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Written Statements

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 23 October 2006

Health

Better Care, Better Value Indicators

Today, we have placed in the Library copies of a publication from the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement called “Better Care Better Value Indicators”.

In June 2006, the NHS Institute published the “Delivery Quality and Value” document which showed how improving NHS productivity could deliver better patient care and resources for the NHS. The indicators present the performance of acute hospital trusts and primary care trusts against specific indicators in the period April to June 2006. The institute will publish these data on a quarterly basis.

Home Department

Criminal Cases Review Commission

I would like to inform the House that Mr. James England, Mr. Ewen Smith and Ms Julie Goulding have been appointed as Commissioners of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Copies of the press release relating to these appointments are available in the House Library.

Multi-agency Public Protection Arrangements

I have great pleasure in announcing the publication of the fifth annual MAPPA reports today. Multi-agency Public Protection Arrangements, or MAPPA, are now well established across England and Wales and making an increasing contribution to protecting the public, preventing re-victimisation, and reducing re-offending.

The arrangements focus upon those violent and sexual offenders who are assessed as presenting the greatest risk of harm and whose safe management requires a high level of inter-agency co-operation. They are led locally by the probation, police and prison services working together with other agencies who contribute to the management of these individuals, including social care, health, housing and education services.

This year has seen significant challenges to those operating MAPPA, in the form of general and specific case reviews that have underlined significant progress made through MAPPA, but have also highlighted certain areas for improvement. It must be remembered that effective management of high-risk offenders, as a discipline, is still relatively in its infancy. There is continuous development and the standards and good practice of tomorrow are likely to be different from today’s, achieved through experience and research. The challenge therefore is not only to match current practice with what we know, but also to respond rapidly to new learning.

The individual agencies have responded with major national initiatives to improve the assessment and management of MAPPA offenders and these, together with local actions, are reflected in the MAPPA business plans which appear with the annual reports for the first time this year.

The offences committed by those offenders qualifying for management within MAPPA make an enormous impact; principally upon the victims but also upon the wider public consciousness. They raise questions about how the risks presented by such offenders are assessed and then how is it possible to manage those risks once the offender returns to the community. While we can never eliminate risk entirely, we are all entitled to expect that everything that can be done is being done to prevent these offenders from re-offending.

I would like first to say that even amongst those qualifying for MAPPA; the majority are managed within ordinary agency arrangements. While no incidence of further offending can ever be acceptable, it is a tribute to the effectiveness of the arrangements that very few of those who require active MAPPA management are charged with a further serious offence while so managed. I commend these annual reports because they detail the work that goes on day in, day out in cases which generally don’t make the headlines, because of the skill and commitment of the agencies involved in protecting the public, including the key work to prevent offending against previous victims.

Copies of every area report are being placed in the Library of the House.

Refugee Integration Services

The Home Office published a consultation document on 23 October to seek views on its proposals for an overhaul of the way in which Government-funded refugee integration services are delivered. The proposals centre on the establishment of a core set of services to be made available to refugees across England (it will be for the devolved administrations to decide on the case for analogous changes for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). The proposals move considerably beyond those set out in the current national integration strategy “Integration Matters”; and the Government will issue a revised policy statement on the future of refugee integration services as an outcome of the consultation process. The Government have invited comments on its proposals by Christmas, and a copy of the consultation paper has been placed in the Libraries.

Along with the changes in its refugee integration strategy, the Government will also reform the arrangements for regular consultation on matters affecting refugees as an integral part of its wider approach to stakeholder management in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. The National Refugee Integration Forum will therefore be wound up, although arrangements will be made to continue project work undertaken under its auspices. The Government wishes to place on record its gratitude to those who have served on the Forum since its inception in 2000.

Prime Minister

Heads of State or Government (Lahti)

The informal meeting of EU Heads of State or Government on 20 October followed up the 2005 Hampton Court summit in addressing a range of issues that are central to the question of how Europe responds to the challenge of globalisation.

We had a constructive discussion of the EU’s external energy relations, in particular our relationship with Russia. There was unity on the need to build a close and legally binding partnership based on mutual, long-term benefits based on the principles defined in the Energy Charter Treaty and the declaration agreed at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg in July this year. These principles include market based rules, market opening, and transparency and reliability across the whole of the energy relationship. The EU will shortly start negotiations with Russia on a new comprehensive agreement to replace the 10-year-old partnership and co-operation agreement. We agreed that these principles should form the core of any new agreement.

We shall also continue to develop our relations with other producer and transit countries around the EU, and we agreed on the need to extend the internal energy market principles of open, transparent markets to our neighbourhood.

We also agreed that the EU must show strong leadership in combating climate change. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands and I wrote to our colleagues about this ahead of the meeting. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House. We stressed the need to act now to avoid catastrophic consequences in the future. President Barroso, both in the discussion and with the media after the meeting, emphasised the Commission’s intention to act on the climate change agenda, and highlighted the Commission’s energy efficiency proposals as the first stage in this.

We also discussed migration. Illegal immigration is an issue that concerns the whole of the EU. We agreed on the importance of well-functioning border controls and gave our full support to the European Border Management Agency. We also stressed that cooperation with Africa and other countries of origin and transit is essential.

I raised the desperate situation in Sudan. The conflict has led to 2 million displaced persons. I emphasised, to general agreement, the need to keep up the pressure from the EU on the Sudanese Government to cease military action, allow UN peacekeepers into the country, and reopen talks with non-signatories to the Darfur peace agreement.

Finally, we discussed how best to develop innovation policy as a source of European growth. We welcomed the Commission’s intention to prepare a comprehensive strategy on intellectual property rights in 2007. Enhancing the co-operation between the private and public sectors is also essential. European Technology Platforms and Joint Technology Initiatives were cited as excellent examples of public-private partnerships. We also discussed a proposal to create a European Institute of Technology, and looked forward to further consideration in the Council.

The presidency invited President Putin to join the EU Heads of State or Government for dinner. Energy was one of the main topics. The presidency reiterated the conclusions that we had reached earlier. For his part, President Putin stated his conviction that energy cooperation should be based on principles of predictability of the energy markets and the mutual dependence of suppliers and consumers.

The EU and President Putin agreed to enhance our co-operation on international matters such as Iran, North Korea and the Middle East peace process.

The EU also emphasised the need for a full investigation of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The EU expressed its concerns at the increased tension between Georgia and the Russian Federation.

Trade and Industry

National Strategic Reference Framework (EU Structural Funds Programmes)

In his statement to Parliament of 28 February 2006, my predecessor, Alun Michael, launched a consultation on future structural funds spending in the UK. The consultation invited comments on three issues: the draft National Strategic Reference Framework for Future UK Structural Funds Programmes; the Government’s approach to distributing the UK’s structural funds allocations under the new competitiveness objective; and administrative arrangements for delivering the funds during the next budgetary cycle.

I am today publishing the Government’s response to the consultation exercise and the UK’s National Strategic Reference Framework for Structural Funds Programmes during the 2007-13 period and these will be placed in the Library of the House. These documents set out the strategy for future structural funds spending across the UK, the allocations of funding for future programmes, and the administrative arrangements for delivering the programmes.

Under the new EU regulations for the structural funds, each member state must draw up a National Strategic Reference Framework establishing its broad priorities for future structural funds spending. The DTI has developed the UK’s national framework in close collaboration with other Government Departments responsible for the structural funds, the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Northern Ireland Administration and the Government of Gibraltar. The strategy establishes three high-level priorities for future programmes: enterprise and innovation, skills and employment, and environmental and community sustainability.

The national framework also makes a firm commitment to use the structural funds to support ethnic minorities. It requires all programmes to take account of the needs of ethnic minorities when determining priorities and in the development of individual projects. In particular, they should take account of the difficulties that certain ethnic minorities face in accessing the labour market and the low levels of employment, skills and entrepreneurship suffered by certain ethnic minority groups.

As explained in the response to the consultation, the Government have decided that the UK’s mainstream competitiveness funding should be divided equally between the European Regional Development Fund (for regional development) and the European Social Fund (for promoting employment) at the UK level. As phasing-in competitiveness regions, South Yorkshire and Merseyside are a special case. The Government have therefore decided to allocate 60 per cent. of the phasing-in competitiveness funds for South Yorkshire and Merseyside to the ERDF and 40 per cent. to the ESF.

The Government have decided to allocate ERDF competitiveness funding between the UK’s competitiveness regions by reference to population, GVA and levels of innovation, enterprise and skills. The Government have also applied a cap and safety net to limit the change in each region's proportion of funding in comparison with 2000-06. This will protect regions from particularly heavy reductions in their proportion of funding.

The Government have decided to allocate ESF competitiveness funding between the UK’s competitiveness regions by reference to numbers of workless people, numbers of working age people with no qualifications, and numbers of working age people with low qualifications. Again it has applied a cap and safety net to limit the change in each region’s proportion of funding in comparison with 2000-06.

The UK will face a 50 per cent. reduction in total structural funds allocations for 2007-13 in comparison with the current period, reflecting our strong economic performance and the need to focus funding on the poorer new member states. This means that most regions will, inevitably, suffer a significant reduction in funding. However, the Government’s approach will ensure that funding is allocated fairly between the UK’s competitiveness regions on the basis of objective evidence of economic need. It will also ensure that the allocation of funding supports our domestic priorities for regional development and employment.

England will receive a total of €4.2 billion1 or €91 per capita in competitiveness funding. Within England, the funds will be focused on the six underperforming regions, which will receive €121 per capita on average, or 73 per cent. of England’s share of the funds. The richer English regions will receive lower allocations, reflecting their stronger economic position, but allowing them to tackle pockets of deprivation. For example, the three regions of the Greater South East will receive on average €54 per capita. Cornwall will also receive €579 million of convergence funding, agreed at the EU level.

Scotland will receive a total of €573 million or €122 per capita in competitiveness funding for 2007-13. It will also receive €157 million in phasing-out convergence funding for the Highlands and Islands. Wales will receive a total of €121 million or €114 per capita in competitiveness funding for 2007-13. It will also receive €1.8 billion in convergence funding for West Wales and the Valleys. Northern Ireland will receive a total of €419 million or €248 per capita in competitiveness funding for 2007-13.

The new arrangements for distributing competitiveness funding are a radical departure from the approach used in 2000-06. We now have the opportunity to put in place an objective methodology based on sound economic criteria. The change to a new system inevitably modifies each region’s proportion of the funds in comparison with the current period. However, the use of a cap and safety net limits the change in each region’s proportion of receipts, ensuring that no region faces a much steeper cliff-edge than others, and facilitating the transition from higher levels of funding in the current period.

The response to the consultation explains in more detail the Government’s methodologies for allocating the funding. The indicative allocations for each of the UK’s competitiveness programmes are set out in an annex to the national framework. The European Commission must agree the allocations under the new Structural Funds Regulations.

Finally, the response to the consultation and the national framework set out the broad arrangements for delivering the funds in during the 2007- 13 period. In England, the RDAs will take a leading role in delivering regional ERDF programmes, working in partnership with local stakeholders. Meanwhile, the regional skills partnerships will play an active role in setting strategies for ESF spending in the English regions within the context of a national English ESF programme. In this way, the two funds, while separate, can be more easily aligned to meet defined local and regional needs.

1 All allocations are in 2004 prices and are total allocations for the 2007-13 period. These allocations will be up-rated in due course to current prices for each year of the 2007-13 programming period.

Work and Pensions

Retirement Planning

In the 2002 pensions Green Paper, “Simplicity, Security and Choice: Working and Saving for Retirement” the Government announced their intention to introduce a web based retirement planner.

The service, targeted at those people on low to medium incomes who do not readily have access to financial advice, was intended to inform planning and saving for retirement. The first element of the service, the provision of online state pension forecasts, was delivered, on schedule, in 2004. The remaining elements of the service were due for delivery in 2006.

Earlier this year the Government proposed fundamental reforms in their White Paper, “Security in Retirement” to both the state and private pension systems. In the light of these proposals and their inevitable impact on future pension provision, we carried out a detailed evaluation of whether the planner as developed, could provide people with accurate information during this period of reform.

The evaluation determined that delivering accurate online information about state pensions would become increasingly difficult given the uncertainty about the exact shape of future pension provision. This would also add considerable further cost and complexity. We have therefore decided to suspend further development of the web based planner.

We remain committed to the principle of providing people with information to support retirement planning but are clear that this now needs to be set in the context of the wider White Paper developments.