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Written Statements

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 7 May 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Communities and Local Government

Local Government

Earlier this year Parliament approved orders creating, from 1 April 2009, nine new unitary councils for the seven areas of Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Durham, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire. I explained to the House during debates on these orders the approach we intended to adopt for the transfer and appointment of staff to these new councils. Today, I am confirming these arrangements and publishing draft regulations and draft guidance, which cover both the transfer of staff to the new councils and the appointment of the chief executives and other senior managers.

We have developed this approach in consultation with the councils concerned, the local government employers and the trade unions, based originally on our discussion document of August 2007, “Councils’ Proposals for Unitary Local Government: An Approach to Implementation”. Today we are sending to these interested parties drafts of the regulations and draft guidance, inviting any further comments on the detailed drafting over the next two weeks.

I plan to make staffing regulations which will apply the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) to any transfers of staff occurring as a result of local government reorganisation. The staffing regulations will also require the post of chief executive (head of paid service) of each new unitary authority to be recruited by means of open competition, to be held by 1 April 2010 at the latest. Furthermore, our planned guidance makes clear that the Government expect to see open competition as the means of recruiting to all other senior management board posts, unless there are clear and specific circumstances on the basis of which the council considers there is a compelling case for an alternative approach, which would not detract from both the reality and the perception of the authority being genuinely new.

We believe that this approach will create a clear and consistent framework for the transfer and appointment of staff to all the new unitary councils, which will give both the level of reassurance staff rightly need and expect over their employment, and the flexibility the new councils need to establish innovative arrangements for empowering local communities and delivering improved local public services. Whilst recognising concerns about continuity, particularly through the transition period, the importance that we attach to open competition for senior management board appointments is a recognition of how the new councils will need senior officers with new skills, experiences and perspectives if they are to take full advantage of the opportunities they have to become genuine flagship councils for the future of local government.

We will consider any comments from interested parties and make the regulations and publish the final guidance document as soon as practicable thereafter.

I have placed copies of the draft regulations and draft guidance in the Libraries of both Houses.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

RCEP Report “The Urban Environment” (Government Response)

The Government have today published their response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s twenty-sixth report “The Urban Environment”. The report looks at the environmental problems that affect urban dwellers, and conversely the impact that urban centres have on the environment.

With most of us today living in towns and cities, it is vitally important that our urban environment is designed and managed in a way which is uplifting, offers access to clean air, water and green space; encourages us to lead active, healthy lives; makes a full contribution to reducing our carbon emissions and is robust to the changes in climate that we are already starting to see.

The Government’s response to the commission’s report sets out the action that we are taking to achieve these goals.

Copies of the Government’s response will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. A copy can also be accessed on the DEFRA website.

Health

NHS Foundation Trusts (Authorisations)

The chairman of Monitor (the statutory name of which is the Independent Regulator of NHS foundation trusts) announced this week that, in accordance with section 35 of the National Health Service Act 2006, Monitor has decided to authorise the following NHS acute and mental health trusts as NHS foundation trusts from 1 May:

Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust (formerly Essex Rivers NHS Trust);

Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Trust;

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Trust; and

Somerset Partnerships NHS and Social Care Trust

Monitor’s announcement brings the total number of NHS foundation trusts to 96. A copy of Monitor’s press notice has been placed in the Library.

The Government remain committed to offering all NHS acute and mental health trusts the opportunity to apply for foundation status as soon as practicable. Monitor is now authorising trusts on a monthly basis, and further waves of NHS foundation trusts are set to follow.

Justice

National Reoffending Measures 2008-11

I am, with the Minister of State, Department for Children Schools and Families, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), today announcing improvements to the way that the Government measure their performance in reducing reoffending. The statistics will focus on how many reoffences are committed and how many of those are serious offences. The delay in reporting adult reoffending statistics will be reduced. This broader range of information on reoffending rates, will allow for better, more timely analysis of reoffending and ultimately help to reduce crime and make communities safer.

Current Reoffending Data

The Government currently measure the proportion of offenders who reoffend within a given period (two years for adults, one year for juveniles) following either their conviction where a community sentence is given, or release from prison where a custodial sentence is given. The reoffending rate is then compared against a predicted rate. The predicted rate is based on how statistically likely offenders are to reoffend, based on factors such as age and criminal history. If the actual rate of reoffending is lower than the predicted rate, then reoffending has fallen.

This measure has been helpful in providing an accurate picture of the difference that work to reduce reoffending has made to reoffending rates. We will continue to monitor progress using predicted rates and measure progress against the 2002 spending review target that covers the years 2000-06. The target data will be published in autumn 2008.

New Measures

The new Make Communities Safer PSA has provided opportunities to broaden the range of reoffending data collected, reflecting the Governments focus on protecting communities from the harm caused by prolific and serious crimes in particular.

While the current regime measures whether a known offender reoffends or not, the new metric focuses on how many reoffences an offender commits. The new headline measure will monitor the frequency of reoffences per 100 offenders (in the cohort). This will provide a better measure of our impact with those offenders who cause most damage to communities through committing most crime. In addition we will measure the frequency per 100 offenders of reoffences which are classified as serious, such as violence against the person (including grievous bodily harm, murder and manslaughter) and serious sexual offences.

The new measures look beyond simply whether some one reoffends or not and reflects the balance between serious and prolific reoffenders, offenders who commit a small number of reoffences and those who do not reoffend at all.

Timing

We are also reducing the time it takes to report adult reoffending data. Under the new measures, the period of time over which reoffences by adult offenders are recorded has been reduced from two years to one year. The time allowed for convictions to be made and processed has also been reduced from nine months to six months. This will provide a more timely measure of adult reoffending and allows us to align reporting of the adult and juvenile reoffending data.

Comparisons over time

To ensure the figures are as transparent as possible, recalculated reoffending data for the period 2000 to 2004 (to 2005 for juveniles) will be published so that fair comparisons can be made over time. We will also continue to publish a reoffending rate that compares the actual and predicted rates.

Results

On 9 May the latest adult reoffending figures for 2005 will be published using the new reoffending measures. The National Statistics bulletin will also contain recalculated reoffending figures using the new metric from 2000-04 for adults and 2000-05 for juveniles (excluding the year 2001) so that meaningful comparisons can be made under the new measures.

Transport

Learning to Drive

Over the past decade Britain’s roads have become much safer. The number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents has fallen by a third, keeping road travel in this country safer than almost anywhere else in the world.

But we cannot afford to be complacent when on average nine people a day die on our roads. In particular, we must do more to help make newly qualified drivers safer, one in five of whom has some kind of accident within six months of passing their test.

We must ensure that people learning to drive are taught the skills they need to be safe drivers when they start driving alone. It is time for a new approach to learning to drive. We must make sure that novice drivers are safe drivers when they have passed their test. We must also create an expectation of lifelong learning, so that people continue advanced learning after their test.

That is why I am today publishing a consultation paper targeted at improving the training and testing of new drivers.

Our research shows that we must make sure that learners demonstrate not only good skills, but also safe attitudes and proper understanding of road conditions before they are allowed to drive unsupervised. We will build improved learning opportunities and assessments to support these standards, as well as strengthen the quality of driving instruction available. We will also provide new opportunities for learning both before and after the driving test. This will help new drivers become better, safer, motorists and save lives.

Our proposals include:

a new foundation course, available at schools and colleges, leading to a qualification on safe road use.

a more focused and thorough learning process before the driving test, which focuses not just on vehicle control but also the wider skills needed to be a safe driver, from driving in difficult conditions—for example at night or in poor weather—to learning to predict and respond to other road users’ intentions;

a new training syllabus to ensure learners understand what is required of them to become a responsible driver, enable them to undertake structured and efficient learning and accurately assess when they are ready to pass their driving test;

an improved driving test which requires the driver to demonstrate independent driving skills and clear understanding of different situations on the road, with the option of modular assessment;

new opportunities to take extra training post-test; working with the insurance industry and employers in the driving for work sector we will develop new courses and qualifications to be taken after the driving test that could lead to lower premiums and a better chance of securing a career in the driving for work sector;

a star rating system for driving instructors so that learners can make an informed choice based on pass rates and the level of training instructors have undergone; and

a review of driving instructor training and testing to ensure they provide a quality service and are focussed on those areas of driving performance that are closely linked to safe driving.

In addition to the consultation document being published today, we also intend to publish within the next few months a consultation paper on how we intend to crack down on the reckless minority and deliver improved road safety enforcement and compliance.

Copies of the consultation document have been made available in the Libraries of both Houses.