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Written Statements

Volume 629: debated on Monday 9 October 2017

Written Statements

Monday 9 October 2017

Defence

Contingent Liability

I have today laid before Parliament a departmental minute describing a Contingent Liability (CL) in the region of £150 million associated with Programme HADES.

Programme HADES will provide the continued delivery of motor transport, supply, aircraft and ground engineering, and airfield support services. HADES will replace expiring unit-specific multi-activity contracts at a number of units from 1 April 2018. The programme will ensure continuity of service provision at minimum cost and is essential to support strategic defence and security review 2015 outcomes.

The maximum CL is in the region of £150 million, which ensured healthy competition from prospective tenderers. There is also a further CL of £643,000 associated with the indemnity given to contractors for terminal redundancy liability associated with ex-authority staff.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before the House, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.

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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Commonwealth Games 2022

I wish to inform the House that, on 9 October 2017, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport laid a minute recording the submission of a bid by Commonwealth Games England, Birmingham City Council, the West Midlands Combined Authority and DCMS to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Birmingham’s bid presents an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the very best of global Britain to the world, showcasing the UK as a destination for international trade, education and tourism. It has the full backing of Government and will not only help grow the economy in the west midlands and beyond but leave a strong sports legacy by upgrading facilities to benefit both elite athletes and the local community.

The Government will provide around 75% of the net budget costs of delivering the Games and an underwrite of the total event budget, as well as a series of further guarantees which the CGF requests accompany the bid. The bid, therefore, creates contingent liabilities for the UK Government in relation to Commonwealth Games.

The minute notes these liabilities as Government’s commitment to provide funding for the Games, underwrite the costs, and provide a number of further guarantees relating to the successful planning and delivery of the event. These contingent liabilities will only take effect in the event of a successful bid and our agreement of a hosting contract with the Commonwealth Games Federation.

The bid was submitted on 30 September 2017 and, due to the much shorter than usual timeframe in which to prepare the bid, I apologise that there was insufficient time to notify Parliament of our intention before the House returned.

Parliamentarians may signify objections by giving notice of a parliamentary question or by otherwise raising the matter in Parliament by 31 October. Final approval to proceed with incurring the liability will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.

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Education

Student Finance Update

I am today confirming the earnings threshold above which individuals are required to make contributions to the cost of their education from April 2018. I am also confirming the maximum tuition fees for the 2018-19 academic year.

Earnings threshold

The earnings threshold will be increased from 6 April 2018. From its current level of £21,000 the threshold will rise to £25,000 for the 2018-19 financial year. Thereafter it will be adjusted annually in line with average earnings.

The new threshold will apply to those who have already taken out and will take out loans for tuition and living costs for full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in the post-2012 system and those who took out or will take an advanced learner loan for a further education course.

The lower threshold for variable interest rates for post-2012 student loans will also rise to £25,000 on 6 April 2018, and the upper threshold will rise to £45,000 from £41,000 on the same date. Both the repayment and variable interest thresholds will be adjusted annually in line with average earnings thereafter. In 2018-19 around 600,000 borrowers will benefit from the threshold changes. Most of those 600,000 borrowers will both make lower contributions and have a lower rate of interest applied.

The repayment thresholds applicable to pre-2012 student loans, the older mortgage style loans and master’s loans are not affected by these changes.

Tuition fees

Maximum tuition fee caps will be maintained at 2017-18 academic year levels in the 2018-19 academic year.

For HEFCE funded providers that have a current Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) award and have an access agreement with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the maximum tuition fee for full-time courses will remain £9,250 in 2018-19. For HEFCE funded providers that have a current TEF award but do not have an access agreement with OFFA, the maximum tuition fee for full-time courses will be £6,165 in 2018-19. For HEFCE funded providers that do not have a current TEF award, the maximum tuition fee for full-time courses in 2018-19 will remain £9,000 for providers with an OFFA access agreement and £6,000 for providers without an OFFA access agreement.

Maximum fee loans for all new students and eligible continuing students who started their full-time courses at publicly funded providers on or after 1 September 2012 will be maintained at £9,250 in the 2018-19 academic year.

For continuing students who started their full-time courses before September 2012, maximum tuition fee and fee loan caps at publicly funded providers in 2018-19 will be maintained at £3,465.

For HEFCE funded providers that have a current TEF award and have an access agreement with OFFA, the maximum tuition fee for part-time courses will be £6,935 in 2018-19. For HEFCE funded providers that have a current TEF award, but do not have an access agreement with OFFA, the maximum tuition fee for part-time courses will be £4,625 in 2018-19. For HEFCE funded providers that do not have a current TEF award, the maximum tuition fee for part-time courses in 2018-19 will be £6,750 for providers with an OFFA access agreement and £4,500 for providers without an OFFA access agreement.

Maximum fee loans for all new students and eligible continuing students who started their part-time courses at publicly funded providers on or after 1 September 2012 will be maintained at £6,935 in 2018-19.

For all new students and eligible continuing students who started their full-time courses on or after 1 September 2012 and are undertaking courses at private providers that have a current TEF award, the maximum fee loan will be £6,165 in 2018-19. For private providers that do not have a current TEF award, the maximum fee loan for full-time courses will be £6,000 in 2018/19.

For all new students and eligible continuing students who started their part-time courses on or after 1 September 2012 and are undertaking courses at private providers that have a current TEF award, the maximum fee loan will be £4,625 in 2018-19. For private providers that do not have a current TEF award, the maximum fee loan for part-time courses in 2018-19 will be £4,500.

The Government will set out further steps on HE student financing in due course.

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Health

Mental Health Act Review

The Government have commissioned an independent review of mental health legislation and practice to tackle the issue of mental health detention.

There have been concerns that detention rates under the Mental Health Act are too high. The number of detentions has been rising year on year, and last year on average there were 180 cases a day where people were sectioned under the terms of the act. People from black and minority ethnic populations are disproportionately affected, with black people in particular being almost four times more likely than white people to be detained.

The Government are committed to improving mental health services and ensuring that people with mental health problems receive the treatment and support they need, when they need it. This can mean that people need to be made subject to the Mental Health Act—that is, be detained or ‘sectioned’. In these cases, our dedicated professional staff—including psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, and the police—work tirelessly to ensure that people are treated with dignity under the Act, and that their liberty and autonomy are respected as far as possible.

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, will lead the review which will deliver recommendations for change to the Government. Sir Simon will look at the evidence, review practice, and above all consider the needs of service users and their families, and how best the system can help and support them. He will identify improvements in how the Act is used in practice, as well as how we might need to change the Act itself. Vice chairs will be appointed to work with Sir Simon and ensure the leadership of the review has comprehensive professional expertise whilst also being representative of service users and others affected by the Mental Health Act.

Following consultation with stakeholders, Sir Simon will produce an interim report identifying priorities for the review’s work in early 2018, and develop a final report containing detailed recommendations on its priorities, by autumn 2018.

Further detail on the independent review, including its terms of reference, can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-announces-review-to-tackle-detention-of-those-with-mental-ill-health.

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Infected Blood: Government Response

In 2016 the Government decided to improve the way we support people who have suffered as a result of the infected blood tragedy of the 1970s and 1980s. At this time the Government committed an additional £125 million of support to those affected, more than doubling the Department of Health’s annual spending on the scheme over the spending review period to April 2021.

Following the 2016 consultation we announced new annual payments for people with chronic hepatitis C (stage 1 infection) and a new one-off payment for bereaved partners and spouses; a new process for those with stage 1 infection to apply for the higher payment amount; and increased annual payments from 2018-19.

In March 2017 we launched a second consultation, looking at the new voluntary process by which those infected by stage 1 Hepatitis C can apply for higher annual payments (the Special Category Mechanism). The Special Category Mechanism aims to benefit beneficiaries with hepatitis C stage 1 who consider their infection, or its treatment, to have a substantial and long-term impact on their ability to carry out routine daily activities.

The consultation was open to all beneficiaries and other interested parties across the UK to comment on our proposals. The consultation closed on 17 April 2017.

The Government have listened carefully to the consultation responses, analysed pre and post-consultation evidence from other sources, and reviewed consultation proposals in line with respondents’ views and evidence. Following this, the consultation response sets out the Government’s plans for reform, which are summarised below:

Introduction of planned uplifts in annual payments from 2018-19. All beneficiaries will receive an increase in annual payments from 2018-19.

A new Special Category Mechanism (SCM) for those with hepatitis C infection at stage 1 in November 2017.

The introduction of a single programme of discretionary support for all—infected and bereaved.

An increase in the overall level of funding for discretionary support from 2018-19.

All annual payments will include the winter fuel payment.

Addition of type 2 or 3 cryoglobulinemia accompanied by membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis, MPGN), to the current hepatitis C stage 2 conditions.

A letter will be sent to the beneficiaries of the English scheme to make them aware of these changes, and advise them on how to access the consultation response, a link to which is also provided as part of this statement. When the SCM process opens beneficiaries with hepatitis C at stage 1 will receive a letter telling them how to apply.

For the first time, all beneficiaries of any of the current five schemes will be receiving support from a single scheme. As previously announced the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) will become the new single scheme administrator in England, with effect from 1 November 2017. While this transition takes place, annual and discretionary payments and services will continue to be made by the current schemes to ensure a smooth transition to the new scheme with minimum impact on the beneficiaries.

The Government strongly believe that all those who are affected by this tragedy should be supported by a fair and transparent scheme that focuses on their welfare and long-term independence. With this additional funding and scheme reform, the support provided to those affected by the infected blood tragedy will be greater and fairer than ever before.

A copy of the full consultation and the related equality analysis can be found on gov.uk using the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/ infected-blood-support-special-category-mechanism.

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International Development

DFID Supplier Review

The UK is an acknowledged world leader in the provision of development and humanitarian aid. Our aid budget acts not only in the interests of the world’s poorest, but also in Britain’s long term national interest.

Our global leadership in development requires continuing efforts to improve value for money, efficiency, innovation and effectiveness. I am therefore introducing tough new measures to ensure that the aid managed by DFID contractors delivers the best possible results for the world’s poorest people, provides value for taxpayers’ money and upholds high standards of ethical and professional behaviour.

A tough new DFID supply partner code of conduct will cover commercial requirements, ethical behaviours, transparency obligations, environmental sustainability and social responsibility. DFID will monitor suppliers’ implementation of the code, with legally enforceable sanctions for non-compliance.

DFID will introduce greater transparency to drive down costs along its supply chains. DFID contracts will now include tough new measures to bear down even harder on costs, fees and overheads, and to provide greater transparency in contracts and throughout supply chains. These include open book accounting clauses enabling DFID to obtain, use and verify information from its suppliers to make sure we have access to full financial information on costs to enable us to fully challenge value for money. It will also include a clause which we can use if necessary to intervene to ensure a fair deal for the taxpayer.

DFID will open up procurement to new entrants in the UK and overseas, simplifying documentation and processes and making greater use of digital platforms and social media to allow potential suppliers to access contract opportunities. A programme of business engagement events in the UK and overseas will facilitate engagement by new suppliers and the Department will also carry out research into the specific barriers facing by local suppliers in developing countries in accessing contract opportunities.

DFID will level the playing field for small suppliers and sub-contractors, ending the imposition of agreements which restrict sub-contractors’ ability to work for other suppliers. It will introduce new protections for small suppliers and sub-contractors operating in consortia, including contract checks to eradicate so called “bid candy” practices in which major suppliers drop sub-contractors once they have won the contract. We will continue to break up suitable tenders into manageable sizes and services to better enable smaller suppliers to compete.

A robust, comprehensive approach to supplier management will enable the Department to hold suppliers to account across their entire portfolio of work with DFID, bringing DFID into line with best practice in the private sector. This will allow DFID to challenge delivery partners more strongly on value for money, identify underlying performance problems and tap into a supplier’s wider areas of expertise.

DFID will put more information in the public domain, so that members of the public can assure themselves directly that DFID’s aid is being used effectively. This will include a policy on allowable costs in day rates paid to consultants and annual league tables of supplier performance. We will publish annual information on our commercial practices, setting out performance during the year and making further recommendations for improvement.

These reforms will complement the detailed line-by-line review of every programme in DFID’s portfolio, either already approved or in design phase, carried out by my ministerial team. They will help to ensure maximum impact from the development programmes delivered by DFID’s contractors, complementing the work done in the civil society partnership review to strengthen value for money from grants to civil society organisations, and in the multilateral development review to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the international development system.

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Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Update

The DUP and Sinn Fein continue their discussions towards the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland. The parties have reduced the number of issues between them—including on some aspects of language and culture—but clear differences still remain. The Government are committed to continuing to work with all the Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government, consistent with the three-stranded approach, towards reaching agreement quickly. I have been in regular contact with party leaders and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and will have further meetings in Belfast this week. The Prime Minister has been actively involved throughout this process. This has included her recent meeting with the Taoiseach and discussions with the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein. She shares the high priority which I place on the Government being ready and willing to work tirelessly to support the restoration of the Northern Ireland devolved institutions.

It is crucial that, with this support, the parties continue to do their utmost to reach an agreement which allows them to make those decisions which are important to the people of Northern Ireland. The parties have shown leadership and the ability to look beyond their differences in the past to resolve significant challenges which have separated them. I have urged the parties to focus their remaining efforts and energies on closing the outstanding gaps swiftly to find a resolution which will pave the way for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. With the right spirit of compromise this can be achieved and now is the time to come together and reach agreement.

I stand ready to bring forward legislation to enable an Executive to be formed quickly once agreement has been reached. But the timeframe for this is not indefinite. As Secretary of State, I have a responsibility for good governance and political stability in Northern Ireland—which has now been without a full Executive for 10 months. If devolved Government is not restored in the next few weeks, I will consider carefully what steps are needed in the best interests of the people, the voluntary sector, public services and businesses in Northern Ireland. As a minimum, this would involve introducing legislation later this month to set a budget for 2017-18 putting Northern Ireland on a path towards greater UK Government intervention in its day to day affairs.

We are not at this point yet. It is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and its people to have strategic decisions taken by locally elected politicians in the interests of the whole community. That is why the Government remain resolute in their efforts with the parties to secure the outcome which a majority of Northern Ireland want and need: the restoration of devolution. Ultimately, it is for the parties to reach agreement, but Northern Ireland has come so far and I encourage the parties to keep this firmly in mind as they work towards finding that resolution.

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