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Written Statements

Volume 535: debated on Monday 14 November 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 14 November 2011

Treasury

Modernising the Personal Tax System

The Government are committed to making the UK tax system simpler, more transparent and easier to use. As part of this, the Government have today set out further details on a number of initiatives aimed at modernising the personal tax system.

First, there is a discussion document seeking views on improving the transparency and accessibility of personal tax information: “Modernising the administration of the personal tax system: tax transparency for individuals”. The document is available on the HMRC website at:

www.hmrc.gov.uk/consultations/index.htm.

Secondly, there is a document describing the next phase of work to explore options for integrating the operation of income tax and national insurance contributions: “Integrating the operation of income tax and national insurance contributions: next steps”. The document is available on the HM Treasury website at:

www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/tax_income_nics.htm.

Thirdly, there are draft regulations for the introduction of real time information: amendments to the regulations for pay-as-you-earn, national insurance contributions and the construction industry scheme. The draft regulations, and an accompanying technical note, are available on the HMRC website at: www.hmrc.gov.uk/consultations/index.htm.

HM Treasury’s tax consultation tracker has been updated to reflect these publications. It is available on the HM Treasury website at:

www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/tax_updates.htm.

Communities and Local Government

Council Tax

For 2011-12, the coalition Government offered a grant to English councils which froze their council tax. It was taken up by all councils. As promised in my written statement of 10 October, Official Report, column 2WS, I am now setting out the provisions for the new scheme that the Government are offering English local authorities which decide to freeze their council tax for 2012-13.

Council tax has more than doubled since 1997 and the freeze will offer real help to hard working families and those on fixed incomes such as pensioners. Compared to a rise of 5%, it could help save local taxpayers in England living in an average band D home up to £72 on top of the saving from this year’s freeze.

To help local authorities with their budget planning, my Department will today publish on its website an estimate of the grant each participating authority would receive. Grants will be finalised once authorities have reported, by March 2012, the tax base underpinning their calculation of council tax for 2012-13.

My officials will today write to local authorities with full details of how the scheme will operate. For the benefit of the House, the key elements are as follows:

a. The scheme will be voluntary; and will apply separately to each billing and major precepting authority in England (including police and fire and rescue authorities) rather than to each council tax bill issued. Local precepting authorities, such as town and parish councils, will not be included in the scheme, but I urge them to exercise restraint and help make sure no council taxpayer faces an increased bill.

b. Where an authority does not increase its basic amount of council tax in 2012-13 compared with 2011-12, it will be eligible to receive a grant equivalent:

i) for police authorities, and single purpose fire and rescue authorities, to a 3% increase in its 2011-12 band D figure multiplied by the authority’s 2012-13 tax base figure;

ii) for the City of London, to a 2.75% increase in its 2011-12 Band D figure multiplied by the authority’s 2012-13 tax base figure;

iii) for other principal authorities, to a 2.5% increase in its 2011-12 band D figure multiplied by the authority’s 2012-13 tax base figure.

Slightly different arrangements will apply for the Greater London Authority (based upon a combination of a 2.75% and a 3% increase) and for those authorities which restructured in 2009 (based upon a 2.5% increase), to reflect their unique circumstances.

c. The scheme for 2012-13 will comprise a one-off payment of grant, and is payable for one year only.

The Government hope all local authorities will sign up to the new scheme. When the provisions of the Localism Bill come into effect, local residents will of course have the power to veto excessive council tax rises in the future.

The arrangements for funding the 2011-12 council tax freeze are unaffected by this new offer from Government. The intention remains that authorities will receive grant in relation to the 2011-12 freeze in each of the remaining years of the spending review.

Defence

Operations in Afghanistan

With the expiry of the call-out order made on 11 November 2010, a new order has been made under section 54 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to continue to be called out into service to support operations in Afghanistan. The new order is effective until 10 November 2012. Reservists continue to make a valuable contribution to operations in that country and some 1,000 reservists are currently called out and serving, of whom over 550 are deployed in Afghanistan.

Education

New Schools

It is critically important for our nation’s future that we reform our schools system to provide a wide choice for all parents and children. The establishment of over 1,400 academies and 24 free schools has helped drive up standards and create more choice.

Therefore, I am pleased to confirm today that a further three special and five alternative provision free schools have been approved with a view to opening in September 2012.

Rosewood school, Southampton

City of Peterborough Academy special school, Peterborough

Lighthouse School, Leeds

Derby Pride Academy, Derby

Harmonize Academy, Liverpool

Stone Soup Learns, Nottingham

Everton in the Community Free School Trust, Liverpool

East Birmingham Network, Birmingham

I am committed to both increasing and improving the provision available to children with special educational needs and those that require alternative provision. I have approved the very strongest applications today. I fully expect some of the groups that are disappointed today to submit even stronger applications in the future and I encourage them to do so.

I am also releasing guidance on the application process to set up new free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools in 2013 and beyond. I want to particularly encourage groups to submit applications to set up new schools in areas of deprivation, or areas where the growth in the pupil population means there is a need for new school places.

Details of the application process and its deadlines can be found on the Department for Education’s website and I will place copies in the House Libraries.

I will make a further announcement on successful applications to set up studio schools in 2012 in due course.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council is on Monday 14 November, in Brussels. I shall represent the UK on agriculture matters, accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responsible for environment and fisheries my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) will be representing the United Kingdom on the fisheries items. Richard Lochhead MSP, Michelle O’Neill MLA and Alun Davies AM will also attend.

The Council meeting will open in its fisheries formation with a discussion of the only substantive fisheries agenda item on external aspects of the proposals for common fisheries policy (CFP) reform. The debate will focus on engagement with regional fisheries management organisations and the EU’s external fisheries agreements.

On agricultural business, there is one item on the main agenda: discussion of the common agricultural policy reform proposal on direct payments. The presidency has posed questions about the overall structure of the direct payments proposals and explicitly on the proposed reallocations between member states.

There are four items under any other business. The first is an update from the Commission on compliance with the welfare of laying hens directive. It is not clear how much discussion is expected on this item. The second and third AoB items will see the presidency reports back on two recent forestry meetings (the forestry for climate and biodiversity conference and EU forestry and nature DGs meeting) and on the regular meeting of paying agency heads. And finally there is a request from the Hungarian presidency to discuss the prolongation of sugar regime to 2020.

Finally, there is a ministerial lunch scheduled during which heads of member state delegations will discuss the greening aspects of the CAP reform proposals.

Work and Pensions

Birth and Bereavement Service

I am pleased to announce that the cross-Government “tell us once” service has begun to roll out nationally.

“Tell us once” provides a valuable service to citizens when having to report a birth or a death to central and local government. “Tell us once” enables citizens to inform Government of the event “just once” and have this information shared across the relevant Government services. This not only brings savings to the taxpayer but reduces the burden on citizens when the demands on their time are greatest.

A total of 96% of local authorities have committed to deliver the service and to date 134 local authorities are now offering the service to citizens with the remainder due to go live in this financial year. This level of voluntary take up is a testament to the excellent working relationships between central and local government and a mark of the value seen in this initiative.

The Department for Work and Pensions were considering using the same principles to develop a change of address service and had intended to pilot this in the summer of 2011. Given the immediate priorities of welfare reform that the Department must deliver, the decision has been taken not to pursue this work at the current time.