Tuesday 17 March 2020
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
This Government have ambitious plans to achieve nationwide roll-out of future-proof gigabit broadband as soon as possible. Delivering these ambitions will unlock huge economic and social benefits for all members of society.
The provision of gigabit-capable connectivity to new build developments is a crucial element of meeting our ambitious broadband targets. Ensuring virtually all new homes, rural and urban, are built with the future in mind, ready to support the next generation of digital infrastructure, is vitally important. My Department consulted on delivering gigabit-capable connections to all new build developments across the UK in 2018.
Today I am pleased to inform members that we have published the Government response to this consultation.
This response announces that the Government will require developers in England to install gigabit-capable infrastructure and, subject to a cost cap, a gigabit-capable connection. To do this, we will use existing powers in the Building Act 1984 to amend the Building Regulations 2010 to mandate that:
Developers ensure new homes have gigabit broadband. This includes ensuring that the physical infrastructure necessary for gigabit-capable connections is provided on site for all new build developments and that the home is connected by an operator to a gigabit-capable connection.
The requirement on the developer to provide a gigabit-capable connection exists unless the cost to the developer of providing connectivity exceeds £2,000, or the operator declines to provide a connection.
Developers must seek a second quote from network operators, where the first quote suggests that gigabit-capable broadband cannot be installed within the cost cap.
If gigabit broadband exceeds the cost cap, the developer must provide connectivity to other technologies which can provide at least superfast connection1 within the same cost cap, unless the operator declines to provide a connection.
This will establish a system that provides a clear and simple process for developers to comply with, limiting the administrative burden on developers to a minimum and gives a clear point in time for submission of evidence.
Implementing through the Building Regulations 2010 will also remove the six to nine month period that would have been required for primary legislation, speeding up the implementation of this policy. It allows us to proceed immediately to secondary legislation, which would have been required in all circumstances in any case. We will bring forward this legislation as soon as possible in this parliamentary session.
This is not to say that network operators do not have a key role in this area or that Government will not hold them to account to ensure that they deliver gigabit-capable connections. Government are looking to secure commitments from network operators to contribute to the costs of connecting new builds. We have been in active conversations with a number of network operators on this topic and have already secured commitments from Openreach and Virgin Media. Virgin Media will contribute at least £500, rising in the case of some larger sites to £1,000. Openreach has also committed to a combined Openreach and developer contribution of £3,400, with a maximum developer contribution of £2,000.
We have had initial discussions on similar commitments with smaller network operators and will seek to formalise more commitments in advance of this legislation coming into force.
As building standards are a devolved matter, these proposed amendments will apply in England only. However, as the provision of gigabit-capable connections to new homes is a priority for all of us across the whole of the UK, my officials will continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure this policy is implemented in a consistent manner across the UK.
1 that is a connection with speeds of at least 24 Mbps
Health and Social Care
Public Health Grant
Today I am publishing the public health allocations to local authorities in England for 2020-21, based on the 2019 spending round.
Funding for local government’s health responsibilities is an essential complement to our plans to invest strongly in both the NHS and social care, and an important element of our commitment to focus on prevention of ill health. The 2019 spending round provided a 0.9% real-terms increase (£85 million cash) for local authority public health funding in 2020-21. In addition to this increase I now intend to make an additional £60 million available through the grant, from DHSC central budgets.
Through the public health grant and the pilot of 100% retained business rate funding for local authorities in Greater Manchester, we are spending £3.279 billion on local authority public health in 2020-21. This in addition to what the NHS spends on preventive interventions such as immunisation and screening.
The 2020-21 grant will continue to be subject to conditions, including a ring fence requiring local authorities to use the grant exclusively for public health activity.
Full details of the public health grants to local authorities can be found on gov.uk and are attached. This information will be communicated to local authorities in a local authority circular.
National Guardian’s Office: Annual Report
The Government are committed to supporting the right of staff working in the NHS to speak up and raise concerns. This is a vital step towards ensuring patient safety and improving quality of services. It should be routine in the NHS. Our interim NHS people plan reinforces this commitment, setting out a vision to make the NHS the best place to work—a place where everyone feels they have the power and freedom to speak up.
As a Government we take the issue of speaking up extremely seriously and have introduced several sources of support for staff to help them raise concerns when they think something is not right.
In 2016, we established the independent national guardian to help drive positive cultural change across the NHS and make speaking up business as usual. As well as leading culture change, the national guardian also provides support and leadership to a network of over 500 local guardians—in every trust.
Today, I am laying in Parliament, on behalf the national guardian, the national guardian’s annual report for 2019. The report sets out the improved culture in the NHS, as well as the positive influence that the national guardian and the network of local freedom to speak up guardians are having. However, it also shows that there is still more to do. Copies are also being deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
We are committed to ensuring our NHS staff are encouraged and supported to raise anything that is impacting on their ability to provide the best possible care to patients, and the healthcare system is a place where concerns are valued, listened to and acted upon.
As a Government we will continue to work with the national guardian and others to do all we can to support NHS staff to raise concerns and make the NHS the best place to work.
The risks posed to the UK and its allies from state-based threats have both grown and diversified in recent years, ranging from espionage and subversion to coercion and assassination. The use of the internet as a way for states to expand their influence poses new issues and has made it easier for attacks to be carried out, whilst making it harder to identify those responsible. We face sustained and hostile activity which is deliberate and targeted and intended to threaten our national security. Together with our allies, we are taking steps to safeguard our open and democratic societies and promote the international rules-based system that underpins our stability, security and prosperity.
My officials have been reviewing current legislation in this area. As set out in the Queen’s Speech in December, we are developing proposals for new legislation to counter the threat of hostile activity emanating from states during this Parliament.
But new legislation is not the only way we are working to counter this threat. Given the risk of state-based threats, the Government created a specialist assessment organisation to focus resource on this critical issue in 2017. The Joint State Threats Assessment Team, or JSTAT, is an independent assessment body whose function is to deepen understanding across Government of this threat and to inform the policy response. Like other assessment bodies including the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, JSTAT reports to a governance board comprising senior officials from across the UK intelligence community and wider policy departments, with the Director General of MI5 having ultimate responsibility for the organisation.
Until now JSTAT has not been publicly acknowledged but in order to maximise its utility to the national security community, I have taken this important step of announcing the existence of this organisation. Reaching out to all parts of the Government, our stakeholders, industry and academia offers the opportunity to gain a better understanding of state based threats and will enable more analytic challenge. It will also enable a broader communication of the threat to HMG and partners across a wide range of areas as well as enabling the private and charitable sectors to have access to information about the threats so that they can better protect themselves.
JSTAT has enhanced our capabilities and understanding of the state-based threats we face and will continue to do so now it has been made public. More information about the work of JSTAT can be found on a webpage on the MI5 website.
Work and Pensions
We have been carefully considering what steps need to be taken in order to reduce the risk to vulnerable claimants and staff members in light of the escalating covid-19 outbreak. The safety of these individuals is the No.1 priority.
We therefore took the decision to suspend all face-to-face assessments for health and disability related benefits with immediate effect from 17 March. This includes personal independence payment, the industrial injuries scheme and work capability assessments in both employment and support allowance and universal credit. This decision has been taken in order to safeguard the health of individuals claiming these benefits, many of whom are likely to be at greater risk due to their pre-existing health conditions. This is also in line with measures announced yesterday by the Prime Minister.
Due to the immediacy of this change and the need to urgently communicate this to individuals affected, we began communicating this change yesterday. This included contacting affected claimants with appointments booked in the coming days as well as contacting MPs directly, encouraging them to share the information with their constituency members and local organisations. I can however confirm that this measure has only come into place from today, 17 March.
Anyone who has a face-to-face assessment appointment scheduled no longer needs to attend. We are working at pace with our assessment providers to put in place alternative arrangements and I am grateful to the providers for their support in working collaboratively with the Department to provide continuity of service at this critical time. Claimants do not need to take any action, we will be contacting claimants to discuss next steps and alternative arrangements as soon as possible. This may involve either telephone or paper-based assessments.
We expect this measure will be in effect for the next three months but we will be regularly reviewing the position in line with public health advice. We continue to accept new claims to all benefits and for existing claimants, benefits will remain in payment while alternative arrangements are put in place. Any decisions made under the alternative arrangements will of course also come with mandatory reconsideration and appeal rights as normal, should claimants wish to challenge any decision made.
This change does not affect the existing public health advice. The current NHS guidelines on coronavirus, including advice on those who should stay at home can be found here.
As and when changes in public health guidance necessitate other changes, the Department will endeavour to inform Parliament as soon as possible.