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Written Statements

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 6 May 2003


Lorry Road-User Charge

In the Budget, we said that we would publish the second progress report on the lorry road-user charge. The Minister for Transport and I have today published that progress report, which sets out further details of the administrative arrangements for the charge and explains that there will be reductions in duty on fuel used in lorries for which the road-user charge is paid. A copy of the report is available in the Library of the House.

Northern Ireland

Oversight Commissioner's Report

As it is being published today, in accordance with Section 68(4)(a) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, I have today laid a copy of the Oversight Commissioner's first statutory report for the year 2003 before this House.

Public Bodies

Copies of the Business Development Service (BDS) published Strategic Plan 2003–06 and Business Plan 2003–04 were deposited in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 1 May 2003. Copies have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses today.The Ministerial Targets for BDS for the period 1 April 2003–31 March 2004 are as follows:

95 per cent. of customers to be satisfied with the services they receive;
95 per cent. of customers to be satisfied with the way in which services are provided;
People development to be consistent with the principles of Investors in People Standard (IIP);
Secure on a notional basis and within the context of service level agreements (where they apply) full recovery of the cost of its operations within a tolerance level of 10 per cent.; and
Deliver an efficiency saving of 2 per cent.

Copies of the Land Registers of Northern Ireland (LRNI) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) Corporate Plans 2003–06 and Business Plans 2003–04 will be deposited in the Northern Ireland Assembly during the week commencing 12 May 2003. Copies will also be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Ministerial Targets for LRNI for the period 1 April 2003–31 March 2004 are as follows:

To achieve a 75 per cent. customer satisfaction rate, based on customer surveys;
To achieve a registration accuracy rate of at least 98.5 per cent.;
To process regular Land Registry dealings in an average of 20 days;
To process regular Registry of Deeds dealings in an average of 6 days;
To process regular Statutory Charges Registry dealings in an average of 15 days;
To process pre-completion land information applications in an average of 4 days;
To achieve a weighted unit cost target (inclusive of PFI costs) of £29.00;
To process 150 application units per member of staff per month;
To cover agency costs out of fee income.

The Ministerial targets for NISRA for the period 1 April 2003–31 March 2004 are as follows:

Have at least 95 per cent. of customers who responded to the customer satisfaction survey say they are satisfied with the service and products;
Improve the quality of service to customers by releasing through electronic media in at least five areas of work;
Produce no fewer than 72 statistical and 16 research publications;
Ensure that the National Statistics (NS) Code of Practice is implemented and that the processes outlined in the NS protocols are put in place and enforced, in order to promote high quality statistical output and facilitate access to those outputs;
Process 98 per cent. of postal and personal applications for GRO certificates within eight and three working days respectively;
Introduce the Marriage Regulations (NI) 2003 efficiently and effectively;
Produce 2001 Census Area Statistics by summer 2003;
Deliver an efficiency saving of 2 per cent;
Maintain expenditure within approved budgetary plans.

Education And Skills

School Budgets 2003–04

On Friday 2 May I published a detailed analysis of the school budgets of local education authorities for 2003–04, based on authorities' own statements. I have placed in the Library copies of the table of analysis, an explanatory note on the analysis, and a table showing cash increases in funding by LEA since 1997–98.The analysis reveals the following eight issues:

Nineteen LEAs appear not to be passporting the full increase in education resources they received from Government into their Schools Budget. Eight of these authorities said they would passport in full in January. In total this means that schools in these authorities will not have the benefit of £23 million which the Government intended for schools;
One hundred and twenty-five LEAs are increasing the funding for the pupil services they pay for centrally faster than they are increasing the funding for individual schools. In total schools are getting £235 million less than a proportionate share of the increased resources;
There are big variations in the increases that LEAs are making in their funding of Special Educational Needs. Forty-five LEAs have increased funding in this area by more than 30 per cent. while 33 LEAs have only increased their spending by 5 per cent. or less;
Half of authorities have increased their spending on educating pupils outside school, for example in Pupil Referral Units, by 30 per cent. or more. Increases may be justified by local circumstances, but will have an impact on individual schools' budgets;
Forty per cent. of authorities are diverting more than £1 million from revenue budgets into capital spending, at a time when dedicated capital funding from central Government for schools continues to rise significantly, year-on-year;
Over two thirds of LEAs are holding over £100,000 for contingency purposes. This will have an impact on schools' financial planning, if they do not know this money is there. The amount being held in contingency funds across the country amounts to £64 million;
Five hundred and thirty-three million pounds which LEAs have specifically ear-marked for individual schools' budgets had not been allocated to schools at the point that their statutory statements were made to DfES. A fifth of authorities still had more than £5 million to allocate to schools, and some much more than this. There may be good reasons for this and we know that some authorities are now in the process of allocating these funds;
Within many LEAs, there are big variations between the budget increases of individual schools. This means that some schools are getting funding increases 10 percentage points more than other schools in the same authority.

My Department has written to all LEAs to ask questions about their spending decisions: the questions asked of each LEA reflect the extent to which it is affected by the eight issues above. We are also asking LEAs to set out the steps they are intending to take to avoid any needless redundancies of teaching staff because of funding issues. LEAs have been asked to reply by 12 May.

In the light of the information that LEAs provide I shall consider what changes to make regarding funding arrangements for 2004–05.

Environment, Food And Rural Affairs

"Waste Not, Want Not" (Government Response)

The strategy unit published its report "Waste not, Want not" in November last year. It looked at how England can tackle its growing waste problem and how to meet EU Landfill Directive targets, which require big cuts in the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill. Waste in the UK continues to rise at 3 per cent. per year—faster than GDP and faster than in most other nations. If we carry on as we are the waste mountain will double by 2020, adding £1.6 billion per year to waste disposal costs.

The strategy unit has made a wide range of recommendations to address waste, ranging from how we can generate less waste, through to the safest, most sustainable way to manage it if we cannot avoid producing it. They have been very clear that we urgently need to take further steps to tackle the waste challenge and the Government fully endorse that message.

The Government welcome the strategy unit report and today I am publishing our response to it. We accept the majority of the recommendations and support the direction or intent of many of the others.

We have already acted in the following key areas:

Landfill Tax will be increased by £3 per tonne in 2005–06 and by at least £3 per tonne in the years thereafter, on the way to a medium to long term rate of £35 per tonne. This will be the foundation for the economic framework the strategy unit recommended;
the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme has been reformed and a proportion of the funding—£84/92/92m—will be redirected to a new sustainable waste management programme in England in 2003–04, 2004–05 and 2005–06;
the Sustainable Waste Management Programme will concentrate on improving waste minimisation, recycling and composting, and researching new technologies for dealing with those wastes which are not readily reduced, reused or recycled. The programme will assist local authorities to increase doorstep collection of recyclable materials such as paper, garden waste, glass and cans, and encourage increased home composting and the use of reusable nappies;
a new Delivery Team and Steering Group is being established in Defra to drive forward implementation of the Government's response to the strategy unit report and new programmes of work in Defra, WRAP and the Environment Agency;
Local authority funding of £90m each year for 2004–05 and 2005–06 has been provided for the waste minimisation and recycling fund or its successor performance reward fund.

The paper published today sets out the Government's detailed response to each of the strategy unit's recommendations. It also includes a table which indicates follow-up action, who has lead responsibility and the timetable.

The Government recognise the need to work closely and collaboratively with the range of bodies engaged in waste management. In particular, the Environment Agency—as Government's key regulator of waste and with its extensive network of operators on the ground—will have a major contribution to make to some of the new programmes of work, and the Local Government Association will have a vital role to play in advising on the programmes aimed at driving up local government performance on waste. The waste industry and the voluntary sector also have an important role to play in our changing approach.

We have challenging recycling and composting targets to meet in the near future. I believe our response today to this strategy unit report takes us closer to a more sustainable future for waste management. But achieving this requires us all, as householders, to play our part in reducing waste and increasing reuse, recycling and composting.

The Government recognise that long term progress in sustainable waste management will require a refocus in thinking from seeing waste as a problem to the good management of resources so that waste is avoided altogether. There are strong links between the work recommended by the strategy unit and that being carried out in the development of the sustainable Consumption and Production Strategy which I am planning to publish later this year.

Copies of the Government response have been lodged in both Libraries of the House.

International Development


The United Kingdom rejoined UNESCO in 1997, with the goal of helping UNESCO become a more effective organisation with clear, focused objectives and strategies. DFID's key objective is the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, of which the education goals are particularly relevant to UNESCO.The Constitution of UNESCO states that

"each Member State shall make such arrangements as suit its particular conditions for the purpose of associating its principal bodies interested in educational, scientific and cultural matters with the work of the Organisation, preferably by the formation of a National Commission broadly representative of the government and such bodies".

We re-established a National Commission three years ago. It soon became clear that it was not working effectively. Most of the resources were being drained by a bureaucratic committee structure at the expense of engaging effectively with UNESCO, particularly with regard to DFID's focus on education and the reduction of poverty. A review group established by the National Commission submitted a report which made recommendations for a reconfiguration of the National Commission. This report was made available to the public and I made clear I was ready to implement these recommendations, but after much contentious debate it was not possible to achieve agreement on how to move ahead.

I therefore decided that for DFID it would be best for us to consult and account to parliament and civil society on UNESCO in the same way that we do for all the UN and other multilateral agencies for which we are responsible. DFID has since its inception consulted closely with civil society on the formulation of international development policy and we shall continue to do so. Other Departments will make their own arrangements for consultation with UNESCO about matters which fall within their respective mandates.

My Department remains committed to working with UNESCO to fulfil its mandate within a well-defined poverty and sustainable development strategy, giving top priority to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. We seek to achieve this through the governing bodies of which we are a member, and by providing appropriate technical co-operation and financial assistance.

Deputy Prime Minister

Home Improvement Agency

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr. Tony McNulty)

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister published a consultation paper, "Home Improvement Agencies—Development and Reform", jointly with the Department of Health, last September. The paper set out proposals for reforming the Home Improvement Agency (HIA) sector in order to equip it for future challenges.The Supporting People programme, through which the sector will receive a substantial proportion of its funding from 2003–04, will bring new responsibilities and ways of working. In addition, there is a need to make HIA services available more widely if the sector's potential to make significant contributions to the delivery of health and regeneration objectives is to be realised. The Government's aim in publishing the consultation paper was to invite views on the best way of improving the capacity of the sector to meet these challenges.The paper sought endorsement of the Government's view that the sector should settle local commissioning models and structures during 2003–04, and work towards national coverage by the end of 2004–05. Recognising that additional resources would be needed in order to support the development and reform agenda, I announced last October that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister would be providing an additional £5.2 million over the next three years to support HIAs' running costs, and that the Department of Health would be providing £9.5 million over the same period, earmarked for agencies, so that they can become key players in the provision of services to older people on discharge from hospital.In parallel with the consultation exercise, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister appointed Foundations, the national co-ordinating body for home improvement agencies, to investigate and recommend optimum structures for the sector, and also to recommend optimum commissioning models for HIA services within the Supporting People arrangements. Foundations has recommended that the goal in restructuring should be a network of area-resourced HIAs based upon the territories of the Supporting People commissioning bodies, combining a central management function and local delivery points. Foundations has also made a number of recommendations designed to secure the role of HIAs within the decision-making procedures of the commissioning bodies.The majority of consultation responses supported the Government's overall approach to the future of the sector. Of those who expressed a view on the Government's proposed timetable for restructuring and expanding geographical coverage, about 80 per cent. were supportive. On the future of the national coordinating body, 88 per cent. of those who expressed a view believed that the Government should continue to fund such a body after the expiry of the current contract with Foundations on 31 March 2004.

The Government are grateful for the consultation responses. We note the view of a number of respondents that full national coverage of HIA services may not be achievable, and we recognise that the provision of such services is a matter for local decision in the light of need and other factors. Nonetheless, we believe that there is considerable scope to expand the sector's current geographical coverage with the co-operation of local authorities and other agencies.

In accordance with EU competition rules and Government procurement policy, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will shortly begin the tendering process for a new contract with a national co-ordinating body to be funded centrally.

We accept the recommendations of Foundations on future structural and commissioning models, whilst recognising the value of existing centres of excellence and taking care to avoid losing the essentially local character of the services that agencies provide We will fund a Structure Support Team to work with agencies and their partners to agree and implement organisational changes where these are shown to be necessary. This team will be established by Foundations, in collaboration with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, under an extension of its existing contract. HIAs and their partners will be notified when the Team is ready to start work.

Elections (2004)

I have today placed in the Library of the House a summary of the responses which the Government received to their consultation paper "Combining English Local Authority, Greater London Authority and European Parliament Elections in 2004".A total of 364 responses were received to the consultation exercise. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor's Department have analysed these responses very carefully.The consultation document sought views on five issues.

The first issue was whether respondents agreed with the proposal to combine the local and GLA elections with the European Parliamentary Elections in 2004. Of those expressing a view, 172 of those responses agreed with this proposal, while 138 disagreed.

The consultation document secondly asked what practical issues respondents foresaw in combining most effectively the local (and, where applicable, parish) elections with the European Parliamentary Elections, and thirdly what practical issues they foresaw in combining most effectively the GLA elections with the European Parliamentary Elections. Respondents raised a range of different practical issues, relating to the operation of the elections themselves and council business more widely, such as the terms of office of members and the date of annual meetings.

The consultation document asked fourthly what action should be taken to address any practical issues raised. Respondents, including electoral administrators, have put forward a number of suggestions. Having considered the nature of the practical issues raised and the range of solutions available, the Government believe that there is no practical impediment to the combination of local, GLA and European Parliamentary Elections in 2004.

In the light of the responses to these four issues and the Government's analysis of the issues raised, our current intent ion remains to exercise the order-making provisions we are seeking in the Local Government Bill, if these are enacted by Parliament, to allow the combination of local elections in 2004 with the next elections to the European Parliament, which are due to take place on 10 June 2004.

The fifth issue on which the consultation document sought views was on whether to move elections to a weekend. Of those expressing a view, 74 were in favour of this proposal, 66 respondents supported further pilots or testing of weekend voting and 91 were against.

In the light of this response, the Government intend to take forward further pilots of weekend voting in view of potential benefits to electors, and taking into account the costs involved. A series of practical difficulties were raised about proceeding with nation-wide weekend voting in 2004. In particular, the Electoral Commission did not support wholesale mandatory weekend voting in 2004. Therefore the Government remain of the view that in 2004 local, GLA and European Parliamentary elections should take place on Thursday 10 June.