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Written Statements

Volume 474: debated on Monday 31 March 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 31 March 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Companies House Targets

I have set Companies House the following targets for the year 2008-09:

To achieve a score of more than 86 per cent. in each quarterly Companies House customer satisfaction survey.

To achieve a 26 per cent. increase in the volume of documents submitted electronically by the end of 2008-09.

To achieve, on average, a target that a search customer can access their requested electronic document on our systems within 60 seconds.

To ensure that Companies House Direct, WebCHeck and WebFiling are available for 99 per cent. of the time between the hours of 7 am and midnight, Monday to Saturday for April to December 2008 and between the hours of 7 am and midnight Monday to Sunday for January to March 2009.

To achieve, on average, a monthly compliance rate for accounts submitted of 95.3 per cent.

To resolve 97 per cent. of all complaints within five days.

The chief executive to reply within 10 days to all letters from members of parliament delegated to him for reply.

To ensure that, on average, electronic transactions received are available to view on the public record within 72 hours.

To ensure that, on average, paper transactions received are available to view on the public record within eight days.

To ensure that 99.5 per cent. of images placed on the Companies House image system are legible and complete.

To achieve a target that 90 per cent. of staff rate Companies House as a good place to work.

To decrease the weight of non-recyclable office waste by 15 per cent.

To reduce CO2 emissions for the use of gas and electricity by 1.5 per cent. per person.

To achieve by 2010-11 a reduction, in real terms, of 15 per cent. compared to 2007-08 in the operational monetary cost of the registry per company on the register.

To achieve, taking one year with another, a 3.5 per cent. average rate of return based on the operating surplus expressed as a percentage of average net assets.

To pay all bills within 30 days, or on other agreed credit terms, on receipt of goods or services or a valid invoice, whichever is later.

Insolvency Service Targets (2008-09)

I have today agreed to the publishing of the Insolvency Service’s Corporate Plan for the period 2008-11.

The Insolvency Service plans to deal with some 74,200 new insolvencies in the year to 31 March 2009 principally as a result of an increase in personal bankruptcies.

Its planning assumption for the level of redundancy payments and other insolvency-related claims is 80,000 in the year.

Action will continue to be taken against bankrupts and company directors in respect of financial misconduct or dishonesty and I have asked the Service to increase its enforcement output by 7 per cent. over that achieved in 2007-08.

Companies Investigation Branch will continue to investigate the affairs of companies in the public interest and I have set targets in relation to the timeliness of dealing with complaints made and the handling of investigations into live companies that follow from those complaints.

The Service’s “Enabling the Future” strategy, a major programme of IT-led investment, will deliver savings over the period of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review and I have therefore set the Service a target to have reduced its case administration fees by 15 per cent. by 31 March 2011.

The Service’s Corporate Plan 2008-11 will be available at: www.insolvency.gov.uk

Published Targets

Target 2008-09

Target 2007-08

Lower the fees for insolvency case administration in real terms from the 2007-08 level by 2010-11

15% (3 Year Target)

15%

User Satisfaction Index

92%

New Target

Level of public confidence in The Service’s enforcement regime

66%

65%

To reduce the average time from insolvency order to the instigation of disqualification proceedings in appropriate cases

20 Months

22 Months

Increase the quantity of enforcement outputs in 2008-09 from 2007-08 baseline by

7%

7%

Complete consideration of vetting complaints about live companies within two months

90%

90%

Complete internal investigations into live companies within six months

90%

90%

Process Redundancy Payment claims for payment within:

3 weeks

78%

78%

6 weeks

92%

92%

In addition to these targets the Service is required to meet centrally promulgated targets relating to replying to correspondence from hon. Members, making payments to suppliers. The Service will also look to maintain Charter Mark and Investors in People accreditation following reassessments during 2008-09.

Other Targets

Target 2008-09

Target 2007-08

Reply to correspondence from Members of Parliament within 10 days

100%

100%

Process payments to suppliers in 30 days

100%

100%

Treasury

Northern Rock

On 18 March, Official Report, columns 53-54WS, I informed the House that the Government had formally notified to the European Commission proposals to continue to provide state aid to Northern Rock to support a restructuring of the company during the period of temporary public ownership. In addition, the board of Northern Rock plc set out in general its plans for the future direction of the business during the period of temporary public ownership. The Government’s objectives in relation to Northern Rock remain the protection of taxpayers and consumers, and the maintenance of financial stability.

The board of Northern Rock plc has today published its annual report and accounts for 2007. These show that the Bank of England loan facilities to Northern Rock plc as at 31 December 2007 stood at £26.9 billion. Since then some £2.5 billion has been repaid and the gross loan stands at around £24 billion. These accounts also demonstrate that Northern Rock remains solvent and meets its regulatory requirements.

The board of Northern Rock has also published a more detailed business plan, which I have approved, based around four objectives:

Contracting to a smaller, sustainable business through a reduction of the asset base from £107 billion in 2007 to £49 billion in 2011, while maintaining on average around £5 billion a year of new mortgage origination over this period and continuing to treat customers fairly;

Repaying of the Bank of England loan by the end of 2010 and enabling the Government to release their guarantee arrangements gradually by 2011, subject to the Financial Services Authority being satisfied of the capital position of Northern Rock at that time. In the meantime, the existing Government guarantee arrangements remain in place. Depositors’ money continues to be safe and secure. Retail deposits are projected to increase to £20 billion by 2011 providing closer to half the company's funding needs—but in total will remain below 2007 levels;

Restructuring the organisation and its operations so that these are aligned to the business objectives;

Strengthening risk management in key business areas.

This business plan meets the Government’s objectives. As set out in the Budget, the Government will, during 2008-09, replace the Bank of England’s loan to Northern Rock with direct Treasury funding. The Bank of England and the Treasury are agreeing with Northern Rock the terms of this financing. This will include a back-up liquidity facility, to meet the Financial Services Authority’s requirements, that may remain in place beyond 2010 until sufficient alternative liquidity arrangements are in place. Northern Rock will maintain, but contract over time, its Granite securitisation vehicle.

Furthermore Northern Rock has published as part of its business plan a competitive framework, which is subject to European Commission approval, setting out its commitment not to take unfair advantage of Government support during the state aid period. It will commit to a series of steps, in particular Northern Rock will restrict itself from positions of market leadership on any product category for 2008.

I have also agreed with Northern Rock a shareholder agreement that sets out the framework within which HM Treasury will operate its shareholder relationship with Northern Rock. This sets out our intention to run Northern Rock on an arm’s length, commercial basis, while approving strategy and holding the board to account for performance against the business plan.

I have placed copies of the accounts, business plan and shareholder framework agreement in the Libraries of both Houses.

Children, Schools and Families

A Strategy for 14-19 Qualifications

I am today publishing a consultation document, “Promoting Achievement, Valuing Success: A Strategy for 14-19 Qualifications”. Building on the aim that we set out in the Children’s Plan for a world-class education system for all 14-19 year olds, this strategy will help to ensure that we can unlock the talent of every young person—enabling all teenagers to pursue qualifications that are understood and valued and allow them to achieve and succeed. This strategy builds on the advice we have received from a group of independent experts from all parts of the education sector and employers.

The current qualification system is overly complex—it is often difficult for young people and their advisers to understand which will best meet their needs and support their aspirations. Not every qualification option has clear progression routes to further study or to skilled employment. Not all the qualifications currently on offer enable young people to develop all the skills and knowledge they need, and that employers and universities want. We want more comprehensive and coherent qualifications for young people, supporting better progression through a set of clear, well-valued qualification choices.

Building on the vision set out in the 2005 White Paper, “14-19 Education and Skills”, there will be four key national qualification routes: GCSEs and A levels; Diplomas; Apprenticeships; and the Foundation Learning Tier. These will offer a range of choices from general education to job-specific learning, and will support young people of all abilities throughout the country. This clear new offer will build on the best of existing provision, but will also secure a coherent system of 14-19 education that is truly fit for the future, with the flexibility to meet the needs and aspirations of each and every young person. We have said that we will conduct a first full review in 2013 to consider how diplomas, GCSEs and A levels and any other general qualifications publicly funded for young people at that point, are combining to meet the needs of young people, employers and universities.

These proposals are an essential part of our plans to raise the education and training leaving age to 18, so that all young people have the right skills to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world and can continue learning throughout life.

Some key elements of the strategy are as follows:

We will simplify the system, with a new process to bring in the best of existing qualifications, while building towards the more streamlined offer;

We will establish a step-by-step process through which we can be assured that in simplifying the qualifications available, we are continuing to meet the full range of learner needs. This will ensure that we can bring in the best of what currently exists, while managing a process of transition to the future simplified system;

This will include the development of a set of criteria against which we will assess whether qualifications will be approved for use for young people in the future;

The appointment of an expert body of external advisers—the Joint Advisory Committee on Qualifications Approval—to advise on how these principles should be applied;

As we are developing new qualification options, we will make sure they are made as comprehensive as possible, to better meet the needs of all young people through:

The extended diploma, which will recognise a wider range of achievement within the diploma framework;

Plans to make the Extended Project an option for all young people who study A Levels;

An extension of the diploma entitlement from the first 14 to all 17 diplomas post-16 from 2013.

We are confident that these proposals will go a long way towards our aim of attracting more young people to learning, transforming standards in the basics and in the wider skills for employability, and enabling all young people to be taking qualifications that have a real standing with employers and the public at large, establishing a strong progression route to further and higher education.

The formal consultation process will allow us to take the views of all those interested in these proposals, and to ensure that we are moving in a direction which will make our qualifications system more robust and responsive to the needs of all.

I am placing in the Library copies of the consultation document. The consultation period runs from Monday 31 March to Monday 23 June.

“Staying Safe: Action Plan”

I would like to update the House on the work we have undertaken and the further action we plan to take to safeguard children and young people from forced marriage.

Keeping children and young people safe is a top priority for this Government and my Department. The Government are committed to improving the safety and welfare of all children and young people, whatever their background or circumstances. We are determined to do all we can to make the existing systems and guidance as effective as possible and to strengthen them where needed. We have introduced new legislation, new guidance and new structures to make children safer. And we are committed to doing even more as set out most recently in the cross-Government “Staying Safe: Action Plan” published last month.

I gave oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 4 March in relation to the Committee’s Inquiry into Domestic Violence. My letter to the Committee of 11 March set out the range of measures that this Department has already put in place and the further action we are planning to take in order to make children safer and to tackle all forms of abuse, including domestic violence and forced marriage. It also addressed the specific questions asked by the Select Committee on action to safeguard children and young people from forced marriage and how this relates to the local authority duty to make arrangements to establish the identities of children not receiving a suitable education. This was informed by data gathered from 14 local authority areas, via Government Offices. The Committee has placed my letter in full in the public domain.

This Department recognises the importance of doing more to raise awareness about these issues among children and young people and signpost them clearly to sources of advice and support. Working with the Forced Marriage Unit, we will develop materials on the issue of forced marriage specifically for use by schools and tailored to young people and we will actively encourage schools to use them. We will draw on our recent data gathering exercise which indicates that a range of different approaches can be effective.

Within the next few weeks, Ministers in my Department intend to write to all schools and local authorities reminding them of their responsibilities and of the existing guidance—both general safeguarding children guidance, which includes the issue of forced marriage, and the specific forced marriage guidance for education professionals, issued jointly with the Forced Marriage Unit. We will also set out our plans to consult on revised forced marriage guidance which will then be placed on a statutory footing this autumn.

In addition, I have written to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to ask Ofsted to provide their view of how well the duty on children not receiving a suitable education is being implemented. Following advice from Ofsted, the Department will work with local authorities to share best practice and lessons that can be learnt about putting in place more effective mechanisms.

My Department will continue to assist the Home Affairs Committee with its important inquiry. I look forward to seeing the Committee’s report and recommendations in due course.

Communities and Local Government

Regeneration

My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs, the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. McFadden), and I are today publishing a consultation paper: “Prosperous Places: Taking Forward the Review of Sub-national Economic Development and Regeneration”

We are consulting on three main issues—the implementation of new regional strategies; the creation of a duty on local authorities to carry out an economic assessment of their area; and options for a legal framework to encourage local authorities to collaborate on economic development.

This develops the plans set out in the review of sub-national economic development and regeneration that I announced to the House on 17 July 2007.

The consultation papers are available in the Libraries of both Houses and can also be accessed online at: http://www.bmgresearch.co.uk/SNR-Consultation.

The consultation will run until 17 June 2008. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs and I, and regional Ministers, will hold wide-ranging discussions over the next few months as part of this consultation.

Defence

Chemical Weapons Convention

The UK’s chemical protection programme is designed to protect against the use of chemical weapons. Such a programme is permitted by the Chemical Weapons Convention, with which the United Kingdom is fully compliant. Under the terms of the convention, we are required to provide information annually to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In accordance with the Government’s commitment to openness. I am placing a copy of the summary that has been provided to the organisation outlining the UK’s chemical protection programme in 2007 in the Library of the House.

Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft

I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Defence has signed a 27-year Private Finance Initiative contract with AirTanker Ltd, to provide a replacement air-to-air refuelling and strategic air transport capability for our armed forces. The Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) service will replace our VC10 and TriStar aircraft from 2011.

FSTA is an innovative PFI programme that will provide modern air-to-air refuelling and passenger air transport capability. Since June 2007, the Department has been working with AirTanker to raise the necessary private sector funds. This work has now been completed and I congratulate all those involved in securing the deal.

The contract will provide a comprehensive and integrated service solution, based on new Airbus A330 aircraft modified to provide air-to-air refuelling capability. It will include provision of purpose designed training and maintenance facilities at RAF Brize Norton, together with through life training and maintenance support services.

Air-to-air refuelling and strategic passenger air transport are key capabilities in this era of expeditionary operations. This announcement is excellent news for our armed forces, for the taxpayer, for AirTanker, and for UK industry.

Justice

Land Registry Targets (2008-09)

The following list sets out the key performance indicators and targets that have been set for Her Majesty’s Land Registry for 2008-09.

Customer Service

Speed:

Percentage of Official Copy and Search applications processed within two working days: 98%

Percentage of all registrations processed within 18 working days: 80%

Accuracy:

Percentage of registrations processed free of any error: 98.5%

Overall Satisfaction:

Percentage of customers who rate the overall service provided by Land Registry as excellent, very good or good: Better than 95%

Financial

Percentage return on average capital employed: 3.5%

Efficiency1

Cost per unit in cash terms1 (real terms)2 : £30.32 (£20.07)

Strategic Development Area Targets

Customer Service

Establish a customer contact centre to support portal and e-conveyancing users.

Land Registration

Through voluntary registration, add a further 325,000 hectares of land to the total areas of registered freehold land in England and Wales.

Electronic Service Delivery

Introduce a prototype e-charge registration service (Land Registry’s first e-deed—electronic charges in standard form (eCSF)).

Other Business Development

Achieve a contribution earned from commercial services sales, after taking account of direct costs and product development costs, of 8 per cent. of income.

Copies of the Land Registry’s business plan will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available on the internet at: www.landregistry.gov.uk

1 Based on the GDP deflator issued by HM Treasury on 13 March 2008 (base year 1992-93).

2 The real term unit cost in the base year of 1992-93 was £30.65.

Cabinet Office

Power of Information Review (Government's Interim Progress Report)

On the 25 June 2007, the Government published their response to the Power of Information Review (Cm7157). The review was an independent study by Tom Steinberg, director of mySociety and Ed Mayo, chief executive of the National Consumer Council to:

“explore new developments in the use and communication of citizen and state-generated public information in the UK, and to present an analysis and recommendations to the Cabinet Office Minister as part of the policy review”

The Government welcomed the findings of the review, agreeing to the majority of the reviewers’ recommendations and outlined how they would be taken forward.

I am pleased to announce the publication of the Government’s interim report into these recommendations.

This report takes stock of progress made by Government in the past six months and highlights the concrete actions departments are taking to implement the review.

Copies of this report have been placed in the Library.

Northern Ireland

Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order 2008

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, as amended by the Boundary Commissions Act 1992, requires that the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland undertake periodical reviews of constituencies in Northern Ireland. The Commission are required to submit a report to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland not less than eight or more than 12 years from their last report. The report was submitted to the Secretary of State on 14 September 2007. The previous report was submitted in October 1995.

I am pleased to announce that the Fifth Periodic Report on Parliamentary Constituencies has been laid before Parliament today with a copy of the draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 to give effect to the recommendations of the report without modification. The recommendations of the Commission are that 18 constituencies should be retained for Northern Ireland with revisions made to the boundaries of the 12 Constituencies of Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South, Belfast West, East Antrim, East Londonderry, Foyle, Lagan Valley, North Antrim, South Antrim, South Down and Strangford.

Copies are available in the Library.

Work and Pensions

Discretionary Social Fund (Allocations 2008-09)

I am pleased to announce that the gross discretionary social fund budget for 2008-09 will be £682 million. This includes a £40 million injection of net funding, being the third of three which in total comprise a substantial £210 million boost to support changes to the loans scheme.

With the net funding available, I have been able to allocate a gross national loans budget of £540 million and a national community care grants budget of £141 million from 1 April 2008. £1 million will be retained centrally as a contingency reserve. For example it is available to provide help to Jobcentre Plus budgets facing unexpected and unplanned expenditure.

Details of individual budget allocations will be placed in the Library.