Written Ministerial Statements
Monday 26 November 2007
Children, Schools and Families
EU Youth Council
Anne Lambert (Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU) attended the Youth Council on behalf of the UK.
Ministers discussed the following issues:
Resolution on implementing common objectives for voluntary activities of young people.
Council adopted the resolution, noting the usefulness of volunteering for young people’s social inclusion. Italy asked the Commission to propose an EU charter on volunteering. The Commission agreed on the need for new EU instruments, but did not commit to the idea of a charter. The UK has been keen to emphasise the positive impacts of voluntary activities by young people but remains opposed to the idea of a charter. We accept the need for discussions on the need for further instruments but do not want to pre-empt the outcome of these.
Conclusions on a transversal approach to youth policy.
Member states agreed to adopt the conclusions without discussion. These conclusions call for a more cross-cutting, mainstreaming approach to youth policy across education and employment in the context of the Lisbon agenda, particularly to help transitions into work. The UK supports this approach and has already adopted it in programmes such as “Every Child Matters/Youth Matters” as well as its National Reform Programme.
Exchange of views on better consideration of youth issues in the implementation of the Lisbon strategy and implementing the European Youth Pact.
The UK did not intervene in Council but circulated a paper setting out its position subsequently. This paper reiterated the UK belief that youth policy is best formulated at local level, involving all services and stakeholders, and that the Youth Pact is best implemented through the National Reform Programmes (NRPs). The paper welcomed the Commission initiative to monitor youth issues through the NRPs and report on this to the Youth Council to facilitate exchange of good practice under the Open Method of Co-ordination. However, in common with a number of other member states, the UK restated its view that there was no need for any additional youth-specific reporting requirements as existing mechanisms provided all the necessary data.
London 2012 Sustainability Plan
The London 2012 Sustainability Plan—“Towards a One Planet 2012”—will be published today, by the Olympic board.
It is an important step in realising the intention of the Government and the Olympic board key stakeholders (Minister for the Olympics, Mayor of London, British Olympic Association, and the two Olympic Delivery bodies: LOCOG and ODA) to make the Olympic park a blueprint for sustainable living, and to use the inspiration of 2012 to encourage people to live healthier, environmentally conscious lives and to support the Olympic ideals.
“Towards a One Planet 2012” aims to show progress towards achieving a sustainable Olympic and Paralympic games in each of the five main sustainability themes:
These aspects of sustainability are closely linked and, in most cases, mutually supporting. For example, by promoting biodiversity, we may reduce the impacts of climate change; by bringing economic benefits to deprived communities, we improve their health; by re-using construction materials, we reduce their demands on the world’s resources.
The plan focuses on the work being undertaken by London 2012 and the other members of the Olympic board. It sets out achievements to date, commitments made, and areas where further work is underway to determine what the games can achieve for each of the preparation, staging the games and legacy stages. Within each of these stages, the focus has been on how sustainability can be maximised and this will continue to be the focus for the Government and the Olympic board going forward.
The plan identifies areas where we intend to exceed earlier sustainability targets, such as by ensuring that the 4000 new homes in the Olympic village will be at least 44 per cent. more energy efficient than 2006 Building Regulations, where the ODA’s initial target was to make the homes in the Olympic village 25 per cent. more energy efficient than 2006 Building Regulations.
The plan is open about the limits and constraints on what can be achieved, such as for the treatment of waste during and after the games, which will depend on the provision of facilities and technologies that are not yet in place. Where this is the case, the plan signals the intentions of London 2012, and sets out the developments that need to be in place to make an intention a reality.
The London 2012 programme is fast-moving and the intention is for the plan to be updated annually to reflect progress in achieving existing goals, to review those and to set new ones to address new issues that emerge.
I am placing copies of the plan in the Library and I will place copies of the annual updates in the Library when these are available.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Uganda)
The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) took place in Kampala, from 23 to 25 November. Her Majesty the Queen attended the meeting in her role as Head of the Commonwealth. This was Her Majesty the Queen’s 18th CHOGM, and I—like my fellow Commonwealth leaders—pay tribute to her dedication and commitment to the Commonwealth.
The meeting came at a critical moment: in the midst of the democratic crisis in Pakistan; one week before the Bali climate change conference with only 10 to 15 years to turn the tide on global warming; half way to the millennium development goals which the world is in danger of not meeting; with months left to agree a global trade deal; and with no room for complacency in the fight against extremism.
And as a unique partnership of rich and poor countries, the Commonwealth has a critical role to play in meeting these challenges.
Commonwealth leaders met in the aftermath of President Musharraf’s decision on 3 November to declare a state of emergency. On 12 November the Commonwealth Ministers’ Action Group (CMAG) set out five conditions for Pakistan to fulfil in order to avoid suspension from the Commonwealth: lifting the state of emergency; the president giving up his job as chief of staff of the army; holding free and fair elections; releasing political detainees incarcerated during the emergency; and removing restrictions on the freedom of the press. Meeting in Kampala on the eve of CHOGM, CMAG concluded that whilst progress had been made—not least the commitment to an election that has been announced for 8 January—the five conditions had not been met and, crucially, the state of emergency was still in place. Therefore Pakistan was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth.
The CHOGM and the UK made clear that we hope to see Pakistan restored to the Commonwealth as soon as possible and will revisit the suspension in January once the election has taken place.
The Commonwealth has sent the strongest signal that, above all, it stands for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The meeting also agreed with the need to act collectively to:
redouble their efforts to deliver education for all, with a particular focus on enrolling the 30 million primary school aged children out of school across the Commonwealth; eliminating gender disparity in education; and strengthening education systems in countries affected by conflict. At Britain’s initiative, heads also undertook to put in place, by the end of 2008, at least 20 long-term education plans of the type endorsed by the Education for All Fast Track Initiative, and to focus on measuring and improving the quality of education;
achieve a successful conclusion to the WTO’s negotiations, in light of the fundamental contribution of international trade to global prosperity, sustainable development and to the elimination of poverty;
establish a small group of Commonwealth Heads to campaign for reform of international institutions, in order to achieve an architecture which reflects today’s global challenges and is more effective and more representative;
meet the Millennium Development Goals—the responsibility of all countries rich and poor—and called for a UN meeting next year to re-energise global efforts; and,
achieve a declaration on climate change, as we move towards the Bali summit, by calling for a long term global goal for emissions reduction to which all countries must contribute—a comprehensive post-2012 global agreement that strengthens, broadens and deepens current arrangements and leads to reduced emissions of global greenhouse gasses. We agreed on the need for all Commonwealth members to assess the implications of climate change for their societies, and offered new technical assistance through the Commonwealth to help achieve this.
CHOGM also endorsed the analysis by the Commission on Respect and Understanding led by Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen on how to promote respect and understanding among different ethnic and faith groups. The meeting recognised that all countries must work together to tackle the causes of radicalisation and noted that the diversity of its members gives the Commonwealth a unique perspective on these issues. Heads of Government committed to developing concrete activities to give practical effect to the Commission’s recommendations.
We also applauded the work of Don McKinnon, outgoing Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, who has led the organisation with energy and creativity and welcomed his successor, Mr. Sharma.
I am confident that, following the Kampala CHOGM, the Commonwealth can continue to play a vital role in international affairs.
Copies of the concluding communiqué have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
I am today placing in the House Library a copy of the “Heads of Terms for Crossrail” that has been agreed between the Department for Transport and Transport for London. Having passed through the necessary approval processes, this document has now been signed and is being released into the public domain accordingly.
The “Heads of Terms” details the agreements between DfT and TfL that underpinned last month’s announcement on the funding of Crossrail. It sets out, with only those redactions necessary to prevent harm to commercial interests, the agreements that have been reached between DfT and TfL on the future funding and governance of the Crossrail project. I have also put in the Library a shorter explanatory note for the “Heads of Terms”—this sets out the main points, but should not by itself be treated as comprehensive.
As the Chancellor explained in his pre-Budget report, DfT will contribute over £5 billion in grants to the cost of the project. It will additionally be responsible for procuring contributions from the City Corporation and BAA. In total, DfT will be responsible for securing funding for Crossrail of £5.6 billion.
The Mayor, through TfL and GLA, will be responsible for total funding of up to £7.7 billion. He has indicated that he would raise this from a combination of debt raised on the back of a new levy on National Non-Domestic Rates in London, TfL prudential borrowing, developer contributions along the Crossrail route and other sources. A letter from the Mayor setting out how he envisages doing so is also being placed in the House Library. For TfL to raise this funding, there will need to be changes to existing legislation—both to allow the NNDR levy and to facilitate the planned contribution from developers through a new planning charge. As CLG ministers have already announced, these changes will be brought forward in due course.
DfT and TfL will remain as co-sponsors of the Crossrail project, jointly specifying the outputs that the project is expected to deliver. This reflects the very substantial financial contributions that both will make. A new joint high-level sponsor board will be established between DfT and TfL to act as the single client to supervise CLRL’s delivery of the sponsors’ requirements for Crossrail.
The Crossrail delivery company Cross London Rail Links will also be restructured. It will become a 100 per cent. owned TfL subsidiary, but one with the level of autonomy necessary if it is to focus solely on the delivery of the Crossrail project, in line with the sponsors’ requirements. The successful delivery of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link has demonstrated the importance of this single focus. Importantly, CLRL’s board will include a majority of non-executive directors, bringing with them added experience of how best to manage risk on projects of this scale.
As the “Heads of Terms” set out, the current intention is that TfL should be responsible for procuring the Crossrail rail services, but DfT will be closely involved in detailed service and timetable planning so as to ensure that proper account is given to interests both inside and outside of London.
DfT will also retain significant rights during construction, including the right to consent to the identity of any new chairman of CLRL, to nominate a non-executive director, and to appoint a project representative to monitor delivery of the project. These rights are similar to those that DfT had on the successful delivery of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
We are confident that the identified capital budget for the project of £15.9 billion will be sufficient. Ultimately, however, if TfL’s ability to take risk on Crossrail should be exhausted or if it should default on its agreements with DfT more widely, then DfT will be able to take CLRL back into its direct ownership.
Over the coming months, DfT, TfL and CLRL will work to turn the heads of terms into full and binding agreements, with the aim of having these in place by the time that the Crossrail Bill achieves Royal Assent. This should allow construction to begin in earnest in 2010, with the first services following in 2017.
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) Order
I am pleased to inform the House that the proposed draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) Order in the field of Social Welfare has been laid today, as Command Paper (7286). Copies of it can be found in the Vote Office and Library from 12 noon. I have written to the Welsh Affairs Committee to request they undertake pre-legislative scrutiny.
Work and Pensions
Next Steps to Full Employment
Over the last decade huge progress has been made in reversing entrenched unemployment, child poverty and benefit dependency with the creation of 2.8 million new jobs and one million people off key out-of-work benefits since 1997. But we are not prepared to rest there. We want a society in which every city, town and village in Britain is a working community.
There are still too many people who are not sharing in the rising prosperity of the nation. The ability to get, and keep a job and then to progress in work is the best route out of poverty. The Government will provide increasing support and opportunity to ensure that our people have the skills to keep them in work and make them better off.
To do that we need to do still more to help disabled people and those with health conditions, lone parents and long term unemployed people get into rewarding and sustainable jobs.
That means a stronger framework of rights and responsibilities for benefit claimants so that people who can work have the right support to enable them to do so.
It means making the support available more responsive to the needs of individuals and employers.
It means a new emphasis on skills so that there is a focus on retention and progression, not just job entry.
Today my Department and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills are setting out how we will bring progressive welfare and skills provision together. Copies of our joint publication “Opportunity, Employment and Progression: Making Skills Work” will be laid later today and will then be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
We are clear that in future, good training to develop the skills that employers want has to be a central part of helping people into jobs, and helping people stay in jobs. Our goal is sustainable employment, not cycling between short term work and repeated spells on benefit. We want to support progression in work as well as entry to work. That has major implications for the way the training system supports those who need to gain new skills and qualifications. The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills will be setting out these implications more fully in a statement today.
Helping people into work is a key challenge. But it is only the start.
We must unlock the talents and skills of our people to equip them to compete in the globalised world and earn more for their families.
Otherwise we will not improve social cohesion or provide the skills that British businesses need to succeed in the 21st century.
There are also major new policy developments that fall to the Department for Work and Pensions. New claimants of out-of-work benefits will go through a systematic skills screening process to identify basic numeracy, literacy or language needs. Those identified with skills needs which are a major barrier to finding employment will be referred to attend a full skills health check, delivered by the new adult advancement and careers service. For claimants reaching six months on jobseeker’s allowance or the new employment and support allowance, we will enable personal advisers to mandate a skills health check if appropriate.
Based on the results of a skills health check, the personal adviser will decide whether the claimant should be referred to training focused on getting them back to work. We will pilot making such training mandatory for claimants who reach the six month point on jobseeker’s allowance.
At present lone parents lose eligibility for income support when their youngest child turns 16, however we have been consulting on whether this age should be lowered. To ensure that all lone parents are making the preparations needed to engage with mandatory jobsearch at this point, we will encourage them to undergo a skills health check two years before their eligibility for income support is due to end. And we intend to consult on whether this should be mandatory.
Currently benefit rules prevent jobseeker’s allowance customers from studying for more than 16 hours per week, for more than two weeks per year. In the future, we will enable customers who have been claiming JSA for six months or more to undertake full time training for up to eight weeks, provided that the training is focused on a return to work—by moving them onto training allowances. We will also remove the so-called ‘16-hour rule’ in housing benefit for short-term recipients of incapacity benefit.
And because we recognise the particular challenges faced by some vulnerable groups who require housing benefit whilst undertaking necessary full-time training, we will consider whether it might be practicable to define limited exemptions from the ‘16-hour rule’ for specific groups—such as young people living in supported accommodation.
We will roll out two elements of the current employment retention and advancement pilot nationally for lone parents:
in-work advisory support from Jobcentre Plus to help customers with the transition to work and to help them advance in work; and
the In-work Emergency Fund which gives lone parents moving into work of 16 hours or more per week, access to discretionary payments (up to £300) to avert financial emergencies that might otherwise prevent them continuing in work.
My Department is currently rolling out the Pathways to Work programme for new claimants of incapacity benefit, and next year will be introducing the new employment and support allowance. Today I am also announcing that we will gradually roll out pathways support to existing incapacity benefit claimants who are aged under 25.
Through tax credits, in-work credits and the minimum wage, this Government have already done a great deal to make work pay. We now intend to go further, to ensure that long-term benefit claimants moving into work see an increase in their income of at least £25 per week—thereby making allowance for reasonable travel costs.
These measures will play an important part in the next radical phase of welfare reform which will open up unprecedented opportunities for disadvantaged groups to contribute to and to benefit from national prosperity. Tomorrow I intend to publish further details on how we will work with the private and third sectors to deliver this vision.
There are over 600,000 job vacancies in Britain every day. Our mission is to get British benefit claimants into British jobs to become British workers.
A copy of the Prime Minister’s speech delivered today to the CBI will be available at: www.number-10.gov.uk