Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 4 July 2012
Business, Innovation and Skills
Graeme Nuttall has today published the final report of his review of employee ownership. He will launch it at a summit hosted by the Deputy Prime Minister.
“Sharing Success: The Nuttall Review of Employee Ownership” collates the evidence into the benefits of employee ownership, identifies the barriers to its uptake in the private sector economy and makes recommendations to Government and others on addressing those barriers and further promoting employee ownership.
Government will respond to the recommendations Mr Nuttall makes in the autumn. Copies of his report are available in the Libraries of both Houses and on the BIS website: http://www.bis.gov.uk/policies/business-law/employee-ownership.
Mr Nuttall was appointed by my predecessor as Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs in January 2012 to provide advice to Government on how to make it easier for businesses to adopt employee ownership.
Public Service Pensions
On 20 December 2011 I set out to the House the main elements of the new public service pension scheme designs, following the agreements reached with the majority of unions representing health, civil service and teachers’ workers Official Report, column 1201. These agreements were based on the Government’s enhanced offer, an 8% value increase, which I announced in the House on 2 November 2011, Official Report, column 927.
Departments continued to engage with trade unions to finalise the remaining details of the new schemes. Those discussions concluded earlier this year, with proposed final agreements being reached. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) and the Secretary of State for Health reported the details of these final agreements to the House in written ministerial statements on 12 March 2012, Official Report, columns 1WS, 4WS and 7WS respectively.
The Government made it clear that the proposed final agreements were their final position. Most of the unions agreed to take the agreements to their executives on this basis, as the best deal that could be achieved through negotiations.
Most unions have now consulted their membership on the final scheme designs for the NHS pension scheme, teachers’ pension scheme and principal civil service pension scheme.
I am now confirming to the House that the Government will be taking forward legislation based on the position reached in March. Legislation will be introduced during the current parliamentary Session to take these changes forward, as announced in the Queen’s Speech on 9 May.
I can also confirm that the Government have reviewed the fair deal policy and agreed to maintain the overall approach, but deliver this by offering access to public service pension schemes for transferring staff. When implemented, this means that all staff whose employment is compulsorily transferred from the public service under TUPE, including subsequent TUPE transfers, to independent providers of public services will retain membership of their current employer’s pension arrangements. These arrangements will replace the current broad comparability and bulk transfer approach under fair deal, which will then no longer apply. The Government will bring forward detailed proposals for implementing this in the autumn.
The Government will now focus on implementing the public service pension reforms and unions are invited to work with the Government to ensure the changes are introduced as effectively as possible.
Culture, Media and Sport
My Department undertook a public consultation on proposals to amend S4C’s governance arrangements, which ran from 1 February to 4 May 2012. There were 14 responses to the consultation and these will be published on my Department’s website shortly. I am grateful to respondents for taking the time to contribute their views. I have carefully considered the responses and my conclusions are as follows.
In relation to the question of whether the selection panel for the appointment of members to the Welsh authority should include a representative of any body providing funding for S4C, I note the concerns raised that this could undermine S4C’s editorial independence and the principle of the S4C-BBC partnership. I do not, however, share these concerns and agree with the viewpoint that it is right and proper for any body involved in the funding and accountability of S4C to be represented on the selection panel.
Respondents also raised several points and concerns about the method and level of funding S4C and about governance arrangements generally. I have reflected on these points but do not believe there is anything that necessitates a change in the provisional agreement reached between S4C and the BBC in October 2011 or in the current Government position on S4C reform which I welcomed at the time and still consider to be a very positive basis for successful partnership.
The consultation sought views on whether it should be a statutory requirement for any body entering into an agreement to fund S4C to have an operating agreement with S4C. There were general objections to having an operating agreement, on the basis that it would undermine S4C’s independence. Other respondents favoured an operating agreement, for purposes of clarity, transparency and stability. There was not, however, overwhelming evidence for the need for the operating agreement to be enshrined in legislation. My view is that there is a clear need for an operating agreement but I do not believe the need for an operating agreement need be enshrined in legislation, at least not in the short term. I am keen to provide for an opportunity for the operating agreement currently under consideration by BBC and S4C to work in practice without creating new legislation. I believe that the BBC and S4C intend to consult publicly on the content of this operating agreement later in the summer. If, in the future, it becomes clear that the absence of legislation has caused difficulties in the effectiveness of the operating agreement, then I would be prepared to reconsider the need for legislation. Under the Public Bodies Act 2011, there is provision until February 2017 for an operating agreement to be enshrined in legislation.
As a result of these decisions, I am pleased to confirm that we have now made the new arrangements for the governance and funding of S4C as set out in the amended BBC agreement (September 2011).
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Forestry and Woodland Policy in England (Independent Report)
I am grateful to Bishop James Jones and all the panel members for their considerable work, detailed consideration and sound advice on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England. I very much welcome their report. I would also like to thank the many groups and individuals who contributed to the panel’s thinking in the course of their work—their role has been important.
Forests and woodlands are an important part of our heritage and future, and I want to see them make an increased contribution to the environment, economic growth and personal well-being and for everyone to enjoy the many benefits they offer. We know that people feel passionately about forestry and the panel’s report has given us a vision for how a more vibrant future for England’s woods and forests can be achieved.
The natural environment White Paper set out our vision which placed nature at the centre of the choices our nation must make. By properly valuing nature today, we can safeguard the natural areas that we all cherish and from which we derive vital services. We stated an ambition for a major increase in the area of woodland in England, better management of existing woodlands, and a renewed commitment to conserving and restoring ancient woodlands. The panel’s advice will help us to achieve this. The panel’s report shows clearly how forestry has the potential to offer more in terms of green products and green jobs, often in rural economies.
The panel’s work will also inform the future of the public forest estate, a key component of our English woodland network. I therefore agree with the panel that the public forest estate should continue to benefit from public ownership. A well managed and publicly owned estate provides the sort of public benefits we need to protect—such as access and biodiversity.
But I also agree with the International Panel on Forests (IPF) that the way that the estate is cared for and managed should evolve to meet the challenges ahead of us. We need a new model that is able to draw in private finance, make best use of Government funding and a means to facilitate wider and more comprehensive community support.
The Government will now need time to properly consider the work of the panel—we will respond more fully by January 2013 and I look forward to working with the many interested organisations in the development of this response. While we will consider our detailed response we will continue with the general suspension of sales of estate land. In the meantime, we expect the Forestry Commission to continue to manage the estate to deliver the most public benefits.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
I would like to inform the House of the latest developments on Syria, including the meeting of the ministerial action group in Geneva on 30 June.
The situation in Syria remains grave, with hundreds of people dying every week, mainly at the hands of the Syrian regime. The British Government are at the forefront of international activity aimed at bringing about an end to the violence and making progress on political transition in Syria.
On 30 June, I travelled to Geneva for the first meeting of the ministerial action group on Syria, at the request of United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan. The action group held intensive talks on a political transition plan for Syria and agreed that there should be a transitional governing body in Syria; that it should be made up of representatives of the present Syrian Government, the opposition and other groups, formed on the basis of mutual consent. It is our clear understanding that this would preclude President Assad.
It is important that those Governments present in Geneva now maintain the pace of the political process, and hold the Syrian parties—starting with the Syrian Government—to comply fully with the cessation of violence and engage in a genuine political process.
To that end we welcome the meeting of Syrian opposition members in Cairo on 2-3 July. We commend the Arab League and joint special envoy’s efforts to bring the opposition together, and we will continue to stress the need for the opposition to have unity of purpose. We have increased UK funding for the Syrian opposition and civil society groups, providing £1.5 million of assistance in this financial year to help provide human rights monitoring and media training for activists, and other non-lethal support, including communications equipment.
I will attend the next meeting of the Friends of Syria in Paris on 6 July. We will look to the meeting to endorse the outcome of the ministerial action group, and reiterate that President Assad cannot form part of any transition in Syria.
We will also call on countries represented at the Friends of Syria meeting to implement further sanctions against the Syrian regime, building on the 16 rounds of EU sanctions which have included asset freezes and travel bans on a total of 129 individuals and 49 entities. In particular, we call on countries to support the EU oil embargo and to adopt their own embargoes, in order to maintain the financial pressure on the regime. We welcome the EU’s recent decision to strengthen the arms embargo by introducing a specific prohibition on insurance related to arms shipments bound for Syria. We are strongly urging all countries to refrain from providing weapons to the Syrian regime. In parallel, we will take forward work in the United Nations. We continue to believe the UN Security Council must shoulder its responsibilities to bring about an end to the violence. We will continue discussions on a UN Security Council resolution. We will support the efforts of the Human Rights Council and commission of inquiry in documenting crimes and human rights violations and abuses that have been committed, so that those responsible can be held to account.
The British Government will continue to focus on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria. The UK is providing £8.5 million for food, medical care, shelter and other essential support to tens of thousands of people in need in Syria as well as to help refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. In partnership with the UN and international community, we will put pressure on the Syrian Government to match their words with actions and immediately allow full, unimpeded access for humanitarian agencies.
Late Night Drinking
My noble Friend Lord Henley, the Minister of State for Crime Prevention and Antisocial Behaviour Reduction, has today made the following written ministerial statement:
The response to the consultation on the secondary legislation for the late night levy and early morning alcohol restriction orders has been published today.
The late night levy and early morning alcohol restriction orders (EMROs) are two alcohol measures in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The extension of EMROs will allow local councils to restrict the sale of alcohol in their local area flexibly between 12am and 6am. This is a tool that licensing authorities can use to prevent problems in the night-time economy in either a part or the whole of their area. The late night levy will fulfil our commitment to allow councils to levy a charge from those selling alcohol late at night in their area to help contribute towards high policing costs in the late-night economy. Again, it can be applied flexibly between 12am and 6am. These measures will empower local communities to act to achieve a more viable night-time economy and contribute to the Government’s alcohol strategy to turn the tide against irresponsible drinking.
The response to the “Dealing with the Problems of Late Night Drinking” consultation considers the various comments received from a wide range of respondents. Their views have contributed to the development of the regulations that detail how these policies will be implemented. The first of these regulations have been laid today.
Copies of the response to the consultation will be placed in the House Library and it is also available on the Home Office website at www.homeoffice.gov.uk
Serious Organised Crime Agency (Annual Report and Accounts)
The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has today published its annual report and accounts for 2011-12. I have laid a copy before the House and the report will also be made available in the Vote Office.
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency
In December 2011, I launched a full consultation around a programme of work to transform the way that the DVLA delivers its services to customers. The consultation recognised the need to modernise the way these services are delivered and to respond to the growing demand for more flexible public services.
Today I am announcing that the DVLA will press ahead with its proposals to modernise its services. As a result of this decision the DVLA will centralise its enforcement operations by March 2013 and will close its 39 local offices by the end of 2013. While I recognise that a large number of respondents expressed concerns, I believe that many of these concerns can be mitigated and I am confident that this programme will result in modern, effective services delivering savings of £26 million each year.
I am also announcing that the DVLA will work to ensure that customers in Northern Ireland have access to the full range of vehicle services available to the rest of the UK. This will include online taxing of vehicles and introducing additional benefits such as retaining registration marks.
The DVLA will build on its successes in electronic delivery by providing more transactions online. Local businesses will act as intermediaries to offer motorists more convenient access to certain DVLA services through at least 4,000 outlets nationwide compared to the current 39 DVLA local offices. The DVLA will ensure that alternative service channels will be available before offices close.
Many of the concerns arising from the consultation related to issues around potential degradation of services and uncertainty over the alternative channels. The DVLA has developed its proposals to address these concerns. Discussions with stakeholders have helped shape these proposals, which will provide the motor trade and individual motorists with a more efficient and effective service through a greater number of convenient, accessible channels.
I am grateful to all those who engaged in the consultation process as their views have helped to develop the proposals in a way that can ensure customer needs are met.
Today, I am publishing a package of documents, including an impact assessment and a formal response to the consultation. These documents provide more detail of the future services and will be available on the DVLA website and in the Library of the House.
I am committed to maintaining or enhancing current service levels for all motorists and the DVLA will continue to work with stakeholders to support their transition onto new channels.
Work and Pensions
Access to Work
This Government are committed to ensuring that the protected budget for disability employment helps more disabled people into work.
Access to Work provides support for transport to work, support workers and specialist adaptations and equipment over and above that which is a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act. It can provide essential support not only for people with physical impairments but also for people with learning disabilities and mental health conditions.
We know that Access to Work is a highly effective programme which currently helps around 35,000 disabled people in work each year. Liz Sayce’s review of specialist disability employment provision highlighted Access to Work’s effectiveness. However, she also called it the “best kept secret in Government”. We do not think it is right for Access to Work to be a hidden success and expanding, strengthening and modernising this programme will make work and choice of work possible for many more disabled people.
We have already announced an extra £15 million for Access to Work and plans to launch a targeted marketing campaign. Today I am announcing more about the marketing campaign and other key changes to improve the programme so that it can support more disabled people into work.
We are building awareness with individuals who could benefit from Access to Work and employers looking to recruit or retain a disabled person. We know that certain groups of disabled people, such as those with mental health conditions and those aged 16 to 24 do not benefit from the programme as much as they could. We have therefore launched a 12-month targeted marketing campaign to actively encourage more people from these under-represented groups to use Access to Work.
We are focusing on regions where Access to Work is not widely used, such as in Wales. We will seek to use the disabled people’s user-led organisation ambassador for Wales to increase awareness of the benefits of Access to Work. We will also work with key stakeholders and charities in Wales to understand why take-up is lower and how they can increase the number of disabled people supported in Wales.
We will use the most appropriate channels to reach these audiences, including human resources departments of large employers to increase understanding among those with mental health conditions and user-led organisation ambassadors. We will also work with small and medium-sized enterprises to promote Access to Work within organisations that may not be aware of how it can help them recruit or retain a disabled person.
I am also announcing today some changes we are making to help young people through Access to Work.
From the autumn Access to Work will be available to support young disabled people undertaking voluntary work experience under the youth contract. This change will help thousands of young disabled people take their first significant step towards employment by supporting them to benefit from a voluntary work experience placement over the next three years.
We will also do more to raise awareness of Access to Work among young people in education. Our targeted marketing campaign will focus on this group by working with careers advisors to raise the programme’s profile, and working with charities and other organisations involved in supporting young people as they move out of secondary education.
Looking more widely across Government, from autumn we will support the Department for Education’s supported internships for 16 to 25-year-olds with the most complex learning difficulties or disabilities. We will ensure that Access to Work provision is in place to support young people accessing the supported internship trials, enabling them to receive a seamless package of support as they move from education into employment where their internship results in the offer of a job.
These changes are the first steps in our programme to ensure that Access to Work is expanded to help more people, including young people.
On 7 March I confirmed that we would be accepting 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. We have already started work to implement some of the more straightforward changes such as strengthening the pre-employment eligibility letter and introducing a stronger triage system of Access to Work applicants. Today I am announcing that we have established an expert advisory panel to consider Liz Sayce’s other recommendations and advise the Department on the best way to take them forward.
But we want to go further than this. We want considerable modernisation of Access to Work. So we will also be asking the panel to make its own recommendations on how to significantly improve the programme. It will consider fundamental questions such as alternative delivery options and how to improve the programme on an operational level to make it more efficient. The panel will report on these fundamental questions in the new year.
I have asked Mike Adams OBE to lead the panel. Mike has a wealth of experience working for disability organisations and I look forward to working with him on this important task.
This programme of work—from protected budget to dramatic expansion—represents the most radical review of Access to Work in the programme’s history and reflects the Government’s commitment to build on Liz Sayce’s work and deliver disability employment support fit for the 21st century.