Friday 17 January 2014
Following the successful completion of the first wave of city deals in July 2012, with the “core cities” the Government committed to work with a further 20 cities and their wider areas to negotiate a second wave of city deals in October 2012.
I can today inform the House that the Government and business and civic leaders in Plymouth and the area covered by Plymouth city council, Cornwall council, Devon county council, Somerset county council and Torbay council have reached agreement on a city deal.
The Plymouth and the south-west peninsula city deal will build on the area’s strengths in the marine and advanced manufacturing sectors. The Ministry of Defence will work with business and civic leaders to make available an important site—South Yard—that will provide both new employment space for marine sector companies and provide access to deep water, thereby enabling marine research and development and commercialisation activities to be undertaken.
A youth employment scheme will be launched that will work with all young people engaging in employment and skills activities. This scheme will aim to simplify access to employment and skills programmes for businesses.
The city deal will also deliver a business support programme to provide businesses with support and advice to assist their growth. Business and civic leaders in Plymouth and the south-west anticipate that the deal will enable the creation of more than 9,500 jobs by 2030 and will work with 1,500 young people to support a large number into sustained employment.
Communities and Local Government
Severe Weather (Government Support)
I would like to pay tribute to the superb work that local authorities, local resilience forums, the voluntary and community sector and the Environment Agency, have done, to protect communities impacted by recent storms and for the work they continue to do to help them return to normality.
I am pleased to announce today that the Government are making £6.7 million available to help local authorities in England to recover from the impact of the recent severe weather. The Department for Communities and Local Government is providing £3.2 million and the Department for Transport £3.5 million to the severe weather recovery support package.
This support, which is funded through reprioritised existing budgets, will offer local councils the opportunity to apply for additional resources to support recovery efforts in areas affected by the severe weather. It will help communities recover and repair damage to sections of the local highway network in affected areas.
I appreciate many local authorities are still undertaking clean-up operations and it will take some time to assess damage, particularly to their transport infrastructure.
The funding for roads announced today is in addition to the £3.4 billion the Department for Transport is providing to local highway authorities between 2011 to 2015 on highways maintenance which could also be used for road repairs.
I will set clear expectations for results to be achieved with these funds, and local authorities will have a key role in identifying priorities for assistance and for working closely with communities and businesses to enable this to happen. Departmental officials are working to finalise arrangements for the allocation of this money and will write to local authority chief executives shortly to confirm the availability of the funds and the application process.
The recovery support package announced today is in addition to financial assistance the Government will make available through the Bellwin scheme to local authorities to assist with the immediate costs associated with these events.
In terms of support for businesses, I recognise that temporary cash flow may be a particular issue for affected businesses and help is available through measures that apply UK wide:
HMRC will consider any request for a time to pay extension for customers affected by the recent flooding. Each case is treated on its own merits and affected individuals should contact HMRC at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss their payment options.
Advice on managing cash flow is available on: www.gov.uk and the business support helpline continues to offer support to businesses on a wide range of issues.
The Department for Business Innovation and Skills continues to work with the banks to support lending to small businesses including the enterprise finance guarantee scheme which guarantees loans to viable businesses lacking the collateral or track record for a standard bank loan.
I welcome RBS and NatWest’s decision to launch a £250 million interest-free loan fund to support business affected by the severe weather.
The costs of repairing flood defences damaged by the extreme weather are currently being assessed, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will address this in a few weeks in his report to Parliament on floods funding.
Funding from the recovery support package can be used to cover costs above and beyond those met by Bellwin, insurance, and existing central and local Government obligations. Local authorities in England that experienced damage during the recent severe weather and east coast tidal surge can apply for support from the funding package announced today.
Support for other parts of the United Kingdom is a matter for the devolved Administrations.
In my written statement of 1 July 2013, Official Report, column 41WS, I noted the Government’s intentions with regard to the importance of the protection of the green belt.
The Government’s planning policy is clear that both temporary and permanent traveller sites are inappropriate development in the green belt and that planning decisions should protect green-belt land from such inappropriate development. I also noted the Secretary of State’s policy position that unmet need, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.
The Secretary of State wishes to re-emphasise this policy point to both local planning authorities and planning inspectors as a material consideration in their planning decisions.
That statement revised the appeals recovery criteria by stating that, for a period of six months, the Secretary of State would consider for recovery appeals involving traveller sites in the green belt, after which the position would be reviewed.
The Secretary of State remains concerned about the extent to which planning appeal decisions are meeting the Government’s clear policy intentions, particularly as to whether sufficient weight is being given to the importance of green-belt protection. Therefore, he intends to continue to consider for recovery appeals involving traveller sites in the green belt.
Moreover, Ministers are considering the case for further improvements to both planning policy and practice guidance to strengthen green belt protection in this regard. We also want to consider the case for changes to the planning definition of “travellers” to reflect whether it should only refer to those who actually travel and have a mobile or transitory lifestyle. We are open to representations on these matters and will be launching a consultation in due course.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 20 January in Brussels. The Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. The General Affairs Council (GAC) scheduled for 21 January 2014 has been cancelled. The next GAC will be on 11 February.
Foreign Affairs Council
Introduction - Iran
Baroness Ashton is expected to brief the FAC on the agreement between the E3+3 and Iran to begin implementation of the Geneva six-month deal on 20 January. Baroness Ashton is likely to look forward to talks on the comprehensive solution which will begin shortly. The Council is expected to adopt, without discussion, a Council decision and regulation to bring the six-month suspension of EU sanctions into force, as part of the Geneva agreement.
On Syria, we will set out our views on the need for active EU support of the Geneva II political process, due to begin on 22 January. This will include the need for the EU to give its united practical and political support to the national coalition, which the UK recognises as the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. We will also set out our views on what more could be done to address the humanitarian crisis following the Kuwait pledging conference on 15 January. The UK will give particular emphasis to calling for the regime to comply with the 2 October UN Security Council presidential statement, which demanded that humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach all Syrians. The UK will be active in the UN Security Council in seeking further action in support of this effort.
Ministers will discuss recent developments in Egypt, including concerns over freedom of expression and human rights in the lead up to the constitutional referendum. Ministers will hear an update from Baroness Ashton on the findings of the EU electoral experts mission. We will reiterate the importance of the EU providing a full election monitoring mission for the parliamentary and presidential elections. We will also encourage member states to consider how to maximise European External Action Service (EEAS) and member state influence with Egypt during its political transition.
Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)
The UK will want the FAC discussion to focus on how the EU can best support current MEPP negotiations led by US Secretary of State John Kerry. The December 2013 FAC conclusions sent a strong message of support for the ongoing negotiations by offering an unprecedented package of support for both parties in the event of a final status deal. The UK will note the importance of now coming up with bold and concrete proposals for incentives that meet the needs of both parties.
Ministers will discuss the EU’s future engagement in Afghanistan and the upcoming presidential elections. The UK will use this as an opportunity to underline the importance of the EU’s engagement in Afghanistan, both in the run up to the presidential elections and after transition. The FAC is likely to agree conclusions which commission the development of the EU’s future civilian strategy on Afghanistan. We will outline what we believe should be the key pillars of such a strategy.
Ministers will discuss Russia over lunch. They are likely to focus on ongoing preparations for the EU/Russia summit, taking place from 27 to 28 January, and on follow up on the Eastern Partnership after the Vilnius summit in November 2013. The Foreign Secretary will urge the EU to take a clear and united approach to Russia post-Vilnius, and to press for clear results at the forthcoming summit, including the resolution of prolonged trade disputes on Siberian overflights and vehicle recycling fees.
Central African Republic
Ministers will discuss the current situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) following the UN Security Council Resolution which authorised the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission to CAR (MISCA), and the deployment of French forces to support MISCA in fulfilling its mandate of protecting civilians and contributing to the stabilization of the country. In particular, the discussion will consider options for EU support to address the country’s immediate security needs.
Ministers will discuss the situation in South Sudan and reaffirm EU support for the mediation efforts of regional leaders through the inter-governmental authority on development. The EU special representative for the horn of Africa is co-ordinating closely with envoys from the UK, US and Norway (the Troika). Diplomatic efforts are focused on pressing both sides for an immediate cessation of hostilities; securing the release of senior political figures detained by the Government since the outbreak of violence; and urging South Sudan’s neighbours to avoid any action that will escalate the conflict. Ministers will also discuss the humanitarian response and measures to ensure full humanitarian access to all those in need.
“Scotland Analysis: EU and International Issues”
Today I am publishing a Command Paper “Scotland analysis: EU and international issues” (Cm 8765). This paper is the ninth in a series of papers produced by the UK Government in their Scotland analysis programme. It looks at the current EU and international position of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, and examines the potential implications of independence. The Scotland analysis programme is designed to inform the debate on Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom ahead of the referendum. Further papers from the Scotland analysis programme will be published in coming months to ensure that people in Scotland have access to the facts and information ahead of the referendum.
I have the privilege of witnessing in my work every day the difference the UK makes internationally through our people, our network, our relationships, our leading role in Europe and in multilateral institutions. Britain’s prosperity, security and aid and development programmes depend on the strength of these irreplaceable assets that have been built up and invested in for decades. Scotland and Scottish people are an integral part of this work and this impact. It is difficult to imagine a UK without Scotland or a Scotland without the rest of the UK being able to achieve as much as we do together.
People and businesses in the UK benefit from an extensive, effective and highly regarded diplomatic network of over 14,000 people in 267 embassies, high commissions and consulates in 154 countries and 12 overseas territories around the world. Setting up a new international network to support Scottish diplomacy, trade and consular activity would be costly and time-consuming.
Using this network, the UK has fought long and hard on behalf of all its people for more favourable terms of EU membership, including a refund of a proportion of its contributions (the UK rebate). No other state has negotiated such favourable terms embodied in an annual rebate. People and businesses across Scotland and the UK benefit every year. There are also significant benefits to the UK’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council, and from our representation at the G7, G8 and G20.
In the event of a vote for independence, in the eyes of the world and in law, Scotland would become an entirely new state. The paper shows that an independent Scottish state would face tough choices about its international priorities.
An independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership, requiring negotiations with the EU institutions and all existing EU member states on the terms of membership. These negotiations would be likely to be lengthy and require unanimous agreement by all other EU members. This would be likely to result in an independent Scottish state paying more to be part of the EU. An independent Scotland would also need to work harder to defend its national interests in international organisations.
The evidence, analysis and conclusions of the paper are clear: the UK is safer, more prosperous, and a stronger force for good in the world together than divided.
I wanted to update the House on the situation in South Sudan and UK efforts to help resolve the conflict.
The Government remain deeply concerned about the conflict and growing humanitarian crisis, which has led to great loss of life, to more than 350,000 internally displaced people and 50,000 seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. That is why the UK has been active in supporting partners in the region to bring an end to this appalling situation.
The Foreign Secretary and I have been in regular contact with South Sudanese President Kiir, former Vice-President Machar and regional leaders to urge restraint and encourage peaceful resolution of the crisis. Sir Simon Gass, the FCO political director, visited Juba early in the crisis and met President Kiir and the British ambassador to South Sudan has been in regular touch with key figures. The Foreign Secretary has sent a senior envoy to the region to provide diplomatic support on the ground to the preliminary talks.
In New York the UK mission to the United Nations has lobbied strongly for the deployment of additional peacekeeping troops to the UN mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). UN Security Council Resolution 2132 (2013), adopted unanimously on 24 December, authorised a strengthening of UNMISS which will allow it to better protect civilians, and enable the provision of humanitarian assistance.
The Department for International Development has provided an additional £12.5 million to help civilians affected by the conflict. This included tents, healthcare and other vital supplies.
We have also ensured that British citizens have been able to leave the conflict zone. On 18 December, the Foreign Secretary authorised the evacuation of British citizens and the withdrawal of non-essential British embassy staff. Two RAF flights and one commercial flight assisted in evacuating more than 300 people including 95 British nationals.
However, the situation is still dire. The Government are particularly concerned about reports of serious human rights abuses in South Sudan. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) made a statement on 10 January demanding an immediate end to all human rights violations and abuses and stressing that those responsible will be held accountable. The Government welcome the work of UNMISS to monitor human rights violations and abuses. We also welcome the African Union Peace and Security Council’s decision of 30 December to establish a commission of investigation to ensure accountability for abuses and reconciliation among all South Sudanese communities.
Over the coming weeks, the UK’s immediate aims are to stop the violence and for substantive talks under Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) leadership to begin. Political resolution of the crisis will require involvement in talks of those senior members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement who have been held in detention since the start of the violence, and we have urged the Government to release them in accordance with due legal process. It is essential that all of South Sudan’s leaders now set aside their differences and show commitment to healing the political and inter-communal divisions that are threatening the unity and development of the world’s newest state.
Working with our partners in the region and in the broader international community, the UK will continue to use all means at our disposal to bring about a peaceful resolution to the current conflict.
Suicide Prevention Strategy
Today I am publishing the first annual report on the suicide prevention strategy for England.
“Preventing Suicide in England: One year on”, 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.
In September 2012, we made clear our commitment to suicide prevention by publishing a new cross-Government strategy for England. Over the last decade, good progress has been made in reducing the suicide rate in England. But we knew that the likely impact of the financial crisis meant that we needed to be prepared for possible upturns in suicide rates. The strategy set out very clearly what actions we can all take to reduce the toll of suicide in our society.
Sadly, since 2007 we have seen signs that the suicide rate has risen in England, as it has in many countries. There were 4,524 suicides in 2012.[Official Report, 6 February 2014, Vol. 575, c. 1MC.]
The annual report summarises developments at national level, identifies key research studies and their findings, and is accompanied by a report of statistical information on suicides.
The suicide prevention strategy placed a new emphasis on families bereaved or affected by suicide.
Family and friends of people who are having suicidal thoughts are often the first to notice when something is not right. We have heard from families bereaved by suicide that sometimes doctors can seem reluctant to take information from families or are hesitant to let families know their loved one might be at risk of suicide.
We have worked with the royal colleges and professional organisations to agree a joint statement designed to ensure information is shared appropriately, within the legal framework, to help prevent suicide.
Today’s report also highlights the importance of responsive and high-quality care for people who self-harm. We know that the risk of suicide is considerably higher among those with a history of self-harm. We also know that, too often, people who self-harm experience negative attitudes and lack of knowledge from staff in general hospitals. We are determined to tackle the negative attitudes surrounding self-harm.
The first annual report on the strategy has been prepared with the input of leading experts in the field of suicide prevention, including the members of the national suicide prevention strategy advisory group, under the chairmanship of Professor Louis Appleby CBE. I would like to thank all members of this group for sharing their knowledge and expertise. Their continued support and leadership is central to our efforts to prevent suicide in England.
Transforming Youth Custody
The Government are today publishing their response to the Transforming Youth Custody consultation, setting out its plans to put education at the heart of detention and launch the first purpose-built secure college.
Although both overall crime and proven offending by young people are down, 71% of young offenders sentenced to custody go on to reoffend within 12 months. Furthermore, youth custody is too expensive, with the average cost of a place standing at around £100,000 per annum, and education provision across the estate is inconsistent. The Transforming Youth Custody consultation set out the Government’s ambition to tackle these problems. Responses demonstrated support for the principle of youth custody achieving a sharper focus on equipping young offenders with the skills, qualifications and self-discipline they need to turn away from crime and fulfil their potential.
I am today announcing plans to introduce secure colleges, a new generation of secure educational establishments for young offenders, and to open a pathfinder secure college in the east midlands in 2017. If the pathfinder proves successful, my vision is for a network of secure colleges across England and Wales. Secure colleges will have strong educational leadership delivering a daily regime designed around education, vocational training and life skills, as well as tackling the wider causes of offending. They will replace existing expensive and inconsistent provision, raise educational attainment, reduce cost and act as a catalyst to reduce reoffending. I will shortly bring forward legislation on secure colleges.
While I introduce this new model of youth custody, I am taking important steps to improve provision for those young people currently in custody. At present 15 to 17-year-olds in young offender institutions (YOIs) receive an average of only 12 hours contracted education a week. I am today launching a competition for new education contracts in publicly-run YOIs which will seek to more than double the number of hours young offenders spend in education. In addition, the Government are taking steps to ensure that when a young offender leaves custody more effective plans are in place to support their resettlement in the community, with more going into education, training or employment and fewer going on to reoffend.
By putting education at the heart of youth custody, the Government will set young offenders on the path to becoming law-abiding, hard-working citizens, and make communities safer.
Copies of “Transforming Youth Custody: The Government’s Response to the Consultation” will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
Inter-city East Coast (Rail Franchising)
Today the Department for Transport has announced that the following companies have successfully pre-qualified to bid as part of the inter-city east coast franchise competition.
East Coast Trains Ltd (First Group plc);
Keolis/Eurostar East Coast Ltd (Keolis (UK) Ltd and Eurostar International Ltd; and
Inter City Railways Ltd (Stagecoach Transport Holdings Ltd and Virgin Holdings Ltd).
In order to pass the pre-qualification evaluation each of the bidders had to demonstrate that they have the financial strength, legal, safety and operational experience to run this premier franchise. This is a further key milestone in our franchising programme in line with our published timetable and marks the next step in securing improvements for passengers on inter-city east coast services.
The Department plans to issue the invitation to tender to these companies by the end of February and they will then have three months to consider and develop their bids that will deliver benefits for passengers and long-term value for the taxpayer. The Government expect the new franchisee to commence services in February 2015.