Tuesday 7 February 2017
Serious Fraud Office (Contingencies Fund Advance)
I would like to inform the House that a cash advance from the contingencies fund has been sought for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
In line with the current arrangement for SFO funding agreed with HM Treasury, the SFO will be submitting a reserve claim as part of the supplementary estimate process for 2016-17.
The advance is required to meet an urgent cash requirement on existing services pending parliamentary approval of the 2016-17 supplementary estimate. The supplementary estimate will seek an increase in both the Resource Departmental Expenditure Limit and the net cash requirement in order to cover the cost of significant investigations.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £5.5 million will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Serious Fraud Office. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £5.5 million will be met by repayable cash advances from the contingencies fund.
The advance will be repaid upon Royal Assent of the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill.
Bills of Sale
In 2014, HM Treasury asked the Law Commission to review the Victorian-era bills of sale Acts. This legislation enables consumers and small businesses to borrow money using their goods as security, while allowing borrowers to retain possession of the goods. In recent years, bills of sale have been most commonly used in relation to logbook loans, which are loans that are secured on a consumer’s vehicle.
The desire for a comprehensive review reflected the Government’s significant concerns about consumer detriment in the logbook loan market, in particular the lack of protections available to consumers who took out a logbook loan, as well as innocent third party purchasers who unknowingly buy a vehicle that is subject to a logbook loan.
In 2014, the Government also fundamentally reformed the consumer credit market, by transferring regulation from the Office of Fair Trading to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This more robust regulatory system is helping to deliver the Government’s vision for a well-functioning and sustainable consumer credit market which is able to meet consumers’ needs.
The Government have ensured that the FCA has strong powers to protect consumers, including the power to levy unlimited fines and require firms to compensate consumers who have lost out, where it finds wrongdoing. The FCA assesses every firm’s fitness to trade as part of the authorisation process, and it has put in place binding standards on firms. It proactively monitors the market, focusing on the areas most likely to cause consumer harm, and it has a broad enforcement toolkit to punish breaches of its rules. This has ensured that firms treat consumers fairly and consumers are better protected from sharp practice by firms.
However, the FCA cannot tackle the inadequacies of the bills of sale Acts, which mean that there are still significant gaps in the protection available for consumers who use logbook loans and third party purchasers.
The Law Commission’s final report and recommendations to reform the bills of sale Acts were published in September 2016, and the Government have now had the opportunity to consider the report fully.
The Government are grateful to the Law Commission for a report which is exhaustive and careful in its treatment of this complex matter, and which makes detailed recommendations for reform.
The Government agree with the Law Commission’s conclusion that consumers and unincorporated businesses should continue to be able to use their existing goods as security while retaining possession of them but that the bills of sale Acts no longer provide an appropriate legal framework and should be reformed. As well as accepting the overarching thrust of the recommendations, the Government welcome many of the detailed suggestions for reform. There are, however, some recommendations where the Government’s acceptance is qualified. We will want to reflect further on these points, and take discussions forward with the Law Commission, stakeholders and other Government Departments.
This is an opportunity for the Government to continue their work in creating a modern, fit-for-purpose consumer credit regime. The recommendations will improve outcomes for consumers by simplifying the information that is presented to them and providing increased protections if they get into financial difficulty. The recommendations will also remove unnecessary burdens for firms, and create new opportunities for small, unincorporated businesses to access finance.
Copies of the Government’s full response to the report’s recommendations will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses once these have been fully considered and agreed with the Law Commission.
The Government are keen that this work should move forward, and have agreed to support the Law Commission in drafting primary legislation to enact the necessary reforms. The Government will seek to use the special parliamentary procedure which is available for Bills that implement uncontroversial Law Commission recommendations, subject to agreement with the usual channels, and to bring forward the legislation when parliamentary time allows.
The Law Commission’s final report is available at:
I want to update the House on progress made since the Prime Minister, as then Home Secretary, set out plans last May to reform the fire and rescue service in England to become more accountable, efficient and professional than ever before.
Services are already transforming and seizing opportunities for collaboration, for example, delivering a single suite of national operational guidance, creating a single, cross-service research and development function and developing a cross-service new commercial strategy. The service has also recently formed the National Fire Chiefs’ Council which will transform the operational voice of fire and rescue services.
Our reform agenda is based around three distinct pillars: efficiency and collaboration, accountability and transparency, and workforce reform.
The Government have legislated through the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to transform local fire and rescue governance, enabling police and crime commissioners to become the fire and rescue authority where a strong local case is made. The Act also creates a statutory duty to collaborate. Better joint working can strengthen our emergency services, deliver significant savings to the taxpayer and—most importantly—enable them to better protect the public. This new duty requires emergency services to keep collaboration opportunities under review and to take on collaboration opportunities where it would be in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness to do so. It will come into force in April.
While fire and rescue authorities have achieved significant savings to date, I believe they can go further. Last year I undertook a basket of goods exercise to ascertain the prices each fire and rescue authority pays for a basket of 25 common items. The exercise illustrated that procurement practices need to be improved and so the Home Office has supported the sector develop a new commercial approach to aggregate and standardise procurement. This exercise will be repeated in the autumn to ensure progress is being made and a separate exercise will be undertaken this spring on different, high-spend items.
I will create an independent inspectorate and am considering options. I want this inspectorate to be rigorous in application and forensic in process, to deliver rounded and comprehensive inspections to assess the operational effectiveness and efficiency of each service. This independent scrutiny will ensure that fire authorities are held to the highest possible standards. I will update the House in due course as this body is formed.
Transparency of fire and rescue services increased last year by the publication of new procurement and workforce diversity data and will be strengthened further by the creation of a new website that will hold a range of information, in one place, about services. This will include information such as chief officer pay, expenditure and workforce composition and further information is planned.
I will create a professional standards body to further professionalise the service. The Home Office is working with the sector to develop options for this body which I hope will form later this year. I propose this body to set standards on a range of issues such as leadership, workforce development, equality arid diversity and codifying effective practice.
Finally, I published the independent review into firefighter terms and conditions by Adrian Thomas in November. The review’s recommendations, if implemented, will secure the future of the service for years to come by creating a diverse working environment free from bullying and harassment, with strong leadership and more flexible working conditions. I am encouraged that the Local Government Association, in partnership with the sector, recognise the need to take swift action in response to this report and deliver vital reforms to the workforce. I expect the recommendations of the review to be followed, particularly in relation to reforming the national joint council and the Grey Book, and I will be closely monitoring progress.
I also expect services to step up and find solutions to the current lack of diversity so clearly highlighted in the workforce statistics we published last year, with just 4% of firefighters from an ethnic minority background and just 5% female.
Delivering this ambitious reform agenda does not simply rest with me, or with the Government. Ultimately, the sector itself must shape and deliver these changes. It is for their benefit and the benefit of the communities they serve, and I look forward to seeing the results.