Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 27 June 2012
Business, Innovation and Skills
Insolvency Service Performance Targets
I have today agreed to the publication of the Insolvency Service’s performance targets for the period 2012-13.
Over the past two years there has been a significant fall in the number of bankruptcies, which has driven down the number of new compulsory insolvency cases dealt with the by the official receiver from 78,000 cases in 2009-10 to a level of 43,600 in 2011-12, with the expectation that this will continue to fall to around 35,000 in 2012-13.
In response to this fall in cases. The service has cut many of its costs, including a reduction in its staff complement from 3,200 to 2,100, and has introduced a number of significant operational changes throughout 2011-12. I have, nonetheless, set the service some challenging targets for the coming year.
In response to the significant change which the service is undergoing, it has decided to increase its focus on staff engagement and has introduced its score for this as a published target in 2012-13.
In reviewing its other targets the service has decided to increase their number, so that they cover a broader range of enforcement outputs and improve consistency in the way in which timeliness for enforcement is measured, with the focus being to ensure that statutory deadlines are met. The service will continue to measure its stakeholders’ confidence in the enforcement regime, seeking to improve on last year’s score of 65%.
Similarly the service will continue to monitor the timely delivery of key outputs to customers for redundancy payments and reports to creditors, as well as the overall level of customer satisfaction.
At present, the service is undergoing an independent review of its funding and corporate structure, which is due to report to BIS at the end of June 2012. As the recommendations from this review will, no doubt, impact heavily on the organisation’s activity for 2012-13 and beyond I have agreed that, while their key targets should not change from those issued here, their corporate plan should be published once the outcome of the review is known.
Therefore the Insolvency Service Corporate Plan will be available from the end of August 2012 at: http://www.bis.gov.uk/insolvency/About-us.
Insolvency Service Published Targets
Customers and Stakeholders
Percentage of customers who were very satisfied or satisfied with the service they received (ORS/RPS)
Stakeholder confidence in the service’s enforcement regime (IES/ORS)
Insolvency Service staff engagement score, as recorded through the Civil Service Staff Survey
Percentage of reports issued to creditors within eight weeks (ORS)
a) for bankruptcy cases
b) for company cases
% of appropriate disqualification cases in which proceedings are instigated (S16 letter issued) in under 23 months (ORS/IES)
% of live investigation completed within six months (IES)
% Bankruptcy Restrictions authorised within 11 months of the date of insolvency (ORS/IES)
Action redundancy payment claims (RPS)
a) within 3 weeks
b) within 6 weeks
The service will also look to build upon its current Customer Service Excellence and Investor in People status, by gaining re-accreditation in 2012.
In addition to these targets the service is required to meet Government-wide targets relating to replying to correspondence from hon. Members, and making payments to suppliers.
Reply to correspondence from Members of Parliament within 10 days
Process payments to suppliers within 30 days
The Government have also instructed Departments and agencies to maximise levels of payment of undisputed invoices within eight days.
Tax-advantaged Employee Share Schemes
The Government have today published two separate consultation documents on changes to tax-advantaged employee share schemes.
The first contains the Government’s initial response to the recommendations published by the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) on 6 March 2012 in its review of approved employee share schemes. The Government intend to take forward many of these recommendations, including one of the OTS’s main proposals—that self-certification by businesses should replace the current HMRC scheme approvals process. The Government welcome views from interested stakeholders on the design of detailed proposals in this area.
The document also requests further evidence on potential costs, benefits and other impacts of the majority of the OTS’s supplementary recommendations, to help inform future decisions on whether to proceed with these.
The second document published today seeks views on a proposed extension to the enterprise management incentives scheme to benefit academic employees of qualifying companies. This consultation was first announced at Budget 2012.
These consultations will close on 18 September 2012.
Electronic copies of both documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council (12 June)
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council on Tuesday 12 June in Luxembourg dealt only with fisheries business. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) represented the UK. Richard Lochhead MSP and Alun Davies AM were also in attendance.
The agenda was confined to discussion of the three main common fisheries policy (CFP) reform regulations. Following previous discussions of key aspects of the package at Council in March, April and May, the presidency aimed to agree Council general approaches on the CFP basic regulation and common market organisation (CMO) proposals. The presidency also submitted a progress report for Council to note on the later proposal for a European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF), on which there had been insufficient time for agreement to be reached.
Following an initial table round it was clear that the main outstanding issues on the compromise texts related to discards, maximum sustainable yield (MSY), and regionalisation. On discards, a significant number of member states were opposed to early deadlines for the introduction of landing obligations, or opposed to legal provisions on the elimination of discards in principle. On MSY, some member states were reluctant to agree challenging targets and raised concerns about practical implications in specific fisheries. Many member states expressed concerns about the role of the Commission under a regionalised process.
Discussions of these issues continued throughout the day and into the early hours of the following morning with the presidency pushing hard for agreement to a general approach. The UK played a major role in the process, forming alliances in support of our objectives and helping to shape the final compromise texts.
Council eventually reached agreement on a general approach on the CFP reform regulations which met many of the UK’s objectives. The agreement included introduction of a discard ban by 1 Jan 2014 for pelagic stocks and phased introduction beginning in 2015 and fully in place by 2018 for other UK fisheries; deadlines for the achievement of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels in fisheries by 2015 where possible, and by 2020 at the latest; and agreement on the processes to regionalise decision making in line with the proposals the UK had developed with other member states. This was an important first step in securing genuine and effective CFP reform. The final agreement through co-decision with the European Parliament is not expected to be concluded until late 2013.
Agricultural and Fisheries Council (18 June)
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council on Monday 18 June in Luxembourg was attended by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for agriculture and food. Alun Davies AM also attended.
The Council discussed the draft rural development regulations, which set the rules for the use of Pillar 2 of the CAP. There were two questions: whether there should be a minimum percentage of spending on environmental activity, and EU co-financing of Pillar 2 measures.
On environmental activity, the proposal included a non-binding guideline of a minimum of 25%. Member states split three ways: those that felt it unnecessary; those that could accept if it remained non-binding, and those that wanted it to be legally binding. There were also calls to include more areas under the provision such as forestry, Natura 2000 and the water framework directive.
On co-financing, the Commission proposal was for a single rate of EU funding for most spending in most member states, with a higher rate for less developed regions and some specific measures. Member states’ views were varied: no increase at all, a simple rate would be a useful simplification, requests for national flexibility, higher rates for countries undergoing austerity, and that environmental measures could be co-financed at 100%. The UK and others argued that money transferred from Pillar 1 to 2 should not require national co-financing.
The presidency presented their report on the CAP negotiations. It was broadly welcomed by member states, but did stimulate some discussion notably on greening and the need to develop wider options for Pillar 1. Newer member states wanted a solution for the convergence of payment levels between member states. A number of member states noted stronger concern about the proposals on capping than was reflected in the report.
The Council adopted conclusions on the protection and welfare of animals. The Netherlands submitted a declaration expressing concern at the Commission’s lack of ambition in the EU welfare strategy and the importance of dealing with the shortcomings identified in their review of the animal transport legislation—and abstained. Sweden, supported by Belgium, Austria and Denmark, made a statement to the same effect as that made by the Netherlands. The UK also made a statement on improving welfare during transport, noting particularly the importance of scientific evidence. The Commission noted the widespread support for their strategy and promised to bring forward various non-legislative proposals to address some of the practical problems on animal transportation.
Under any other business the Commission provided information on the level of member state compliance on sow stalls. Eighteen would be compliant by 1 January 2013 (UK already compliant), but at least nine would not. The Commission stated they would bring infringement proceedings against non-compliant states.
The Commission had written to Ministers on the G20 action plan about food price volatility and agriculture. G20 Ministers and officials had met in Mexico to discuss implementation, and its report and recommendations were discussed at the G20 summit on 18 and 19 June.
The presidency informed the Council of draft conclusions on antimicrobial resistance, expecting the conclusions to be adopted at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) on 22 June.
The Commission presented its routine report on organic production and labelling. There would be no legislative proposals now but they would engage in a consultation until the end of 2013
Poland and Lithuania, supported by eight member states, asked for export refunds to be re-opened. This was rejected by the Commission, but the situation would be kept under review.
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
Health Ministers met on 22 June in Luxembourg for the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council. I represented the UK.
The Council agreed a partial general approach on the proposal for a regulation on establishing the health for growth programme 2014-20, the third successive public health programme. The Commission and some member states preferred approach was not reflected in the text on the table, particularly the amended title and measures around differential co-financing. However, with one exception, all member states supported the partial general approach. The UK lifted its parliamentary scrutiny reserve and supported the proposal, stressing that the negotiation of sectoral programmes should not be prejudicial to the wider negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework.
There was an orientation debate on the draft decision on serious cross-border threats to health. Most member states, including the UK, agreed with the presidency’s proposal to delete the article giving the Commission power to introduce common temporary health measures to contain serious health threats. There was also broad consensus that the co-ordination of response planning was primarily an issue for member states, and best achieved through the Health Security Committee, without any need for binding measures.
Council conclusions on combating antimicrobial resistance were adopted without comment.
Under any other business (AOB), the presidency ran through the achievements in the field of health under their presidency, touching upon the conclusion of discussions between the Council and the European Parliament on proposals concerning pharmacovigilance, and on the presidency’s conclusion that it would not be possible to make further progress on the information to patients proposal. The Commission drew delegations’ attention to their communication on the innovation partnership on active and health ageing, and gave an overview of its contents. France presented two AOB points (the first jointly with Luxembourg) on the safeguarding of the supply of raw materials for pharmaceuticals, and on the MEDICRIME convention.
Finally, there was a lunchtime debate on the joint procurement of medical countermeasures in response to major outbreaks of communicable diseases (such as a pandemic flu). Some member states were reserved in indicating whether they intended to participate in such a programme, and whether it should be extended to facilitate the procurement of non-emergency countermeasures. The UK maintained that it did not intend to participate in a joint procurement exercise at this stage.
I am pleased to announce that Mr David Anderson QC has completed his second annual report as the statutory independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, on the operation of the Terrorism Act 2000 and Part 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006 in 2011. This report will be laid before the House today.
I will carefully consider his recommendations in consultation with other relevant departments and agencies. The Government’s response to his recommendations will be laid before the House in due course.
Security Industry Authority (Annual Report)
I am pleased to announce that the annual report 2011-12 and accounts of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) will be laid before Parliament and published today.
Copies of the report will be available in the Vote Office.
Fraud Act 2006
I have today laid before Parliament the Government’s memorandum to the Justice Committee on post-legislative scrutiny of the Fraud Act 2006. Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The Fraud Act 2006 reformed the law on fraud and created a general offence of fraud that can be committed in three ways: by false representation, by failing to disclose information and by abuse of a position of trust.
These reforms have been implemented, in line with the stated objectives of the Act, as detailed in the memorandum.
The memorandum also reviews the use of the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud and concludes that this remains a useful tool in prosecutors’ armouries.
Local Sustainable Transport Fund
I am pleased to announce today that I am awarding a further £266 million to support authorities in delivering local economic growth while cutting carbon emissions from transport. This funding unlocks further local funding sources to deliver £460 million investment in local sustainable transport schemes.
Today’s announcement is the third and final instalment of the local sustainable transport fund, which is now delivering over £1 billion investment in sustainable travel across England, and demonstrating that economic growth and carbon reduction go hand in hand. To facilitate today’s announcements, I have secured an additional £40 million for the fund, on top of the original £560 million allocation.
On 20 December 2011, the Department received 13 business cases for large projects for the local sustainable transport fund.
I have decided to announce £225 million for 12 large projects today, and I have also reserved up to £5 million funding for a small project from Tyne and Wear ITA, which my officials will progress with officers from Tyne and Wear during the coming weeks. The list of decisions made today regarding large projects is attached.
On 24 February 2012, the Department received 53 small project bids to tranche 2. On 24 May 2012 I announced £113 million to fund 30 small projects, and I am today committing a further £41 million to fund 15 more. The list of decisions made today regarding the remaining tranche 2 bids is also attached.
I am very pleased that every single eligible local authority across England has applied for funding to the local sustainable transport fund, either as a lead bidder, or as a partner authority to a large project. The fund has been well received by local government and I am confident that it will be effective in addressing the two key objectives of creating growth and cutting carbon.
All projects were assessed against published criteria. Successful projects were those judged to perform well against the twin objectives of supporting the local economy and facilitating economic development, while reducing carbon emissions. They also demonstrated potential to deliver wider social and economic benefits, to improve safety, to bring about improvements to air quality, or to promote increased levels of physical activity.
All large projects included a full economic appraisal based on the Department’s WebTAG guidance. The vast majority of funded large projects offer at least high value for money, with several offering very high value for money.
Projects Approved for Funding
LSTF Project Name
DFT Funding (2012-15)
Tyne and Wear ITA**
Addressing the barriers that transport creates to economic growth and accessing employment
Up to 5,000
Supporting Sustainable Access to Opportunity in Merseyside
Transport for Greater Manchester*
Let us Get to Work
Yorkshire and the Humber
South Yorkshire ITA
A Sustainable Journey to Work
Nottingham City Council*
Nottingham Urban Area LSTF Main Bid
Smart Network, Smarter Choices
Telford and Wrekin Council*
Telford Future—Local Action for Sustainable Growth
East of England
Hertfordshire County Council*
BIG HERTS BIG IDEAS
Reading Borough Council*
Targeting Travel Choice Transitions
Surrey County Council*
Surrey Travel SMART
Transport for South Hampshire
A Better Connected South Hampshire: Supporting Growth, Reducing Carbon, Improving Health
Bournemouth Borough Council (South East Dorset)*
South East Dorset Sustainable Travel Package—“The 3 Towns Corridor”
Bristol City Council*
West of England Sustainable Transport (WEST)
*Partial funding approved.
**Funding for a revised small project proposal from Tyne and Wear ITA, based on elements of their Large Project business case, has also been retained, and will be awarded pending a successful revised small project application.
Projects Approved for Funding
LSTF Project Name
DFT Funding (2012-15)
Sustainable Middlesbrough—A Place for Business
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council*
BwD CONNECT Project
St Helens Council
Mid Mersey Sustainable Cross Boundary Links
Yorkshire and the Humber
North Yorkshire County Council*
(1) Harrogate and Knaresborough Sustainable Transport Package
(2) Boosting the Tourism Economy in Whitby and the Esk Valley
Rutland County Council*
Stoke-on-Trent City Council (combined with joint bid with Staffordshire County Council)
Stoking Employment in North Staffordshire (a combination of “Stoking Employment” and “North Staffordshire Sustainable Transport Package”)
East of England
Bedford Borough Council*
Access to Stations
East Sussex County Council*
East Sussex Coastal Towns—Better travel to Work and Education
East Sussex County Council*
Travel Choices for Lewes
Hampshire County Council*
Sustainable Transport Solutions for England’s two newest National Parks
Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead*
Sustainable Growth for Maidenhead
West Sussex County Council*
West Sussex Sustainable Travel Towns
Improving Wiltshire’s Rail Offer
*Partial funding approved.
LSTF Project Name
East of England
Norfolk County Council
Connecting Norfolk to Growth
West Berkshire Council
“Connecting West Berkshire”—keeping our economy and people moving
Somerset County Council
Two Moors Sustainable Visitor Travel Project
Work and Pensions
Credit Union Expansion Project
On 10 May 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions published the credit union feasibility study looking at the sustainability of credit unions. It also examined what more can be done to expand them to serve many more people on lower incomes. The study has been well received by the sector and a range of stakeholders.
Credit unions are doing a good job offering access to credit and other financial services for people on lower incomes. They provide a real alternative to higher cost credit available from the commercial sector and illegal loan sharks. Therefore, if credit unions are ready for the challenge of modernisation and expansion we are willing to support them. Today, I am announcing that the Government will take forward the findings of the feasibility study. In particular, the DWP will make a further investment of up to £38 million over the next three years in credit unions. This investment, which is in addition to the £13 million we invested in 2011-12, will be conditional upon the credit union industry meeting a number of agreed milestones for collaboration, modernisation and expansion. Our aim will be to ensure the industry’s financial sustainability by the end of the project.
The feasibility study showed that at present even the biggest credit unions struggle to meet the operating costs of making small loans to people on lower incomes. Therefore, in addition to our investment in modernisation and expansion, we plan to consult on raising the cap on the interest rate that credit unions are permitted to charge on loans, to determine whether it will help credit unions achieve financial sustainability and reach a wider range of customers.
The Department for Work and Pensions, HM Treasury, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will continue to work closely on all aspects of the credit union expansion project, including the formal consultation on the interest rate cap and any subsequent legislative changes.