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Written Statements

Volume 599: debated on Monday 14 September 2015

Written Statements

Monday 14 September 2015

Treasury

Charter for Budget Responsibility (Autumn Update)

Today I have published a draft updated “Charter for Budget Responsibility”, a copy of which has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. Alongside the new fiscal framework (announced at summer Budget 2015), the draft includes the updates to the charter recommended by the HM Treasury review of the Office for Budget Responsibility, led by Sir Dave Ramsden and clarifications on the operation of the welfare cap.

The draft charter includes modified guidance to the Office for Budget Responsibility and has been published in line with Section 6(4) of the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act. This requires that if the Treasury proposes to modify the guidance to the Office for Budget Responsibility included in the charter, a draft of the modified guidance must be published at least 28 days before the modified charter is laid before Parliament. The updated charter will be laid before Parliament, and a debate and vote scheduled, later in the autumn of 2015.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www. parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-09-14/HCWS194.

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Communities and Local Government

Work of the Department during Summer Recess

I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose on 21 July 2015.

Starter home boost to first-time buyers

On 10 August my Department launched a new £26 million fund to bring forward land for house builders to demonstrate a range of high-quality homes for first-time buyers.

In a further move to support aspiring homeowners my Department has also made available up to £10 million for local authorities to prepare more brownfield land for development of starter homes.

Careers in construction

The housebuilding industry was devastated by the 2008 economic crash, resulting in the loss of quarter of a million construction jobs. Today the sector is making progress thanks to Government efforts to get the country building.

The Government are committed to driving up the number of apprentices across the construction industry. Last year, saw the start of more than 15,500 new construction apprenticeships—a 14% increase on the previous year.

Rogue landlords

The Government are determined to crack down on the small number of rogue or criminal landlords who knowingly rent out unsafe and substandard accommodation.

On 3 August my Department announced a range of new proposed measures, including a blacklist of rogue landlords and letting agents, the introduction of banning orders for serious or repeat offenders, a tougher fit and proper person test, extending rent repayment orders and introducing civil penalties.

Fairness in the planning system

On 31 August new policy came into force from my Department that strengthens the hand of councils to tackle unauthorised development and ensure all communities are treated equally. The new planning policy will make intentional unauthorised development a material consideration that would be weighed in the determination of planning applications and appeals.

The Government are particularly concerned about harm that is caused by intentional unauthorised development in the green belt. For this reason the Planning Inspectorate will monitor all appeal decisions involving unauthorised development in the green belt to enable direct Government oversight.

After six months we will review the situation to see whether it is delivering our objective of protecting land from intentional unauthorised development.

Coastal communities fund

On 22 August new figures released by my Department showed that thousands of new jobs, apprenticeships and training places have been delivered thanks to community-led regeneration efforts supported by the Government’s coastal communities fund.

The latest figures show there have been almost 3,000 jobs created, 860 sustained and 6,800 new training places and apprenticeships across the UK.

Over the past three years, the Government have invested some £120 million in projects across the UK to help seaside communities achieve their economic potential.

On 3 September, a £2 million grant from our coastal communities fund helped light up Blackpool’s illuminations. This funding will drive investment in the north and help seaside communities thrive.

Helping small businesses reach their full potential

In August my Department announced that local organisations working with small firms would be able to apply for a share of €3.6 billion (currently about £2.6 billion) funding from the latest round of the European regional development fund.

European regional development funds are for the first time being targeted at local enterprise partnership areas in a shift towards more localised spending decisions. The funding will support innovation, boost businesses and create jobs across local economies.

Enterprise zones have attracted thousands of new jobs

New figures released by my Department on 27 August show that enterprise zones are playing a vital role in growing the local and national economy and have attracted 19,000 jobs to sites across the country.

The 24 zones report that they have now attracted £2.2 billion of private investment and more than 500 new businesses across a range of key industries including the automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical and renewable energy sectors.

Funding for child sexual exploitation outreach service

On 3 August my Department in conjunction with the Department for Education, the KPMG Foundation and Rotherham Borough Council announced £3.1 million of new funding to help children and young people in South Yorkshire who have been or who are at risk of being sexually exploited receive more support.

Victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham have been appallingly let down in the past. Through this funding, the children’s charity Barnardo’s—which has been working in Rotherham since September 2013—will employ a team of 15 specialist workers to help those who have been sexually exploited to rebuild their lives.

These new services will support victims as they seek justice through the courts against the perpetrators. We will also work with schools, families and communities to ensure that they are aware of and vigilant to possible signs of sexual exploitation.

New domestic abuse fund now open

Domestic violence and abuse is a devastating crime that shatters the lives of victims and families and this Government are committed to ensuring that we have a strong safety net for anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they are forced to leave their home.

On 24 August we opened bids for a £3.2 million fund announced in the Budget to provide specialist accommodation-based support to victims of domestic abuse.

The July Budget also announced a review of the full range of services currently available to victims of domestic abuse. Its findings will feed into the spending review and an updated violence against women and girls strategy to ensure that victims of domestic violence and their families have access to the support and services they need to keep safe.

Commemorating first world war heroes

On 21 August we marked the first year of the Victoria Cross paving stone ceremonies, in which communities honour local first world war heroes. The commemorative stones—laid in the servicemen’s place of birth or where they lived following the war—provide a lasting legacy to their “most conspicuous bravery”.

Over a four year period, 469 stones will be laid in communities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They enable residents of all ages and backgrounds to gain a greater understanding of the sacrifices made by local people during the first world war.

Community rights

On 24 July my Department announced that a further 250 communities across England are using the community rights programme to have a greater say on local issues like job creation, health priorities and new development.

Following the launch of the new support programme in February, Government funding is now helping people to apply their skills and local knowledge to making their communities better places to live and work.

Copies of the press notices and associated documents are being placed in the Library of the House.

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Draft Plans to Improve Air Quality (Consultation)

A cleaner, healthier environment benefits people and the economy. Clean air is vital for people’s health and the environment, essential for making sure our cities are welcoming places for people to live and work now and in the future, and to our prosperity. Our ambition is to make the UK a country with some of the very best air quality in the world.

Over recent decades, air quality has improved significantly thanks to concerted action at all levels, including investing some £2 billion since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles and cleaner transport, and supporting local authority action. Our environment has never been cleaner. Even in our busiest cities we have seen falls in harmful emissions, for example a 15% reduction in average roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (N02) since 2010, but there is more we can do.

Tackling air pollution is a priority for Government. We will achieve this by exploiting new, clean technologies, such as electric and ultra low emission vehicles, to cut emissions and help our great cities function more smartly and efficiently to spur further innovation, we have opened up our data so that the whole country—people, businesses and the public sector—can use it to take better decisions and action. We will also work with our great cities to help them make the changes they need to become greater still. This could include putting in place clean air zones, improving their bus and taxi fleets, investing in cycling infrastructure and upgrading roads so they run more smoothly.

A key step is addressing reducing nitrogen dioxide in the air we breathe which will also enable us to meet the limit values laid out in the air quality directive1. By 31 December 2015 we will submit a plan to the European Commission detailing the UK approach. The proposed plan sets out national and locally led measures to bring forward compliance with the limit values in all areas of the UK. On Saturday 12 September we published the “Draft plans to improve air quality” for consultation. I have placed this in the Library of both Houses.

Alternative proposals to those set out in the consultation, that achieve the same objectives, will be considered during the consultation and we encourage local authorities and the public to put forward their ideas.

1 European Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. This sets maximum concentrations of key pollutants in ambient air, i.e. the air that we all breathe.

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Work and Pensions

Cold Weather Payments Scheme 2015-16

My noble Friend The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Altmann) has made the following written statement.

I am pleased to announce that the Department for Work and Pensions intends to lay amendments to the cold weather payment scheme regulations by the end of September 2015. The changes detailed in these regulations will come into force on 1 November this year, in time for the beginning of the winter period.

This year the Met Office has recommended the replacement of two primary weather stations.

First, Tibenham airfield is proposed as a replacement for Norwich airport which is likely to have reduced availability. Tibenham airfield is a similarly representative station for the region and therefore a suitable replacement for Norwich airport both geographically and climatologically. As a direct weather station replacement all postcodes currently linked to Norwich airport will be moved to Tibenham.

Secondly, Llysdinam is proposed as a more suitable station for those areas currently covered by Sennybridge. Llysdinam is geographically and climatologically closer to the main populated areas of the region in and around Llandrindod Wells and Builth Wells. As a direct weather station replacement all the current postcode links will be transferred to this new station.

The regulations also make other minor changes to the alternative weather stations. This will ensure that the weather stations to postcode links are as representative as possible.

I will be writing to each Member whose constituency will be affected by the changes in the scheme, to make them aware of the advice from the Met Office.

Cold weather payments are separate from, and in addition to, winter fuel payments.

The amendments resulted from the Department’s annual review of the cold weather payments scheme. The review drew on expert advice from the Met Office and took account of representations from benefit claimants and Members of Parliament.

For winter 2015-16 the cold weather payment rate will continue to be £25 for each seven day period of very cold weather.

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