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Written Statements

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 23 April 2009

Defence

Harrier Aircraft Support

I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Defence has signed a £574 million, nine-year contract, with BAE Systems for the logistic support of the Harrier fleet until the aircraft’s out-of-service date in 2018.

The Harrier Platform Availability Contract which covers repair, maintenance, provision of spares, fleet upgrades and technical support, builds upon the existing support arrangements that have already achieved significant financial savings along with improved aircraft availability to the front line.

This important work will largely be undertaken at the Harrier fleet’s main operating base at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland and will secure the future of around 300 civilian jobs.

The Harrier GR 9 is currently deployed in Afghanistan and has provided first-class support to NATO forces. This innovative partnering arrangement with BAE Systems will enable the RAF to continue to provide excellent support on operations while allowing BAE Systems to utilise its unique expertise as the design authority for Harrier.

With its emphasis on efficiency and value for money this contract demonstrates the Ministry of Defence’s commitment to partnering UK industry in innovative ways that support our front line forces.

Balkans (Call-out Order)

A new call-out order has been made under section 56 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 so that reservists may continue to be called-out into permanent service to support military operations in the Balkans. The order took effect from 2 April 2009 and ceases to have effect on 1 April 2010.

Currently there are some 20 reservists in theatre filling a variety of different posts, including staff officers, specialists and members of the training teams.

Energy and Climate Change

Warm Front Scheme

Warm Front is one of our key tools for tackling fuel poverty among private sector households in England. The scheme was introduced in 2000 and has helped almost 2 million households vulnerable to fuel poverty with a range of heating, insulation and other energy efficiency measures.

The Government are committed to continuous improvement to the scheme. To that end, a review of the contract with the Warm Front scheme manager, eaga, has been carried out over the last few months. A number of changes have now been agreed to the service procurement and delivery arrangements which will lead to significant improvements to the quality of service provided to customers. These changes will open up the scheme to greater competition through liberalisation of both the equipment and installation supply chains, leading to improved value for money. In addition, eaga will over time be introducing a new computerised surveying process which will improve the quality of service to customers by providing a much clearer picture for householders of the installation work to be carried out. Eaga will be managing the scheme to 31 March 2011, the end of the current spending period.

The scheme will also be further improved by changes to the levels of grant available to householders. The maximum grants currently available are £2,700 or £4,000. I am pleased to say that with effect from today these grant maxima will be increased. There will be two: one of £3,500, and one of £6,000 for harder to treat properties off the gas grid.

These increases will apply to all Warm Front work completed following applications made from today. They will also apply to all applications already in the Warm Front system but where the work has not been started. This will ensure that those households currently in the system do not have to cancel their current application and reapply in order to have the benefit of the new grant maxima.

The increases to the grant maxima require the existing Warm Front regulations to be amended. The Government are currently working on bringing forward the statutory instrument and hope to have the new regulations in force next month.

In addition the scope of the scheme is being expanded to include the installation of low carbon technologies such as solar thermal heating and air source heat pumps, which will help householders generate their own low-cost, renewable energy. These technologies will initially be trialled in small-scale pilot programmes.

These changes will lead to significant improvements to the operation of the scheme. They will mean that fewer households will have to make a contribution and that we are able to help those in harder to treat properties.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 27 April in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Croatia-Enlargement

The Council is likely to take stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Croatia, in particular the delay due to Slovenia blocking the nine chapters ready for opening or closing. The Government believe that bilateral disputes should not delay progress of the accession negotiations. We urge both countries to find a mutually acceptable solution to their territorial dispute and support the efforts of Commissioner Rehn to facilitate this. The Council may also take note of concerns about unsatisfactory Croatian co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in failing to produce key documents requested by the prosecution for the trial of General Gotovina. The Government believe full co-operation with ICTY is essential for progress of Croatia’s accession negotiations.

Employment and Energy Summits

The Council will discuss the Employment summit, to be held on 7 May. The summit will be in “extended troika” format, comprising of troika Heads of State and Government (Czech Republic, Sweden and Spain) and a range of social partners. The summit’s aim will be to allow for an exchange of experiences on the extent to which national economic recovery measures have succeeded in supporting employment. The Government support this aim.

The Council will also discuss the Southern Corridor summit in Prague on 8 May. The Southern Corridor is one of the priority areas identified in the Commission’s Strategic Energy Review in November last year, and the spring European Council recently agreed that concrete proposals on its development should be presented by the end of this year. This summit will help give strong political support to the development of the Southern Corridor as a means of diversifying sources and routes of energy supply to the EU. We expect there to be some discussion at the Council on participation at the event. The Government strongly welcome the summit and the concrete actions set out in the draft declaration.

External Relations

European Neighbourhood Policy

The Council will be briefed by Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner on European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), following a Commission Communication on the implementation of ENP in 2008, and the accompanying set of ENP country progress reports, which are due to be published on 23 April.

Burma

We expect the Council to renew the EU’s common position imposing restrictive measures against Burma, which the Government strongly support. We also expect conclusions underlining the EU’s determination to see political reform and respect for human rights in the country. Discussion will review recent political developments, including the lack of progress by the regime in meeting the international community’s demands, their failure to engage with the UN good offices process, and prospects for what look likely to be flawed elections in 2010.

EU-US Summit follow-up

The Council will discuss the follow-up work from the EU-US summit in Prague on 5 April. The main focus of the summit was on the global economy, but there were also substantial and constructive exchanges on climate change and energy security, the eastern partnership, the middle east peace process, Guantanamo and Afghanistan-Pakistan. On Afghanistan, follow-up work includes agreeing the security arrangements which will enable the supply of EU election monitors, as well to establish other ways in which Europeans can contribute to Afghanistan.

Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

This will be the first GAERC since the formation of the Netanyahu Government. The Czech presidency is awaiting the outcome of the Israeli policy review and does not currently plan MEPP Council conclusions at this Council. We expect Ministers to express their support for a comprehensive and regional approach to the MEPP and to raise continuing concerns on Gaza as well as on Israeli settlement activity. US special envoy Senator Mitchell will have briefed the EU’s Political and Security Committee on 22 April, which may influence discussion at this GAERC.

Iran

Discussions are likely to focus on the US Administration’s decision to engage directly with Iran and play a full role in future E3 plus 3 negotiations. Member states will also look to the Council secretariat to update them on the Iranian response to the E3 plus 3’s invitation to recommence talks as soon as possible.

We will encourage the EU to state its clear support for the new US approach. We will stress the opportunity that the E3 plus 3 offer presents to Iran and the necessity for the EU to give its full backing to the renewed diplomatic efforts and the dual track strategy. We will look to the Council to issue conclusions to that effect. We will encourage further discussions on Iran over the coming months in the EU as the diplomatic situation develops.

Moldova

Elections were held in Moldova on 5 April. Ministers will discuss the conduct of the elections and the demonstrations that followed. The UK condemns acts of violence, including the destruction caused to the Moldovan Parliament and the Presidential Palace. However, there have been reports of alleged ill treatment of detainees, and other human rights violations. Ministers are likely to emphasise the importance the EU attaches to human rights enshrined in its relations with Moldova.

Ukraine

Ministers are likely to focus on recent economic developments, and the news that the Ukrainian authorities and the International Monetary Fund have been able to agree to proceed to the disbursement of the second tranche of the stand-by agreement.

AOB

Eastern Partnership Summit

The Council will look ahead to the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague on 7 May. We expect the presidency to update member states on the objectives and arrangements for the summit.

Migration

There will be a short discussion of illegal migration in the Mediterranean region.

Health

Adult Social Care Workforce Strategy

I am today publishing the Adult Social Care Work Force Strategy. The adult social care work force is made up of about 1.5 million hard-working, committed, and talented people working in many different roles making a real difference to people’s lives—about 1.75 million older people and adults of working age currently use social care services.

England, like many other countries, faces substantial demographic change during the twenty-first century with an ageing population and already more people over 65 than under 16 for the first time in our history.

Our aim is to make sure that the sector has a high quality work force in place to deliver personalised services for years to come. The strategy will boost the status of social care so that the sector can attract and retain the best and brightest candidates. A series of initiatives will be announced in the strategy.

Budget 2009 announces Care First, a new scheme offering 50,000 traineeships in social care for young people. Up to £75 million will be made available to social care providers through subsidies for offering sustained employment and training to young people (aged 18-24) who have been out of work for 12 months, giving them the skills and experience they need for a career in the sector.

The strategy also outlines plans to increase the numbers of apprenticeships in the sector, and the development of a national management trainee programme, which will begin later this year.

We have also been working with the General Social Care Council to look at proportionate approaches to the future regulation of the wider social care work force. The strategy sets out the expectation that the General Social Care Council will introduce a register of home care workers from early 2010, initially on a voluntary basis.

The strategy has been placed in the Library of the House and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

International Development

North-South Corridor Conference

I represented the UK at the North-South Corridor Conference held in Lusaka on 6 and 7 April, attended by Presidents of Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia, and other Ministers from the region. The presidents, on behalf of their respective regional economic communities, announced plans to implement critical reforms to improve cross-border trade, reduce transport delays and costs, and promote public and private investment. For their part, donors agreed to provide $1.2 billion of funding to meet the costs of this comprehensive programme to upgrade road, rail, port and energy infrastructure. I announced the UK Government’s commitment of £100 million over five years towards this total.

The North-South Corridor programme will upgrade 4,000 km of road—the equivalent to the road distance between Barcelona and Athens—and rehabilitate 600 km of rail track. It will work with the Governments of Tanzania, DRC, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa to remove red tape, allowing a greater and quicker flow of goods regionally and internationally. Power supply and transmission in the region will also improve with new investments accelerating the generation of 35GW of new power capacity through the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) region by 2015.

The North-South Corridor programme is an innovative aid for trade initiative that could offer a model for increasing trade and deepening regional integration in Africa. It is consistent with the recent G20 agreements to ensure more open trading, continued investment flows to developing countries, and well-financed trade. Investing in both the physical infrastructure along the North-South Corridor and cutting bureaucratic red tape between these countries will improve trading and investment opportunities in the region and increase prospects for generating growth, creating jobs and reducing poverty. In an economic downturn, it is vital that economies are kept moving and the North-South Corridor will play a vital role in opening up trade in Africa through improved transport infrastructure, more efficient borders and reliable energy supplies.

Justice

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (Quarterly Monitoring Statistics)

Today I have deposited copies of the “Freedom of Information Act 2000—Statistics on Implementation in Central Government: Q4—October-December 2008” in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

This is the quarterly monitoring statistics report analysing the performance of central Government in the fourth full year of freedom of information.