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Written Statements

Volume 526: debated on Friday 1 April 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 1 April 2011

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Rural Communities Policy Unit

In June 2010, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced that DEFRA Ministers would lead rural policy from within the Department supported by a strengthened Rural Communities Policy Unit and that the Commission for Rural Communities would therefore be abolished. I am pleased to report that, as of 1 April 2011, the first phase of this transition will be complete. The new DEFRA Rural Communities Policy Unit is now fully staffed and operational . Meanwhile, the Commission for Rural Communities has implemented a streamlined operating model which will enable it to continue to fulfil its statutory functions at a significantly reduced cost pending abolition.

The Rural Communities Policy Unit

The Government are committed to ensuring their policies and programmes properly take account of the needs and the potential of rural residents, businesses and communities. DEFRA’S ministerial team will act decisively to champion rural issues across Government. We are now supported in this by an enhanced Rural Communities Policy Unit (RCPU) which will operate as a centre of rural expertise, supporting and co-ordinating activity within and beyond DEFRA. The RCPU will play an important role in helping all Government Departments to ensure that their policies are effectively “rural proofed” before decisions are made.

Building upon the Department’s existing rural policy team, we have drawn in staff from the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) and from other parts of Government to create the new unit. The RCPU’s immediate objectives are:

To identify issues of critical importance to rural communities and then support, inform and influence the development and implementation of relevant Government policy so as to achieve fair, practical and affordable outcomes for rural residents, businesses and communities;

To develop open and collaborative approaches to gathering information, evidence and potential solutions, working closely with the wide range of organisations which support and represent rural communities.

The RCPU will maintain and build upon the strong evidence base developed by both DEFRA and the CRC. This evidence will inform both the unit’s priorities and its policy-influencing function and will also be made available to the public via the DEFRA website. Much of the activity which helps rural communities to thrive takes place at a remove from central Government, often undertaken directly by people within the communities themselves. It is our intention that the RCPU’s evidence will promote the Government’s drive to decentralisation by supporting bodies operating sub-nationally better to understand and take proper account of rural needs and opportunities.

The Commission for Rural Communities

From 1 April 2011, the CRC’s chairman, Dr Stuart Burgess, and commissioners will act collectively and individually to fulfil their statutory functions rather than operating as an oversight board for a much larger organisation. They will be supported by a small team, with back office functions such as HR, finance and IT being provided by DEFRA. Pending abolition, the commission will continue to act as critical friend to DEFRA, with a work programme complementary to that of the RCPU. Further details of the commission’s plans for 2010-11 will be available from 1 April at www.defra.gov.uk/crc

It is no small achievement to have made the transition to these new rural policy delivery arrangements within nine months. I am grateful to all those in DEFRA, the CRC and beyond who have enabled us to get to this point.

Health

Adult Autism Strategy

I am announcing the Government’s publication tomorrow of “Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives: Evaluating Progress”—a set of key outcomes and service ambitions to secure implementation of the adult autism strategy. A copy of the document has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

“Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives: Evaluating Progress” has been produced to deliver against a commitment made in the first-year delivery plan to produce a self-assessment template for localities to check progress on implementing the goals set out in the adult autism strategy.

The document details a set of seven key outcomes and three service ambitions which provide a consistent and tangible way to assess progress in each area. Over time, they will evolve into a jointly owned set of outcomes that all parties—local partners, adults with autism, central Government and others—can use to understand progress, and become a focal point for developing improved services.

The document reflects the Government’s ambitions for local autonomy, where precise top-down targets are replaced by desired outcomes, where implementation and investment is determined by local priorities—as agreed by local communities through activities such as the joint strategic needs assessment (JSNA)—and where central Government’s role is about facilitation rather than direction.

This means a new approach to evaluating progress on the autism strategy, with a focus on identifying the outcomes which will enable local and national assessment of whether the lives of adults with autism are improving. The Government will take the lead in supporting local partners to deliver change

In developing “Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives: Evaluating Progress”, we have worked closely with partners such as the Care Quality Commission, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, the NHS Confederation and voluntary and independent groups, to select the most relevant outcomes.

The document also includes a generic template for estimating local area need for use when commissioning services for people with autism. This will help provide a source of future information locally on progress. The learning disability public health observatory will collate data using the template by publishing information from each locality.

The development and launch of the autism strategy led to a range of activities at local and national level to improve services for adults with autism. To help continue that momentum the self-assessment template will enable local areas to assess their own progress towards the goals set in the strategy, and towards implementing the statutory guidance.

The Department has also funded a series of online training resources and booklets to increase awareness and understanding of autism across all public services. Working with the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Social Care Institute for Excellence, the British Psychological Society, the Royal College of General Practitioners, Healthtalkonline, Skills for Health, and Skills for Care, we have produced a range of quality materials to enable front-line staff to recognise better, and thus respond more effectively to, the needs of adults with autism.

Reciprocal Health Agreement (United Kingdom and Jersey)

Following discussions between the Department of Health, the States of Jersey Government and the devolved Administrations, a new reciprocal health agreement between the United Kingdom and Jersey will come into effect from 1 April 2011.

The new agreement will ensure that UK residents visiting Jersey will receive free, state-provided immediately necessary treatment while on a temporary visit to Jersey, as will Jersey residents visiting the UK. No public money will change hands under the agreement, which is a common feature of all of the United Kingdom’s non-European economic area reciprocal health arrangements

The new agreement will provide certainty for travellers and represents a mutually beneficial agreement for both the United Kingdom and Jersey.

Prime Minister

Machinery of Government Changes

I can announce the following changes to the machinery of government:

The National Fraud Authority, an Executive agency of the Attorney-General’s Office, will transfer to the Home Office.

Responsibility for issuing British passports overseas will transfer from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Responsibility for the Galileo programme will transfer from the Secretary of State for Transport to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills; responsibility for the space component of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security Programme will transfer from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills; and UK input to both programmes will be led by the UK Space Agency, bringing together all parts of the Government’s policy on civil space.

The National School of Government will be brought into the Cabinet Office and will therefore cease to be a separate non-ministerial department.

Work and Pensions

Work Programme (Preferred Bidders)

This morning, the Government took another major step forward in their delivery of the most sweeping welfare reforms for 60 years, announcing preferred bidders for 40 Work programme contracts.

Competition for contracts was intense, with 177 bids submitted by 30 organisations, and this has led to a diverse and high-quality list of preferred bidders.

We have also been very encouraged by preferred bidders’ response to the emphasis we placed on the involvement of voluntary, local and community organisations in Work programme delivery. There is impressive voluntary sector involvement with almost 300 voluntary sector organisations involved in delivery of the Work programme as sub-contractors, and two voluntary sector organisations and one public sector organisation as prime contractors. Voluntary sector organisations make up a substantial proportion of prime contractors’ supply chains, in some cases over 50%, representing an investment of £95 million in the voluntary and community sector.

We have chosen at least two providers to deliver in each of the 11 contract package areas. Their relative performance will determine their future share of the welfare-to-work market in each contract area, and we expect that this ongoing competition will continue to drive quality and performance in live running.

The new payment-by-results system will deliver better value for money by paying providers from additional benefit savings they create, and providers will be paid more for helping those with the greatest needs, creating better incentives to deliver truly tailored support for everyone.

The announcement of preferred bidders today keeps us on track for successful delivery of the Work programme in June, delivering innovative back-to-work support for around 2.4 million people.

I will place a document containing the list of preferred bidders in the Library today.