Written Ministerial Statements
Monday 16 June 2008
Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
EU Energy Council
I represented the UK at the Energy Council in Luxembourg on 6 June.
The Council was dominated by negotiations on the internal energy market, resulting in an agreement on a general approach on the third energy package that represents a significant step forward in developing the internal energy market. There was also a short policy debate on the renewables directive in the context of the 2020 climate and energy legislative package, and information from the presidency and Commission on international energy issues.
Discussions on the internal energy market were based on a compromise presidency report, which set out the essential elements of the third energy package. The issue of unbundling was discussed in a restricted session over lunch. Although not all member states were able to agree with all aspects of the report, and some member states argued that the agreement should only cover unbundling, the presidency finally concluded agreement on a general approach on all elements of the third energy package, including agreement on the detail of the unbundling provisions, based on amendments to the presidency report.
The agreement on unbundling is a significant advance on the current arrangements for legal unbundling. I secured agreement that the current grid arrangements in Scotland should be allowed to continue, provided that they guarantee more effective independence of the network operator than the legal unbundling agreed. There was also broad support for the provisions on regulators’ independence and the role of the agency. There will be further discussions of provisions relating to non-EU control of networks to address concerns about implications for protectionism, Commission competence and EU inward investment. The presidency and its successor now have a mandate to complete negotiations on the legal texts, with a view to reaching a common position as soon as possible.
There was a short policy debate on the 2020 climate and energy package, focusing on the draft renewables directive. Member states commented on targets, the trading regime and biofuels. For the UK, I tabled a joint paper with two other member states proposing a simplified intra-EU renewables trading system to help member states secure the EU renewables targets most cost effectively. On biofuels, some member states emphasised the importance of a sustainability framework reflecting the 2007 Spring European Council conclusions.
On international energy relations, the Commission reported on recent activity on a variety of initiatives, including the EU-OPEC dialogue, implementation of the Energy Community Treaty, the memorandum of understanding with Turkmenistan, and EU-Russia relations.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Rural Payments Agency
I have set the Rural Payments Agency the following performance targets for 2008-09:
To have paid 80 per cent. by value of valid 2008 single payment scheme (SPS) claims by 31 January 2009 and 90 per cent. by value of valid 2008 SPS claims by 31 March 2009.
To process and pay at least 90 per cent. of valid claims, by volume, for trader and rural development implementation schemes (TARDIS) within ministerial guidelines, and 99 per cent. within the set EU Commission deadlines or in their absence 60 days of receipt of the claim.
To record 98 per cent. of notifications of births, deaths and movements of cattle on the cattle tracing system (CTS) within 14 days of their receipt.
To make 98 per cent. of all rural development programme for England (RDPE) payments on behalf of Natural England and regional development agencies (RDAs) in accordance with agreed service level agreement (SLA) targets.
To demonstrate an improving trend in customer satisfaction by achieving an annual average customer satisfaction score of 6.5 as measured through surveys of external customers and demonstrating a reduction in complaints.
To demonstrate a 10 per cent. reduction from the 2007-08 year in the cost of administering the RPA without compromising service delivery.
To minimise disallowance risks and make payments accurate to within 2 per cent. materiality for all subsidy schemes under RPA’s direct management.
To demonstrate improved capacity and capability to deliver services and implement change.
Further details are given in the RPA business plan for 2008-09, copies of which will be deposited in the Libraries of the House.
Central Science Laboratory
I have set the central science laboratory (CSL) the following performance targets for 2008-09:
Service Delivery Quality
Outputs from applied research R&D are delivered to deadline, meet agreed quality standards, answer the policy questions and are presented in a way that is useful to policy makers and other delivery bodies.
Outputs from monitoring/surveillance are timely, accurate, and their presentation and explication useful to policy makers and other delivery bodies.
To achieve a mean score of 4.2 on a scale of 0 to 5 for the assessment of customer satisfaction to reflect a recalibrated baseline.
Value for Public Money
To recover the full economic costs of the agency’s services from Government Departments, agencies and external customers.
To deliver the efficiency targets set out in the business plan.
Capacity and Capability
To deliver key outcomes against the 2006 science audit implementation—including a communication strategy; a co-ordinated approach to international science collaboration; increasing staff involvement in scientific publications; and commercial exploitation of research outputs.
To extend technical capability to support emergency response strategies across the public sector.
To work with other constituent organisation heads and DEFRA’s delivery transformation programme, providing sufficient CSL resource, in implementing the new Regulatory Science Agency for vesting on 1 April 2009.
Further details are given in the CSL business plan for 2008-09, copies of which have been deposited in the Libraries of the House.
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 9 and 10 June 2008. The health part was held on 10 June. Andy Lebrecht, deputy permanent representative to Brussels, represented the United Kingdom.
The Council adopted conclusions on the Slovenian presidency themes of reducing the burden of cancer and tackling anti-microbial resistance. Ministers also adopted Council conclusions on the implementation mechanisms for the European Union health strategy. The UK intervened on this point to emphasise the importance of the work on health inequalities as part of the health strategy, in particular that this work should have clear links to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report on health inequalities and social determinants by Sir Michael Marmot, to be published in September. The UK invited all member states to a conference in light of the report, due to take place in November in London.
Ministers also adopted Council conclusions on the provision of information to patients on medicinal products. This was followed by a policy debate, where Ministers discussed the Commission’s intention to bring forward a proposal on information to patients on medicinal products in the future, with member states exchanging views and experiences in this area.
Over lunch, there was a discussion on the EU action plan for combating tuberculosis, which was published in February 2008. The discussion was introduced with a presentation from Zsuszanna Jakab, director of the European centre for disease control, who emphasised the importance of EU work with the WHO and third countries to reduce tuberculosis (TB). Member states were supportive of the work and discussed their experiences of tackling TB at a national level.
Under ‘any other business’, Commissioner Androula Vassiliou made a statement about the forthcoming cross-border healthcare directive, which the Commission intend to publish this summer.