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Written Statements

Volume 451: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

Written MinisterialStatements

Wednesday 1 November 2006

Communities and Local Government

Gateway (Hull and East Riding of Yorkshire) Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder

The Government will make available up to £10.7 million in grant to the Gateway pathfinder in 2006-07 and, subject to the availability of resources, up to £23 million in 2007-08.

Building on Gateway’s achievements of developing a sound evidence base, strong community engagement and support and a coherent delivery strategy, this investment will give the pathfinder the opportunity to help create the transformational changes which Hull needs. The investment will support improvements to Hull’s housing offer and form a key component of the city’s strategy for improving economic performance.

Over the next two years, this funding will help achieve the pathfinder’s objectives of creating high quality and mixed tenure neighbourhoods to meet the needs of existing and future residents and businesses opting to invest in the city. Underpinning these objectives are the pathfinder’s strategies for renewing underperforming segments of its housing markets through a phased programme of refurbishments, new developments and the reduction of sub-optimal /abandoned properties which attracts anti-social behaviour.

Although the Gateway pathfinder comprises Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire councils, the intervention area is the city of Hull. This is because the housing market in Hull is significantly weaker than in adjacent areas.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

EU Environment Ministers Meeting (July 2006)

On 14-16 July, I met with Environment Ministers from the EU member states, candidate countries, EFTA and EEA countries, at an informal ministerial meeting in Turku, Finland. We discussed issues related to the next generation of environmental policy. This new policy should be partof a wider vision of a sustainable Europe, with theaim of integrating environmental considerations intoall other policy areas. The discussions were very productive and I attach the chair’s conclusions for your information.

Ministers recognised that the global community needed to face up to major challenges, including climate change, the rising demand for energy, continuing dependency on fossil fuels, and the steady depletion of vital natural resources. It was also recognised that the consumption patterns of the EU were increasingly affecting the people and the environment in other global regions. Therefore, itwas clear that the EU needed carefully to focusits efforts to achieving the long-term vision anticipated in the renewed strategy on sustainable development. Mainstreaming resource efficiency and clean technologies into various policies were necessary to achieve this vision.

Ministers emphasised the need to use natural resources sparingly, and promote more eco-efficient production and consumption patterns and that the EU’s sustainable consumption and production (SCP) action plan would play a key role in shaping future trends.

I highlighted the importance of integrating environmental considerations across all policy areas and our support for further work on SCP, in particular as regards energy efficiency. I also emphasised the central role that the EU emission trading scheme (ETS) will play in reducing carbon emissions and the importance of making progress on the inclusion of aviation emissions. The EU ETS highlighted the role that innovative economic instruments could play in tackling environmental problems.

Going global on eco-efficiency—towards a new generation of environmental policy.

Presidency Conclusions

Informal Meeting of Environment Ministers

14-16 July 2006 Turku, Finland

1. The environment ministers from the EU member states, candidate countries EFTA and EEA countries discussed issues related to the next generation of environmental policy in an informal ministerial meeting held on 14-16 July 2006 in Turku, Finland. During the discussion the ministers received valuable contribution from the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Environment Agency, the European Environmental Bureau and the World Bank.

2. Globalisation and especially economic growth in the emerging economies are currently radically reshaping our economies and the conditions for environmental policies. Globalisation will change the structure of our industries, lifestyles and cultures—and even the ways policies are made. Globalisation also links the internal and external dimensions of our environmental policies ever more closely.

3. Major challenges include the rising demand for energy, continuing dependency on fossil fuels, and the steady depletion of vital natural resources. Our consumption patterns are also increasingly affecting the environment and people’s lives on other continents, since we are using more and more resources from other regions of the world.

4. The EU is already effectively addressing many environmental challenges. The need to improve material and energy efficiency, however, is becoming an increasingly important factor in environmental and economic policies. The philosophical approach that ‘Less is more’ can create jobs, boost competitiveness, and reduce our dependence on non-renewable resources. Such ideas are also crucial in combating climate change, halting biodiversity loss and pollution, as well as in the prevention of waste.

5. Therefore, the Commission and member states should carefully coordinate and focus their efforts to outline the ecological dimension of the long-term vision anticipated in the renewed strategy on sustainable development. This vision should explore the best ways to break the linkages between well-being and the use of resources, so as to reduce the associated impacts on the climate, biodiversity and ecosystems. We should also try to find ways to set objectives and means for improvements in resource efficiency on European and global level. Setting such objectives and implementation of the relevant means needs effective global partnership. Foresight studies to get a better understanding of the challenges ahead could be undertaken .

6. To achieve this vision, it is vital to mainstream resource efficiency and clean technologies into various policies—and into the core of the debate about the future of Europe in a globalising world. The European Council should be encouraged to address this challenge.

7. Energy policy is the key sector in combating climate change. Therefore, the Environment Council could give valuable input into the discussion on a modern energy policy for Europe.

8. As a key approach we need an action plan on sustainable consumption and production based on dematerialisation and life-cycle approaches including targets. This plan should also launch structured dialogues involving businesses, authorities, NGO’s and research institutes. Through such dialogues key sectors and actors can learn about opportunities to improve eco-efficiency, and formulate proactive strategies to promote best practices.

9. This action plan should also inspire purchasers and suppliers to seek the most cost-effective environmental technologies and solutions. The action plan could also motivate member states and the EU to set indicative targets for the funding of research and development on eco-innovations.

10. Economic incentives and the incorporation of environmental costs into prices are becoming increasingly important ways to promote resource efficiency and favourable changes in consumption patterns. The commission should adopt a Green Paper on market-based instruments. This initiative could consider options on new economical instruments in order make the EU one of the most eco-efficient economies in the world. Further progress is also needed on the elimination of environmentally harmful subsidies. The report on harmful subsidies from the Commission should contain concrete options for moving into this direction.

11. There is a need to coordinate guidance on material and energy efficiency for decision-makers, enterprises and citizens. At the global level we should work towards the establishment of an international panel on natural resources including biodiversity.

12. To tackle critical environmental challenges we need to strengthen international governance and create a level playing field for all. The EU should actively lobby for the creation of a international environmental organisation to strengthen international environmental governance and enhance cooperation between international environmental agreements. The EU should improve the dynamic integration of environmental considerations into its foreign policies, especially concerning trade, development and poverty reduction.

13. To reach the target of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010, and to protect vital ecosystem services, we should promote the sustainable use of land, water and the seas by increasingly using a wide range of economic instruments and voluntary measures, incentives and market-based approaches. At the same time we should finalise, effectively manage and integrate our own ecological network Natura 2000 into relevant policies. We should also continue working towards the establishment of a coherent global network of marine and terrestrial protected areas, and the integration of these networks in the wider environment.

Rural Development Programme for England

The Rural Development Programme for England 2007-2013, implementing the new European Rural Development Regulation, is an important element of the Government's strategy for the future of rural development and the environment. We set out our proposed priorities for the new programme in a consultation document1 earlier this year, and since then have discussed them extensively both at national and regional levels.

On 24 May 20062, the European Commission published proposals for implementing all EU programmes during 2007-2013 in the light of the budget agreement reached by the European Council in December 2005. For rural development, these proposals included the draft allocation of funding for member states and a draft regulation governing the application of voluntary modulation. On 19 June 20063, the EU Agriculture Council confirmed the overall allocation of rural development funds, and on 12 September these were formally allocated to individual member states through Commission Decision 636 of 20064.

The Government have always stressed that the final shape and size of the new Rural Development Programme for England is dependent on the availability of receipts from voluntary modulation. In the draft proposal on voluntary modulation (VM) currently under negotiation in the Agriculture Council a number of important issues remain unresolved, including on regionalisation (i.e. whether or not we are able to set separate rates for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the franchise. We are continuing to discuss these issues in Brussels but the draft voluntary modulation regulation cannot be agreed by the Agriculture Council until a formal consultation procedure with the European Parliament has been completed.

However, at present progress of the regulationis stalled in the European Parliament. The EP's Agriculture Committee has recommended rejectionof the Commission's proposal and a plenary vote scheduled for 26 October was postponed for procedural reasons. It is likely to take some time before the consultation procedure with the Parliament is completed and the details of the regulation will then need to be finalised by the Council. We now anticipate that this process, and the regulation itself, is unlikely to be concluded before spring 2007.

The Government's preparations for the new programme are well advanced. But until the voluntary modulation negotiations are concluded at the EU level, we cannot reach our own decisions on the rate of VM and the total budget for the programme. We therefore cannot submit our programme for approval in Brussels, as we are required to do. (Once the programme is submitted, the approval process can take up to an additional six months.)

These delays mean that the new Rural Development Programme for England will not be able to start on time on 1 January 2007. This is deeply disappointing to me and my Department, but above all to farmers, land managers and other potential beneficiaries in rural areas who want clarity about what rural development funding will be available in 2007-2013 as soon as possible.

Our intention remains for the new programme to start at the earliest possible date and my officials are working closely with the European Commission, delivery bodies and a wide range of stakeholders to achieve this. I can reassure existing beneficiaries that their agreements will continue to be honoured. Weare also considering carefully the contingency arrangements for rural development scheme delivery that will apply in the absence of formal approval for our new programme. I will continue to keep the House informed about these and any other developments.

1 http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/rdp2007-13/index.htm

2 http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/06/673&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

3 http//www.eu2006.at/en/News/Press_Releases/June/1906proell.html

4 http://www.europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/06/1177&form at=HTML&aged=0&Language=EN&guiLanguage=en

Health

NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency

The annual report and accounts of the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency has today been laid before Parliament and the agency's business plan for the coming year has been placed in the Library.

The business plan has been formulated within the context of the agency's corporate plan as NHS procurement undergoes major changes in order to deliver greater value in NHS expenditure. Building on the success of the Supply Chain Excellence Programme the agency will seek greater efficiencies within NHS procurement. The agency will become less involved in operational aspects of procurement but will undertake a stronger and more focused role in setting the strategic direction.

The agency will develop its capabilities to ensure that it is equipped to play an enhanced policy leadership and influencing role within the NHS and developing the centre for evidence-based purchasing to allow it to provide the evidence to guide purchasing decisions. The business plan sets out clearly how the agency will monitor and measure its success.

Trade and Industry

Technology Strategy Board

The March 2006 report “Science and Innovation Investment Framework: Next Steps”, published alongside the Budget, announced that the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) would have a wider remit to stimulate business innovation in those areas that offer greatest scope for boosting UK growth and productivity, and that plans for it to operate at arm's length from central Government would be worked up. I am today announcing a number of decisions to take forward this proposal.

The present advisory Technology Strategy Boardhas made an excellent start in delivering the new Technology Programme. Over 500 projects have been supported, mobilising over £750 million of resources devoted to research and development in new and existing sectors of the UK economy.

I have concluded that the right way forward bothto build on the success of the TSB and ensure the technology support programme continues to be delivered in an efficient and effective way is to create an executive arm's length body. Subject to the approval of Parliament, the new body will be established by Order in Council, as an executive-non departmental public body under the Science and Technology Act 1965. It will be business focused with a business-led board. It will work closely with Government Departments to ensure that policies and spending programmes contribute fully to the technology and innovation agenda, creating real commercial advantage for UK business.

The objectives of the body will be to promoteand support research into, and development and exploitation of, science and technology and new ideas for the benefit of business, in order to increase economic growth and improve the quality of life. The establishment of the new body will provide improved strategic focus, better operational flexibility, and greater consistency and coherence in the delivery of our technology support programme, as well as an improved ability to work with third parties.

The main role of the new body will be to deliver a programme of Government financial support through collaborative R and D and knowledge transfer to encourage business investment in, and use of, technology across all sectors of the UK economy. It will provide leadership to Government Departments and Agencies and work with the Regional Development Agencies, the Research Councilsand the Devolved Administrations on technological developments and innovation of importance to UK industry. A key role of the new body will be to promote close working between Government and business in developing and exploiting new technologies. The new body will be asked to advise Government on areas where barriers exist to the exploitation of new technologies, and put forward recommendations as to how they can be removed, but responsibility for the overall direction of innovation policy will remain with Ministers.

Graham Spittle, the present Chair of the Technology Strategy Board, has agreed to chair the new body. This will help to ensure that the successful work of the TSB is carried forward. Mr Spittle has a tremendous record driving innovation in business and I greatly appreciate the leadership he has provided to the TSB in his current role.

Following a general review of possible locations against a set of objective criteria, including a number of specific sites proposed by the Regional Development Agencies, the Government have decided that Swindon should be the primary location for the body. I expect the new body to be formally inaugurated in the first half of the 2007-08 financial year.

Work and Pensions

Delivering on Child Poverty: What Would it Take?

I am publishing today “Delivering on Child Poverty: What Would it Take?” (Cm 6951), an independent report by Lisa Harker for the Department for Work and Pensions.

This Government are committed to eradicating child poverty. We have made significant progress by lifting 700,000 children out of relative poverty since the Prime Minister set the historic target in 1998 to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

Our success in helping people into work has been key to reducing child poverty. We have seen 2.5 million more people in work than in 1997 and there are now over one million lone parents in employment. This has made a significant and sustainable contribution to reducing child poverty. We need to continue to build on this success but recognise there is more to do if we are to reach our goal.

I commissioned this report to inform our next stage of strategy development and I am very grateful for the work that Lisa Harker has done during the summer. This report provides a challenging but constructive assessment of my Department’s current strategy on child poverty, and some clear recommendations for future policy development.

We will, as previously announced, be publishing the Department’s own strategy on child poverty later inthe year. This will set out our approach to delivering the DWP contribution to eradicating poverty by 2020.

Copies of the report are available from the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.