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Written Statements

Volume 486: debated on Monday 12 January 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 12 January 2009

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Sale of BNFL Assets

Further to the previous Secretary of State’s announcement on 16 July 2007, Official Report, column 1WS, regarding the planned sale by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) of its one third stake in Atomic Weapons Establishment Management Ltd (AWEML), I can confirm that agreement was reached on 17 December 2008 to sell the one third stake to a UK subsidiary of the Jacobs Engineering Group, subject to clearance under EU merger control requirements. The terms of the deal remain commercially sensitive.

Jacobs is already working as a key strategic partner to AWEML and their acquisition of BNFL’s one-third stake followed a competitive process conducted by BNFL in close consultation with the BERR and the Ministry of Defence (MOD). HMG is satisfied that the sale of BNFL’s one third stake to Jacobs achieves the dual objective of maximising shareholder return from the stake while ensuring that a strong AWEML consortium is in place under Government owned contractor operated arrangements to manage the enduring performance of AWEML’s subsidiary, AWE plc, which is responsible for the day-to-day operation of AWE itself and for meeting the requirements of the customer, the MOD. The MOD is satisfied that Jacobs meets the relevant security requirements.

Strategic requirements and the UK deterrent programme are set by the UK Government. UK nuclear forces will remain fully operationally independent; decision-making and the use of the system remains entirely sovereign to the UK. All AWE sites and assets remain in Government ownership, as they have done since AWE was first contractorised in 1993. The MOD continues to hold a special share in AWE plc, which would allow the MOD to assume control of AWE plc, should that become necessary.

Treasury

Saving Gateway Accounts Bill

Today, in advance of the Second Reading of the Saving Gateway Accounts Bill, I am publishing draft regulations in relation to eligibility for Saving Gateway accounts. Copies have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available in the Vote Office and on the HM Treasury website.

Health

Cord Blood Banking

As part of a review of the collection and use of umbilical cord blood, the Department commissioned a study of current practice in the United Kingdom compared with that found in Canada, China, France, Japan, Spain and the United States. The study produced a report entitled “Cord Blood Banking in the UK—an international comparison of policy and practice”.

The Department is pleased that the study found practice in the UK to be comparable to that elsewhere. Furthermore, we agree there is a need for detailed consideration of the collection and use of cord blood and a joined-up approach to service provision. Along with our partners in other Government bodies and the third sector, we have already started to consider what further needs to be done. This will ensure the UK remains at the forefront of this work and able to meet its international obligations in matching stem cell donations to patients in need of a transplant.

A copy of the report has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Written Answer (Correction)

I regret that the written answer given to the hon. Member for Birmingham, (Selly Oak) on 16 December, Official Report, column 662W, was incorrect. The correct information is as follows:

The Department is a member of the inter-ministerial group on reducing reoffending which meets regularly to monitor the Government’s ongoing commitment to equivalence of healthcare for those detained in prison.

We are now committed to progressing a cross-departmental consultation “Improving Health, Supporting Justice”. This examines ways that services can be better delivered to people in contact with the police, courts, prison and probation services by mainstreaming their access to health and social care.

Work and Pensions

Support for Jobseekers

The Government are today announcing further measures to strengthen the support we offer to people who have been unemployed for six months. This builds on a number of measures already taken to respond to the consequences of the global economic downturn for employment in this country.

We have already quadrupled the funds available to Jobcentre Plus’ rapid response service so that we can provide more comprehensive support to people facing redundancy, for example by providing information on alternative jobs and arranging on-site job fairs.

We have a guaranteed offer available to everyone who claims jobseeker’s allowance that they will get advice on finding a new job; help to write a new CV and to fill in job applications; retraining and skills advice; help for those eligible with their rent and with their mortgage from 13 weeks; and access to the thousands of new vacancies received by Jobcentre Plus every working day. After three months of a person’s claim they will have a further discussion with a Jobcentre Plus personal adviser where their original jobseeker’s agreement is reviewed, and jobsearch is extended to a wider range of vacancies.

The Department for Work and Pensions was also allocated an extra £1.3 billion in last year’s pre-Budget report so that Jobcentre Plus and contracted providers could maintain a high level of service for those who find themselves out of work.

These and other measures have helped to ensure that people continue to leave jobseeker’s allowance quickly—the great majority within six months of claiming.

The new measures announced today will provide additional help for people who are still unemployed after six months. First, we are enhancing the support offered by Jobcentre Plus advisers. This will mean more time spent between an adviser and an unemployed person reviewing their job search activities and seeing how they can apply more effectively for the vacancies available. Evidence shows that if people continue to be supported and motivated to look for work they will find a job more quickly. From April this year, everyone reaching six months unemployed will benefit from this increased support.

Secondly, we will be making available an expanded range of work and training options that an adviser would be able to offer customers. These will be jobs supported by recruitment subsidies, support to start a business, work-related training and voluntary work opportunities.

Eligible customers would attract a subsidy typically worth £2,500—comprising a £1,000 recruitment or self-employment subsidy and Train to Gain funding worth on average £1,500. The recruitment subsidy of £1,000 will be offered to employers who are committed to working with us to recruit jobless people through Local Employment Partnerships. In England, as well as the recruitment subsidy the employer will also be able to access Train to Gain funding of up to £1,500 to provide training. It will be a targeted subsidy—employers will not be able to claim it by right and we will not make any payments if the employer has dismissed or made redundant any existing employees in order to recruit someone under this option.

We will encourage self-employment by arranging short focused courses and joining up with Business Link in England, working with Business Gateway in Scotland and the Assembly Government’s Flexible Support for Business programme in Wales. We will also work with private and voluntary sector providers to give people knowledge and confidence to set up a business. For those who show a real interest in taking this option we will then offer financial support during the first few months while they get their business going.

In order to qualify the individual must have an agreed and signed-off business plan. The subsidy will ease the transition from benefit, help with start-up costs and ensure a level of income in the first few months of trading. We will also explore helping individuals to access loans and wider financial support. Our involvement should not end once the individual signs off benefit, and we will encourage individuals to stay in touch with their personal adviser, with the appropriate business service and also make the most of the Train to Gain and equivalent offers in Scotland and Wales.

For others the best route back into a job will be acquiring economically valuable skills and qualifications through work-focused training. Additional training places will be made available which are flexible enough to enable job search to continue while a person is undertaking the training and to continue where that person finds a job in the middle of the course. Equipping unemployed people with additional skills will enable the UK to capitalise on the job opportunities of the future. This additional support at the six month stage complements the £100 million in additional skills funding previously announced for those affected by redundancy. The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales also have skills training budgets for the unemployed. We will work with them to co-ordinate provision and maximise access to programmes for Jobcentre Plus customers at the six months stage or earlier for the individual.

Voluntary work can also prove helpful in providing skills and experience which help people take up paid employment. With the help of third sector partners, we will strengthen our existing signposting to suitable opportunities by providing access to volunteering placements. These would be short placements designed to help people learn relevant skills for an area of work they are interested in rather than lengthy spells of full-time activity which could take someone away from the labour market. During a period of volunteering a person would remain on JSA and be subject to conditions attached to the benefit.

These measures build on the policies already in place to ensure that we will not write off a generation by doing nothing while people are worried about losing their job, or finding a new one. We will do everything we can to help people into jobs. The longer a person is out of work the harder we will work to support them.