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Written Statements

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Children, Schools and Families

Flood Damage to Schools and Children's Services

The recent flooding has brought widespread damage to large areas of central and northern England.

The Government are very grateful to the committed staff in schools, early years and childcare settings and local authorities who have worked so hard to contain and reduce the effect of the floodwaters, to get many schools and early years settings back in use, and to provide places in temporary or alternative accommodation where necessary.

In the flood-hit regions, numbers of schools which lost teaching days included 91 in Kingston-upon-Hull, 72 in East Riding, 72 in Doncaster, 66 in Sheffield, 27 in Lincolnshire, six in Nottinghamshire, four in Derbyshire and two in Rotherham. Only eight of Kingston-upon-Hull’s 99 school sites were unaffected:—65 primary schools, 13 secondary schools, 10 special units and three nurseries were all temporarily closed. Nine sites were still closed last week. The local authority has found temporary premises for the children affected. Kingston-upon-Hull calculates that the flooding resulted in losing 107,000 pupil-days, but prompt action by the schools and council avoided losing-up to 90,000 more. In Doncaster, six schools were damaged and closed at some point—but only one is still closed. In the East Midlands, five schools have all their pupils in temporary premises.

Our main aim is to help as many of these schools and early years settings as possible to re-open at permanent premises by the start of the September-term; and, where that is not possible, to help ensure satisfactory alternative arrangements so that no child suffers educationally because of flood damage. There is still an immense amount of hard work to do. The immediate dangers are over, but every child and young person and their parents will rightly expect no let-up in efforts to get back to normal as quickly as possible.

To that end, my Department is working closely with the regional government offices and local authorities, to:

assess fully the extent of the damage to schools and early years and childcare provision (including children’s centres)—both buildings and equipment;

assess the impact the floods have had on children and young people’s ability to learn and make the progress we expect (this includes any impact on examinations or course-work);

take decisions on how best to get children back into proper permanent educational accommodation.

Already the Government have allocated £14 million and have widened the rules on Bellwin funds to deal with flood damage. In addition my Department will make available an initial sum of £10 million for flood- affected schools and children’s services. My officials, with colleagues from Government offices, will hold detailed discussions on an area-by-area/case-by-case basis to determine how best to provide both interim and long-term solutions. As part of these discussions, we will:

determine how best we can use and, if necessary, re-phase the significant capital investment planned over the next five years to address the needs of the schools most affected;

decide what additional educational support we can give schools and other providers to help maintain standards while there is disruption;

and look to fund, in particular:

extra surveyors—to be arranged through existing Departmental call-off contracts—to help authorities accurately assess damage; and more quickly reach a clear picture on the cost of repairs;

temporary accommodation for those settings which will still be in such accommodation in September;

additional summer activities for young people who cannot yet return to their homes, and are living in caravans or other temporary housing;

family support workers to help with longer-term pressures on family life for families who have been seriously affected by the floodwaters.

In addition, I have already written to:

exam boards, asking them to ensure that, where exams were disrupted, cases seeking special consideration are dealt with promptly and with due consideration; and

Ofsted, asking for inspections to take proper account of the disruption and loss of school days and records caused by the floods.

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight) is working closely with the Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes) to oversee implementation of the above programme of DCSF work on flood recovery. These Ministers are seeing daily progress reports from Departmental officials. DCSF is playing its part in the flood-recovery inter-ministerial group chaired by the Minister for Local Government (John Healey).

“Staying Safe”

I am today giving Parliament advance notice of a major consultation on children and young people’s safety. Keeping children and young people safe is a top priority and the responsibility of us all. The consultation document, “Staying Safe”, seeks views from parents, children and young people, our partners and the children’s workforce on the issues. I am today placing a copy of the document in the Libraries of both Houses.

“Staying Safe” has been developed working across Government and signals Government’s strong collective commitment to the safety of children. It has four key objectives. These are to:

raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding children and young people;

promote better understanding of safeguarding issues, and start to change behaviour towards children and young people, and their safety and welfare;

ensure that safeguarding activity is coherent and effectively co-ordinated across Government; and

reinforce existing activity by proposing new actions to plug gaps or improve linkages.

The consultation will run until 31 October 2007 including a range of activities for all interested parties to explore this vital area of work, and respond to the questions and issues set out in the consultation document. After the consultation, Government will produce a response and decide on follow-up action.

We hope that by talking about these issues, and by proposing new work in some areas, we can do even more to improve the safety of children and young people.

Communities and Local Government

Formula Grant Distribution

I am today publishing a consultation document looking at proposals for reviewing the formulae used to distribute Formula Grant to local authorities. Formula Grant underpins the provision of a wide range of local services.

The Formula Grant Distribution System was last reviewed following the introduction of multi-year settlements. This first multi-year settlement round covering 2006-07 and 2007-08 is now coming to an end, and we have taken the opportunity to consider updating and modifying some of the formulae to be used in the distribution system for the proposed three-year settlement covering 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Following the last review of grant distribution formulae, the Government have been working with local government and other interested parties to explore possible ways of updating the formulae where necessary, and fine-tuning some of the elements of the distribution mechanisms.

Over the last five months the official level Settlement Working Group, consisting of representatives from all types of local authority in England along with interested parties from central Government, has considered some 53 technical papers and reports looking at options for changes to the distribution formulae. A separate technical group has examined the formulae for the police.

Following the work of this Settlement Working Group, the Government are now publishing this consultation on options for updating the formula grant distribution system. I have placed copies of in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office. The consultation document is also available today on the Communities and Local Government website at:

http://www.local.communities.gov.uk/finance/0809/grant/sumcons/

We look forward to receiving views on our proposals. The consultation period will close on 10 October 2007 and the Government will then decide on the formula grant distribution system for the next three years.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

I will be representing the United Kingdom at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels.

This being the first Council of the Portuguese presidency, the first item on the agenda will be the presentation of the presidency work programme by the new chairman of the Council. This presentation will lay out the agriculture and fisheries objectives of the Portuguese presidency.

The Council will vote on a proposed Council decision whether to authorise the marketing of a potato product (Solanum tuberosum L. line EH92-527-1) genetically modified for enhanced content of the amylopectin component of starch.

The Agriculture Commissioner will present a proposal for a fundamental reform of the EU wine regime to improve the sustainability of the sector. Following the presentation, the Council will hold its first exchange of views on the proposal.

The Council will hold a policy debate on a proposal establishing a temporary scheme for the restructuring of the sugar industry in the Community to provide a sustainable future for the EU sugar sector.

The Council will hold a policy debate on a proposal on the financing of the common agricultural policy.

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on a Commission proposal banning the use of methomyl in plant protection products.

A number of issues, as follows, will be raised under any other business:

The Agriculture Commissioner will give an update on the WTO agricultural negotiations.

The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner will update the Council on developments with regard to avian influenza H5N1.

Sweden will request that the Commission draws attention to a report of the Council of the Baltic sea states on the need to reduce nutrient leakage into the Baltic sea.

The Netherlands will call upon the Commission to introduce legal measures against illegal logging and related trade in relation to the EU action plan for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT).

Air Quality Strategy

The Air Quality Strategy will be laid before Parliament and published today.

Government are committed to delivering cleaner air to protect people’s health and the environment. Protecting and improving air quality is a key objective for DEFRA and the devolved Administrations.

Our national Air Quality Strategy, last published in 2000 with an Addendum in 2003, contained policies for improving air quality and set standards and objectives for the main pollutants of concern to be met between 2003 and 2010 and beyond.

The quality of our air in the United Kingdom has improved considerably over the last few decades, and much has been achieved through implementation of tighter controls over emissions of harmful pollutants from industry, transport and domestic sectors. These measures have helped to reduce by many thousands the numbers of people dying prematurely and being admitted to hospital as a result of air pollution. We are now meeting the strategy’s objectives for four of the pollutants throughout the UK and meeting all the strategy’s objectives in most parts of the country, although not at some hotspot problem areas, such as along some busy roads and in some cities.

But air pollution still has a significant impact and is estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of seven to eight months, with estimated annual health costs of up to £20 billion. It can also seriously damage our ecosystems.

Over the last year or so an extensive review of the strategy was undertaken to examine what more might be done. This review has involved one of the most comprehensive environmental analyses ever carried out by the Government. stakeholders were closely involved at each stage of the review, both in forming and responding to the official consultation process last year.

The new Air Quality Strategy, which I am publishing today in partnership with the devolved Administrations, draws conclusions from the consultation. It sets out a way forward for work and planning on air quality issues, sets out details of the objectives to be achieved and introduces a new policy framework for tackling fine particles, similar to the approach being proposed in the new European air quality directive, which is currently under negotiation. The strategy also identifies new measures which modelling shows could help achieve significant health benefits and help us move closer towards meeting our targets. These measures have been subject to a thorough analysis of the estimated reductions in air pollution, and quantification and valuation of costs and benefits.

The strategy’s policies have been considered for their impact on climate change, and there are many co-benefits that can be achieved. Over the longer-term, policies to address both climate change and air pollution emissions together can potentially deliver further significant improvements air quality and public health.

The strategy recognises the important role for industry, transport and local authorities in helping to deliver air quality improvements. It also follows the better regulation agenda for adopting the most effective ways of delivering outcomes without placing unnecessary costs on those who are regulated.

We will now start the process for detailed consideration of the potential new measures to develop them further and co-ordinate and align with other policy measures yet to be implemented. Each new measure will be subject to the full policy scrutiny process and formal impact assessment. I will continue to keep the House informed about these and other air quality developments.

Home Department

Protective Services Demonstration Sites

I am today announcing that 30 police forces across England and Wales will be taking part in a new programme aimed at establishing new collaborative arrangements for combating serious organised crime and other threats to public safety (also known as protective services).

The Home Office will support 10 separate initiatives by police forces and authorities to become demonstrator sites for joint working solutions to deliver greater capability and capacity in a range of protective services.

The initiatives that will be supported are:

Police Forces and Authorities

Initiative

Avon & Somerset/Devon & Cornwall / Dorset / Wiltshire / Gloucestershire

South West Region Shared Services Programme delivering operational and back office services through collaboration.

Cheshire / Cumbria / Lancashire / Merseyside / North Wales

North West Regional Cross- Border Crime Team establishing a joint team tackling serious organised crime

Cleveland / Durham

Police Firearms Resourcesdeveloping a joint firearms unit.

Derbyshire / Leicestershire / Lincolnshire / Northamptonshire / Nottinghamshire

Witness Protectionestablishing a dedicated joint Witness Protection team including the refinement of policies, procedures and best practice.

Dyfed-Powys / Gwent / North Wales / South Wales

Public Protectionimproving the delivery across the region of public protection (child protection, sex offender and serious offender management, domestic violence, vulnerable adult abuse and missing persons).

Dyfed-Powys / Gwent / North Wales / South Wales

Major Crime and Serious Organised and Cross-Border Crimeexploring collaborative approaches to delivering these services across the forces in Wales.

Essex / Kent

Project Forefrontdeveloping and implementing a co-ordinated and integrated strategic command capability, improving operational delivery of policing services to the Thames estuary, sea ports, air ports and the strategic roads network

Hertfordshire / Bedfordshire

Major Crime Collaboration establishing a co-located major crime capability.

Humberside / North Yorkshire / South Yorkshire / West Yorkshire

Regional Undercover Unit / Human Resources Policies creating a unit to provide a policy lead, training and support infrastructure to undercover officers and exploring the potential for integrating employment frameworks, terms and conditions and human resources policies.

Surrey / Sussex

Joining Forces Programme drawing together protective services into an integrated specialist operations command covering both force areas.

These initiatives have been selected from 22 bids to provide a balanced programme across England and Wales to explore and develop the models of collaboration between forces that can deliver these vital services to protect the public more effectively and more efficiently.

Collaborative working is a key part of a national programme of work the Government are taking forward, in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities to improve the way the police combat serious organised crime and other threats to public safety. All police forces will be expected to meet newly developed protective service standards. Forces will need to collaborate to do this and the demonstration sites initiative will help ensure that all forces can learn from the experiences of these sites and make use of their best practice.

The selected demonstrator sites will together be offered £3.7 million in Home Office funding to contribute to their start-up costs and they will take part in an evaluation process to be managed by the National Policing Improvement Agency which will monitor and measure their progress and delivery of benefits and develop a shared body of knowledge for the police service.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition

I would like to inform the House that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has signed a certificate to exempt Transport for London (TfL) and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) from certain provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 to facilitate the bulk transfer of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) data from TfL to the MPS. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police believes that it is necessary due to the enduring, vehicle-borne terrorist threat to London. The MPS requires bulk ANPR data from TfL’s camera network in London specifically for terrorism intelligence purposes and to prevent and investigate such offences. The infrastructure will allow the realtime flow of data between TfL and the MPS.

As one of the conditions of this certificate, the MPS will provide an annual report to the Information Commissioner so that he can satisfy himself that the personal data processed under the certificate are required for the purposes of safeguarding national security, and that any processing that is undertaken other than under an exemption set out in the certificate is carried out in compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will review the operation of the certificate in three months’ time when the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police provides her with a separate, interim report so that she can be personally satisfied that the certificate is being operated in accordance with the agreement and that the privacy of individuals is protected. In the coming months, proposals will be developed and discussed across Government to ensure that bulk ANPR data-sharing with the police is subject to a robust regulatory regime which ensures reasonable transparency and scrutiny.

International Development

Palestinian Authority (UK Contribution)

I wish to inform the House that the UK intends to make a contribution of £3 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA). This will go towards paying private sector arrears of around £225 million accrued by the PA. Combined with a £3 million contribution to the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) in May, a £1 million contribution to the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross and a £15.6 million payment to the UN Relief and Works Agency in April, this brings the UK’s total bilateral spend this financial year to £22.6 million.

The last year has seen a deterioration of the chronic economic decline in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israel has withheld clearance revenues owed to the PA, leading to the PA having to reduce or stop entirely the payment of civil servant salaries. At the same time, the PA has run up significant debts with private sector suppliers. This has in turn reduced investment, thereby further shrinking the productive capacity of the economy.

Israel has now agreed to transfer the customs revenue, allowing the Government to pay salaries again. However, the large backlog of public debt remains unpaid. The Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, has requested international support to address this. Direct international assistance through the Palestinian Authority’s Central Treasury Account will boost the economy and make clear international approval for Fayyad’s Government. It will also increase Palestinian companies’ ability to continue trading, and so invest and employ more people.

In the last year, DFID has provided £15 million out of a total of £265 million committed through the TIM. This has successfully stemmed the economic decline in the Occupied Palestinian Territories from a projected 27 per cent. to around 10 per cent. The Quartet recently extended the TIM until the end of September. It has already been aligned with the Ministry of Finance to enable full salaries to be paid to public sector workers. Following the creation of the Emergency Government in June, DFID can now resume direct financial assistance.

The UK is working with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad as they seek to make the Palestinian Authority more responsive to the urgent needs of all Palestinians. But ultimately the only way to guarantee the long-term welfare of the people is for all sides to give up violence and work towards a two-state solution.

Justice

Prison Service (Annual Reports)

The annual report of Her Majesty’s Prison Service for 2006-07 (HC 717) has today been laid before Parliament. The National Probation Service annual report has also been published today. Copies have been made available in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The regional offender managers have, today, published their statement of performance on the NOMS website at: www.noms.justice.gov.uk. Copies have also been made available in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

The Prison Service report includes the financial accounts for 2006-07. The financial accounts for the National Probation Service will be published later in the year.

Performance against all the national offender management targets for 2006-07 is shown in the table:

Performance against the National Offender Management Targets for 2006-07

Protecting the Public

Annual Performance

Annual Target

No escapes of Category A prisoners

0

0

The rate of escapes from prison and prison service escorts is below 0.05% of the average prison population

0.05%

Public Prison

0.01%

Contracted Prison

0.001%

Fewer than 1 in 20,000 escapes from prison and prison service escorts

1:53,847

1:20,000

90% of risk of harm assessments, full analyses and Offender Assessment System (OASys) sentence plans, including risk management plans, completed within five working days of the commencement of order or release into the community

94%

90%

90% of risk of harm screenings/full analyses (as appropriate) and OASys sentence plans completed on Prolific and other Priority Offenders (PPOs) within five working days of the commencement of the order or release into the community.

95%

90%

Supporting the Courts

90% of PSRs completed within required timelines

80%

90%

At least 85% of prisoners from prison or police cells are delivered to court before the agreed time

86%

85%

Firm and Fair Punishment

To initiate breach proceedings in accordance with national standards within 10 days in 90% of cases

92%

90%

85% of arranged appointments attended by the offender in the first 26 weeks of the order or licence

83%

85%

Ensure that the rate of self-inflicted deaths does not exceed 112.8 per 100,000 prison population

Public Prison

96.3 per 100,000

112.8 per 100,000

Contracted Prison

40.6 per 100,000

Reduce the number of serious assaults compared to the 05/06 outturn (this is an annualised rate)

Public prisons

1.66%

1.53%

Contracted prisons

3.6%

3.3%

To limit overcrowding so that the number of prisoners held in accommodation units intended for fewer prisoners does not exceed:

Public prisons

24.1%

24.0%

Contracted prisons

32.8%

34.5%

Helping to cut crime

Accredited Programmes Completed for All Prisons and Probation (including SOTP & DV)1

32,760

24,630

Public prisons

7,921

6,720

Contracted prisons

601

409

Probation: Accredited Programmes Completed

19,875

17,500

Probation: Domestic violence programmes

1,825

1,200

Sex offender treatment programmes (Prison and Probation)

2,525

2,400

Public prisons

1,160

1,160

Contracted prisons

64

80

Probation: Sex Offender Treatment Programmes

1,301

1,200

Prisoners have accommodation to go to on release from prison

Public prisons

65,733

70,000

Contracted prisons

6,098

Prisoners have employment, training or education on release

Public prisons

36,501

35,870

Contracted prisons

3,853

Offenders (in the community) are placed into employment

19,926

15,000

DTTO/Drug Rehabilitation Requirements completions

5,939

5,000

Completions of prison drug rehabilitation programmes

Public prisons

7,675

6,500

Contracted prisons

674

Reduce the number of those testing positive in random mandatory drug tests as a percentage of the prison population compared with 2005-06 outturn2

10.3%

Public prisons

8.6%

Contracted prisons

9.6%

Referrals to LSC in the community

60,418

48,000

Contracted and Wales Learning and Skills Awards delivered by LSC3

7,289

6,682

Contributing to Communities and Society

Completions of unpaid work requirements

55,514

50,000

85% of victims to be contacted within eight weeks of an offender receiving a conviction or 12 months or more for a serious sexual or violent offence

93% (April-December 2006)

85%

Organising and Supporting Delivery

Staff sickness in public prisons to be lower than 11.5 working days/person

11.64

11.50

Not to exceed nine days per person per annum in the probation service

12.01

9.00

At least 6% of the workforce in public prisons to be from minority ethnic groups by April 2007

5.9%

6.0%

95% of race and ethnic monitoring data on staff and offenders returned on time and using the correct (census 2001) classification

98%

95%

1Data relate to total programme completions (before quality reviews)

2 MDT, March data will be adjusted in June (three months’lag time)

3 Data available in April 2008. This metric contributes to the Learning and Skills Council Public Service Agreement (PSA) to increase the number of adults with the skills required for employability and progression to higher levels of training.

Note: Please note that Peterborough performance data are not included.

Chief Inspector of Probation

Today I am delighted to announce that the appointment of Andrew Bridges CBE as HM Chief Inspector of the National Probation Service for England and Wales has been extended until 30 September 2008. Mr.Bridges’ expertise and knowledge will continue to play a key role in enabling the probation inspectorate to deliver a credible and effective inspection programme for probation and youth offending teams.

Work and Pensions

Employment and Social Policy Ministers Meeting

The Employment and Social Policy informal meeting was held on 5 to 7 July in Guimarães, Portugal. I represented the UK.

The theme of the informal was “Improving Policies, Improving Results”, which was discussed in two plenary sessions. The discussions were informed by a paper presented by Maria João Rodrigues, who was involved in the formulation of the Lisbon strategy during the last Portuguese presidency.

Ministers discussed what the future priorities of the Lisbon strategy should be and how to make the Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC) work better. There was broad agreement that the Lisbon goals were the right ones, and that next year’s review should avoid major changes to the strategy, as continuity was needed and would enable comparisons over time. Ministers believed that the focus should be on proper implementation and better exchange of good practice. A number of member states did call for greater prominence to be given to the social dimension of Lisbon. On behalf of the UK, I made it clear that we should not re-open the employment guidelines and that the focus should remain on jobs and growth. I also emphasised that we needed to do more to tackle skills issues as this is the key to helping people into work and ensuring their progression.

In terms of process, most felt the OMC was a success. There was broad agreement that there should be no new instruments or processes. Suggestions for areas of greater focus were: education, skills and lifelong learning; making flexicurity work; increasing labour market participation (including active ageing, work-life balance, gender equality, childcare provision); fighting child poverty; making mobility in the EU work; and tackling the social impacts of migration.

Germany also suggested a one-off “European Social Day” where, for example, Parliaments across the EU could discuss the EU’s contribution to social policies on the same day. The idea received considerable support.

The presidency concluded that the revised Lisbon process had improved the focus on employment but the meeting had highlighted the need to: have greater co-ordination of policy approaches; improve the integration and visibility of social priorities; and a balanced approach to flexicurity.

Pension Scheme Assets (Interim Report)

The review of Pension Scheme Assets led by Andrew Young published its interim findings yesterday on 16 July.

The review team has worked hard to gather data and engage with stakeholders and I am grateful for their efforts and the co-operation of those who have contributed. The interim findings represent a significant improvement on our understanding of the circumstances of failed pension schemes and provide us with an evidence base upon which to build policy in the future.

The Assets Review has made considerable progress in identifying the value of assets remaining in pension schemes that qualify for FAS and has stated that the current process of annuitisation on a scheme by scheme basis may not offer the best use of these assets. It concludes that it is probable that additional value for money could be secured through a number of different methods and the team will focus on investigating the feasibility of these options before it delivers its final conclusions later in the year. I welcome these interim findings and am hopeful that the work that the review team is to continue over the summer will enable us to increase the value of assistance that FAS is able to offer without further calls on public funds.

The potential for any increase will, of course, depend on the value of assets available. While it is too early to say with any certainty that the review will lead to a means of improving FAS above the promised 80 per cent. level (subject to the cap), it is hopeful that this is the case. In the meantime the Government’s position has always been (and remains) that trustees must act in the best interests of their members, but trustees may wish to take into account the effect that the decisions they take about winding up their scheme may have on the amount of assets potentially available to increase assistance levels.

It is important that trustees continue with the processes of wind-up, including data cleansing and determination of asset share. They should also continue to pay interim pensions to members as they reach normal retirement age and co-operate with the Financial Assistance Scheme Operational Unit to ensure initial payments can be made from age 65.