Written Ministerial Statements
Thursday 8 March 2012
Business, Innovation and Skills
Green Investment Bank
On 12 December 2011, I published details of the criteria I would take into account in reaching decisions about the location of the Green investment bank (GIB). The two primary criteria were concerned with (i) the ability to recruit and retain the necessary specialist staff and (ii) the ability to engage effectively with the “ecosystem” for originating and negotiating transactions. A further consideration related to how the choice of location would affect the overall costs of operating the GIB.
Interested parties were invited to make representations about the merits of particular proposed locations by 30 January. We received 32 such representations and these have been reviewed carefully. I have now reached conclusions on this matter and am today publishing a decision document with reasons. A copy of this and other supporting documents have been placed in the Library of the House and these may also be found on the GIB page of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills website.
Our assessment concluded that London and Edinburgh were the two leading candidates of the proposed locations. In light of the strengths that these two cities offer, I have decided that the headquarters of the GIB should be in Edinburgh, with the GIB’s transaction team and project financing team based, initially, in a London office.
Edinburgh is an established centre for financial services, coupled with a thriving green sector. It has the excellent transport and communications links that will enable GIB staff to engage with partner organisations as necessary. As the GIB develops into one of the UK’s leading investors in green infrastructure, it will benefit from the asset management skills for which Edinburgh is well known.
The assessment also underlined the strength of London in large-scale project and structured finance transactions. To be effective in originating transactions and participating fully alongside other commercial investors, it is clear to me that the GIB’s major transaction team must be located, at least initially, in London, though capacity may be developed over time in Edinburgh. In coming to this decision, I have concluded that the challenge of recruiting teams of project financiers of the necessary skill and experience outside London would represent a significant risk to the successful operation of the GIB in its early stages.
I believe this decision will ensure the GIB is able to operate effectively and achieve its mission of mobilising the additional investment needed to accelerate the UK’s transition to a green economy. Meeting the Government’s ambitious environmental and carbon reduction goals will require sustained investment over many decades, developing a whole new financial sub-sector. It is with that vision in mind that I have taken the strategic decision to ensure a commercial reach throughout the country, initially through significant presence in both Edinburgh and London. Over time I would envisage further offices being opened as the bank develops its activities, though this will be a decision for the GIB board to make. I would also expect that as the GIB stimulates the national green financial services sector, it would move some functions out of London over time, helping to contribute towards the Government’s goal of rebalancing the UK’s economy.
It is unusual for Government to decide the location of a new company. However in this case, the importance of the role of the GIB and the widespread national interest in the bank’s location has justified a thorough and open process. The Edinburgh headquarters will be specified in the company’s constitutional documents. The GIB will operate at arm’s length from Government, with the Government acting as its sole shareholder. As such, further detailed decisions about its structure and organisational arrangements will be a matter solely for the GIB’s senior management.
My principal aim, which I know is widely shared, is to ensure the GIB is successful and has a real impact in the green economy as soon as possible. I believe that this location decision will deliver that aim. We are now pressing ahead with the recruitment of the GIB’s chair and senior independent director, so that the bank will be in a position to be fully operational this autumn, subject to obtaining the necessary state aid approval.
Higher Education Student Finance (2013-14)
I am today confirming the student finance package for higher education students undertaking a course of study in the academic year beginning September 2013.
For all new and continuing full-time students in 2013-14, maximum tuition charges and maximum tuition loans will be maintained at 2012-13 levels.
For all new part-time students in 2013-14, and all continuing part-time students who started their courses on or after 1 September 2012, maximum tuition charges and maximum tuition loans will be maintained at 2012-13 levels.
The maximum maintenance grant for students attending full-time courses in 2013-14 will be uprated in line with inflation. For new students and continuing students who started their courses on or after 1 September 2012, the maximum grant in 2013-14 will be increased to £3,354. For continuing students who started their courses before 1 September 2012, the maximum grant in 2013-14 will be increased to £3,080.
For all new and continuing full-time students attending their courses in 2013-14, loans for living costs will be maintained at 2012-13 levels.
For those students who started part-time and full-time distance learning courses before 1 September 2012 and who are continuing their courses in 2013-14, maximum fee and course grants will be uprated in line with inflation. Maximum fee grants will be increased to £1,270, depending on the intensity of study of the course. Maximum course grants will be increased to £275.
Maximum grants for students with dependants and those with disabilities will also be maintained at 2012-13 levels in 2013-14.
Household income thresholds for grants for tuition and living costs, and loans for living costs, will be maintained at 2012-13 levels for 2013-14.
I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student support for 2013-14 before both Houses in the summer 2012.
Teachers' Pension Regulations
At the spending review 2010 the Government proposed increases to member contribution rates that would lead to savings of £2.8 billion a year by 2014-15, to be phased in from April 2012. The increases were to be progressive, affording protection to those on lower salaries and reducing the potential for members opting out of the scheme.
My Department consulted on a system of tiered contribution rates that would secure the savings and offer protection to those with lower incomes. The consultation opened on 28 July 2011 and closed on 20 October 2011. Over 1,700 responses were received to the consultation.
These regulations bring the tiered contribution rates into force. They will apply for service from 1 April 2012 and continue throughout the financial year. The Government remain committed to meeting their spending review commitments in 2013-14 and 2014-15 by increasing member contributions in public service pension schemes. The Department will be discussing potential contribution rate structures for 2013-14 and 2014-15 with unions and employers before starting a formal consultation process.
These regulations also provide a number of minor amendments required to ensure the TPS aligns with the Finance Act 2011 and to clarify administration procedures.
Taylor Report on Alternative Provision
On 1 September last year, I asked the Government’s expert adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor, to review and report on school attendance and alternative provision.
He has now published his report on alternative provision, and I am writing to him to accept his recommendations.
Children who are in alternative provision are among the most vulnerable. When they receive poor quality provision they are being let down by those who should be looking after their interests. Their outcomes are well below those of their peers, and they may leave education ill-equipped to become productive members of society.
The recommendations in the report should raise standards in the alternative provision sector so that pupils achieve better academic outcomes and are motivated to remain in education.
We will therefore take steps to implement the recommendations in his report as early as we can.
Copies of Charlie Taylor’s report, and my response to him, are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Reviewing and Strengthening the NHS Constitution
As Secretary of State for Health, I have a duty, under the Health Act 2009, to publish a report on how the NHS constitution has affected patients, staff, carers and the public by 5 July 2012.
The Government are committed to the common set of principles and values established by the NHS constitution, and have made a number of amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill to strengthen its influence on the NHS.
The statutory requirement for a report on the impact of the NHS constitution provides an excellent opportunity to assess the contribution it has made to reinforcing the principles and values of the NHS, supporting high quality patient care and ensuring that patients, the public and staff are aware of their rights, as well as what they can contribute. The report will help to inform efforts to fully embed the constitution in the everyday work of the NHS, including the plans of the NHS Commissioning Board (NHSCB) and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to fulfil their duties to promote the NHS constitution.
In order to make the most of this opportunity, I am keen to have a wide range of advice and I have therefore asked Professor Steve Field to chair an independent Future Forum working group to advise me on the NHS constitution. The Future Forum group will use a wide variety of information, including surveys, workshops, performance data, and patient experience reports to examine what effect the constitution has had on the NHS and will then advise me on how best to reflect this in my report.
Following the report, I have also asked the new Future Forum group to advise me whether there is any scope for strengthening the NHS constitution to support the fair and effective operation of the NHS. Both the group and the Government will engage with key NHS, professional and patient organisations in considering the potential for changes, before a full public consultation in autumn 2012. Any amendments to the NHS constitution would then come into effect by April 2013.
Between them, this work and the new duties on the NHS constitution contained in the Health and Social Care Bill, which will require NHS bodies to have regard to the constitution and for the NHSCB and CCGs to promote the constitution, will strengthen both the contents of the NHS constitution and the role it plays in the NHS.
Whistleblowing and the NHS Constitution
On 9 June 2010, I announced a full inquiry into the failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and gave a commitment to
“Reinforce the NHS constitution to make clear the rights and responsibilities of NHS staff and their employers in respect of whistleblowing”.
The Department of Health ran a full public consultation on a set of proposals for changes to the NHS constitution in respect of whistleblowing and published the Government’s response to that consultation, on 18 October 2011, setting out a commitment to making the changes in early 2012.
I have today published a revised NHS constitution which highlights the existing rights of NHS staff to raise concerns without fear of detriment and makes it clear that it is the right and duty of all NHS workers to report bad practice or any mistreatment of patients receiving care from the health service at the earliest opportunity.
Changes to the constitution add:
an expectation that staff should raise concerns at the earliest opportunity;
a pledge that NHS organisations should support staff when raising concerns by ensuring their concerns are fully investigated and that there is someone independent, outside of their team, to speak to; and
clarity around the existing legal right for staff to raise concerns about safety, malpractice or other wrongdoing without suffering any detriment.
These changes are part of a series of measures intended to highlight the importance of whistleblowing in the NHS. This Government have already issued unequivocal guidance to NHS organisations that all their contracts of employment should cover staff whistleblowing rights and amended the NHS staff terms and conditions of service handbook for those staff on Agenda for Change terms and conditions to include a contractual right to raise concerns. We have also issued guidance to the NHS on supporting and taking action on concerns raised by staff.
Enshrining whistleblowing in the constitution will contribute to further raising the profile of whistleblowing and play an important role in creating a culture where staff will be able to raise genuine concerns in good faith, without fear of reprisal.
I recently announced that the Department of Health has put in place a new and improved contract for the provision of a confidential whistleblowing helpline for NHS staff to provide them with advice on how to raise concerns and what legal protections are available to them when they do. The new contract provides for a free phone service and extends the provision of the contract to staff working in social care.
The revised NHS constitution 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.
Violence Against Women and Girls
Today, on international women’s day, we are publishing an updated violence against women and girls action plan. A copy will be placed in the House Library.
Each year, over 1 million women suffer domestic abuse, over 300,000 women are sexually assaulted and 60,000 women are raped. This is wholly unacceptable in modern-day Britain.
Soon after coming to office we set out a new strategy to end violence against women and girls, placing prevention at the heart of our approach. This document updates the actions underpinning that strategy, and details the progress made. Our key themes of prevention, provision of good quality services, improved partnership working, better justice outcomes and risk reduction remain so this revised document builds on the previous plan and makes it clear what we expect from local areas and local partners.
The previous action plan set out 88 specific actions. More than half of them have been completed, including the provision of almost £40 million of earmarked funding for specialist support services over the spending review period; the implementation of new laws to make all local areas hold a domestic homicide review after every domestic violence death; and the piloting of domestic violence protection orders. We are making good progress on almost all of the remaining actions.
This updated plan includes new actions to help keep women safe. For the first time, we will pilot a process for the police to give women access to information about the past actions of a new partner where that may help keep them safe. We will also create two new specific criminal offences of stalking and we are today tabling amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill so that these new offences can be enacted as soon as possible. And we will work to reduce the harm suffered by the vulnerable women working in prostitution.
We are proud of the progress this Government have made in protecting the lives of women and girls and remain committed to ending the violence and abuse which continues to blight the lives of too many of them.
Judicial Pension Schemes
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 April 2012.
The Judicial Pensions (Contributions) Regulations 2012, laid today, will introduce from April new net personal contributions of 1.28% of salary for the members of the judicial pension schemes who have not accrued full pensions benefits. The regulations also set out when no contributions are due and ensure that the payment of personal judicial pensions contributions will have no impact on the maximum additional voluntary contributions that an individual may make.
The Government remain committed to securing in full the spending review savings in 2013-14 and 2014-15 from further increases to member contributions to public service pension schemes.
The associated Judicial Pensions (European Court of Human Rights) (Amendment) Order 2012, also laid today, will enable contributions towards the costs of providing personal benefits to be taken other than from salary, from the UK judge of the European Court of Human Rights if that judge continues to be a member of a judicial pensions scheme in line with the process already in place for collecting contributions towards dependants’ benefits.
I am today publishing “Reforming our Railways: Putting the Customer First”, which sets out the Government’s vision for the railways, alongside the policies that are needed to realise that vision. I am also announcing consultations on how we might move to a more transparent, modern and flexible approach to fares and ticketing; and on the opportunity to devolve power and responsibility away from Whitehall’s traditional command and control structure to the appropriate local level. I am making an oral statement to the House today to explain our approach.
Commission on Devolution in Wales
I informed the House on 11 October 2011 that the Commission on Devolution in Wales would conduct its work in two parts: in part I, which is currently under way, the commission is reviewing the case for devolution of any fiscal powers to the National Assembly for Wales and if so what areas those could cover. The commission has confirmed that it currently intends to report on its findings on part I in late autumn 2012.
Part II of the commission will examine the powers of the National Assembly and consider whether to recommend any modifications that it considers could improve the current arrangements. The commission has requested an extension to the time by when it will report on its recommendations in relation to part II. I have agreed to this request and the commission will therefore publish its part II findings by spring 2014, rather than during 2013, enabling it to give more thorough consideration to the Welsh devolution settlement.