Thursday 1 May 2014
National Reform Programme
On 30 April, the Government published the UK 2014 national reform programme. The document was sent to the European Commission, as part of the European semester.
National Reform Programme
Under Council recommendation 2010/410 of 13 July 2010, member states send national reform programmes each year, which report to the Commission on their structural reforms and plans.
The UK 2014 national reform programme reports on actions taken by the UK as a whole, including by the Government and by the devolved Administrations where policy responses are of a devolved competence.
The 2014 national reform programme:
puts the UK’s structural reforms in the context of deficit reduction, the 2013 autumn statement and Budget 2014;
reports on the broad macro-economic context, which uses the same text as the UK’s convergence programme;
reports on policies to tackle the six country-specific recommendations addressed to the UK by the June 2013 European Council: continuing with fiscal consolidation; reforms to the housing market; improving the employability of young people; reducing worklessness; increasing access to finance; and improving the UK’s network infrastructure; and
sets out the UK’s approach to national monitoring, in line with the five headline Europe 2020 targets agreed by the European Council in June 2010.
The national reform programme is based heavily on the announcements and forecasts of Budget 2014 and the autumn statement 2013. It is, furthermore, drawn entirely from information already in the public domain.
Copies of the document have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on the Treasury website at: www.gov.uk/government/publications.
Communities and Local Government
Local Government Pension Scheme
Under the last Administration, the cost of the local government pension scheme in England to employers—which is ultimately paid for by taxpayers—almost quadrupled from £1.5 billion a year in 1997-98 to £5.9 billion in 2010-11. This reflects the failure of the last Government to reform public sector pensions.
This Government have taken a series of steps to protect taxpayers’ interests and ensure the long-term sustainability of public sector pensions. The cost of the local government pension scheme to taxpayers has fallen in the last two years, but the cost to households of town hall pensions is still very high—the equivalent of around £250 per tax-paying household. To illustrate this, I have placed in the Library a table showing the cost of employer contributions to each pension fund authority in the last year.
Council pension funds spent £374 million on investment management costs in 2012-13. There is massive variation in fees. The quarter of funds with the most expensive fees paid more than four times as much as the quarter of funds with the cheapest—research by Investor Data Services, May 2013. This illustrates the scope for administrative savings that could be made from greater joint working. In addition, there is also potential to increase investment returns.
The Government have today launched a consultation that sets out how fund authorities in the local government pension scheme can deliver significant savings of up to £660 million a year, by adopting a more collaborative and efficient approach to investment. The consultation, which has been developed closely with the Cabinet Office, also provides a response to the call for evidence into the future structure of the scheme which closed at the end of September.
The consultation is the culmination of three sources of evidence—the public call for evidence into the future structure of the scheme; the recommendations of the shadow scheme advisory board, based on the responses to that call for evidence; and detailed cost-benefit analysis provided by Hymans Robertson, who were appointed following a competitive tender process using the contestable policy fund.
Having considered these sources of evidence, it is clear that using common investment vehicles for both listed and alternative asset classes can help the funds achieve economies of scale and deliver savings. Indeed, as the analysis in the consultation demonstrates, using common investment vehicles to access alternative assets instead of investing in fund of funds has the potential to achieve significant savings, rising to £240 million a year after 10 years, if all funds participate.
The evidence also shows how making use of passive fund management for all listed assets, such as bonds and equities, can deliver substantial savings. Adopting passive management for listed assets would achieve savings of £230 million each year through reduced investment fees and a further £190 million in lower transaction costs, without affecting overall fund performance; these savings can be achieved quickly, within one or two years.
The consultation, which will remain open until 11 July, outlines the Government’s proposals and seeks views on the proposed reforms. It also asks respondents to consider how, if adopted, these proposals might be implemented most effectively. I will update the House in due course.
I have placed copies of the associated documents in the Library of the House.
Culture, Media and Sport
Horserace Totalisator Board
I am pleased to announce today that Government will immediately be transferring the full outstanding balance of horseracing’s 50% share (£49,895,524) of the net proceeds from the sale of the Horserace Totalisator Board (the Tote) to the Racing Foundation.
An additional £1,785,268.00 will be transferred during 2014-15 to the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) grant scheme after which the scheme will be wound up.
This follows an agreement that was reached in June 2011 between Government and the horseracing industry when the Tote was sold to Betfred. At the time of the sale. Government committed to share the sale proceeds 50/50 between the horseracing industry and the taxpayer. To date £30 million of Tote proceeds have already flowed to racing, with most of that money going to the Racing Foundation.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £49,895,524 for this service will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Pending that approval, expenditure estimated at £49,895,524 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund (CF).
I am today announcing plans for a second phase of the Priority School Building programme.
Education is one of the Government’s highest priorities. Even during a difficult economic climate, we have continued to invest in our education estate to ensure that the fabric of our schools is maintained and improved. Our aim is that every child will have a good-quality school place in school buildings which are safe and fit for purpose. That is why over the course of this Parliament we are spending a total of £18 billion on school buildings. Thanks to the decisions we have taken to improve efficiency and reduce waste in central school building programmes, this Government are building or improving the condition of almost 900 schools—twice as many as the previous Government. This includes building almost 300 brand new schools, rebuilding and renovating 200 of the most dilapidated schools in the country, and delivering funding for more than 400 projects from previous programmes. Coming on top of building work undertaken by local authorities, the coalition is delivering central Government’s biggest contribution to the school estate in decades.
Our first priority is to ensure every child has a place at school which is why we have more than doubled funding for new school places in areas of need to £5 billion. By last May, this had already led to the creation of 260,000 places, with thousands more on stream.
It is also critically important that children can learn in a safe and secure environment. Too many schools are in a poor condition, while previous school building programmes targeted funding according to factors such as pupil attainment, rather than the condition of the existing buildings. As a result, many of the most dilapidated schools in the country missed out on funding.
That is why we launched the Priority School Building programme, to address need at 261 schools with buildings in the worst condition. Successful applicants were announced on 24 May 2012 and all schools are due to be opened by the end of 2017, two years ahead of schedule. Design work has begun at 234 schools, 28 schools are under construction, and today Whitmore Park in Coventry has become the first school to have its new building opened under the Priority School Building programme.
Building on the work of the James review, the Priority School Building programme is being delivered much more efficiently and at much better value for money than the Building Schools for the Future programme: at a number of schools work has begun in half the time, while costs have been cut by up to 40%.
But we want to do more, building on the success of the Priority School Building programme. So today I am announcing that, as part of our capital expenditure over the next spending review period from 2015-21, we will fund a second phase of the Priority School Building programme, with a value of around £2 billion.
The original Priority School Building programme worked on the basis of the condition of the whole school site. We will now refine this to look at targeting individual school buildings, as well as whole school rebuilds where this is appropriate, so that the Department can focus much more tightly on addressing specific issues in the estate. This is only possible thanks to the data coming out of our detailed condition survey. That survey will be complete by the summer and will give us a detailed pattern of need which will be a useful tool for targeting the available resources most effectively.
Through this extension to our already successful programme we are helping more schools and ensuring we target more money directly at those schools in the worst condition.
Copies of the application guidelines will be available from the Libraries of both Houses. Details of how schools will be selected for the new phase of the Priority School Building programme will follow shortly, and will be published on the Department for Education’s website.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Food and Environment Research Agency
I am announcing today that DEFRA is launching a procurement exercise to find a joint venture partner for DEFRA’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera).
Fera is a leader in its field with an international reputation for protecting plant and bee health and food safety. A joint venture will protect and enhance its scientific capabilities in the long term, and free it from public sector constraints. This will give Fera the opportunity to access new markets and grow its non-Government business, which it cannot do in its current capacity.
Fera provides a range of high-quality scientific services that are essential to Government, with key capability in the areas of plant and bee health, and food and environmental safety, as well as providing a range of services to commercial customers, the European Union, and overseas Governments.
Fera already plays an important role in the agri-food market. Its capabilities, brand and pedigree mean it is well placed to play an even greater role in what is a very important and growing, global market. The essential statutory functions that Fera provides are out of scope of the joint venture and will remain within the DEFRA network.
As I announced in October, the bee health inspectors, the plant health and seed inspectorate, the GM inspectorate and UK Government decontamination service, all currently within Fera, will remain in the DEFRA network, due to their enforcement and statutory functions.
These functions will come together with the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) to form a new agency by October 2014. This will ensure plant and animal health inspectorate functions can be delivered more effectively in the future.
It is clear from our market exercise in November that there is potential interest from the market, keen to bid for the opportunity of becoming a joint venture partner with DEFRA for Fera.
Procuring the right external partner, with the necessary commercial expertise and experience will help Fera to maximise its market potential and grow its non-Government revenue. This would ensure that DEFRA achieves its long-term aims for a more resilient and thriving Fera and that Government continue to have access to the high-quality scientific capability it requires.
I believe that Fera offers a potential partner a unique opportunity to work with DEFRA to develop and enhance what is an internationally recognised scientific organisation. I am also confident that a joint venture would offer new opportunities to Fera’s staff, who are essential to the continued success of the business going forward.
I also informed the House yesterday that DEFRA is publishing a new plant biosecurity strategy for Great Britain, which sets out our strengthened approach to plant health. I believe that the joint venture will provide us with an opportunity to secure and grow the scientific capability we will need over the coming years to deliver that strategy.
I aim to make a final decision as to the preferred bidder (and service commencement date) for the joint venture by the end of this calendar year, once the procurement has been completed, when I will make a further announcement.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Gifting of Non-lethal Equipment (Syria)
On 18 November 2013 I laid a departmental minute before the House of Commons on the gifting of non-lethal equipment to the supreme military council of the Free Syrian Army, which is closely aligned to the Syrian National Coalition. The gift consists of commercially available communications equipment, such as laptops with satellite internet connection, mobile telephones and push-to-talk radios; commercially available vehicles, such as pick-up trucks; fuel; portable generators less than 3 MW in power; logistics supplies such as clothing, rations and tents; and individual medical kits. The total cost of the gift is £1 million, which will be met by the Government’s conflict pool fund. Use of these funds has been approved by me and the Secretaries of State for Defence and for International Development. During the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which the minute was laid before the House of Commons, no Member signified an objection, either by giving notice of a parliamentary question or of a motion in relation to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House.
Following fighting at Bab al-Hawa on 7 December 2013, UK Government plans to deliver equipment to the supreme military council in Syria were temporarily put on hold. I am now lifting the hold on those plans to deliver equipment to the supreme military council of the Free Syrian Army in Syria. Both the UK Government and the supreme military council are confident that the equipment can be delivered safely. This resumption of delivery clearly demonstrates our continued and long-standing support for the National Coalition and the supreme military council of the Free Syrian Army, who represent the majority of Syrians who support a political settlement and a democratic, pluralist future for their country. I wrote to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 28 March confirming my intention to resume the delivery of non-lethal equipment to the supreme military council of the Free Syrian Army in Syria. They have raised no objections and deliveries of non-lethal equipment will begin as soon as is practical.
The UK is committed to doing all that it can to alleviate the humanitarian suffering and to promote a political settlement to end the conflict. Our support to the National Coalition and the supreme military council, with their vision for a democratic and pluralistic future for Syria, contributes to these goals. This is the UK’s second gift to the supreme military council. In August 2013 we sent them equipment to protect them from chemical weapons attack. This gift has been scrutinised to ensure that the provision of this equipment is consistent with export controls and complies with our international obligations. Recipients have been carefully selected to prevent equipment from being given to those involved in extremist activities or human rights violations.
Middle East Peace Process
I wish to update the House on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
On 30 July 2013 the United States secured the resumption of direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, with the goal of achieving a just and peaceful resolution of the middle east peace process. Over the past nine months, the UK Government have strongly supported the tireless efforts of US Secretary of State Kerry and his team as they have sought to bridge the gaps between the parties. His dedication to the pursuit of peace has been remarkable and I pay tribute to him.
It is disappointing that, despite those efforts, greater progress has not been made by the parties to date in the talks. It is now for the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to decide whether they want to seize or squander this opportunity for peace. We urge the parties to use the coming weeks to find the common ground and political strength needed to resume this process, and encourage other countries to maintain support for that objective.
A negotiated two-state agreement remains the only way to resolve the conflict once and for all. The parameters are clear: two states, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as a shared capital, a just, fair and agreed settlement for refugees, and Gaza as an integral part of the Palestinian state. The need and international support for such an agreement is as great as ever. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister highlighted during his recent visit to the region, the benefits of peace will be immeasurable, for all future generations, Israelis and Palestinians alike. But securing that two-state solution is getting harder, not easier. I urge the leaders of both sides to demonstrate the courage, vision and urgency necessary.
The UK Government remain fully committed to supporting efforts for peace. The Minister of State with responsibility for the middle east and North Africa will visit the region in the near future.
Health Education England (Mandate)
Today the Government have published the Health Education England(HEE) mandate for 2014-15. This will come into effect immediately and was developed following consultation with stakeholders.
The mandate is published every year and sets out what HEE will need to deliver with its nearly £5 billion budget in the coming year, on the areas of:
Work force planning;
health education; and
training and development.
It complements the work set out in the Government’s mandate to NHS England and the Government’s response to the Francis report, focusing on how we can support the health care work force through excellent education and training so that they can continue to deliver the very best care to patients.
The mandate will make sure that HEE delivers the right health care work force with the right skills, values and competencies. The Government’s priority in developing the mandate is to train and retain a health care work force equipped with the skills to deliver much more proactive care and support for patients in the community, and with the right skills to support people with long-term medical conditions to live with dignity in their own homes.
Specifically, the mandate will:
support families through pregnancy by creating a work force that can deliver personalised maternity care, improving the specialist skills needed to provide care to mothers with mental health and substance misuse issues so that specialist perinatal mental health support is available for every woman who needs it by 2017;
allow care assistants and health care support workers to break through the NHS careers glass ceiling and progress into careers in nursing and midwifery by improving the access to fully funded part-time degree courses for health care assistants and maternity support workers in order to ensure that staff with strong caring experience can access higher education;
place greater emphasis on children’s health by:
a) ensuring the training is available to enable more GPs to develop a specialist interest in children’s health;
b) improving training in child health for all GP trainees through new courses; and
c) further expanding health visitor capacity and equipping them with the skills they need to carry out the important work they do;
make sure mental health is given the importance it deserves by:
a) ensuring the training is available to for more GPs and nurses to pursue a specialist interest in mental health;
b) ensuring post-registration training in perinatal mental health to ensure that trained specialist mental health staff are available to support mothers in every birthing unit by 2017; and
c) developing training programmes that will allow all staff to have an awareness of mental health problems and how they may affect their patients by January 2015;
improve training available to GPs on the psychological and physical needs of veterans and their families by making a specially trained GP available to every clinical commissioning group (CCG);
roll out specialist dementia training to an additional 250,000 staff by March 2015, and make these opportunities available to all staff by the end of 2018 to improve the care of people with dementia;
train and develop a work force with skills that are transferable between different care settings by working with partners across the health and care system to review current curricula and training pathways, and develop common standards and portable qualifications. This will support the delivery of integrated health care and ensure staff can more readily work across different care settings as increasingly more health and care is delivered in the community and via primary care services;
contribute to improvements in public health outcomes by continuing to develop public health specialists and improving the public health skills of all health care staff supporting important priorities such as antimicrobial resistance and immunisation; and
ensure all recruitment into NHS funded training posts incorporates testing of compassionate values and behaviours, in addition to technical and academic skills, by March 2015.
The mandate also tasks HEE to deliver value for money, transparency and the reform of education and training funding.
“Delivering high quality, effective, compassionate care: Developing the right people with the right skills and the right values: A mandate from the Government to Health Education England: April 2014 to March 2015” 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.
“Challenge it, Report it, Stop it”- Hate Crime
Today we are publishing our progress report on the coalition Government’s hate crime action plan. A copy will be placed in the House Library.
Hate crime can have devastating consequences for victims and their families, and can also divide communities.
In March 2012, we published “Challenge it, Report it, Stop it”, the Government’s plan to tackle hate crime, which brought together action by a range of Departments and agencies under three core principles: to prevent hate crime; to increase reporting and access to support; and to improve the operational response to hate crimes.
The Government committed to review the plan, to assess progress in delivering those actions and to ensure it addressed new and emerging issues. Today’s report provides an overview of our achievements since the plan was published and also highlights areas that have emerged or have continued to evolve, and what we will do to tackle those issues for the remainder of this Parliament.
We have made good progress in delivering our commitments to tackle hate crime and now have a better understanding of the types of hate crimes that are committed and where those crimes are happening. We have provided direct support to front-line professionals to help build victims’ confidence to come forward, and the police have improved the way they record hate crimes. We now have a strengthened legal framework which is already regarded as one of the most robust in the world in protecting people from hatred and bigotry.
However, findings from the crime survey for 2011-12 and 2012-13 highlight that hate crime is still significantly under-reported, with estimates of around 278,000 incidents each year, compared to the 42, 236 hate crimes that were recorded by police forces in England and Wales in 2012-13.
We are proud of the achievements this Government has made so far, but there is still much to do to confront the hatred and hostility that still exists in our society, and to tackle the scale of under-reporting. We will continue to work closely with a wide range of voluntary sector, community representatives and front-line organisations to drive forward work on this agenda.
Legal Services Regulatory Framework
The Ministry of Justice has today published its response to the call for evidence on the review of the legal services regulatory framework. A copy will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Government are committed to better regulation, regulating only when it is appropriate to do so. During 2013 the Ministry of Justice published a call for evidence in which we sought ideas on ways to simplify the legal services regulatory framework and reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens on the legal services sector. The call for evidence was launched on 5 June 2013 and closed on 2 September 2013.
We asked for concerns with, and ideas for reducing, regulatory burdens and simplifying the legal services regulatory framework, including ideas covering the overall legislative framework, and any specific provisions or aspects within it, while retaining appropriate regulatory oversight. We asked for comments on the interaction between the legislative framework and the detailed rules and regulations of the approved regulators, licensing authorities and the Legal Services Board and Office for Legal Complaints, which are, of course, independent of Government.
A total of 71 responses to the call for evidence were received, mainly from the oversight regulator, approved regulators and their regulatory bodies, consumer bodies, practitioners, legal academics and the judiciary.
Having considered the range of evidence collected through the call for evidence, we concluded that there was no consensus on the longer-term vision for regulation. In addition, we found that the majority of responses focused on the structure of the regulatory landscape, rather than on the detail of particular burdens that could be removed. Due to the detailed legislative framework and independence of legal regulation from Government, the call for evidence did not reveal any options for Government to reduce regulatory burdens on legal service practitioners, or to simplify the regulatory framework, that did not entail changes to primary legislation. In light of the above, the Government have decided not to take forward any changes to the statutory framework at this time.
However, we remain committed to reducing regulatory burdens on practitioners in the legal sector, and promoting innovation, competition and growth in the legal services market. We intend to impress upon the regulators the need to continue, and accelerate, their efforts to reduce unnecessary burdens on providers, including unnecessary barriers to entry, as rapidly as possible and to make clear progress in this over the coming months. We will therefore write to the Legal Services Board, the approved regulators and regulators, expressing this strong desire to quickly take forward work to reduce regulatory burdens for legal service practitioners.
In addition, while noting that a number of responses highlighted the inconsistency between reserved activities and other legal services which are not regulated, we do not propose to extend the scope of regulation to new areas at this time.
We will continue to investigate whether changes to the statutory framework are required to simplify the landscape, in the context of the progress made by the regulators in reducing burdens on practitioners. We will also need to consider whether changes are needed in response to the anticipated independent report by Sir Bill Jeffrey on the provision of independent criminal advocacy services.
Any major changes to the architecture for legal services regulation will require primary legislation, preceded by further significant consideration, and consultation, before there is a definite move away from the current structure.
Electoral Commission Committee
Electoral Commission and Local Government Boundary Commission England
The Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission is established under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act (PPERA) 2000. Under paragraph 14 of schedule 1 to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and paragraph 11 of schedule 1 to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 the Committee must review the Electoral Commission’sThe Committee has approved the Electoral Commission and LGBCE draft estimates without modification. In coming to its decisions the Committee has a statutory obligation to consider advice provided to it by HM Treasury and reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General on his examinations into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the Electoral Commission and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England have used their resources. The Committee is publishing those reports on its web pages at: www.parliament.uk.
Traffic Signs Consultation
I can today inform the House that the Department for Transport has launched a public consultation on proposed changes to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002. The consultation will close on 10 June 2014.
These proposals represent significant changes to the existing regulatory regime, arising from the recommendations of a broad range of stakeholders as part of the traffic signs policy review. The proposed changes include: reductions in sign lighting requirements; measures to help improve road user understanding, reduced sign clutter and a range of improvements for cyclists.
To supplement the consultation process. Officials have scheduled a series of industry seminars to be held around Great Britain during May.
The successor regulations will come into force in early 2015.