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Written Statements

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Communities and Local Government

Sustainable Communities Act

I have today launched a consultation on new, light-touch, regulations to govern the implementation of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.

On 15 December the Secretary of State invited local authorities to consult their communities about how best to improve their local areas, and to take whatever action was necessary to make these ideas a reality. If councils find that a bureaucratic barrier prevents them from taking action they can submit a formal “proposal” asking the Government to remove the barrier. There is now an easy route to do this—through the new online portal at http://barrierbusting.communities.gov.uk. This portal is also open to anyone who wishes to ask the Government to remove a barrier which is stopping local action.

I want to remove the bureaucracy that surrounded the first invitation under the Act. I do not intend to regulate the actions of local authorities who wish to respond to the invitation, nor to regulate the duties of the selector—the Local Government Association—which in the past has had to shortlist proposals and engage in lengthy consultation with the Government about their implementation. Councils will no longer be required to take specific steps before submitting a proposal, or to submit proposals to a set deadline. We are turning government upside down to provide a much more direct and personal service dedicated to removing as many barriers to localism as possible.

There may be times, however, when a council which has submitted a proposal under the Act is dissatisfied with the reasons given by the Government about why a particular barrier cannot be removed. I intend, therefore, to set out in regulations a clear role for the selector to provide challenge to government in such cases. The selector will be able to resubmit a proposal with a requirement for the Secretary of State to consult and try to reach agreement with them, prior to reaching a final decision.

The consultation on the proposed regulations closes on 20 June 2011. I have placed a copy in the Libraries of both Houses.

Education

“The Early Years: Foundation for Life, Health and Learning”

The importance of the early years—as a foundation for life and for future attainment and success—cannot be overestimated. Children’s personal, social, emotional, language and physical development are of paramount importance, and without strong foundations in these areas children will struggle as they develop in life, with friends and in school. That is why it is vital we have the right framework to support high-quality early-years education.

Progress has been made in improving young children’s outcomes, but there is more to be done. Recognising this, in July last year I asked Dame Clare Tickell to launch an independent review of the early years foundation stage (EYFS). This sets out the standards that all early-years settings have to meet to help provide children with the best start, and so it is essential this is as strong as it can be. I am pleased to announce that tomorrow Dame Clare will be publishing the findings of her review in the report “The Early Years: Foundations for life, health and learning”. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I asked Dame Clare to consider four main areas:

Scope of regulation—whether there should be a single framework for all early-years providers;

Learning and development—looking at the latest evidence on how children are best supported in their learning and development and what is needed to give them the best start at school;

Assessment—how young children’s development should be assessed;

Welfare—the minimum standards to keep children safe and support their healthy

development.

Dame Clare will make recommendations in all these areas on how the EYFS could be improved and strengthened. The full details will be set out in her report.

I am thankful to Dame Clare for all the hard work that has gone into her review, and look forward to reading her report in detail. We will be looking to implement any changes from September 2012 onwards.

Health

Health Select Committee Report (Revalidation of Doctors)

I have today laid before Parliament the Government’s response (Cm 8028) to the House of Commons Health Select Committee’s report “Revalidation of Doctors: Fourth Report of Session 2010-11” which was published on 8 February 2011.

Patients and the public have the right to expect that the doctors who care for them are up to date and fit to practise. This is why this Government are supporting the work of the General Medical Council and other partners to design and properly test a proportionate and streamlined system for revalidation that is right for the profession, the health sector, patients and the public. Revalidation, if implemented sensitively and effectively, is something that will support all doctors in their innate professional desire to improve their practice still further.

We have made clear our commitment to revalidation and have pressed ahead with the responsible officer regulations which came into force on 1 January 2011. Responsible officers will play a key role in supporting doctors to improve the quality of care they provide and in ensuring that prompt action is taken to protect patients where concerns arise about the practice of individual doctors.

The Government welcome this report by the Health Select Committee. The next year of testing revalidation will help develop a clearer understanding of the costs, benefits and practicalities of implementation so that it can be paced in a way that is affordable, supports high-quality care and makes effective use of doctors’ time while providing assurance to patients and the public.

Copies of the Government’s response are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Work and Pensions

Skills Conditionality (Response to Public Consultation)

Today my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning and I have published a joint response to the public consultation on the implementation of skills conditionality.

The consultation proposed that claimants could be mandated to undertake activity to address an identified skills need, putting this on the same basis as other conditionality requirements. We consulted on the implementation of skills conditionality in order to make it fair, consistent and as administratively straightforward as possible. We are grateful to those who took the time to respond and will be reviewing delivery plans in the light of the comments we have received.

The Government believe it is right that claimants who are able to look for work should be required to do so as a condition of receiving benefit. Getting the right skills is one way of preparing for work and failure to meet those responsibilities should result in a financial sanction.

Skills conditionality will be introduced in England from August 2011 and will apply to those claiming jobseeker’s allowance and in the work-related activity group on employment and support allowance who are referred to training by a Jobcentre Plus adviser.

Copies of the consultation response are available on the DWP website at; http://dwp.gov.uk/consultations/.