Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 2 December 2009
Business, Innovation and Skills
Post Office Banking (Government Consultation)
My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills has made the following statement:
The Post Office is one of the most trusted institutions in the country. It stands at the heart of communities up and down the country, offering face to face access to essential services through its network of 11,500 branches. The Government are committed to a secure and sustainable future for the Post Office network, and have committed up to £1.7 billion of funding to support the Post Office network to 2011.
The Post Office is already a successful provider of financial services. It provides a wide range of savings, loans (including mortgages), and insurance products. It is also the UK’s leading foreign exchange provider. But we want it to do more and to build on this successful platform. It is for this reason that the Prime Minister announced on 29 September that he wanted “the Post Office to play a much bigger role, bringing banking services back to the heart of people’s communities.”
To take this forward, the Government are today launching a 12-week national consultation on Post Office banking. The consultation will set out clearly what the Post Office already offers in terms of financial services; it will draw comparisons with Post Banks around the world; and it will set out the Government’s vision for Post Office banking and the values that should underpin it. These values are that Post Office banking should be universal, trusted, accessible and sustainable.
In addition, the consultation invites views on a number of proposals for new financial products that the Post Office could offer. These include: a Post Office current account, a children’s savings account to encourage saving at the Post Office from an early age, new services for small businesses including a Post Office business account, and a weekly budgeting account to allow those on low incomes to take advantage of direct debits and reduced bills.
We will be asking people whether they agree that these are the right areas to focus on and which banking services they would like to see at their local post office. This consultation sets the scene for an expansion in banking in Post Offices. It could result in important new business for our Post Offices and important new services for the public.
The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 2 December 2009. The following items are on the agenda:
Regulations establishing three European Supervisory Authorities
Ministers will discuss regulations establishing three European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs): a European Banking Authority, a European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority and a European Securities and Markets Authority. At June European Council the UK supported the establishment of a European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) and the three new ESAs. The Government will now be looking to ensure those agreements are upheld.
a) VAT: Draft directive on reverse charge on emission allowances and certain goods
The Council will seek a general approach on a draft VAT directive regarding an optional and temporary application of the reverse charge mechanism in relation to supplies of certain goods and services susceptible to fraud. The presidency has tabled a compromise proposal which includes emissions allowances, mobile phones and computer chips and extends the application until June 2015. The Government support the draft proposal.
b) VAT treatment of postal services
Following its removal from the November ECOFIN agenda, the Council will be asked to provide political guidelines on the possible way forward for VAT on postal services.
c) Savings Tax Directive
ECOFIN will be asked to reach political agreement on proposed amendments to the Savings Tax Directive, which is the main EU instrument for tackling cross-border tax evasion on savings income, by automatic exchange of information. The proposal closes loopholes in the directive and extends its scope to cover income substantially equivalent to savings interest, such as income from life insurance products and low risk securities. This and the following items have strong links to the international transparency agenda, including work by the G20 on tax havens and non-co-operative jurisdictions, which has been led by the UK under its G20 presidency in 2009.
d) Recovery Directive
The recovery directive is aimed at improving existing procedures for recovery of direct and indirect tax debts, including on income tax, VAT, excise duties and EU agricultural levies. The Government support the extended provisions, which will reduce the opportunities for businesses and individuals to escape paying tax which is legally due in one member state, by moving to another member state.
e) Administrative Co-operation Directive
After discussions in November, ECOFIN will try to agree a general approach on this directive. The directive improves exchange of information and brings the EU into line with OECD standards by removing the right to refuse information on grounds of bank secrecy. The Government support these goals.
Anti-fraud agreements with third countries
The Council will reopen ECOFIN discussions on the draft anti-fraud agreement with Liechtenstein, and a negotiating mandate for anti-fraud agreements with Andorra, Monaco, Switzerland and San Marino. The proposed agreements provide for exchange of information to international standards in administrative and criminal matters in the tax field and related areas.
Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact
Following preparation by the Economic and Financial Committee (EFC), ECOFIN will sign off decisions and recommendations for the revised Excessive Deficit Procedures of the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Greece. The recommendations are in line with recent agreements in ECOFIN and the European Council on the EU’s framework for fiscal exit strategies.
Preparations for the 10 and 11 December European Council
a) Financial supervision
The presidency will indicate how the December European Council will be informed on progress, taking into account the results of the Council deliberations on the micro—and macro-supervisory elements of the package.
b) Contribution from ECOFIN to the discussion on the post-2010 Lisbon agenda
Ministers will agree a set of conclusions on the direction of a successor to the Lisbon strategy. The Government support the conclusions, which help build momentum towards the December European Council, where EU Heads will discuss a set of principles for a new European strategy for jobs and growth.
c) Exit strategies
Following on from discussions in November, Ministers will be asked to agree a set of conclusions on financial exit strategies. The UK is content with the conclusions as they stand, which recognise that it is important to start designing the strategy for a transparent and coordinated phasing out of the different support schemes, but emphasise that it would be premature to initiate an exit from the support schemes while markets are still fragile.
Financial stability arrangements
ECOFIN will discuss and agree conclusions on financial stability, focusing on improvements in cross-border crisis management in the banking sector. The Government are content with the conclusions, which recognise the value of co-ordination among member states and with external partners. They also endorse the principles of firm-specific recovery and resolution plans.
Energy and Climate Change
My noble Friend the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change today made the following statement:
I am pleased to inform the House that the Department of Energy and Climate Change is today publishing “Towards a smarter future: Government response to the consultation on electricity and gas smart metering.” This document summarises responses to the consultation on smart metering published by the Government in May 2009 and sets out the Government’s conclusions.
Smart meters will pave the way for a transformation in the way that energy is supplied and consumed, contributing to our goals of energy security and carbon reduction. They will provide energy consumers with real-time information about their energy use, enabling them to monitor and reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions. Smart meters will support improved energy efficiency advice and facilitate smoother, faster switching between suppliers. They are an important first step towards the future development of a “smarter grid” delivering improved network efficiency and responsiveness, in turn this will help facilitate the introduction and increased use of renewable energy and ultra low carbon vehicles (electric and plug-in hybrids).
In October 2008 we announced our intention to mandate a roll out of electricity and gas smart meters to all homes in Great Britain with the aim of completing the roll out by the end of 2020. The May 2009 consultation document addressed fundamental issues for the organisation of the roll out. In particular the consultation document made proposals for the delivery model for domestic smart meters, the minimum high level functional requirements for smart meters, and the approach to extending meter functionality requirements in the small and medium non-domestic sector. Our decisions on these fundamental points will provide the platform for the detailed work now required to move towards the roll out of smart meters.
The delivery model for domestic smart meters
The Government have concluded that the “Central Communications” model offers the best approach to Britain’s domestic smart meter roll out. Under this model the energy supply companies will be responsible for procuring and installing meters, while communications between the meters and utility companies will be co-ordinated centrally. The Central Communications model combines strong incentives for energy suppliers to deliver a high quality service to their customers, with wide scope to simplify and improve industry processes, making it easier to switch between suppliers. We believe that this approach will minimise the time and risk involved in preparing for roll out, in particular since it avoids changing the disposition of responsibility for metering services. Metering is currently the responsibility of energy suppliers and this model avoids fundamental change to these arrangements. We also believe that the development of smart grids can be fostered effectively under this approach, in particular by ensuring the requirements of network business are reflected appropriately in the minimum meter specification and the communications solution.
The high-level smart functionality requirements for domestic electricity and gas meters and the provision of a real-time display and information
The Government also confirm the proposals set out in the consultation document on high-level smart meter functionality requirements, with the exception of functionality to remotely enable/disable gas supply. In respect of the latter issue, we believe further work is needed to assess issues raised in consultation responses before reaching final decisions. A range of proposals were made in relation to the requirements of smart grids, but we have concluded that smart grid functionality is a subset of the high level requirements already proposed in the consultation. The next stage is to develop these high level proposals in more detail.
Consultation responses expressed a range of views on the issue of stand-alone displays. Having considered the response, the Government’s position remain that a stand-alone display should be provided with the smart meter. In our view the provision of a display is important to securing the consumer benefits of smart metering, delivering real time information to consumers on their energy consumption in a readily accessible form. The next step will be to develop the requirements in more detail. As part of this work we will consider further what specific requirements should apply in cases where it is clear that the individual consumer does not wish to have such a display. However it will be important that this does not detract from the general premise that a free standing display should be provided with the meter.
The approach on smart functionality requirements for non-domestic meters
The Government have adjusted their proposals in this area following the consultation. We are confirming our intention to mandate the installation of meters with smart functionality at non-domestic sites covered by the consultation (those in electricity profile classes three and four and non-domestic gas sites with consumption of less than 732 MWh per annum) on the same time scale as for domestic sites, with exceptions under certain circumstances. However, under our revised proposals, the exceptions will be much more limited in respect of meters installed after April 2014. We therefore propose to require that electricity and gas meters at sites in this category must have smart functionality by the end of 2020 except:
a) where advanced meters have been installed before April 2014 and the customer wishes to retain the existing meters; or
b) where advanced meters have been installed after April 2014 under pre-existing contractual arrangements; or
c) where there are technical constraints on the achievement of smart functionality.
We consider that this approach will best balance the need to support future smart grids by maximising installation of smart functionality with the desirability of allowing energy and carbon savings from advanced installations to continue in the short- to medium-term. However, we recognise that exceptions will need to be carefully framed, taking into account the technical and commercial complexities. We will discuss these revised proposals with suppliers, purchasers, meter and energy service providers and other stakeholders to refine the details before consulting on more detailed proposals.
The proposed implementation programme
Decisions set out in the response document provide the platform for the major programme of detailed implementation work that will be needed to support the mass roll out of smart meters under a mandate. A central smart meter implementation programme is therefore being established to design and implement new cross-industry arrangements, in co-ordination with the change programmes which industry participants will need to implement themselves. The first phase of the smart metering programme will be a joint DECC/Ofgem initiative. DECC will chair an over-arching DECC/Ofgem strategic programme board. This board will provide the necessary strategic oversight and direction to the programme. Ofgem E-Serve will manage and ensure effective delivery of phase one of the programme on behalf of DECC.
We firmly agree with those consultation respondents who have emphasised that the implementation programme must effectively engage the full range of stakeholders. In particular, a focus on the needs and perspectives of consumers much be at the heart of decision making at each stage under the programme, as well as the views of industry participants who will take on responsibility for delivery. The implementation programme will therefore develop a range of mechanisms to ensure that stakeholders’ views are captured and taken into account.
I have placed copies of “Towards a smarter future: Government response to the consultation on electricity and gas smart metering” in the Libraries of both Houses. I have also placed in the Libraries copies of a number of associated documents which we are also publishing today: “Impact assessment of a GB-wide smart meter roll out for the domestic sector”; “Impact assessment of smart / advanced meters roll out to small and medium businesses”; and a report from Baringa Partners “Smart meter rollout: energy network business market model and definition and evaluation project”.
Policing White Paper
I am publishing a White Paper on policing today, copies of which are available in the Vote Office. “Protecting the Public: Supporting the Police to Succeed” builds on the radical reform programme set out in the Green Paper published last year by my predecessor, my right hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith). The Green Paper put the public’s priorities at the heart of policing, replacing top-down targets with a sharp focus on public confidence.
Significant and continuing investment in police numbers, technology and training; the growing impact of neighbourhood policing; the greater responsiveness symbolised by the new policing pledge; more effective collaboration between forces and with partners on everything from anti-social behaviour to serious organised crime and counter terrorism; clearer leadership, less bureaucracy and more front line discretion: these changes are all creating a golden opportunity for the police and the public. The police service has worked with the Government to lock in the significant falls in crime over the past decade; and we are beginning to see the improvements in public confidence that were such an important element of the Green Paper vision. The service is now well placed to meet the challenges ahead.
The White Paper addresses four specific issues:
First, it sets out the specific action we are taking to ensure that anti-social behaviour is tackled, not tolerated. We will ensure that the police and their local partners work together effectively, with the right tools and information, to place greater emphasis on prevention and support for victims.
Secondly, it commits police forces and police authorities to ensuring that the public know their entitlement to clear standards of service, how to make their voice heard and shape local policing priorities, with timely local information on performance they need to judge progress. Police authorities have an important role to play and I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) for his recent report on how police authorities could increase their public impact and strengthen their links with local councils, without the risks structural upheaval would bring. The White Paper’s proposals have benefited greatly from his contribution.
Thirdly, the White Paper addresses the challenging financial climate in the years ahead, which demands more urgent and radical action to squeeze out unnecessary costs, raise productivity and ensure that we continue to focus on front line delivery. The White Paper lays out a wide ranging programme to drive national and regional procurement, reduce overheads, improve benchmarking information and strengthen commitment to collaboration between forces and voluntary mergers where appropriate.
Fourthly, the White Paper endorses the guiding principles and style of policing championed in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s report “Adapting to Protest: Strengthening the British Model of Policing”, published on 25 November 2009. This is a significant contribution to the future direction of the policing of protests, and sets out our commitment to work with the service to take forward the report’s recommendations.
I am also publishing today “Reducing Bureaucracy in Policing”, the first full report by Jan Berry, the independent Reducing Bureaucracy Advocate. This report marks the end of Jan’s first full year advising Government and the police forces and police authorities of England and Wales on how best to remove unnecessary bureaucracy in policing. Copies of the report are available in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office.
Jan’s report acknowledges the complex demands placed on the service, and rightly challenges the Government and those who lead forces to continue to work to simplify the performance landscape, crime recording processes, and data collection and other bureaucracy imposed at all levels on front line officers. Through the White Paper the Government have endorsed 13 of Jan’s recommendations immediately and will consider a further 22 with police service colleagues in the months ahead.
Both Jan Berry’s final report and this White Paper have benefited from open and constructive discussion with the police service and its partners. I am determined that we will continue to work together to create the service the public want—professional, responsive and grounded in communities. The achievements of the past decade give us much to build on. The next steps in the reform programme set out in this White Paper will help ensure that the police get the support they need as well as the credit they deserve, and strengthen further public confidence in this key service.
Strategic Policing Priorities 2010-11
In accordance with the provisions of section 37A of the Police Act 1996, as inserted by paragraph 25 schedule 2 of the Police and Justice Act 2006, this statement sets out my strategic policing priorities for the police service for 2010-11. These priorities provide the national framework for policing for the next financial year, within which police authorities will set their local plans.
Last year, the priorities reflected the radical vision for policing at the heart of the Government’s Green Paper, “From the Neighbourhood to the National: policing our communities together”, and other national strategies, aimed at putting the public much more at the centre and empowering them to work with us to tackle local crime and ASB. The effect of these initiatives is now starting to be seen. They include the introduction of the Policing Pledge and crime maps in all forces in England and Wales, providing the public with a set of national minimum policing standards to which they are entitled and access to information about crime in their area and empowering them through involvement in neighbourhood policing meetings. Through the “Justice Seen, Justice Done” campaign we have raised public awareness of the rights they should expect.
Elsewhere we are rolling out a programme of police authority inspections and continuing important work on reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and workforce and performance management reform. The policing White Paper will take the principles of the Policing Pledge further with clear standards that the public can expect from other agencies that help to keep them safe and ensure that justice is done.
The thrust of all this work is to allow police officers and police staff to focus on the public’s priorities and provide an accessible, transparent and consistent service that meets public needs and expectations. All but one of the top down numerical targets for police forces in England and Wales have now been removed. The remaining target is to increase the public’s confidence that the police and their partners are identifying and addressing the crime and ASB issues that matter most locally.
My strategic policing priorities for 2010-11 include particular reference to the single remaining national target on generating public confidence but generally retain the broader vision of the current priorities. This vision focuses on the strategic context in which action is taken at the right level. The priorities acknowledge the policing White Paper and the current set of PSAs and reflect the recently updated crime strategy. Central to this is a renewed focus on tackling the harms caused by antisocial behaviour and requiring victims’ concerns to be taken seriously. The Government will continue to monitor performance to ensure PSA commitments are met and provide strategic leadership. However, local accountability and planning should be undertaken so that forces tackle the issues that are most important to their local diverse communities, including hate crime, and get best value for money for the public from the resources devoted to policing.
Forces should continue to work collaboratively with local partners (including through Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships and Community Safety Partnerships and Local Criminal Justice Boards) to meet shared local objectives. In England this includes those objectives that are agreed through local strategic partnerships within local area agreements.
Serious and organised crime is a constantly evolving problem. I believe there is a continuous line stretching from the local to the regional and on to the national which needs a continuum of effective policing in response. The Home Office/Cabinet Office strategy for tackling serious organised crime which was published in July recognises the importance of close working and effective collaboration and coordination between partners; and that means forces and authorities working outside and across individual force boundaries where necessary.
My expectation is that forces and authorities will continue to work in the interests of regions and the country and build on existing collaboration to achieve improvements. Collaboration takes various forms, from tackling serious and cross border crime to the development of the national counter-terrorism network in bringing together intelligence, investigative and operational activity against the terrorist threat. This relies heavily on confidence in policing. The success of a key component of our counter-terrorism strategy—Prevent — depends, in part, in the confidence local communities have in their police service.
The priority must be how building confidence in the service leads to a more effective police service at all levels. There is little benefit in increasing public confidence through local policing and ignoring protective services. These may be services with less of a public face and more uncertain demand, but they have the potential to impact heavily on public confidence if they fall short. Greater collaboration across the police service is essential to mitigate this risk and to realise the necessary improvements in protective services. The same emphasis should apply for specialist crimes.
The police service shares the public service duty to maximise value for money. Locally, it is the responsibility of police authorities to set ambitious targets for the efficiency and productivity gains to be achieved by their forces and to hold chief officers to account for delivery. Senior policing leaders must help drive the organisational change required to make significant improvements in value for money, both in their forces and authorities and working with others taking into account the policing White Paper and the forthcoming report of the High Level Working Group on police Value for Money. This includes getting better value from spending on goods and services through collaboration and by making use of national or regional contracts. As part of the much more robust inspection regime for the service the new police authority inspections will probe how authorities manage resources and people and all forces will be inspected on value for money. During 2010-11 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary will test that the police workforce is led, organised and developed to be productive through the Working for the Public Inspection.
In summary, the SPPs for 2010-11 are to:
Continue to increase public confidence so that by March 2012, 60 per cent. of the public agree that the police and local council are dealing with the antisocial behaviour and crime issues that matter in their local communities.
Work jointly through partners and local communities to reduce and prevent crime and antisocial behaviour and the problems caused by drug and alcohol misuse and youth offending, in line with PSAs 14, 23 and 25, and in a co-ordinated approach with other CJS partners deliver an effective criminal justice response in line with PSA24, putting the needs of victims, including young victims, at its heart.
Work jointly with police forces and other agencies, such as SOCA and UKBA, to ensure that the capability and capacity exists across England and Wales to deliver effective protective services, including tackling serious and organised crime.
Work jointly with and through partners and local communities to tackle terrorism and violent extremism in line with the counter terrorism strategy (CONTEST) and PSA 26.
In all of the above, ensure that value for money is central to the strategic vision for improving policing; that best use is made of resources in line with the policing White Paper and the Efficiency and Productivity Strategy for the Police Service, both within forces and through collaboration between forces and with the wider public sector; and that chief officers and senior leaders are visibly associated with this organisational priority.