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Written Statements

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2020

Written Statements

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Cabinet Office

Amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement

At its second meeting on 12 June 2020, the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, which I co-chaired with European Commission Vice-President, Maroš Šefčovič, adopted one decision to correct errors and omissions in the withdrawal agreement (decision No. 1/2020).

Decision No. 1/2020 makes technical changes to part I annex I—social security co-ordination, and part 5—financial provisions of the withdrawal agreement.

The changes to part I annex I add in two decisions made by the Administrative Commission for the Coordination of Social Security Systems to the list of decisions and recommendations already set out. Decision No. F3 specifies how the amount of family benefits should be calculated for a recipient. Decision No. E7 states that, as of 3 July 2019, the transmission of data between the institutions shall be carried out by electronic means through the electronic exchange of social security information (EESSI) system and based on the exchange of structured electronic documents. These decisions were approved by the EU on 19 December 2018 and 27 June 2019 respectively.

The changes to part 5 include amendments to articles 135, 137, 143, 144 and 150 that reflect the actual date of the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January 2020. An additional amendment was made to article 145 to provide legal certainty to UK beneficiaries in respect of grants made under the research fund for steel and coal until the closure of these projects.

The decision was published by the UK and the EU on 14 July 2020.

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Treasury

Annual European Union Finances Statement

I am today laying before Parliament the “European Union Finances 2019: statement on the 2019 EU Budget and measures to counter fraud and financial mismanagement” (CP 256). This is a routine annual publication and is the 39th in the series.

The statement gives details of revenue and expenditure in the 2019 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 over the period.

The document also provides an updated HM Treasury estimate of the value of the financial settlement, which was made legally binding by the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. Exit from the EU on 31 January 2020 resulted in some UK and EU payments that would originally have been paid post-withdrawal being paid while the UK remained a member state. HM Treasury estimate that the current value of the financial settlement is £30.2 billion. This remains within the Government’s reasonable central range of £35-39 billion, adjusted to take into account the UK’s 31 January 2020 exit date. In annex E, HM Treasury provides an updated summary of the financial settlement, other costs set out in the withdrawal agreement and short-term public expenditure costs.

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OBR 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report and response to OBR 2019 Fiscal Risks Report

Today’s publication of the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report (FSR) fulfils the OBR’s legal obligation to publish an analysis of the sustainability of the public finances over the long-term and an assessment of the public sector balance sheet at least once every two years. This report has been laid before Parliament today and copies are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. The OBR also produces a biennial fiscal risks report (FRR) to which the Government are required to respond within a year. This statement provides the Government’s response to Office for Budget Responsibility—Fiscal risks report July 2019 [CP131], laid 18 July 2019[1].

The action the Government have taken in response to the covid-19 pandemic was necessary to protect public health, support household incomes, and to minimise permanent damage to the economy—thereby supporting growth, employment and the public finances over the medium to long term. As the OBR has said in the FSR:

“The outlook would have been much worse without the measures the Government have taken. These have provided additional financial support to individuals and businesses through the lockdown. They should also help to limit any long-term economic scarring, by keeping workers attached to firms and helping otherwise viable firms stay in business”.

OBR 2020 fiscal sustainability report

The magnitude and duration of the economic shock caused by covid-19 will have important consequences for the medium and long-term fiscal position. In all three scenarios the OBR has published in the FSR, the level of borrowing this year is significantly higher than expected in the OBR’s spring Budget forecast. Public sector net borrowing is projected to reach between 13% and 21% of GDP in 2020-21, with differences across scenarios reflecting the size of the economic shock. This in turn means that public sector net debt is also projected to be higher compared to the spring Budget forecast under all scenarios, although the OBR has highlighted that low borrowing costs help to make this more affordable in the near-term. The gilt market is deep and liquid with a good track record in responding smoothly to increases in gilt supply. Underlying demand for the UK’s debt remains strong, with borrowing costs at historical lows, signalling confidence in the UK’s institutions.

The Government have taken significant action to support the recovery and minimise permanent damage from the pandemic. In the long-run, the OBR also expects demographic change and other cost pressures in health spending to put upward pressure on public spending while leaving revenues broadly unchanged. The Government are committed to fiscal sustainability and ensuring the long-term health of the public finances. The Government will set out further details on their plans to put the public finances back on a sustainable footing over the medium-term at the next Budget, alongside an updated OBR forecast. As part of this, as set out in the March Budget, HM Treasury is reviewing the UK’s fiscal framework to ensure it remains appropriate for the macroeconomic context, while ensuring the sustainability of the public finances. The FSR provides important analysis and scenarios which will be used to inform this review.

Managing fiscal risks from covid-19

In July 2019, the OBR published its second fiscal risks report covering the main risks to the public finances at that time. With covid-19 now clearly the most significant immediate source of fiscal risk facing the UK, this response to the report focuses on how the Government are managing the fiscal risks associated with the pandemic.

The work of the last 10 years in bringing borrowing and debt back under control means that the UK was well-placed to respond to the immediate and long-term challenges posed by covid-19.

The Government acted quickly to implement interventions containing the initial economic shock from the pandemic. When designing these interventions, the Government drew on the experience gained from HM Treasury’s Balance Sheet Review[2] and international best practice[3] to ensure that fiscal risks are managed effectively. The IMF commended the Government’s powerful response to the initial shock of covid-19, finding the interventions to be large, substantial and carefully targeted[4].

In the first phase of the economic response to covid-19, the Government kept people attached to their work, protected their incomes and supported businesses, delivering one of the most generous and comprehensive packages of support globally, with a fiscal response totalling £160 billion. While the economic impacts of covid-19 and the Government’s necessary response have come at a significant fiscal cost, the costs of failing to act to support public services, businesses, and workers would have been much higher.

Building on the action taken in the face of the immediate threat posed by the virus, the Government are now proceeding with the second phase of their response, supporting the UK’s economic recovery while continuing to prioritise people’s health. The plan for jobs announced last week, made up to £30 billion available to help kick-start the nation’s economic recovery while continuing to prioritise people’s health by: introducing a new job retention bonus to encourage firms to keep on furloughed workers; supporting jobs with direct help to find work and to gain the skills people need to get a job; protecting jobs in the hard-hit hospitality and accommodation sectors and at attractions by supporting demand for these businesses, giving them confidence to reopen; creating jobs with action to get the property market moving, to increase and bring forward infrastructure investment, and to make homes greener, warmer and cheaper to heat.

The third phase of the Government’s plan will be set out in the autumn with measures to support the longer-term recovery through a Budget and a spending review. These will detail further plans to invest in public services, to support innovation and growth-enhancing infrastructure with a national infrastructure strategy, to seize global opportunities and to level up opportunity across every region and nation of the UK.

Wider fiscal risk management

While the immediate focus of Government action is on dealing with covid-19, the management of the wider risks facing the UK public finances remains important. The Government have acted to address a number of the risks that were discussed by the OBR in FRR 2019.

To address the long-term challenge of low productivity growth, Budget 2020 announced measures investing in UK infrastructure, backing tech and innovation, making tax changes to support firms to invest, and introducing measures to support a dynamic and competitive economy. The Prime Minister also announced on 30 June that we will be improving the quality, speed and efficiency of delivering infrastructure through a new infrastructure delivery taskforce named Project Speed.

In the longer-term, climate change remains a significant challenge for the wider public finances. Demonstrating the Government’s commitment to mitigating climate change, in November 2019, the Chancellor launched an HM Treasury review into how the transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions will be funded and where the costs will fall. Spring Budget allocated £640 million for tree planting and peatland restoration, over £1 billion for ultra-low emission vehicles and introduced tax measures to encourage greater energy efficiency and reduce plastic waste. The UK is also increasing its international climate finance support for developing countries to at least £11.6 billion. To improve the UK’s climate resilience, the Government announced a doubling of investment in flood and coastal defences in England to £5.2 billion over the next six years. The devolved Administrations will benefit from the Barnett consequential of this substantial increase in Government investment in flood and coastal defences.

To manage risks associated with non-bank financial intermediation and increase the resilience of the UK financial system, in the remit for the Financial Policy Committee (FPC), HMT recommended that the FPC publishes a detailed assessment of the oversight and mitigation of systemic risks from the non-bank sector. The FPC has confirmed it will publish preliminary findings in the August financial stability report, followed by a more detailed report that outlines gaps in non-bank resilience and potential measures that may be taken to increase resilience.

The OBR also highlighted fiscal risks related to tax reliefs. The Government recognise the need to monitor and evaluate existing tax reliefs; the Government will continue to monitor their use and act where appropriate, for example through the recent reforms to Entrepreneurs’ Relief, and the planned changes to the entitlement to use red diesel. HMRC is committed to increasing the number of published costs of tax reliefs and in May 2020 published cost estimates for another 47 non-structural tax reliefs. HMRC will continue to build on this to increase transparency.

[1] https://obr.uk/frr/fiscal-risks-report-july-2019/

[2] The Balance Sheet Review (BSR) was launched in 2017 to identify opportunities to dispose of assets that no longer serve a policy purpose, improve returns on retained assets, and reduce the risk and cost of liabilities.

[3] https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/SPROLLs/covid19-special-notes

[4] https://www.imf.Org/en/News/Articles/2020/04/14/tr041420 -transcript-of-april-2020-world-economic-outlook-press-briefing.

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Education

Children’s Social Care: Regulations

On 24 April 2020 regulations were introduced to provide local authorities and children’s social care providers with temporary flexibilities to support them to focus on core safeguarding duties during the coronavirus pandemic. We made no amendments to primary legislation, and the vast majority of statutory duties in secondary legislation remained unchanged. The regulations—the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020—are due to lapse on 25 September 2020.

When the regulations were introduced, we faced exceptional circumstances, with social workers and others facing decisions that they had never faced before. There was an urgent need to take action to ensure that local authorities and others supporting children and young people could focus on core safeguarding responsibilities should the worst-case scenario come to pass. We needed to prepare for very significant rates of staff sickness coupled with family illness potentially leading to many more children needing to be found emergency care. We were aware that the coronavirus pandemic would have a real impact on the lives of children and families, and that this would be a difficult time for them.

Protecting vulnerable children has been at the heart of the Government’s response to the virus. These regulations formed part of that response, alongside keeping schools and other settings open for vulnerable children, substantial additional investment, and additional support direct to children, young people, and their families.

The Government have always been clear that these temporary amendments should be used only when absolutely necessary and only if consistent with the overarching safeguarding and welfare duties that have remained in place. Our guidance sets out clear safeguards about how and when they should be used:

where staff shortages, due to sickness or other reasons, make it difficult or impossible to meet the original requirements.

Justify="left" UID="20071450000165 url="/pa/cm201921/cmhansrd/cm200714/wmstext/200714m0001.htm#20071450000165">where making use of flexibilities to take a different approach is the most sensible, risk-based response in light of other demands and pressures on services, this might involve focusing services on those most at risk.

where there is a consequential reason to make use of flexibilities, for example, due to limited capacity in other providers or partners making it difficult or impossible to comply with the original requirements.

Our monitoring has shown that the majority of the regulatory flexibilities have been rarely used and only when needed in response to coronavirus.

Our approach to monitoring is based on a triangulation of information we are gathering from a range of delivery partners to understand which of the regulations are being used and why. We are actively seeking regular feedback from a variety of sources including local authorities, social workers, charities, Ofsted, and other key partners. We will continue to engage on this scale while the regulations remain in place.

Our monitoring data shows that the regulations are being used infrequently. Out of 128 local authorities we have spoken with in June and July, 87 have used at least one regulation, although many have only used them on a limited number of occasions and in a limited number of areas.

The most used related to the fostering and adoption regulations, notably allowing medical reports to be considered at a later stage in the adoption and fostering process though still prior to approval. This has minimised delays in approving adopters for children needing a new, forever, family. Similarly, relaxations around panels have allowed for the continued recruitment of foster carers and a continued functionality of processes.

Virtual engagement with children and families has often been used alongside face-to-face visits and, in some cases, this has resulted in greater levels of contact between children, young people, parents, and carers—and improved engagement from some young people.

Senior leaders in children’s social care have set out to the Government and Ofsted how they have approached the use of the temporary regulations and explained that they have robust sign-off processes in place for when a regulation has been used. Ofsted reports that local authorities have said decisions on the use of the regulations are being made with the child at the heart of the case, in line with the principles in the guidance, including assessing risks and working on a collaborative basis.

We have always been clear that these temporary amendments will remain in place only for so long as they are needed.

The extraordinary measures the Government have taken over the last few months means that we are now in a much better position to ease the restrictions that everyone has faced. Given the lower level of coronavirus now present, there is a significantly reduced need for local authorities and providers to use these flexibilities. I therefore intend to update guidance immediately to make it clear that there should no longer be a need to use most of these flexibilities and will be writing to local authorities and providers accordingly. Where they do use flexibilities, local authorities and providers should ensure that they have strong justification.

I would also like to provide further clarity about the future of these flexibilities and am today announcing that, subject to a short period of consultation, the overwhelming majority of these regulations will expire as planned on 25 September.

The Government believe that there may be circumstances in which some services continue to face specific and exceptional challenges into the autumn. As more children are seen by schools, and social distancing eases further and hitherto hidden harms come to light, we must be prepared for the potential additional demands that may still be placed on services.

I am therefore minded, subject to consultation, to extend a very small number of temporary changes for a further period. These regulations specifically address the following points.

Medical reports

In order to become a foster carer or adoptive parent, one needs to provide a medical report from a general practitioner. As restrictions are eased and schools return, we expect that there may be more children needing care than is usual, and therefore there will be a higher need for potential adopters and foster carers. Our national health service still faces significant challenges as we enter a period of recovery. Therefore, I am minded to extend the amendments that allow more time for general practitioners and other health professionals to provide information to support the process of approving much needed potential adopters and foster carers. This does not remove the requirement for medical reports to be provided but moves the time during the process that the report must be provided before the child is placed with the foster parent or adoptive parent.

Virtual visits

We must be able to keep essential services, such as social worker visits, operating during any local lockdowns, and in cases where households are being required to self-isolate due to a case, or suspected case, of coronavirus, or contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, in line with medical advice from the NHS test and trace service. Therefore, I am suggesting that it may be appropriate to continue to enable visits in these situations to happen virtually. However, in all other situations I would expect face-to-face visits to take place. Moreover, in my view the flexibilities regarding timing of these visits should lapse, as the provision for virtual visits should now provide sufficient flexibility on the basis that workforce capacity, the original reason for these flexibilities being introduced, is now no longer the concern that it was.

Ofsted inspections

Ofsted inspections have not taken place since March so Ofsted will need a period of catch-up before it can resume normal service. As announced last week, Ofsted is planning to carry out a phased return to routine inspections. This will include risk-based assurance visits to children’s social care settings, based on the previous inspection judgement, the amount of time since a setting was last inspected and other information Ofsted holds about the setting. These assurance visits will occur between September 2020 and March 2021. At this point full graded inspections will recommence. I am therefore recommending that the suspension of the existing frequency regulation for Ofsted inspections be extended until 31 March 2021, to allow Ofsted to provide the most assurance, to the sector and the wider public, about the safety and care of children.

A short consultation will launch later this week to inform final decisions and I would encourage all interested parties to respond. Should a new statutory instrument be proposed to extend any flexibility beyond 25 September 2020, Parliament will be provided with the customary 21 days opportunity to scrutinise the regulations before they come into force.

Our guidance has been clear that the regulatory flexibilities should only ever have been used with senior management oversight and that all decisions should be recorded. I am, however, considering how additional safeguards on the use of the flexibilities could be employed. Our consultation will therefore seek views on this question.

As inspections resume, Ofsted will want to be assured that any flexibilities have been used in the best interests of children, following careful risk assessment and with clear records of decisions made by local authorities and providers. As such, local authorities and providers must maintain a focus on child-centred practice and continue to record their decisions and ensure that these records are available for Ofsted. Inspectors will want to see the best possible practice for children. While routine inspections have been suspended, Ofsted has continued to inspect where it has been made aware of safeguarding concerns. It has acted swiftly and taken action to restrict children going into a home or stop a home operating in 23 cases. It has continued to start proceedings to cancel the registration of homes or managers where this is the right thing to do. And while it has prioritised registration of new children’s homes, it has still refused to register people it did not think were suitable.

Throughout this pandemic, social workers, charities, and others working to support our most vulnerable children and families have worked tirelessly to ensure that they continue to receive the support they need. I would like to place on record my personal gratitude, and that of the whole Government, for everything they have done and continue to do. I would also like to acknowledge the extremely difficult circumstances many children and families have faced during this pandemic.

Protecting vulnerable children remains our top priority, as it does for local authorities and children’s social care providers across the country. As the country begins to return to a more normal way of life, it is absolutely right that this also applies to children’s social care.

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Higher Technical Education Reform

Today, I am pleased to launch the Government’s new reforms of higher technical education in England.

Take up of higher technical education in England is low and has been falling, leading to skills shortages across our economy. Employers are struggling to access the higher technical skills they need to grow and thrive and learners are missing out on the opportunities that a higher technical education can bring. To build a more prosperous, productive and fairer country, that needs to change.

We are already taking action to strengthen technical education, with the roll-out of T-levels, investment in our further education colleges and up to £290 million for flagship institutes of technology. Now we need to take the next step in levelling up our skills system and reverse the generational decline in higher technical education.

Our vision is for higher technical education to be a popular and prestigious choice that delivers the skills employers and learners need. We want to encourage more students to continue studying after T-levels or A-levels, and we want higher technical education to attract workers of all ages looking to upskill and retrain.

At the moment, there are thousands of higher technical qualifications, with no national assurance that they provide the skills employers need. Some qualifications and courses are excellent, but overall there is low awareness and varying quality. The range of terminology, qualifications and provider types creates a complex landscape that is hard for employers and learners to navigate.

We will be establishing a high-quality system of higher technical education where learners and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses, whether they are taught in a further education college, a university or an independent training provider. The reforms being set out today are a vital first step in achieving that.

We will introduce a national scheme to approve higher technical qualifications that provide the skills that employers need, starting with digital qualifications, and followed by health and science and construction qualifications. This scheme will be delivered through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, and the institute will be guided by employer-led national standards.

We want providers offering high-quality higher technical courses to have access to industry standard facilities and equipment, teachers with relevant industrial experience and pedagogical expertise, and close links to employers. At the heart of this are our flagship institutes of technology and our national colleges. We will work with the Office for Students and Ofsted, drawing on their regulatory expertise, to ensure that higher technical education best meets the needs of learners and employers and provides value for money.

Finally, we will raise the profile and understanding of the best higher technical education courses through a Government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice and guidance.

Reforming and growing higher technical education will be a long-term endeavour. We will continue to develop and implement our reforms carefully and work closely with everyone who shares our goal of improving higher technical education. Together we can transform higher technical education and better support learners and employers across England.

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Policy

I recognise the immense impacts that flooding and coastal erosion can have on homes and businesses across the country. That is why this Government are committed to reducing the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy from flooding and coastal erosion—as shown by our £2.6 billion investment in flood and coastal defences since 2015 to better protect 300,000 homes by 2021.

At the Budget we committed to double our investment in the flood and coastal defence programme in England over the next six years to £5.2 billion which will better protect a further 336,000 properties by 2027. In addition to this record funding, I am today announcing a further investment of up to £170 million to accelerate work on 22 shovel-ready flood defence schemes to boost jobs, businesses and economic growth as part of the economic recovery from coronavirus. These projects will commence in 2020 and 2021 to drive growth and unlock a range of benefits for local economies across the country—from Sheffield to Bude.

As part of the Government’s continuing action to tackle climate change, we have today set out a package of measures to better protect and prepare the country against flooding and coastal erosion for the long-term. I have today published a new flood and coastal erosion risk management policy statement for England which represents the most substantive update to our national effort to tackle flood and coastal erosion risk in a decade—since the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

I am announcing further details of the £200 million programme which will support 25 local areas to drive innovation to increase resilience to flooding and coastal erosion—and I am proposing to take forward changes to the Flood Re scheme which will accelerate uptake of property flood resilience measures.

The long-term policy statement sets out the Government’s ambition to create a nation more resilient to future flood and coastal erosion risk. It outlines five ambitious policies and over 40 supporting actions which will accelerate progress to better protect and better prepare the country against flooding and coastal erosion in the face of more frequent extreme weather as a result of climate change.

These actions will, not just, reduce the likelihood of flooding and coastal erosion but will also reduce the impacts if flooding does happen. They will work together to increase resilience across the country. The policy statement will encourage wider and more comprehensive action by all those with a part to play to drive down flood risk from every angle through these five policies:

Upgrading and expanding our national flood defences and infrastructure

We will continue to build the new flood defences that the nation needs, investing in more permanent, demountable and temporary defences—building on the success of our £2.6 billion investment to better protect 300,000 properties since 2015. As announced at the Budget, over the next six years, we will invest a record £5.2 billion in the flood and coastal defence programme in England. This will better protect a further 336,000 properties and reduce national flood risk by up to 11% by 2027.

Managing the flow of water more effectively

We will deliver an integrated approach to managing water to better protect communities from flooding and provide wider benefits for water resource management and the environment. As part of this, we will increase the number of water management schemes within and across catchments to reduce flood risk and help manage drought risk. We will also do more to tackle surface water flood risk.

Harnessing the power of nature to reduce flood and coastal erosion risk and achieve multiple benefits

We will double the number of Government funded projects which include nature-based solutions to reduce flood and coastal erosion risk. We will strengthen links between natural flood risk management and wider environmental and social benefits and explore how we can do more to deliver multiple benefits.

Better preparing our communities

We will ensure that every single home currently at high risk of flooding is better protected or better prepared. We will maintain and enhance our planning policies that direct new development away from areas at risk. We will ensure our communities and businesses have the information they need to take ownership of their resilience. Our policies will help to ensure that buildings, important infrastructure sites and key public services are better prepared to manage flood risk. We will work together to support communities, including when flooding happens and in recovery.

Enabling more resilient places through a catchment-based approach

We will adopt a catchment-based approach which means considering the full range of actions that could be taken in an area, upstream and downstream, by a variety of bodies to improve resilience. We will transform the current approach to local flood and coastal erosion risk planning so that every area of England will have a more strategic and comprehensive local plan by 2026 which drives long-term local action and investment. In areas facing significant coastal erosion and impacts from sea levels rising, we will support local areas to implement long-term plans to manage risk.

Alongside the policy statement, the Environment Agency will shortly lay before Parliament its National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England. The strategy which will provide direction to the work of risk management authorities on the ground and includes strategic objectives to improve the resilience of the nation through to 2100.

The new £200 million innovative resilience programme will test and demonstrate actions which are needed to deliver the ambition outlined in the policy statement. As well as delivering innovative actions in 25 selected areas, the evidence gained from the programme will enable successful approaches to be identified and implemented more widely.

In July 2019 Flood Re published its first quinquennial review into the scheme—a legislative requirement every five years—and made a number of proposals to Government. Having carefully considered these proposals I am today announcing that we will consult on a number of them, including some proposals which go further in order to increase the uptake of property flood resilience and better support customers and insurers to recognise the benefits. The proposals will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the scheme and incentivise the use of property flood resilience measures to make properties more resilient to flooding.

The actions the Government are committing to today will strengthen our approach to tackling flood and coastal erosion risk for the long-term and demonstrates the UK’s world-leading work to tackle climate change. They will improve our health and wellbeing, enhance our environment and support our economic recovery. Taken together this means that our country will be significantly more resilient to flooding and coastal erosion and will ensure that every place can thrive in a changing climate.

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Home Department

HMICFRS Report on National Crime Agency’s Criminal Intelligence Function

The National Crime Agency (NCA) leads the fight against serious and organised crime (SOC). It has the power to task other law enforcement partners and a capability, with local to international reach, to disrupt the impact of SOC on the UK.

This is the sixth HMICFRS inspection of the NCA and examines the effectiveness of its criminal intelligence function. The focus is specifically on capabilities, resourcing, alignment with the 2018 SOC strategy and the national strategic assessment (NSA), ability to provide a single, authoritative, strategic assessment of threat, and compliance with national intelligence standards and existing legislation.

I have asked HMICFRS to publish the report on my behalf. It will be published today and will be available online at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk. I will arrange for a copy to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The inspection found that the NCA is meeting its statutory obligation to provide a criminal intelligence function and has the resources and systems in place to effectively manage information. Some deficiencies were identified in relation to PND licence provision, the need for timely submission of regional threat assessment and ensuring staff and systems are equipped to adequately manage sensitive intelligence. HMICFRS made four recommendations which, once addressed, will improve procedures and strengthen the agency’s criminal intelligence capability.

It is for the NCA’s director-general to respond to these recommendations, in line with the requirements of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

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Director General of National Crime Agency (Reappointment of Lynn Owens)

I have reappointed Lynne Owens to be the Director General of the National Crime Agency for a further two years from January 2021. The Director General holds an extremely important position in UK Law Enforcement, leading and co-ordinating the response to serious and organised crime (SOC). SOC affects more UK citizens than any other national security threat and costs us more than £37 billion every year.

It is customary to advertise the post of DG NCA to attract the very best talent available from as wide a field as possible—and, under normal circumstances, I would pursue this approach. However, this year is different for two important reasons. First, the UK is facing a threat unparalleled in peacetime from the coronavirus pandemic, and the NCA is playing a key part by working closely with its law enforcement partners to ensure that we are stopping the organised criminals who despicably try to use the crisis to their advantage.

Second, the way in which the UK tackles SOC is at a crucial stage in its development. The independent review of SOC conducted by Sir Craig Mackey has concluded, and the findings are being explored by the Home Office. The Government will announce their response later in the year, but developing the capabilities and role of the NCA will be key to that response. The NCA must continue with its excellent work, but it must also strive to develop and improve to ensure we stay ahead of the threat from SOC.

There is an overwhelming need, therefore, for an experienced leader at the NCA to provide stability while we tackle the coronavirus pandemic and to ensure effective delivery of this Government’s manifesto commitment to strengthen the Agency. I have no doubt that in Lynne’s reappointment we will continue to see the work of a fantastic leader. During a career in law enforcement over 30 years, she has built up a wealth of experience holding a variety of different positions from frontline policing to Chief Constable of Surrey and, of course, Director General of the NCA.

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Housing, Communities and Local Government

Planning: Cultural Venues and Holiday Parks

Planning update: preventing loss of cultural venues and planning conditions for holiday parks

Introduction

The nation’s cultural and tourism industries are vitally important to the economy and the communities they serve. Many businesses in the sector have, and are continuing to face, severe disruption due to covid-19. This statement comes into effect immediately.

Preventing loss of theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues

The covid-19 pandemic presents particular challenges for organisations that depend on engaging with audiences and visitors in person. It has forced thousands of cultural institutions to close their doors, including theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues across the country. This is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture Media and Sport announced £1.57 billion in financial support for the sector on 5 July to help these venues survive this period, and enable them to reopen when it is safe and economically viable to do so.

However, covid-19 will continue to prevent the full reopening of a number of these venues for some time. This means that previously viable businesses face unprecedent financial difficulty. The Government recognise that the temporary closure of theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues due to covid-19 has the potential to lead to permanent loss of important cultural and economic assets, and are determined that otherwise viable facilities are not lost forever.

The purpose of this written ministerial statement, is to set out how local planning authorities should approach decision making to prevent the unnecessary loss of these venues. With immediate effect, local planning authorities should have due regard to their current circumstances when considering whether to grant planning permission for a change of use or demolition of a theatre, concert hall or live music performance venue that has been made temporarily vacant by covid-19 business disruption.

Where an alternative use or demolition for a long-term vacant theatre, concert hall or live music performance venue is proposed, local planning authorities should consider the application in the normal way. The Theatres Trust is a statutory consultee under the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015 (S.I. 2015/595) for applications seeking to develop any land where there is a theatre and will have an opportunity to comment on any application relating to theatres.

This policy remains in place until 31 December 2022 unless superseded by a further statement.

It is also our intention to make an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development (England) Order 2015 (S.I. 2015/596) to remove permitted development rights for demolition of theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues.

Caravan and holiday parks

The Government also recognise that the tourism industry will need to be able to adapt to secure its financial future. In response to covid-19 the majority of UK businesses closed in March 2020, including caravan and holiday parks. This has had a significant impact on the financial viability of over 2,200 businesses in this sector that employ around 46,000 staff. These parks are a mainstay of their local economies, providing employment and supporting local services and businesses.

Caravan and holiday parks in England were able to reopen from 4 July 2020. Extending their operation beyond the usual summer season will be invaluable to parks as the sector begins to recover. We are aware that current planning conditions may limit their open season. The temporary relaxation of these planning restrictions can play a vital role in helping local businesses to get up and running again.

The national planning policy framework already emphasises that planning enforcement is a discretionary activity, and local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control. Given the current situation, while local planning authorities must have regard to their legal obligations, they should not seek to undertake planning enforcement action which would unnecessarily restrict the ability of caravan and holiday parks to extend their open season.

Where local planning authorities consider it appropriate to require an application to vary relevant planning conditions (where for instance there is a risk of flooding or where parks are situated close to protected sites) they should prioritise the application and make an early decision to provide certainty to caravan and holiday park operators. In doing so, they should consider the benefits of longer opening season times to the local economy as it recovers from the impact of covid-19.

This written ministerial statement only covers England.

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Transport

HS2 Safeguarding

I am today publishing additional safeguarding directions to protect a site in Leeds which we anticipate may be needed to build phase 2b of the HS2 project.

The site is not currently in use. Any future planning application affecting the land that has been identified in the safeguarding directions and associated map would first need to be discussed with HS2 Ltd, and if necessary the Secretary of State, before being determined for as long as the safeguarding directions remain in place.

The owner of the site has been made aware of the safeguarding directions prior to their publication as has the local planning authority, Leeds City Council. By protecting the site now, the Government guard against potentially conflicting development, which could otherwise disrupt the construction of HS2, and or increase the costs of building the new railway.

I am not publishing updated safeguarding directions for the remainder of the future phase 2b route at this stage.

The final scope and phasing of HS2 phase 2b will be determined following publication of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan, which is expected to be published by the end of the year.

The Government periodically review land requirements needed for the project and update the extent of safeguarding accordingly. It is anticipated that land requirements for phase 2b HS2 will be updated prior to the deposit of a relevant hybrid Bill.

I am placing a copy of the safeguarding directions in the Libraries of both Houses.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questionsanswers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-07-14/HCWS358/.

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International Trade

Future Trading Relationship with Australia: Update on Negotiations

Trade negotiators from the UK and Australia held the first round of negotiations for a UK-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) between 29 June and 10 July 2020.

We are now one step closer to an ambitious, wide-ranging free trade agreement with one of our oldest friends. An FTA with Australia can bring investment, better jobs, higher wages and lower prices just when we need them the most.

Both teams of negotiators recognised the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in and reiterated that more global trade is essential to support post-covid economic recovery.

Negotiations were conducted virtually and covered discussions on all areas of a comprehensive trade agreement.

The discussions covered the following areas:

Anti-corruption and transparency

Competition

Cross-cutting general provisions

Customs

Digital/e-commerce

Environment

Financial services

Trade in goods and trade remedies

Good regulatory practice

Intellectual property

Investment

Labour

Procurement

Rules of origin

Services, including movement of natural persons and professional business services

Small and medium-sized enterprises

State owned enterprises

Sanitary and phytosanitary measures

State to state dispute settlement

Technical barriers to trade

Telecommunications

We also had positive exploratory discussions on clean growth, development, women’s economic empowerment, and innovation.

Discussions between negotiators were productive and reflected our shared ambition to secure a comprehensive deal to boost trade and investment between our like-minded economies.

Teams discussed their respective objectives and agreed a forward plan for future talks. Our positive discussions in round one have laid the groundwork for the UK and Australia to achieve high-quality outcomes across the agreement.

The UK and Australia are aligned in many areas which will enable us to make quick progress across many chapters. In discussions, both countries emphasised a desire to be particularly ambitious in areas including services, digital trade and in supporting small and medium-sized enterprises to benefit from the opportunities that increased trade provide.

The Government are committed to negotiating a comprehensive agreement with Australia and we look forward to making further progress. We will explore the option of face-to-face negotiations when it is safe to do so. The Government will make their next statement on progress following the second round of talks, currently planned for September.

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