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Written Statements

Volume 481: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 27 October 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Support for Business

My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has made the following ministerial statement:

Effective credit is key to helping small businesses survive during the current financial climate. The Government are on the side of small and medium-sized businesses and understand that they are facing tough times. We want to help businesses to plan for the difficult times ahead.

On Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise met with the main banks responsible for lending to small and medium-sized businesses. I am pleased to announce to the House that they have agreed the establishment of a new forum where banks and small business organisations will meet regularly to discuss and resolve their concerns. My noble Friend the Secretary of State will chair this forum, but the agreements reached will be owned and taken forward by banks and small businesses.

Both my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my noble Friend the Secretary of State understand the concerns of small businesses. They are committed to ensuring that both new and existing small businesses have access to the finance that they need to help them survive during the financial downturn. Communication between banks and small businesses can promote a shared understanding and enhance business confidence.

This agreement demonstrates the Government’s continuing commitment to maintain and raise awareness of the availability of finance for small and medium-sized businesses through the small firms loan guarantee scheme and the European Investment Bank.

Further details on the forum will be available on the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website at: www.berr.gov.uk.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Natural and Marine Environment, Wildlife and Rural Affairs and I will represent the United Kingdom at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. Richard Lochhead will also attend.

There will be the usual approval of the list of ‘A’ points, followed by fisheries items. The Council is due to agree proposals and discuss the following:

Fixing the fishing opportunities and associated conditions for fish stocks in the Baltic sea for 2009;

Fixing for 2009 and 2010 the fishing opportunities for community fishing vessels for certain deep-sea fish stocks;

Fixing the fishing opportunities and the conditions for certain fish stocks applicable in the Black sea for 2009;

Bilateral fisheries agreement with Norway;

Establishing the community position in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

On agriculture there will be discussions on the school fruit scheme, CAP health check, and the placing on the market of timber and timber products.

The following issues will be raised under any other business:

Crisis in the potato processing market in certain new MS;

Conclusions from the 23rd conference of EU paying agencies;

Information from the Commission on a green paper on agricultural product quality;

How to use unspent CAP funds.

Transport

Driving Standards Agency Fees 2009

I have today published a consultation paper seeking views on fees and charges proposed for Driving Standards Agency services in 2009.

The fees and charges are grouped into three areas:

Fees for learner drivers.

Fees relating to the approved driving instructor scheme.

Charges relating to non-statutory services.

Copies of the consultation paper and initial impact assessments have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The documents are also available from the DSA website at: www.dsa.gov.uk or by telephone on 0115 936 6099.

Those wishing to comment on the proposals have until 18 January 2009 to do so.

Wales

Delivering Digital Inclusion: An Action Plan for Consultation

As Minister with responsibility for digital inclusion, on Friday 24 October, I published “Delivering Digital Inclusion: An Action Plan for Consultation”, with proposals for achieving greater digital inclusion.

Inequality in the use and application of digital technologies is a new driver of social exclusion in the 21st century and carries an immediate and urgent risk of accelerating existing social divides and creating new ones.

The opportunities provided by digital technologies are not enjoyed by all—for example, 17 million people in the UK still do not use computers and the Internet and there is a strong correlation between digital and social exclusion.

There are also significant opportunities to use technology better indirectly to support better service delivery through, for example, the equipping of frontline staff or better service planning.

With the Cabinet Committee for Digital Inclusion, and a cross-Government Digital Inclusion Team in place, we now have effective governance to drive forward further action. Government are currently taking forward over 70 actions across the public sector, detailed in the annex to this document, and outside of Government much excellent work to tackle digital inclusion is taking place, but we now need to extend its reach and impact.

We are consulting on both the analysis we have set out in this document and the proposed actions. Of particular note is the introduction of a Charter for Digital Inclusion and an expert taskforce which would inform the work of a new Digital Inclusion Champion, who will take on the role of championing the digital inclusion needs of the most disadvantaged citizens and communities.

The role and responsibilities of the Champion, and the objectives of the Digital Inclusion Charter, will form part of the consultation so that the views of stakeholders can be taken into account.

We invite all those with an interest in digital inclusion to take part in this consultation, and to play a role in influencing the future direction of change.

The consultation, which closes on 19 January 2009, can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/consultations.

A copy of “Delivering Digital Inclusion: An Action Plan for Consultation” and the annex to the plan, have been deposited in the Library of the House.

Work and Pensions

Employment and Support Allowance

As hon. Members are aware, the Welfare Reform Act 2007 and the Welfare Reform Act (Northern Ireland) 2007 contain provision for a key element of the Government’s Welfare Reform proposals including the introduction of employment and support allowance.

I am pleased to confirm that employment and support allowance has successfully gone live this morning. This means that any new customer wishing to make a claim on the grounds of ill health or disability is able to contact Jobcentre Plus to make a claim for ESA and that the new business and IT systems are in place to support this.

Today is the start of customers’ journey on ESA which includes a clear framework of rights and responsibilities delivered using an enhanced regime of work-focused interviews, with a firmer conditionality regime.

To support ESA we have introduced an end-to-end ESA customer service supported by an initial business operating model and supporting IT. All ESA claims will be taken in one of the six contact centres that will handle ESA customers’ claims. The full integrated IT system will be tested through the trailblazer in Tees Valley, in its benefit delivery centre and associated jobcentres. The rest of the benefit delivery centre and jobcentre network will operate an interim process to provide an opportunity for DWP to learn from initial deployment to ensure a fully optimised system rolls out nationally.

Guidance (Social Fund Guide)

The Secretary of State will be making changes to the discretionary social fund, with effect from 27 October 2008, because of the introduction of employment and support allowance. Income-related employment and support allowance is added to the qualifying benefits for community care grants and budgeting loans. People in receipt of income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and pension credit are already eligible.