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Written Statements

Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 25 June 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 25 June 2003

Work And Pensions

Waveney District Council

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on Waveney District Council was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.In its response to the Housing Green Paper of November 2000, the Department for Work and Pensions developed a performance framework for housing benefits. The "Performance Standards for housing benefits" allow local authorities to make a comprehensive self-assessment of whether they deliver benefit effectively and securely. They are the Standards that the Department for Work and Pensions expects local authorities to aspire to and achieve in time.The BFI inspected Waveney Council against the Performance Standards. The report finds that the council is not at Standard for any of the seven functional areas of the Performance Standards—strategic management, customer services, processing of claims, working with landlords, internal security, counter-fraud, and overpayments.The report finds that the council's overall level of performance for its administration of benefits and counter-fraud activity was poor, and identifies many significant and serious failings.A lack of strategic vision and poor operational planning had hindered the council's ability to deliver an effective benefit service. This was clearly evident during 2001–02 with long delays in processing new and renewal benefit claims.The council's processes, procedures and systems were inadequate to secure the benefit service from fraud and error.However, the report finds enthusiasm and support for the benefit service from the council's senior officers and staff. Additional management posts had been created and new members of staff appointed to these key positions.The council acknowledged that significant improvements in the administration of housing benefits were needed and that this is a key priority. The council has been very receptive to the inspection findings, implementing a number of minor changes and introducing new procedures to improve the benefit service during the on-site phase of the inspection.In 2001–02, Waveney District Council administered some £28 million in housing benefits, about 44 per cent. of its total gross revenue expenditure.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address weaknesses and to further improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as counter-fraud activities.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

Deputy Prime Minister

Planning Delivery Grant 2003–04

In a written statement on 10 February, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Mr. McNulty) set out the amounts of the allocations of planning delivery grant that had been made to local authorities and other bodies for 2003–04, Official Report, column 35WS. Those allocations did not take account of the growth area status of five authorities whose allocations were therefore incorrect. Additional allocations of planning delivery grant for 2003–04 are being made to these authorities and are tabled below.

AuthorityAmount (£)
London Borough of Enfield62,500
London Borough of Hackney62,500
London Borough of Haringey62,500
London Borough of Redbridge62,500
London Borough of Waltham Forest62,500
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is writing to these authorities and will make the payments in due course.

International Development

Liberia (Humanitarian Situation)

The humanitarian situation in Liberia has deteriorated significantly in recent weeks. Increased fighting between Government troops and rebel opposition forces came to within 5 km of Monrovia between 6 and 10 June. This led to the displacement of 200,000 civilians into Monrovia. There are reports of cholera and measles in Monrovia, and there are already food shortages. UN expatriate staff have been evacuated. Following the ECOWAS-brokered ceasefire on 17 June, it is essential that as soon as possible, the Liberian parties arrange access to all areas from which humanitarian agencies have been excluded by fighting.On 16 June, we allocated £1.5 million for support to humanitarian agencies in Liberia. Of this £500,000 has been allocated to the ICRC Emergency Appeal for Liberia. This is in addition to £550,000 which was committed to the same appeal earlier this year. We have also allocated £374,000 to Merlin for the provision of emergency health care. This will supplement £450,000 already committed to Medecins Sans Frontieres for Secondary Health Care provision in Monrovia in 2002. We expect to allocate the balance to support other funding requests that strengthen the geographical and sectoral coverage of the relief programme. We are in regular contact with a number of organisations operating to meet humanitarian needs in Liberia, including Oxfam, Save the Children UK, Medecins Sans Frontieres and World Vision. We expect to receive proposals from these organisations in the near future.

Health Department

Dentists' Remuneration

I am responding on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the Supplement to the Thirty-second Report of the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration (DDRB) which is being published today.Copies of the Report are available in the Vote Office and the Library. The supplement covers general dental practitioners (GDPs), those in the salaried primary dental care services, general medical practice (GMP) registrars and salaried GMPs employed by a primary care organisation. The DDRB will report later on general medical services.I am grateful to the Chairman and members of the Review Body for their hard work in dealing with their remit groups.The Review Body has recommended an increase to the out of hours supplement payable to GMP Registrars which is in line with our pre-existing commitment to this group. It has also recommended a pay range for salaried GMPs employed by primary care organisations for the first time.Salaried dentists accepted a three-year pay offer in March, linked to a review of salaried dental services. For GDPs, the DDRB has recommended an increase in the feescale of 3.225 per cent., from 1 April 2003 and an increase in the National Health Service commitment scheme of £9 million for Great Britain.The Review Body's pay recommendations are being accepted in full and without staging.


Hydrographic Office (Key Targets)

Key Targets have been set for the Chief Executive of the UK Hydrographic office for the financial year 2003–04. The targets build on the already high standards of service provided by the agency and are as follows:Key Target 1. Safety.

Safety Index to exceed 90 per cent. with all radio navigational warnings issued to timescale.

Key Target 2. Defence.

To achieve an index rating of more than 95 for the defence programme as set out in the tasking authorisation forms.

Key Target 3. Customer Service.

Customer and end user satisfaction to exceed a scale rating of 80, and distributor satisfaction to exceed a scale rating of 70 by the end of financial year 2003–04.

Key Target 4. Wider Markets.

To deliver plans to maximise access to UKHO material for re-use, including the implementation of a licensing system that allows most re-users to reproduce UKHO material free of charge for non-commercial and low-values purposes by August 2003, and to secure additional profitable revenue from wider markets, including the implementation of a plan produced by September 2003 which will deliver revenue from financial year 2004–05 onwards.

Key Target 5. Finance.

To break even taking one year with another, and to achieve a return on capital employed of 7.5 per cent. averaged over the past five years.

Key Target 6. Finance.

Efficiency, as measured by added value, to improve by 5 per cent. from 2000–01 to 2005–06.

Key Target 7. People.

To achieve an improvement in employee engagement of 10 per cent. to 3.8 by 31 March 2004.

Constitutional Affairs

Fine Enforcement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

Too many fines are not paid. In the year 2002–03, an unacceptable 45 per cent. of fines were not paid. In some areas the level of default was as high as 60 per cent. The authority of the courts must be enforced. We are announcing today a new approach to the collection of fines.First, fines will no longer be written off. They will be chased until they are paid, no longer being written off, as they often are, after 12 months.Secondly, we will make it easier to deduct the fine directly from the offender's pay or benefits.Thirdly, if the offender really cannot pay, we will allow the fine to be paid off by unpaid work in the community.Fourthly, where courts have been ineffective in the collection of fines, we will allow the private sector to be brought into the collection of fines.Fifthly, we will introduce a new offence of failing to provide details of income and expenditure to allow deduction orders to be made.Sixthly, we will consider allowing deductions for earlier payment, but we will increase the fines for late payment.

Seventhly, we will work with the courts to ensure that there are incentives for those individual fine officers who collect fines effectively.

This seven-point plan will be driven personally by the Ministers in DCA. They will intervene personally with any Magistrates' Courts Committees that continue to perform badly.

Fine enforcement is a priority. The DCA's job is now, actively, to ensure the courts are effective in fighting crime.

A report on the annual performance data was placed in the Libraries of both Houses today entitled "Fine Enforcement Performance in 2002–03". The report shows that performance overall was poor, with the 42 independent Magistrates' Courts Committees (MCCs) failing to deliver the overall national target of a payment rate of 68 per cent.

The Government commissioned an independent review "A Review of Magistrates' Courts Enforcement Strategies" which we are also placing in the Libraries of both Houses today.