Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 7 March 2012
Cabinet Committee List
Today I am publishing an updated Cabinet Committee list. I have placed a copy of the new list in the Libraries of both Houses.
Medical Assessment Programme
The Ministry of Defence Medical Assessment Programme (MAP) will move from facilities at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, to the Reinforcements Training and Mobilisation Centre (RTMC) at Chilwell in October 2012. The MAP offers mental health assessments to ex-service personnel who have deployed on operations since 1982 and have mental health problems related to their military service.
The House is aware of the report published by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) for making improvements in mental health care provision for service personnel and veterans. We fully support the report’s recommendation that the MAP service continues while NHS mental health services are further developed across the UK, and remain committed to doing all we can to help veterans with mental health problems related to their military service and to making improvements to the services we provide.
There are significant advantages in collocating the MAP with the RTMC at Chilwell. This will provide a more structured professional environment for the MAP physician; benefits for clinical governance and flexibility from working alongside the reserves mental healthcare service; and improved cost effectiveness from sharing the facilities already in place at Chilwell. This move is also expected to benefit the majority of veterans as demographic data indicate that a high percentage are being referred from the north and the midlands.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Single Payment Scheme
In my statement of 11 January 2012, Official Report, column 16 WS, I explained that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) had met its first performance indicator for the 2011 Single Payment Scheme (SPS.) The Agency’s second performance indicator for the scheme was to pay 95% of both the number of eligible claimants and of the total estimated fund value by the end of March. I can now confirm to the House that these figures have been reached over three weeks ahead of schedule and significantly earlier than has been achieved in any previous year.
As at 5 March, RPA had made SPS 2011 payments totalling £1.651 billion (95.4%) to 100,605 eligible claimants (96%). The Agency will be making contact shortly with claimants who are not due a payment, for example because they no longer have entitlements. For the remaining 3,500 or so farmers, the focus continues to be on validating claims and making related payments as soon as possible. Where that has not been possible by the end of March, RPA will contact those affected to explain the position on their claim, including any corrective work and payment adjustments related to previous scheme years. That work is important to ensure legacy issues are addressed and so help provide the platform for further improvements in payment performance for the 2012 scheme.
NHS Pension Scheme
The National Health Service Pension Scheme and Injury Benefits (Amendment) Regulations 2012, laid on 5 March 2012, bring into force increases to contribution rates for members of the NHS Pension Scheme for England and Wales. The increases apply to service from 1 April 2012 and continue throughout the financial year.
At the spending review 2010, the Government announced increases to member contribution rates in public service pension schemes saving £2.8 billion a year by 2014-15, to be phased in from 1 April 2012. The contributions are to be increased progressively with protection for the lower paid and to minimise instances where members choose to opt out of the scheme.
Last year the Department consulted on a structure of tiered contribution rates that meet these requirements. The consultation opened on 28 July 2011 and closed on 21 October 2011, and nearly 9,000 responses were received. The Department revised the original consultation proposal so that a greater number of lower and middle earners are protected from an increase in 2012-13.
The Government remain committed to securing in full the spending review savings in 2013-14 and 2014-15 by further increasing member contributions in public service pension schemes in addition to the 2012-13 rises. The Department will consult formally on proposals in due course.
These regulations also introduce new administration requirements to support implementation of taxation provisions within the Finance Act 2011. Further, the regulations alter scheme transfer rules in order to exclude the Isle of Man Unified Public Service Pension Scheme from 1 April 2012, as this new scheme will be incompatible with the terms of the Public Sector Transfer Club.
Police and Crime Commissioners (Pay)
On 3 November 2011, I placed a copy of the Senior Salary’s Review Body (SSRB) report and recommendations on police and crime commissioners pay in the House Library. On that day, I undertook to give the report and the recommendations thorough consideration and report my final decision in good time to allow potential PCC candidates to be clear on what they can expect their salary to be.
I would like to thank the SSRB for its work. I believe that the report sets out clearly the justification for its proposals and I intend to accept all but one of the recommendations made by the SSRB.
Recommendation 1 on PCC pay structure has taken into account the issues I consider to be important and, overall, I believe a sensible and appropriate approach has been taken. With regard to the salary range which is the subject of recommendation 2, the report has made the case for a proposed PCC salary range of £65,000—£100,000. While salary itself should not be a key motivational factor for these important new roles, the SSRB has agreed that these are important new posts. I believe their salary range ensures the right balance in terms of attracting suitable candidates while at the same time addressing the fact that public funding is constrained.
Recommendation 3 relates to the issue of performance-related pay and I agree with the SSRB’s recommendation that it would not be appropriate for PCCs to receive performance-related pay. The performance of PCCs should be judged solely by the electorate.
Recommendation 4 considers the need to reduce the salary of a PCC pro-rata for any PCCs that do not carry out the role on a full-time basis. Having reflected on the advice put forward by the SSRB, I do not propose to accept this recommendation.
We understand the intention behind it, but we believe that the best way forward is for PCCs to be clear with their electorate about what outside interests they have and for the electorate to judge them accordingly. Last year, I laid before Parliament a specified information order 2011 which sets out what information we expect PCCs to publish in order to ensure that they are sufficiently transparent on critical issues. I intend to ensure that a PCC declares any paid and/or unpaid interests that may conflict with their role or affect the amount of time that they will be devoting to it.
I also intend to accept the SSRB’s last two recommendations. Recommendation 5 relates to carrying out an independent annual review of PCC salaries and Recommendation 6 relates to completing a full review of PCC roles and their remuneration in the third year of office in order to make pay recommendations to take effect from the second round of elections in 2016.
By settling the pay structure as early as possible, I hope to ensure that potential candidates have plenty of time to consider their respective positions when deciding whether they should stand.
Justice and Home Affairs Council
The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council is due to be held on 8 March in Brussels. I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.
The Council will begin in mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states). There will be presentations by the Commission and Frontex on illegal immigration, continuing the Council discussions on this issue under the previous presidency. The UK supports increased efforts to combat illegal flows across the external border and within the EU, and welcomes proposals for a presidency “roadmap” for a more coherent response to these flows. In particular, the UK believes it is vital that the EU response includes action to tackle fraud and abuse of free movement rights, as well as consolidation of efforts at the Greek-Turkish border, closer partnership working with Turkey, and work further “upstream” in countries of origin and transit using the tools of the EU’s global approach to migration.
The presidency will present its Council conclusions which aim to strengthen political governance over Schengen co-operation through regular political and strategic discussions at ministerial level in mixed committee format. The use of mixed committee format will allow the UK to participate in discussions which affect the control of illegal immigration flows that impact on the UK. The UK supports this proposal and the list of suggested topics for inclusion in the Commission’s periodic reports. The UK will use these debates to call for stronger practical co-operation on measures to protect the external border and prevent illegal immigration.
There will be an update from the presidency on attempts to secure agreement on the date for the removal of controls on Bulgaria and Romania’s sea and air borders with countries in the Schengen area. This issue will also be discussed at the preceding European Council. We do not expect a vote.
Next there will be an update on the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). The UK will continue to reiterate its support for the continuation of the current SIS II project. The Commission has committed to deliver the central element of SIS II in early 2013.
There will also be a presentation by the presidency on the EU conference on innovative border management, which the UK attended in Copenhagen on 2 and 3 February 2012.
There will be a discussion during lunch on combating organised crime through multi-disciplinary and administrative approaches.
The main Council will start with a “state of play” report by the presidency on the Common European Asylum System. This will set out the progress that has been made on the package to date: negotiations continue on the reception conditions directive and the Dublin III Regulation, with the development of a new article to enshrine the “early warning mechanism', which was the subject of discussions in JHA Councils at the end of last year.
The presidency will present draft Council conclusions which set out the outcome of discussions on solidarity and practical co-operation that took place at the informal Council meeting in January. They are intended to provide a framework or “tool box” for practical co-operation within the EU, focusing in large part on maximising the opportunities presented by existing arrangements. This is the first time the Council has been asked to consider the conclusions but there is a high degree of support for the direction they set out. The UK strongly supports the conclusions as currently drafted. They present the right balance on key issues including that the focus of “solidarity” should be practical co-operation between member states based on their individual responsibility to build migration management capacity; strong references to the “early warning mechanism” to be included in the new Dublin regulation in place of a suspension clause; and an explicit confirmation of the lack of support for any mandatory intra-EU relocation of beneficiaries of international protection.
Next there will be a presentation by the Commission, the European Asylum Support Office and Frontex on the Greek action plan (GAP) of August 2010. The GAP outlines Greece’s proposals to build its capability to manage migration, including through the creation of an improved asylum service which complies with EU legislation. Legislation has now been adopted in Greece to provide a new institutional framework by creating three new agencies (Asylum Service, Appeals Authority and Initial Reception Service). However, the implementation of these reforms has been significantly hindered by systemic deficiencies in the Greek Administration and constraints imposed by austerity measures. The UK supports the GAP and has a vested interest in its success, not least because a weak border with Turkey presents a security risk. Up to 80% of illegal migrants enter the EU through Greece, and many of these may travel on to the UK. Without significant improvements to the asylum system, use of the Dublin regulation to return asylum seekers to Greece will remain suspended. But the Government are concerned by the slow progress of reform and the limited evidence of the impact of EU support, including that provided through the European Asylum Support Office. Members of the Council are likely to discuss whether any further support would be appropriate and will push to secure further political will from Greece to bring about meaningful reform.
Under any other business the presidency will provide information on current legislative proposals.
Work and Pensions
Disability Employment Support
Today I am publishing a command paper, “Disability Employment Support: Fulfilling Potential”, which sets out the Government’s strategy for specialist disability employment programmes and includes a summary of the responses to the public consultation on the Sayce review.
Our strategy reaffirms the Government’s commitment to enable disabled people to achieve their full potential and support independent living, something at the heart of UN convention commitments. As a result of its importance and despite severe financial constraints, I have continued to protect spending on specialist disability employment programmes over this spending review, and I am determined to help more disabled people enter and remain in work. Crucially, savings from the policy changes I am announcing today will be used for more effective and proven employment programmes such as Access to Work to benefit many more disabled people. Liz Sayce made a number of recommendations to improve and expand Access to Work. We accept all of Liz Sayce’s recommendations on Access to Work, subject to further co-production with disabled people and employers to ensure that we get these right. I can confirm today that we have already implemented a number of these recommendations, including targeted marketing to small employers and under-represented groups. I can also announce today that we will make an extra £15 million available for Access to Work in this spending review period.
In addition, we will be conducting a further period of co-production with disabled people to identify how best we can support independent living through achieving the full potential of disabled people in the labour market. This will build upon the co-productive approach to developing the disability strategy.
I have agreed that the funding for residential training colleges should be extended until the end of the academic year 2012/13, to allow time to determine and implement future changes. They provide support into employment that is clearly valued, although costly, and we need to take further time to consider options for the future.
I have assessed very carefully the needs of the Remploy workers, as well as the needs of the 6.9 million disabled people of working age in Great Britain—who are, of course, the vast majority—who could benefit from greater specialist employment support to find and retain work.
The responses to the consultation on the Sayce review strongly endorsed the idea that money to support disabled people into employment should follow individuals not institutions and that Remploy factories should be set free from Government control.
They also supported the view the Government-funded segregated employment is not consistent with an objective of disability equality.
This is about equality and fairness for disabled people. Roughly 2,200 disabled people are supported by Remploy’s enterprise businesses, at a cost each year of around a fifth of the total budget for specialist disability employment programmes. Despite significant investment in Remploy enterprise businesses the cost of each employment place remains at £25,000 per year, compared with an average Access to Work award of £2,900. The Sayce review did acknowledge the valuable work undertaken by Remploy’s employment services in supporting tens of thousands of disabled people into work. Given the significant additional number of unemployed disabled people who could be supported to access the mainstream labour market, up to 8,000 people in this spending review, I have decided that it is important to accept and implement the Sayce review recommendations on Remploy. This will be done in two stages.
In stage 1, the Government will reduce its current subsidy to Remploy from the beginning of the new financial year so that we cease funding factories which make significant losses year after year and restrict funding to those factories which might have a prospect of a viable future without Government subsidy. Remploy’s board was asked to consider the impact of this decision before it was made.
As a result of the decision to reduce current funding the Remploy board is proposing to close (subject to consultation with their unions) by the end of this year the 36 factory sites (of 54) which it considers are unlikely to be able to achieve independent financial viability. Remploy will shortly begin collective consultation with its trade unions and the management forums on the proposed closure of these factories and on the potential compulsory redundancy of all the 1,752 people, including 1,518 disabled people, at these sites and associated with them.
Some factory sites, the CCTV business and Remploy employment services appear to be more likely to be able to continue to operate free from government subsidy as advocated by Sayce. In stage 2, the Department for Work and Pensions will work with the Remploy board to identify whether these potentially viable Remploy businesses can be freed from Government control, including by way of employee-led commercial exit and/or open market sales, and how this might be achieved.
I recognise that this announcement will be difficult news for the staff in Remploy factories and understand that they have will have concerns about the future. As part of collective consultation, the Remploy board will consider all proposals to avoid compulsory redundancy.
We are absolutely committed to supporting Remploy employees with an £8 million comprehensive personalised package of support for all those who are affected by these proposals. Any disabled member of staff who is made redundant will receive an offer of individualised support for up to 18 months to help with the transition from Government-funded sheltered employment to mainstream employment. This support will also include access to a personal budget to aid that transition. We will also be working with employers and the Employers Forum on Disability to look to offer targeted work opportunities for displaced staff. We will also establish a community support fund to provide grants to local disability organisations to support Remploy employees to make the transition from sheltered to mainstream employment.
If, after reform of Remploy is complete, it leaves Government, I anticipate that the Remploy pension scheme will run on as a closed scheme. The accrued benefits of members will be fully protected.
The Government’s commitment is to support many more disabled people into work, in line with their aspirations, at a time of severe financial restraint. The changes I am announcing today will enable us to support thousands more disabled people into work, including through significant improvements to the successful Access to Work programme. I believe that this strategy better fits the needs and aspirations of the 21st century—and a world where disabled people participate fully in the mainstream not in Government-funded segregated jobs.
I will place a list of the factories that will be the subject of consultation in the Library of the House.