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Written Statements

Volume 463: debated on Wednesday 12 September 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

The following statements were received between Monday 10 September and Wednesday 12 September 2007

Communities and Local Government

Flood Recovery Update

Further to the statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs laid before the House on 26 July, I am today providing a progress report on recovery from the summer floods.

I wish to express the Government's continuing sympathy for those still working to recover from the devastation of the recent floods. The flood waters have gone but the difficulties faced by some households, businesses and communities remain and I pay tribute to the efforts that the emergency services, local authorities and agencies, local voluntary groups, the private sector and individuals have put into dealing with the immediate aftermath and with recovery.

Further to the commitments given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that Ministers will keep Members whose constituencies have been affected updated on a regular basis, I have written three times to update all Members and both I and ministerial colleagues have hosted regular telephone conferences with hon. Members to ensure that local issues and concerns are being picked up. The Inter-Ministerial Group is meeting regularly and the inter-departmental officials group continues to meet weekly. Throughout the recess, Government work to support the efforts of those leading local recovery programmes has continued. Ministers are continuing to visit flood affected areas, and officials both in Government Offices and Government Departments are in close contact with Local Authorities and Agencies in the affected areas.

Communities and Local Government (CLG)

I announced on the 24 August the final payments of the Flood Recovery Grant to local authorities in the area affected by the July floods. A total of £7.4 million was paid to 36 local authorities. This was in addition to the £10 million that was paid in July. This means almost £18 million of funding has now been released from the £20 million that I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have previously announced for help to those hardest hit by this summer's floods.

The funding has been provided to local authorities without conditions on use, to allow them to decide how best it should be distributed according to local needs. Many local authorities have used the grants to make payments—either automatic or on application—to households affected by the flooding. Some local authorities have provided a mixed approach of payments and replacement of white goods, again based on locally agreed criteria.

Many local authorities are also utilising established council tax flexibilities to provide discounts to those whose properties are or have been uninhabitable. Some of these discounts are being funded from the grant, others from alternative means. This is not the only funding available to local authorities. Financial assistance is also available retrospectively through the Communities and Local Government Bellwin Scheme. We have made Bellwin more generous in the exceptional circumstances of both the flooding in July and the June floods. Some 50 local authorities have made applications under the June scheme and 52 under the July scheme (20 of which had already registered for June).

Transport

In addition, the Department for Transport (DFT) has been working closely with the most seriously affected LAs and has made £3 million available to support longer run infrastructure costs in flood affected areas and has appointed consultants to assist local authorities with their applications for claiming Emergency Capital maintenance funding from the Department for Transport.

Department for Work and Pensions

Community Care Grants are non-repayable grants to help to support vulnerable people living in the community. An applicant must be in receipt of Income Support, Income based Job Seeker’s Allowance or Pension Credit.

Jobcentre Plus put in place a range of special measures locally to ensure that these grants were easily accessible to people in need who were affected by the flooding.

So far the Department for Work and Pensions has paid Community Care Grants totalling £653,000 to people on qualifying benefits to meet the cost of replacing essential household items.

Schools

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has made available £14 million for flood affected schools and children's services. Officials, with colleagues from Government Offices, are holding detailed discussions on a case by case basis to determine how best to provide interim and long-term solutions.

Schools play an important role in all communities, both in providing education and as a focus for an increasing range of other activities. It has therefore been vital to get schools back open to pupils as quickly as possible, and I can report that 97 per cent.of flood-hit schools reopened on time at the start of term, with the others all open early the following week; some are in temporary premises, but all are providing education to all their pupils. The Government would like to thank all those in schools and their local communities for their efforts to achieve this.

DCSF will be continuing to work with the affected areas to ensure that pupils' education does not suffer as a result of the floods.

European Union Solidarity Fund

I am able to confirm that an application was submitted to the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) on 20 August. A provisional assessment of damage caused by the June and July floods is estimated at more than 4 billion Euros—significantly above the 3 billion Euro threshold required for a Member State to make an application. We are currently working to refine the detailed estimates. The calculations used to assess whether the EU threshold for applications is met includes insurable costs. The aim of the EUSF, however, is to help Member States meet some of the uninsurable costs of dealing with natural disasters, for example, supporting the costs of emergency services, cleaning up and restoring infrastructure to working order.

Work to firm up the details of the application and to respond to initial questions from the Commission continues, and decisions by the Commission on fund applications may take some months. If the application is successful, the Commission would only provide a proportion of the eligible costs incurred.

Business

Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) have committed more than £11 million to flood recovery packages. They continue to assess the needs of business in the regions and have adapted or expanded their support to meet demands. RDAs report that the principal business issues still being dealt with through the grants are: loss of earnings and trade, property damage, and damage to uninsured stock and machinery.

In total some £1.4 million has so far been approved to support small and medium sized enterprises, including farmers across the flood affected regions of Yorkshire and Humberside, East Midlands, West Midlands, South West and South East. Ministers from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) have hosted two flood summits in early September. These were hosted in Yorkshire and West Midlands. These are aimed at ensuring Government are doing all possible to help business get back on its feet quickly. A further summit will follow in the South West and other regions as necessary. All will be followed by a commitment to hold regular regional business forums, beginning in the autumn.

Tourism

On 14 August the Department for Culture Media and Sport announced a £1 million cash injection to promote tourism, rural destinations and visitor attractions. This will fund a targeted marketing campaign for the flood affected regions of England and businesses such as B&Bs, caravan parks and attractions.

Insurance

I know that insurance remains an issue of concern to some households and businesses. Government continues to have constructive relations with the Association of British Insurers who provide regular updates on progress with claims. A task group of officials and the insurance industry have been meeting weekly during recess to address issues relating to the insurance industry's role in the flood recovery process and Ministers from CLG, DEFRA, HMT and BERR are set to meet industry leaders again later this month. The ABI has reported that all claimants should now have been visited or contacted by their loss adjuster if necessary and that 20 per cent. of claims have now been settled.

Flooding Lessons Learned Review

Finally, on 8 August my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, announced that the Flooding Lessons Learned Review will be led by Sir Michael Pitt, Chair of the South West Strategic Health Authority. An interim report will be submitted by the end of the year with a final report in the spring/summer of 2008.

As previously reported to the House, the review is seeking views from those who suffered from the impact of the flooding, including affected residents, businesses and public organisations, such as schools and hospitals, as well as those involved in the emergency response. Locally conducted reviews will obviously be important for local planning decisions and provide a useful source of evidence for the national review.

Comments to the review can be submitted to Flooding Lessons Learned Review, Cabinet Office, 10 Great George Street, London, SWIP 3AE, email:

2007floodreview@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk

Defence

Project Borona

On 24 July 2006, Official Report, columns 71-72WS, my predecessor announced the establishment of a project team to examine in detail opportunities for further rationalisation of our basing arrangements in Germany, through the exploitation of UK defence estate opportunities, including the possible relocation to the UK of Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC), 102 Logistic Brigade (102 Log Bde) and 1 Signal Brigade (1 Sig Bde) over the period 2008-2012This followed on from the earlier announcement by the then Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), of the move of 4 Mechanised Brigade (4 Mech Bde) to the UK from Germany and our intention to take the opportunity to make further adjustments to our forces in Germany, where it made sense to do so. My predecessor also announced a series of minor moves which, in addition to the move of 4 Mech Bde, will enable the closure of Osnabrück Station (one of two stations that comprise Osnabrück Garrison).  He explained that the project team would examine the feasibility of further moves which would enable the closure of Münster Station—the other element of Osnabrück Garrison—and thereby Osnabrück Garrison as a whole.  The relocation of HQ ARRC, 102 Log Bde and 1 Sig Bde would also enable us to close Rhine Garrison in the period 2010-2014, concentrating our Germany-based forces in Bergen-Hohne, Paderborn and Gütersloh Garrisons.

Today, I am announcing that, having examined the findings of the project team’s initial review, I have decided that Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC), 102 Logistic Brigade (102 Log Bde) and 1 Signal Brigade (1 Sig Bde) should move to the UK over the period 2009-2014.  This initial decision will need to be confirmed following scrutiny of the detailed plans for the moves.  The site currently occupied by the RAF at Innsworth in Gloucestershire has been selected as the most suitable for HQ ARRC and its supporting elements, and RAF Cosford in Shropshire is the project team’s recommended site for 1 Sig Bde and 102 Log Bde.  We will continue to assess other sites for the two brigades until such a time as Cosford’s future defence use has been decided.  Securing the final approval for this work will also mean that a series of other moves will take place within Germany, which would lead to the closure of Rhine Garrison and Münster Station, the latter completing the closure of Osnabrück Garrison, by 2014.

The project team’s work will now focus on drawing up detailed plans for all the moves, including additional infrastructure requirements at the selected UK sites and a clear timetable.  This work will start with the proposed move of HQ ARRC.  The team will consult with all interested parties, including local county councils, health and education providers and trades unions. In Germany, we will continue to engage with the relevant authorities and employee representatives at national and local levels.

Our NATO allies have been notified of this decision, including the German Government as host nation.

Although we may make further modest adjustments to our force levels in Germany, our plan remains to base UK forces there in the form of HQ 1 (UK) Armoured Division and the majority of its formations and supporting units, some 15,000 service personnel, for many years to come. These moves and the work of the project team in no way signal a change in either our commitment to the NATO Alliance or in our overall defence policy, nor do they in any way devalue the continued close bilateral defence relationship between the UK and Germany.

Justice

Advisory Committee on Civil Costs

In response to a recommendation from the Civil Justice Council, I am establishing an ad hoc Advisory Committee on Civil Costs to provide independent advice on costs in civil claims. Advice provided will be based on evidence and economic analysis, and the Committee will be chaired by Professor Stephen Nickell, with whom I look forward to working. I will make a further announcement on the membership of the Committee and its programme of work in due course.

Criminal Cases Review Commission

I would like to inform the House that Mr. Mark Emerton, Mr. Michael Allen and Mr. John Weeden CB have been re-appointed as Commissioners to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Copies of the press release relating to these re-appointments have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.