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Written Statements

Volume 515: debated on Wednesday 8 September 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

Investment in the Further Education Estate

On 24 May the Government announced that £50 million of re-prioritised Train to Gain funding would be invested in the further education infrastructure to support the development of new college facilities. On the 21 June, I informed the House that though the Government could not undo the previous mismanagement of the FE capital programme, they fully recognised the importance of ensuring that the teaching and learning facilities in our further education colleges be modern and fit for purpose.

That is why I made it clear that the Government would support those colleges who had not previously benefited significantly from public investment and so the £50 million would be targeted at those further education colleges that had received less than £5 million in total grant support since 2001 from the Learning and Skills Council.

I am pleased to inform Parliament that the Skills Funding Agency has today written to those colleges informing them that they will each receive up to a £225,000 renewal grant. The chief executive has informed 21 of these colleges that in addition to receiving a renewal grant they will also receive an additional enhanced renewal grant taking their total grant up to £1 million. This will help colleges modernise their facilities, giving them a much needed boost at a time when education could not be more important. Finally, the Skills Funding Agency is working with a further five colleges to resolve affordability issues so that they too can receive capital investment.

The Skills Funding Agency received 92 applications which were assessed in a robust and transparent process using three key criteria: the existing condition of the college estate and its facilities; proposed benefits to learners; and how the projects would contribute to the regeneration of their local communities.

This Government are committed to open and transparent decision making and accordingly the assessment exercise was scrutinised by representatives of the Association of Colleges who were satisfied that the selection process had been conducted properly and run smoothly.

All recipients of the enhanced renewal grant are expected to begin construction shortly with completion anticipated in September 2011, allowing learners to benefit from these new facilities in the 2011 academic year.

In addition I expect colleges to leverage additional private resources and I am pleased to inform the House that it is estimated that the £50 million allocated by the Government will produce a total investment in the further education estate of over £230 million. I am sure the House will agree that this investment will make a significant difference to learners across the country.

Please visit the Skills Funding Agency website (http://skillsfundingagency.bis.gov.uk) for a full list of successful colleges.

Communities and Local Government

Thurrock Thames Gateway Urban Development Corporation

I am today announcing that from 1 April 2012 the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation (TTGDC) will cease operation and become part of Thurrock borough council, although a decision on the treatment of the assets currently held by TTGDC will be made at a later stage.

Last year, the previous Administration undertook a quinquennial review of the development corporation’s performance from inception. Following that review, it was decided that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) should be transferred into the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). I have reviewed this decision and have concluded that this should not be implemented—it was a centralising measure that would have further distanced local people from decisions about the future of their area. In addition, the consultation undertaken as part of the review showed clearly that there was no local support in favour of this decision.

In deciding the way forward for TTGDC, I have considered the coalition commitments to cutting the costs of quangos and increasing accountability, and to localism. I have concluded that it is right TTGDC should transfer to the local council. This will chime with our approach to the Thames Gateway generally, where I am decentralising strategic oversight to local political leaders. This will lead to a number of benefits including:

maintaining the momentum of private sector investment;

enabling efficiency savings to be made through shared services;

achieving value for money by limiting public sector investment necessary to enable maximum private investment;

strengthening local control over regeneration and the operation of planning responsibilities, and;

strengthening the council’s capacity to drive regeneration.

In order to affect these changes TTGDC will move into the council’s premises by March 2011, enabling some efficiency gains to be realised quickly. TTGDC will work more closely with the council during 2011-12, before ceasing independent operation from 1 April 2012. It will be formally wound up following adoption of its final report and accounts later that year. The treatment of the assets currently held by TTGDC will be considered as part of the detailed arrangements for the transfer.

Defence

Defence Fixed Telecommunications Services

I wish to inform the House that my Department has recently extended our public-private partnership contract with BT Group to provide the Defence Fixed Telecommunications Services (DFTS). DFTS provides secure and survivable wide area network voice, data and video telecommunications services to defence users in the UK and abroad, and also to defence and industry partners including the National Air Traffic Systems and the Met Office. The services provided under the contract are vital to the daily operation of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces, both in peace and at war.

The current contract, which expires in July 2012, has been extended for three years until 2015 under existing contractual provisions. The extension is valued at about £810 million. It is expected to achieve net operational and financial benefits in excess of £90 million and, through taking full advantage of BT’s 21st century network programme, will lead to improvements in performance and security which would otherwise be unachievable. A number of impending obsolescence issues will also be resolved.

Work is under way to re-compete the contract before this extension comes to an end in 2015. This will form part of a major overhaul in the way the MOD procures and manages voice, data, video and information and communication technology services, and will reflect the outcome of the strategic defence and security review.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Equine Infectious Anaemia

I wish to inform the House that on the afternoon of 6 September 2010 the chief veterinary officer for the United Kingdom confirmed equine infectious anaemia (EIA) in one horse in Northumberland following importation from the Netherlands.

A single premises is currently under disease control restrictions and the infected horse has been humanely destroyed.

The infected animal arrived in a group of six horses. The other five horses have tested negative for the disease. There are a further 11 horses on the premises which are also being tested for the disease. As part of our control measures we will be undertaking a detailed epidemiological investigation. We have identified a bridleway adjacent to the premises. We have agreed with the local authority that they will put in place notices at relevant points leading to the bridleway advising horse owners not to exercise their horses in this area.

The risk of further spread among horses is considered by experts to be very low, but this will be kept under review pending further epidemiological investigation. Expert advice from the Health Protection Agency is that EIA is not a risk to human health and that there is no evidence that this incident presents a risk to the local community.

This is the second case of equine infectious anaemia in recently imported horses this year. Prior to 2010 there had been no confirmed cases since 1976. This shows the success of our post-import testing regime. This was an apparently healthy horse carrying a notifiable disease that we are keen to keep out of Great Britain.

Home Department

Extradition Review

I am today announcing to Parliament the Government’s plans to review the UK’s extradition arrangements.

The coalition’s programme for Government document published on 20 May, stated that

“We will review the operation of the Extradition Act—and the US/UK extradition treaty—to make sure it is even-handed”.

This announcement sets out how we propose to do this.

There are a number of areas of the UK’s extradition arrangements which have attracted significant controversy in recent years. The Government understand that these are long-standing concerns and the review will therefore focus on five issues to ensure that the UK’s extradition arrangements work both efficiently and in the interests of justice. These issues are:

breadth of Secretary of State discretion in an extradition case;

the operation of the European arrest warrant, including the way in which those of its safeguards which are optional have been transposed into UK law;

whether the forum bar to extradition should be commenced;

whether the US-UK extradition treaty is unbalanced;

whether requesting states should be required to provide prima facie evidence.

The review will be conducted by a small panel of experts who we are now seeking to appoint. We expect the review to report by the end of the summer 2011.