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Written Statements

Volume 494: debated on Friday 19 June 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 19 June 2009

Children, Schools and Families

Partnerships for Schools

Building Schools for the Future is helping transform secondary school infrastructure in England, providing world-class teaching and learning environments for pupils, teachers and communities. Since the programme was established, more than £3 billion of funding has been committed to rebuilding and renewing the estate, with over 75 schools now benefiting from this investment. Around a third of all secondary schools are now involved in the programme.

In 2004, the Department created Partnerships for Schools to manage the programme centrally and support local authorities in local implementation. The funding and management of Partnerships for Schools has been carried out under a joint venture between the Department and Partnerships UK. Partnerships UK was set up to help the Government deliver improvements in public services particularly where major infrastructure renewal programmes are involved.

Through the joint venture, Partnerships UK has made a significant contribution to the successful delivery of Building Schools for the Future by providing strategic, commercial, programme and project management expertise, and in the early years secondment of key staff. Since 2006 Partnerships UK has also been supporting Partnerships for Schools in the construction of new academies. As the National Audit Office pointed out in its recent report on “Building Schools for the Future” (published on 12 February 2009), “the effect [of the joint venture arrangement] has been to engender top level attention to BSF in PUK, and greater in-depth support and commitment”, and this has been crucial in establishing the programme.

Following the success in setting up these programmes, and recognising Partnerships for Schools’ increasing maturity as an organisation and the plans to enlarge their remit later this year, the Department and Partnerships UK have reviewed the governance arrangements for Partnerships for Schools and have agreed that it is no longer necessary for Partnerships UK to engage as intensively as through the joint venture, which was focused on Building Schools for the Future. It has therefore been agreed to bring the joint venture to an end.

Going forward, Partnerships UK will maintain an active involvement in the delivery of Building Schools for the Future and other capital programmes by continuing to provide support through an existing alternative contractual basis rather than through the joint venture. As part of the new arrangements, the chief executive of Partnerships UK will be an ex officio board member and director of Partnerships for Schools, and the finance director of Partnerships UK an ex officio observer to the board.

As a result of the termination of the joint venture the Department is paying Partnerships UK an amount of £22.4 million. This sum repays Partnerships UK for its share of the funding of the joint venture plus a return on that investment. The return remunerates Partnerships UK for interest on its investment, the risks associated, and the support and commitment to the programmes provided to date.

Health

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 8 and 9 June in Luxembourg. The Health and Consumer Affairs part of the Council was taken on 9 June. Andy Lebrecht, Deputy Permanent Representative at UKRep represented the UK.

At the meeting, the Council adopted recommendations on the Czech presidency theme of patient safety, including the prevention and control of healthcare associated infections and on action in the field of rare diseases. The United Kingdom supported the adoption of these conclusions.

The presidency provided a progress report on the proposal for a directive on cross-border healthcare, which was followed by a debate between member states where it was clear that there remain concerns among member states on treatments to be included under the directive. The UK intervened to thank the Czech presidency for their work taking this dossier forward, and welcomed the Council’s firm support for certain fundamental principles—in particular that of ensuring that member states retain the ability to determine healthcare entitlements. The UK noted that there remained some technical issues to be resolved in chapters 1 to 3, and that we still had serious concerns about the extent and appropriateness of some provisions of chapter four (on co-operation between healthcare systems).

Over lunch, there was a discussion from the Commission on H1N1(A) influenza, following a paper the Commission had provided to member states in advance.

The afternoon discussion focused on the “pharmaceutical package”. The majority of member states who intervened welcomed the proposals on counterfeit medicines and pharmacovigilance, as did the UK. Most of member states, however, were not supportive of the third element of the package: the proposals on “information to patients”. The UK noted that the divergent views across Europe meant that discussion of a harmonised legal framework was difficult. However, the UK encouraged member states to find a way to keep the issues under discussion. Under any other business, the presidency and Commission provided information on a range of issues including a summary of the lunchtime discussion on swine flu, a directive on standards of quality and safety of human organs intended for transplantation, the outcome of a Council working party on public health at senior level and information on ingredients in tobacco products. The incoming Swedish presidency provided information on their priorities for health, which they intend to take forward under their presidency.

Prime Minister

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Western European Union (UK Delegation)

The Earl of Dundee DL has been appointed as a substitute member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union in place of Baroness O’Cathain OBE.

Security and Intelligence Services

I have recently appointed Desmond Bowen CMG as Staff Counsellor for the security and intelligence services, with effect from 6 April 2009. He was a civil servant from 1973 until he retired, as Policy Director at the Ministry of Defence, in October 2008.

John Warne CB has served as Staff Counsellor since February 2004. His appointment was due to end in February 2009, although he kindly agreed to extend his term to 5 April. I would like to thank him for his work during his time in office and in particular for the valuable support he has provided to staff working in the security and intelligence services.

Transport

Rail Accidents (Grayrigg and Potters Bar)

My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, has made the following ministerial statement:

Further to the written statements by the then Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) on 23 October 2008, Official Report, column 19WS and 19 November 2008, Official Report, column 24WS, I would like to inform the House that following careful consideration, including those representations made by affected parties, I have decided that the public interest is best served by the continuation of the two inquests that have begun into the deaths resulting from the rail accidents at Potters Bar and at Grayrigg. I have therefore decided not to convene a public inquiry into the accidents, either individually or jointly.

I regret the length of time taken to reach this point, and the anxiety that this may have caused to those who have lost loved ones. However, the chronology of events and the issues are complex and I considered it important to ensure that my decision regarding the next steps is the right one.

Having considered the material before me, I am satisfied that separate inquests will allow for appropriate further independent investigations of the accidents, with the bereaved and injured able to participate and express their views and concerns in a transparent forum open to public scrutiny. Although the conduct of the inquests is a matter for the coroners, the inquests will be capable of examining the relevant issues raised by the accidents, including those that are common to both.

Safety on the rail network is a paramount consideration. In relation to the Grayrigg accident, I am satisfied that the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has carried out a thorough investigation into the accident as part of the new rail safety and accident investigation regime, which included consideration of relevant issues arising from earlier accidents including Potters Bar. In particular, I note that the RAIB consulted with key stakeholders, including the bereaved, prior to the publication of its final report, during which process no further lines of work or testing by RAIB were identified. There will be a further independent examination of the accident during an inquest, which I am satisfied is capable of addressing any relevant questions that remain unanswered. I shall make funds available to the Coroner for South and East Cumbria, to assist him in carrying out a full investigation, if these are requested.

With regard to the Potters Bar accident, it has already been established that there will be an enhanced inquest into that accident, and funding has previously been agreed to enable the Hertfordshire coroner to appoint an assistant deputy for this purpose. A High Court judge, Mr. Justice Sullivan, had been appointed accordingly; but he has since been made a Lord Justice of Appeal. We are working with the Lord Chief Justice to identify an appropriate judge to act as an assistant coroner in the Potters Bar inquest and I understand that he hopes to make a decision shortly. This inquest, which was adjourned following the Grayrigg accident, will provide an opportunity for a further independent examination of the Potters Bar accident, with the bereaved and injured able to participate in a forum that is open and transparent. I consider that, in the light of the court’s comments during the earlier judicial review proceedings, the proposed full inquest into the Potters Bar accident should be capable of addressing any relevant unanswered questions.

The travelling public will want to be assured that the rail network is safe; I have an identical interest. I note that, in October 2008, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the independent rail safety regulator, assured the then Secretary of State that no further immediate actions to ensure the safety of passengers and staff were necessary as a result of RAIB’s final report into Grayrigg, beyond those that had already been taken.

Moreover, in the light of the significant changes and improvements to the railway safety regime during the period between the Potters Bar and Grayrigg accidents, I believe it is in the public interest that the new structures are allowed to operate as intended. I note that actions have already been taken by RAIB and ORR following the Grayrigg accident to secure the ongoing safety of the railway. Since I am satisfied that effective investigation and action have already taken place, I see no good reason to take steps which may call the new structures into question prematurely or which might be seen as questioning the independence, value and outcome of the RAIB investigation into Grayrigg before the ORR, the rail industry and others have had a sufficient opportunity to act upon all of its recommendations.

As stated in the written statement to Parliament by the then Secretary of State on 23 October 2008, the Government consider it essential to ensure that the way forward selected is one that will deliver closure to those who were affected, as soon as possible. I do not consider that any significant advantage in timing would be achieved by setting up a public inquiry, such as to outweigh other considerations in favour of proceeding with two inquests, as has been suggested by some of those who made representations to me. The timetable for further investigations into these accidents is a matter for the coroners, who may wish to discuss the timing of the inquests given that there may be some overlap between the interested persons involved. However, even if the separate inquests are held sequentially, I anticipate that the two inquests are capable of being completed to a similar timescale as would apply to a public inquiry. In these circumstances, I consider that the way forward selected is consistent with my objective of helping to deliver closure to those affected with minimal delay.

I am grateful for the comments and observations received from interested parties, which have served to inform me in reaching a decision.

The full text of my decision has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available from the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.