Tuesday 20 February 2018
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,
Declares that Oundle Library should remain open.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to compel Northamptonshire County Council to provide adequate funding to allow Oundle Library to remain open.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tom Pursglove, Official Report, 12 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 366.]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Matt Hancock):
The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (the Act) requires all local authorities in England to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. In considering how to deliver this statutory duty, each local authority is responsible for determining, through consultation, the local needs to deliver a modern and efficient library service that meets the requirements of their communities within available resources.
The Act requires the Secretary of State to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England, and to secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions in relation to libraries as conferred on them as library authorities. The Department therefore monitors library service changes to support the Secretary of State in the discharge of these functions, and the Act provides the Secretary of State with powers to order a local inquiry if, after careful consideration, there is serious doubt that a local authority is carrying out its statutory duty.
The Government recognise the importance and value of public libraries for all members of the public. Libraries support the transformation of individuals, communities and society as a whole. They provide access to books, opportunities for people to learn and improve, and bring communities together to support integration and tackle loneliness. In addition, they provide practical help and guidance, including for digital skills, literacy, health and wellbeing, and business development.
The Government are therefore committed to helping public libraries in England prosper, including through the support of the development agency for libraries, Arts Council England. In addition, the Government, with the Local Government Association, established the Libraries Taskforce in 2015 to provide leadership and support to public library services in England. The Taskforce has published a range of information and guidance, including toolkits and case studies to assist local authorities and their library service.
In December 2016, the Taskforce published “Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021” that sets out the Taskforce’s vision for public libraries in England. This is endorsed by central and local government and describes how library services in England support and add value to a range of local and national policy priorities, providing practical examples of existing good practice.
The Government recognise that local authorities are seeking to modernise and innovate library services to ensure they remain relevant and meet the changing demands of their communities. Local authorities are encouraged to work with Government and local people to consider the range of options available to deliver a comprehensive and efficient library service and to ensure that it is sustainable for the long term.
NCC’s Libraries and Information Service seeks to provide a range of community services to local people, including through 36 static libraries, a mobile library service, and other digital services and resources. From 20 October 2017 to 13 January 2018, NCC consulted on three options for the future of its Library and Information Service. The Government understands that NCC has since analysed the consultation responses and recommendations have been proposed for consideration at NCC cabinet meeting on 13 February and final decision at a full council meeting, as part of its budget-setting process, on 22 February.
Under these recommendations, NCC proposes to retain eight large and seven medium libraries (including Oundle library) in its library service, totalling 15 static libraries, and to develop these as community hubs. NCC also intends to investigate the potential future library service provision for a further location in the Corby area. In addition, the mobile library service would close and, to support library users who find it difficult to access a static library, NCC intends to extend its outreach “Library to You” service.
In relation to the communities served by the remaining 21 libraries currently in its statutory library service but not covered by the above proposals, NCC notes that it will seek to develop a community-managed library model by working with communities to develop business plans for local groups to take over the running of these libraries. To enable a transition to develop such community-managed libraries, NCC proposes to provide continued financial support during 2018-19, and in 2019-20 to pay the rental costs for these libraries. In the event that business plans are not feasible for any library, NCC expects to decide to decommission that library, which is likely to mean it closing.
The Department continues to closely monitor NCC consideration of its libraries proposals. If, following NCC’s final decision about its library service provision, the Department receives a complaint under section 10(l)(a) of the Act raising concerns that NCC will fail to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, the Department will carefully consider the complaint on its merits to decide whether an inquiry is required to determine if the council is meeting its statutory duty.
It should also be noted that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced on 9 January 2018 the appointment of an independent inspector to better understand whether NCC is complying with its “best value” duty—a legal requirement to ensure good governance and effective management of resources. The inspection is due to report by 16 March 2018.
Health and Social Care
Urgent treatment centre, Westmorland General Hospital
The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,
Declares that many people in South Lakes have to endure long journeys to the Accident and Emergency units at Royal Lancaster Infirmary in Lancaster and Furness General Hospital in Barrow as the Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal does not have the necessary facilities to cope with the majority of Accident and Emergency cases.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to bring an Urgent Treatment Centre to Westmorland General Hospital, not only to provide urgent care closer to home for South Lakes residents, but to also help relieve pressure on the Accident and Emergency units at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Furness General Hospital and ensure ambulances are not stuck waiting there in long queues.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tim Farron, Official Report, 20 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 1242.]
Observations from the Minister for Health (Stephen Barclay):
Any potential service change is a matter for the local NHS. It is right that these decisions are led by local clinicians, who best understand the healthcare needs of their local population, and in consultation with local people.
All proposed service changes should be based on clear evidence that they will deliver better outcomes for patients.
They should also meet the four tests for service change:
They should have support from GP commissioners;
be based on clinical evidence;
demonstrate public and patient engagement; and
consider patient choice.
Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has been working closely with NHS England since September 2017, identifying key sites and delivering the operational roll-out for urgent treatment centres across the Morecambe Bay area. The CCG confirms that an urgent treatment centre is planned for the site at Westmorland General Hospital where the Primary Care Assessment Service (PCAS) is currently located. The CCG is working with NHSE on an implementation plan. It is expected that the centre will be operational in Spring 2018.
The petition of residents of the UK,
Declares that the town of Sudbury, Suffolk, has suffered from heavy congestion for too long, hampering the development of the town, causing dangerous levels of pollution and reducing the living standards of its residents; further that the Department for Transport should recognise the strong business case, the support of the Suffolk County Council, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the Haven Gateway Partnership; and further the Government should provide support for the construction of a Sudbury bypass, including any necessary funding, to improve the future of the town and surrounding areas; and further that a local paper petition and online petition on this matter received 3,711 signatures.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department of Transport to support the construction of a Sudbury bypass.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by James Cartlidge, Official Report, 31 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 940.][P002106]
Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jesse Norman):
The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion across the country. This includes significant new investment in both the strategic and local road networks, as well as encouragement for more sustainable transport including buses, walking and cycling.
The Department for Transport understands traffic congestion can be experienced at certain times in the centre of Sudbury, along with air quality issues in the town. The Department would urge all local partners to work together in looking for viable transport solutions to these issues.
Any new bypass at Sudbury would be a local transport project and therefore a matter for the local highway authority, Suffolk County Council, to take forward including setting out how they plan to fund the scheme. Government funding for such schemes on the local highways network is currently provided through the Local Growth Fund (LGF). In line with the Government’s commitment to devolution, all LGF funding up to March 2021 has been devolved to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to administer in line with locally identified priorities. If Suffolk County Council wish to seek LGF funding for a new bypass they should therefore look to the New Anglia LEP. The future of such funding after 2021 is still under discussion.
The A134 through Sudbury is on the Government’s proposed Major Road Network (MRN) which is out for consultation until 19 March 2018. Should it be designated as part of the MRN then this scheme could be eligible for MRN funding in the future.
Toft Hill Bypass
The petition of residents of Toft Hill,
Declares that the A68 that runs through Toft Hill is unsuitable and unsafe for the volume and nature of vehicles, especially HGV Lorries; and further that the proximity of the primary school and proposed future development in the village would make this stretch of road more dangerous to local residents.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Transport to priorities a new relief road to alleviate the problems faced by residents of Toft Hill.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Helen Goodman, Official Report, 23 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 238.]
Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jesse Norman):
The Government have provided significant amounts of funding for local road improvements, including the Department for Transport’s £475 million Large Local Major Schemes Fund and the £12 billion Local Growth Fund available to Local Enterprise Partnerships. Both of these funds can be accessed by local authorities for road improvements such as bypasses, but before applying the local authorities are expected to undertake the initial development of a business case to show the scheme is feasible and offers value for money.
The A68 through Toft Hill forms part of the local road network, which in this location is the responsibility of Durham County Council. As such, it would be for Durham County Council to decide if the road is unsuitable and unsafe for the volume of traffic it carries and whether a business case should be developed.
The Department for Transport intends to create a Major Road Network to tackle bottlenecks and traffic jams on the country’s busiest “A” roads. This will see up to £100 million available for individual enhancement schemes on the new network. Improvements on the Major Road Network will be funded from the National Roads Fund, which from 2020 will be paid for by Vehicle Excise Duty.
A consultation on the creation of this Major Road Network is currently under way and closes on 19 March 2018. The consultation sets out proposals for defining the new network, how investments will be planned, and how proposed investments will be assessed. The A68 through Toft Hill is not included in the indicative Major Road Network, which was published alongside the consultation, as it does not meet the proposed criteria for Major Roads. However, the purpose of the consultation is to gather views on the Department’s proposals and, if stakeholders feel there be made for the A68, they should respond to the consultation.
Closure of RBS branches in East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow
The petition of residents of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow,
Declares that closure of the RBS branches in Lesmahagow and Strathaven, and indeed many other rural branches across Scotland, unfairly affects rural communities that will have to travel further to withdraw their own money or seek monetary advice from their own bank; further that RBS is 72%-owned by taxpayer and rural taxpayers have been unfairly targeted in the closures; further that it could be of serious detriment to our local rural economies; and further that the closure of these local branches will have the biggest negative impact on the most vulnerable people in our community such as the elderly and the disabled.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government, as a major shareholder in RBS, to undertake a full review into the decision by the bank to close a third of its branches in Scotland; further that the government acknowledges the targeted impact this will have on rural communities; and further that the Government will urge RBS to rethink its list of proposed branch closures.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Dr Lisa Cameron, Official Report, 20 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 1242.]
Observations from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen):
The Government thank Lisa Cameron MP for her petition on the closure of the RBS branches in Lesmahagow and Strathaven.
The Government are sorry to hear about the disappointment of the residents of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow at the closure of the RBS branches.
As with other banking service providers, RBS Group will need to balance customer interests, market competition, and other commercial factors when considering its strategy. Decisions on opening and closing branches and agencies are taken by the management team of each bank on a commercial basis. The Government’s stake in RBS is managed at arm’s length by UK Financial Investments (UKFI). UKFI is wholly owned by the Government and is responsible for managing the Government’s stake in the assets acquired during the financial crisis. UKFI is not responsible, however, for managing the assets themselves. RBS retains its own board, which is responsible for strategic and management decisions and decisions relating to branch closures are solely within the remit of the bank.
However, the Government do believe that banks should act in the best interests of their customers and are committed to increasing competition to deliver better financial products and services for all bank customers. The Government continue to engage actively with the banking industry and consumer groups on these issues on an ongoing basis.
In May 2017, the major high street banks signed up to the Access to Banking Standard, committing to work with customers and communities to minimise the impact of branch closures and put in place alternative banking services. The Standard commits banks to ensure customers are well informed about branch closures, the bank’s reasons for closure and options for continued access to banking services. These options should include specialist assistance for customers who need more help. The operation of the Standard is monitored and enforced by the independent Lending Standards Board, ensuring that banks are held accountable for the way they treat their customers when a branch closes.
In addition, in January 2017, the Post Office announced that it had reached an agreement with the banks that will allow more banking customers to access a wider range of services at the Post Office than ever before. The new arrangement allows individual and small business customers to withdraw money, deposit cash and cheques and check balances at more than 11,600 Post Office branches in the UK. While the range of services offered by the Post Office may be more limited than that offered in a traditional bank branch, the services provided through the Post Office’s extensive network ensures that essential banking facilities remain available in as many communities as possible. The Post Office estimates that 99% of personal and 95% of business customers will be able to carry out their day-to-day banking at a Post Office as a result of the new agreement.
Both initiatives have the Government’s full support, and banks are aware that the Government expect their involvement to be genuine and unqualified.
Should the residents of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow decide to switch banks, the Government have made it easier than ever before using the Current Account Switch Service (CASS). The switch service is free to use, comes with a guarantee to protect customers from financial loss if something goes wrong, and redirects any payments mistakenly sent to the old account, providing further assurance for customers. This means that customers are more able than ever to hold their banks to account by voting with their feet, and that banks are incentivised to work hard to retain their existing customers and attract new ones. More information about CASS is available at: www.currentaccountswitch.co.uk
The Government cannot reverse the changes in the market and in customer behaviour; nor can it determine firms’ commercial strategies in response to those changes.
However, the Government will continue to take positive action to maintain access to vital banking services and ensure that banks support communities across the UK when their local branches close.