Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 9 February 2017

Written Statements

Thursday 9 February 2017

Cabinet Office

Government Transformation Strategy

Today the Government are publishing the “Government Transformation Strategy 2017 to 2020”. This strategy sets out the Government’s objectives to harness digital (the technologies, culture, skills and tools of the internet era) to transform the relationship between the citizen and state.

The “digital by default” services developed under the previous strategy have helped to establish the UK as a global leader in digital government. However, the opportunity to transform Government further, as well as the need to be able to respond quickly to new or changed priorities, mean that our current approach to digitally enabled transformation of Government needs to be accelerated and expanded.

The Government transformation strategy defines our vision and ambition for a Government that is “of the internet” rather than simply “on the internet”. It sets out how Government services, and other interactions with the public and businesses, will be improved and enhanced—both in terms of providing service to citizens and in gaining (and keeping) their trust. Digital is the best way of achieving this.

The strategy sets out five pillars for the future direction of Government:

Create shared platforms, components and reusable business capabilities: continuing with Government as a platform, reducing duplication, cost and increasing efficiency across Government.

Make better use of data: ensuring that Government data is properly managed, protected and (where non-sensitive) made available and shared effectively. To accelerate the transformation of Government, and ensure we retain public trust and confidence in our use of data, we will appoint a new Chief Data Officer for Government.

Business transformation: developing end-to-end services that meet the needs of their users across all channels, in co-ordination with a fundamental rethink of back-office operations.

Grow the right people, culture and skills: continuing to ensure that we have the right people, with the right skills and training, employed in the right place working in the right way.

Build better tools, processes and governance for civil servants: transforming the inside of the civil service to become an organisation that is digital by default.

One of the most important and challenging aspects of delivering transformed online services is identity assurance—establishing that the user is who they say they are and not someone pretending to be them. Gov.uk Verify, the Government’s online identity verification service, went live in May 2016. We will continue to enable individuals to prove their identity online and to access Government services securely and safely. To achieve this, we will work towards 25 million people having a gov.uk Verify account by the end of 2020.

This strategy also sets out the evolving role of the Government digital service to support, enable and assure transformation delivered by Government Departments. It provides the direction of travel and does not in and of itself constitute any additional spending commitments.

I will place a copy of this strategy document in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS469]

Treasury

European Union Finances Statement

I am today laying before Parliament, the “European Union Finances 2016: statement on the 2016 EU Budget and measures to counter fraud and financial mismanagement” (Cmd 9400). This is a routine annual publication. It is the thirty sixth in the series. The statement gives details of revenue and expenditure in the 2016 European Union (EU) Budget, recent developments in EU financial management and measures to counter fraud against the EU Budget. It also includes a chapter and annex on the use of EU funds in the UK while we remain a member state.

[HCWS476]

Communities and Local Government

Local Government Funding

Further to the points raised in the House yesterday on Surrey County Council and local government finance, I would like to take the opportunity to put some facts on the record.

Surrey County Council’s budget and council tax is a matter for the council. Surrey’s elected councillors voted through their 2017-18 budget on 7 February, based on the draft local government finance settlement. Surrey County Council has been clear that its budget decision—setting a level of council tax which is not above the referendum threshold—was its alone.

As part of the statutory draft local government finance settlement consultation, the Department for Communities and Local Government discusses local government funding with councils across the country, of all types and all political colours. This happens every year, and necessarily involves councils making direct representations to the Government.

DCLG will publish the final settlement later this month, and the House of Commons will then vote on it. This is entirely transparent, and detailed funding figures for every council are published as part of that process.

While the final settlement has yet to be approved, the Government are not proposing extra funding to Surrey County Council that is not otherwise provided or offered to other councils generally. There is no “memorandum of understanding” between Government and Surrey County Council. In the draft settlement published in December, Surrey’s core spending power is forecast to rise by 1.4% from 2015-16 to 2019-20. We believe this provides a sustainable base on which the council can plan ahead and allocate their £1.7 billion a year budget.

We are, however, conscious of the medium and long-term pressures that all councils face from a growing and ageing population. The Government are therefore delivering broader reforms to local government finance—through bespoke devolution deals, the integration of health and social care, a fairer funding review, medium and longer-term reforms to support adult social care, and the move, from 2019-20, to 100% business rates retention across the country. All these reforms have been discussed in recent weeks with Surrey and other councils from across the country as part of the local government finance settlement process.

The Local Government Finance Bill that Parliament is at present considering will legislate to deliver the reforms to business rates. A number of pilots are already taking place from April 2017 in combined authorities and unitary councils across the country. These will take place in Liverpool, Greater Manchester, west midlands, west of England, Cornwall and Greater London. The Government plan to undertake further pilots in 2018-19, in areas without a devolution deal, including two-tier council areas. The nationwide roll-out will then take place across England in 2019-20.

Surrey County Council informed the Government that it wished to become a pilot area. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government told it that this was not possible for 2017-18, but said that, subject to due process and meeting the necessary criteria, it could participate in the 2018-19 pilot. All other councils will be free to apply to participate in these pilots, and the Government invite them to do so. The Department for Communities and Local Government has already held discussions about the 2018-19 pilots with several councils and it will be publishing more information shortly.

The Government’s wider reforms to local government funding will make councils less dependent on money from Whitehall, ensuring all councils have strong incentives to support local jobs and local firms, and directly benefit from the proceeds of a growing economy.

[HCWS470]

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council

On 26 February 2015, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles) and the then Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan), having considered the report of the inspection by Dame Louise Casey CB and advice note from Sir Michael Wilshaw (HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills), concluded that it was both necessary and expedient for them to exercise their intervention powers as Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council was failing to comply with its best value duty. Due to the extent and the gravity of the failings in the Council, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government decided that the intervention should be broad and wide ranging. He directed that Commissioners should exercise all executive functions of the authority, as well as some non-executive ones, including licensing, until the Council could exercise them in compliance with its best value duty. A team of Commissioners was appointed to exercise these functions.

On 11 February 2016, my predecessor returned certain functions to the Council, including education, housing and planning. He was satisfied with the progress made and that the Council was able to exercise the identified functions in compliance with the best value duty. Returning these functions was the start of building effective and accountable political leadership and represented a clear milestone on the road to recovery. On 13 December 2016, I announced the return of licensing functions to the Council. I am pleased now to be able to report on further progress made.

In his 10 November 2016 progress report, Lead Commissioner Sir Derek Myers provided robust evidence to support his recommendation for economic growth, town centres, external partnerships and grounds maintenance to be returned to the Council. Additional information provided in December 2016 gave me sufficient assurance on the return of audit, and adult social care and NHS partnership.

The Commissioners will continue to have oversight of these six service areas to ensure continued compliance with the best value duty. With the exception of adult social care and NHS partnership, where Commissioners will have the power of direction, the other five service areas will be returned to the Council with the Commissioners having the power of advice.

Today, I have written to the Council to say that I am now ‘minded to’ return these service areas to the Council but will seek representations before making a final decision. I am placing a copy of the documents associated with these announcements in the Library of the House and on my Department’s website.

[HCWS475]

Culture, Media and Sport

Sporting Future: Annual Report

I am today publishing the first annual report on the Government’s sport strategy “Sporting Future: a New Strategy for an Active Nation”.

Sporting Future set out a new Government vision to redefine what success looks like in sport by concentrating on five key outcomes—physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development and economic development. It was a bold new strategy for an active nation. It marked the biggest shift in Government policy on sport for more than a decade. Much has been achieved so far, and this first annual report sets out the steps we have taken towards making sure absolutely everyone can benefit from the power of sport.

Investment in sport and physical activity is now focused on the five key outcomes. Funding is being opened up to organisations who can demonstrate how they will consistently deliver some or all of those shared goals.

Progress has been made against the three major outputs described in Sporting Future—engagement in sport as a participant, volunteer and spectator; maximising international and domestic sporting success and the impact of major events; and supporting a more productive, sustainable and responsible sport sector across the board.

I am grateful to all those who are working to make Sporting Future such a success. The annual report is being deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sporting-future-first-annual-report.

[HCWS472]

Defence

Service Museums

My noble Friend the Minister of State in the House of Lords, Earl Howe, has made the following written statement:

Further to my written ministerial statement of 15 October 2015 (HLWS241), I am today announcing the publication of the findings of the review of the three service museums: The National Museum of the Royal Navy, the National Army Museum and the RAF Museum. Periodic reviews of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring, and improving, the accountability and effectiveness of public bodies.

The review concluded that the service museums support the heritage objectives of the Ministry of Defence and the functions performed are still required. The review recommended that the service museums should be retained as NDPBs of the Ministry of Defence.

The review was carried out with the participation of a wide range of internal and external stakeholders and I am grateful to all those who contributed to this review.

The Review of the Service Museums report has been placed in the Library of the House. It will also be available on the Government website at: www.gov.uk.

[HCWS473]

Exiting the European Union

General Affairs Council: February 2017

The General Affairs Council (GAC) was held on 7 February in Brussels under the Maltese presidency.

The agenda covered follow up to the December European Council; preparation for the March European Council; and Commission communication on next steps for a sustainable European future. The UK permanent representative to the EU represented the UK.

A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/gac/2017/02/07/.

Follow up to the December European Council

The Maltese presidency presented the EU’s key priorities and progress, stating that further work was needed in all areas. The Commission added that member states should not lose sight of making progress on relocation and the common European asylum system.

Preparation for the March European Council

The presidency presented the draft agenda which includes: jobs, growth and competitiveness, which would take stock of single market strategies; security, where leaders would examine decisions taken at December’s European Council; and a place-holder for external relations. The presidency announced that external migration would be added. The UK supported the addition of migration following the discussions at the Valletta summit, welcomed the opportunity to return to security and noted the importance of jobs, growth and competitiveness and external relations.

Commission communication on next steps for a sustainable European future

The Commission introduced its communication, in which it set out a vision for a more sustainable future in line with the UN sustainable development goals and Agenda 2030. It includes empowerment of women; energy transformation; a digital single market; and lifelong learning. There will be Council conclusions in June to progress work in this area.

AOB

Portugal presented conclusions of a conference on the future of the European monetary union held in Lisbon in January. The conference, attended primarily by representatives from southern European countries, called for the EU to work together to promote growth and convergence across eurozone countries, backed by a socially sustainable increase in public and private investment.

[HCWS477]

Transport

Commercial Spaceflight

We intend to publish a draft spaceflight Bill later this month, dedicated to commercial spaceflight in the UK. This legislation will be fundamental to enabling small satellite launches and sub-orbital flights from the UK, ensuring the UK is well placed to take advantage of a growing global market. The Government’s intention is to introduce this Bill formally early in the next Session, following a period of scrutiny and engagement with industry and other interest groups.

The space sector is vital to the future of the UK economy, with a strong record of creating high-value jobs and generating wealth across the country. To help the creation of the space launch market in the UK, the UK Space Agency is inviting commercial space consortia to apply for grant funding to take the action that will make our ambitions a reality.

Together, the proposed legislation and grant funding announced today will have the potential to enable commercial spaceflight from a UK spaceport by 2020.

[HCWS471]

Ministerial Cars

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) has made the following written statement.

I am publishing today details of the charges incurred by Departments for the use of official Government cars provided to Ministers by the Government Car Service during the financial year 2015-16, which are in the attached table.

Official transport is provided so that Ministers can carry out their work effectively and securely, including working on sensitive and confidential Government documents while travelling.

We are committed to continuing our focus on reducing the cost to the taxpayer of the provision of secure ministerial cars. The Government Car Service has reduced its running costs by three quarters since 2010. We continue to be committed to reducing the cost to the taxpayer of the provision of secure transport.

To assist public scrutiny, equivalent figures for the £6.7 million charges to each Department under the last Labour Government can be found at 28 October 2010, Official Report, column 23WS.

https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansard/cm101028/wmstext/101028m0001.htm#10102827000372.

Department

No. of GCS departmental pool car services at (31/3/16)

Departmental pool car services

Pre-booked service

Total charges (all services)

Attorney General’s Office (formerly Law Officer’s Department)

1

£82,221.67

£0.00

£82,221.67

Cabinet Office

3

£181,486.50

£6,172.25

£187,658.75

Government Chief Whip

0

£25,435.49

£3,076.25

£28,511.74

Leader of the House of Commons

1

£73,233.74

£0.00

£73,233.74

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

1

£84,797.79

£4,512.45

£89,310.24

Department for Education

1

£87,837.30

£24,899.33

£112,736.63

Department for Communities and Local Government

2

£172,334.20

£2,260.35

£174,594.55

Department for Culture, Media and Sport

1

£82,449.30

£292.50

£82,741.80

Department for Energy and Climate Change

1

£83,199.54

£1,907.25

£85,106.79

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

1

£94,646.45

£9,689.11

£104,335.56

Department for International Development

1

£22,172.98

£6,052.50

£28,225.48

Department for Transport

2

£171,639.84

£4,472.05

£176,111.89

Department for Work and Pensions

0

£0.00

£0.00

£0.00

Department of Health

1

£84,353.29

£75.00

£84,428.29

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

0

£0.00

£705.00

£705.00

HM Treasury

2

£202,226.95

£37,397.27

£239,624.22

Home Office

2

£171,392.96

£27,703.94

£199,096.90

Ministry of Defence

0

£0.00

£0.00

£0.00

Ministry of Justice

0

£0.00

£1,555.00

£1,555.00

Northern Ireland Office

0

£0.00

£11,736.03

£11,736.03

Scotland Office

0

£0.00

£593.70

£593.70

Wales Office

0

£0.00

£3,342.76

£3,342.76

20

£1,619,427.99

£146,442.74

£1,765,870.73

Methodological note:

The charges recorded in this statement reflect the service model which came into effect in April 2012 as part of the reform programme. This provides departmental pool cars which are a shared resource for a Department to use as efficiently as possible. In addition, the car service offers a small pre-bookable service utilising any spare capacity.

These charges do not necessarily reflect the total spend on car services as some Departments have arrangements with other providers. The Treasury has two Cabinet Ministers. The former Chancellor used the Government Car Service to supply a driver and vehicle for his protection package whereas the PM, Home, Foreign, Defence and Northern Ireland Secretaries of State used the Metropolitan Police. Such charges are not included in the table.

[HCWS478]

Work and Pensions

Fraud, Error and Debt Measures

We are committed to ensuring an effective and accurate benefit system, as part of creating a welfare system which is fair to those who use it, and fair to the taxpayers who fund it. An important part of this is recovering money owed to the Government through overpayment of benefits.

Fraud and error in the DWP benefits system is historically low, and at 1.9% is lower than in 2010. Claimant error and official error are at their lowest level ever, and we are protecting taxpayers’ money by recovering a record amount in overpaid benefits. For 2015-16 around £1 billion was recovered jointly by the Department and local authorities, an increase of £70 million since 2014-15.

Using DWP powers to recover tax credits debt

In order to build on this success, today, I can announce that from April 2018 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will recover a segment of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) tax credits debt associated with people whose tax credits claim has ended. This is debt that has been subject to recovery by HMRC but where repayment has not been secured.

The claimants who have these historic debts will have previously been contacted numerous times by HMRC and invited to start a voluntary repayment plan. They will also have had the opportunity to appeal and challenge the debt.

From April 2018 DWP will begin to try to recover this debt using a wider range of methods. Where people have not voluntarily made arrangements to repay, this may, as a last resort include recovery directly from earnings. DWP has greater powers than HMRC in this regard.

This initiative helps deliver the Government’s commitment to reform the benefits system and switch to universal credit. During transition HMRC will continue to administer financial support for those with ongoing entitlement to tax credits.

Using data and analytics to identify potential fraud and error

Many people rely on the benefit system for support—it provides a vital safety net for people who are out of work, people with disabilities, those who are carers, bringing up children, retired, or on low incomes. So it is vital that we protect it from the very small minority who try to claim taxpayers’ money they are not entitled to.

According to the most recent fraud and error national statistics around £110 million is lost annually to DWP as a result of fraud and error relating to undeclared partners. The most up to date information (financial year 13-14) suggests around 1.5% of income support (IS) expenditure is overpaid annually as a result of a partner not being declared appropriately.

We will engage with an external data provider to identify benefit claimants thought to be most likely to have an undeclared partner more effectively. We expect that this will provide more and better evidence to enable us to identify high risk cases. The data provider will not have any contact with claimants directly or any decision making authority. All cases will be progressed through the existing DWP fraud and compliance processes.

We expect to award a contract for around 18 months and will evaluate its effectiveness in order to inform decisions about whether this type of data matching provides a useful indication of undeclared partners for future use in the universal credit system.

[HCWS474]