal testing in the bioscience sector forms a part of NC3Rs wider ‘CRACK IT Challenge’ with the laudable goal of eliminating animal testing completely.

This competition has been put together by NC3Rs, in collaboration with eTransafe and Simomics, with sponsorship from Bayer AG, Eli Lilly and Company, Genentech Inc., Gilead Sciences Inc., GSK, Merck Healthcare KGaA and Roche.

It’s hoped anyone entering the competition will develop models using advanced mathematical modelling and machine learning combined with years of previous testing data to help predict unexpected side effects of drugs without the need to test on animals.

As it stands, two species are required to test for negative reactions: a rodent and a non-rodent. Last year, 2,082 experiments used dogs, and NC3Rs hopes to reduce that figure.

Even worse, the current method of using two animals doesn’t always even reveal adverse effect that could affect a human, leading to an unnecessary waste of animal life.

It’s hoped the competition will reduce the cost of drug testing and increase the speed of which new drugs can reach the market safely, and of course save thousands of animals’ lives.

We are excited to be using konfer to connect with the UK’s leading innovators and academics. As we seek to shift the paradigm of the use of dogs in drug testing, we’re keen to make use of the large amounts of dog study data within pharmaceutical companies to create a virtual dog to determine drug toxicities. Konfer’s smart-matching technology offers a speedy, cost-effective route to collaboration, and we look forward to working alongside the UK’s brightest minds to tackle an acute issue in drug development. – Dr Anthony Holmes, Director of Science and Technology at the NC3Rs

It is hoped that by making these solution opportunities more accessible, then the UK will become a global hub for innovation by 2035:

As the government pursue their vision of making the UK a global hub for innovation by 2035, it is important that we simplify collaboration between universities and businesses. The NC3Rs ‘Virtual Second Species’ Challenge is a prime example of meaningful and game-changing innovation, addressing the major matter of animal testing that continues to persist even today.

It is our hope that by making it easier for organisations such as the NC3Rs and academics to find each other, we can facilitate the creation of productive, innovative and of course, meaningful coalitions that will improve lives. – Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive Officer at NCUB

 

 

Intel Says No Due To Brexit

Intel CEO, Pat Gelsinger, says the new European chip factory will only be considered for EU member states.

He goes on to say that before Brexit, the UK would have been considered but due to the decision to leave, it is not a part of Intel’s £70 billion expansion plans.

There are currently 70 proposals across 10 different countries, and an agreement will hopefully be made by the new year on which of the EU member states wins the proposal.

Intel plans to boost its export from the US and has a 10-year plan of investing £70 billion into opening and upgrading semiconductor plants over Europe.

Intel is considering multiple factors for the proposals. The European site must be able to support up to eight fabs on 1,000 acres of land, and a decent talent pool must be accessible.

Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands are in the running, among others, and it’ll be announced by the new year which sites will be host to the new factories. There are plans for at least one manufacturing and one advanced packaging factory in Europe.

This follows other direct consequences of the Brexit vote, such as mass shortages of healthcare staff, care workers, and HGV drivers, and now a high-skill manufacturing investment being taken out of the running completely.

The pre-Brexit Britain was a prime location for US and Asian firms to use as an entry into the rest of Europe, and the access to international shipping ports like Tilbury, Felixstowe and Liverpool, as well as the highly technical and skilled talent pool for firms like Intel to take advantage of means the UK would have been a smart choice for a new silicone wafer plant to serve the rest of Europe.

However, supply chains need to be reliable. The Brexit vote means the UK can no longer guarantee cheap, easy and robust cross-border trade, which has led to the nation being passed over for EU member states like Ireland and Germany.

Intel’s expansion in the EU comes as a solution to the global semiconductor shortage affecting supply chains of numerous goods, from cars to computers.

September 2021 saw Toyota slash global production targets by 40%, with other manufacturers like General Motors, Nissan, Ford, Honda and Jaguar Land Rover also being forced to slow or stop production at various plants in 2021.

The chip shortage has resulted in the cost of any goods where microchips are a vital part of it, which could last until Christmas and is unlikely to stabilise until 2023.

There is some possibility that there may be a few IOUs under the Christmas trees around the world this year.

Just everything is short right now. And even as I and my peers in the industry are working like crazy to catch up, it’s going to be a while.Pat Gelsinger, Intel CEO

As it stands currently, Taiwan and South Korea produce around 70% of the world’s supply of chips, so Intel is hoping for government subsidies in the US and Europe to address the global reliance on Asia for the supply of chips.

UK Has One Of The Highest Rates Of Infection Of Covid In Europe

As winter begins to encroach on our heating bills, how worried should we be about Covid?

You may not have noticed, but the UK has one of the highest rates of infection of Covid in Europe.

Compared with the big nations in Western Europe, the UK unfortunately holds the mantle with the highest numbers of infections.

But what are the contributing factors? England was the first European country to unlock, with all (bar a couple) social distancing and Covid measures being lifted on July 19th, 2021. The next country after that was Denmark in late August.

This step has only been taken in recent weeks by nations like Norway. Many other nations have kept most of their measures in place, for example, Italy and German still have restrictions on large gatherings.

So, with England having led the charge by weeks on the lifting of social distancing, it comes as no surprise that a virus that is passed via close proximity of humans has taken off ahead of the rest of Europe.

Vaccine uptake has also slowed down which has allowed for nations such as Spain, Portugal and France to take the throne of administering more doses of the vaccine than there is population of citizens.

This is in part due to the UK only just starting their vaccination of under-16s, a little behind schedule to a lot of other countries.

But has the link between catching Covid and becoming seriously ill from it been broken?

The vaccine uptake between those with serious illnesses and older people in the UK is similar to the rest of Europe, which grants a higher level of protection to the more vulnerable.

Simply put, the gap in numbers dying is similar.

Current trend shows just over 100 Covid related deaths a day in the UK, which is similar to what happens in a blad flu season for months on end.

However, death is not the only measure. The effects of ‘long Covid’ are still just as present among those who have not been seriously affect by Covid. While these effects are still being learned about it is argued that spread should be better contained.

Some experts, such as Prof Mike Tildesley, an expert in infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, are now questioning if there is an “acceptable” level of Covid, otherwise we will become reliant on extra measures long-term.

Covid is here to stay – we need to discuss what we are willing to live with. – Professor Mike Tildesley

Another thing to consider is that there has been a variety of approaches throughout Europe so there isn’t really a control to look at, so where we’re heading is just as important a measure as where we’ve been.

For example, in early Spring the UK had one of the lowest rates in Europe because we’d already had our Alpha wave, whereas Europe’s was in full swing.

Covid is one of those situations that can change at an unprecedented rate, whether positive or negative. The UK death rate is falling, even in a society with little to no social distancing happening and mask-wearing is not mandatory. It suggests the virus has been brought under some control, in the sense that those rapid surges of the early days should be behind us as the wider population has immunity.

As it stands, the high rates are apparent among teenagers – particularly those under 16 who haven’t had a chance over the summer to get their vaccination unlike those in the same age group in other parts of Europe.

The concern is, and always has been, that the younger population could spread the infection into the older populations, as children are the lowest at risk of becoming seriously ill off of the virus.

But there are initial indications that suggest this isn’t happening, furthermore, the rise in children may have already peaked. It shows we may be able to maintain a level of cautious optimism.

So, as winter approaches, we may actually see a continued fall in infections once the wave in teenagers comes to pass.

And this was the argument provided by the UK government and its senior scientists – Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Valance – when the decision to reopen was being floated, that we needed an ‘exit wave’ before the throes of winter fully arrived.

The problem, really, is that the NHS doesn’t have much room for even a tiny surge.

This winter, it will not just be a surge in Covid that strains the NHS.

With all the lockdowns and social distancing, the regular, common colds and flus that we encounter in daily life, especially wintertime, were largely absent, so there is less immunity among society.

For example, the beginnings of an outbreak of RSV – a virus which can cause up to 30,000 under-fives to be admitted to hospital every winter, which is six times what that age group has seen of Covid, can already be tracked and it is circulating at very high levels.

On top of that, flu season is about to begin.

How much room does the NHS have?

 

 

NonProfit Sector Still Needs To Move Past Tokenism

Delegates at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s annual convention told that power needs to be shifted to the communities.

Fundraisers have heard that much of the NonProfit sector is struggling to move beyond tokenistic gestures when it comes to highlighting the voices of marginalised groups and the communities it works with.

Jaden Osei-Bonsu, programme manager at the leadership development community interest company the Centre for Knowledge Equity, told delegates at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s annual convention that the sector needed to shift power to the communities it supported, rather than telling them how to solve their problems.

Speaking at the online convention during an event focusing on how to be an ally to marginalised groups, Osei-Bonsu called for larger charities to think about how they could work in genuine partnership with grassroots organisations which allowed them to lead programmes, rather than simply advising.

Historically with the charity sector, fundraising usually puts communities in a position where they are being researched or people are trying to tell them what is going to solve their problems.Jaden Osei-Bonsu – Programme Manager, Centre for Knowledge Equity

Osei-Bonsu adds that the conversation should be about shifting power to communities with direct experience of the issues being addressed, as the majority of the sector is struggling to move past tokenistic gestures.

Drawing on her experience in youthwork, fellow panellist Yolanda Copes-Stepney, founder of Speak & Do, said that when engaging with marginalised communities, organisations needed to make a conscious effort to ask what results the communities wanted to see from the engagement.

She also said that, too often the young people she spoke to believed nothing would come from their involvement and that they would not be listened to.

She also said that organisations and individuals need to remember that allyship and supporting marginalised groups was ‘going to be a constant process of learning’.

It’s about asking lots of questions, and never assuming anything for them.

 

 

Facebook Back Tracks On Instagram Plans For Kids

Facebook halts its plans for an ‘Instagram for Kids’ – aimed at ages 10 to 12 – after being accused of ignoring its own research into the harm to children’s wellbeing caused by Instagram.

 

An article reported by the Wall Street Journal accuses Facebook of ignoring and covering up evidence of the harm caused to teenagers, particularly girls, by Instagram. Further on in the article, it reports that an internal Facebook presentation noted that among teenage social media users who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the issue back to Instagram.

Another presentation from 2019 said, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” while a later slide deck added: “Thirty-two per cent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse”.

Facebook has spoken out against the allegations, stating the article deliberately mischaracterises them, and “conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook’s leadership and employees.”

The article increased the scrutiny on the dark side of social media at a time when Facebook is facing criticism from many angles.

It even caught the attention of US politicians who outright called for the company to abandon Instagram for Kids.

Bowing to pressure, on Monday Facebook said in a statement that it would ‘re-evaluate’ the project:

While we believe building ‘Instagram Kids’ is the right thing to do, Instagram, and its parent company Facebook, will re-evaluate the project at a later date. In the interim Instagram will continue to focus on teen safety and expanding parental supervision features for teens. – Statement Issued by Facebook

 

Children under the age of 13 are not supposed to use Instagram, although this is easily circumventing by many by lying about their age. The planned new product, known informally as ‘Instagram for Kids’, would be aimed at the ages 10 to 12 demographic with parents having some control over their usage.

The problem with this is that a similar Facebook product called Messenger Kids was found to be open to abuse by strangers who were able to enter chatrooms.

The plans have been steadily pulled back as more and more advocacy groups, parents, and lawmakers have lined up to take aim at the proposed product plan.

In April, advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, saying Instagram for Kids would create “challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing”.

Us Representative Lori Trahan and Senator Richard Blumenthal welcomed the announcement that Facebook would be delaying Instagram for Kids but said in a statement it should go further and ditch the project as a whole.

“We are pleased that Facebook has heeded our calls to stop ploughing ahead with its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children. A ‘pause’ is insufficient, however.

Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online and it must completely abandon this project.”

 

 

 

Proud To Be Named ‘Devops Company of the Year’

We are delighted to announce that our DevOps team has been recognised for their knowledge, hard-work and dedication to projects, as they have been named winner of DevOps Company of the Year and finalists for DevOps Project of the Year at the Computing DevOps Excellence Awards 2019!

 

 

We attended the Computing DevOps Excellence Awards in London on Wednesday 20th March and were proud to have been shortlisted as finalists at such an event, alongside many prestigious companies. Although we arrived with belief in the work we do as a company, we were honoured to even be listed amongst other great DevOps organisations. We are absolutely ecstatic to come away as winners of the ‘DevOps Company of the Year’ award!

We were named DevOps Company of the Year thanks to the culture of collaboration and deep partnership with our customers to deliver true continuous optimisation of their services. Our DevOps always strive to deliver the best projects we can, and treat clients with the respect to challenge their approach when appropriate. As a result of this, we now have a client base who are fully supportive and trust in our work and processes. We were able to invite Pete Jones from Ellis Whittam, and Peter Adams from De Pinna to come to the event with us as satisfied clients to share in the success. DevOps is integral to the delivery of most of our services, so our pure Development, Design and Dynamics teams all received a shout out. We’re proud to be recognised by our peers as a company that goes the extra mile when it comes to developing software and ensuring that it is future-proof and able to withstand the challenges it may face later down the line. This award just confirms and shows that we are heading in the right direction as we continue to grow.

Winning ‘DevOps Company of the Year’ is a true testament to our hardworking team and every employee has contributed across cloudThing in order to achieve this, as well as the support from our clients. We can’t thank you all enough and look forward to seeing what the future holds for cloudThing- DevOps Company of the Year! It’s onwards and upwards and we’re excited to strive even further to deliver the projects and work we receive to the highest of quality and durability!

But first, it’s time for that glass of champagne… Cheers!