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Written Statements

Volume 689: debated on Monday 8 February 2021

Written Statements

Monday 8 February 2021

Cabinet Office

Local Elections

I am updating Parliament on the Government’s plans to proceed with the local elections on 6 May 2021 and the statutory instruments I am laying today on nominations.

Safe and secure elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. The Government have long been clear that there should be a very high bar for delay, but they were responsible to keep the situation under review in order to take into account the views of the electoral community and of public health experts. Having considered these views, the Government confirmed on Friday 5 February 2021 that the range of polls scheduled for 6 May 2021, including council and mayoral elections in England, and the police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales, will go ahead as planned. It is important that we give this certainty to the electoral sector and political parties.

The Government haves also published a delivery plan setting out how the polls will be delivered in a covid-19 secure and effective way. It sets out how these polls will proceed, from announcement to results, and then covers the four major areas that we are addressing: public health and social distancing; nominations and campaigning; voting; and the delivery of elections. The Government are providing a package of measures to support statutorily independent returning officers to deliver these elections successfully and with the right precautions in place. Those measures include changes to proxy voting rules so that those affected by covid-19 can still vote; and the provision of indemnity to returning officers for covid-19 risks in respect of these elections.

There will be an estimated £92 million of Government grant funding that will be provided to local authorities for the elections; of this, £31 million is an uplift to directly address costs associated with making the elections covid-19 secure.

I am today providing further detail of the measures the Government intend to take to change temporarily the nominations process, in light of the exceptional circumstances. For potential candidates standing for elected office in the council, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections, we are introducing measures to reduce the travel and contact involved in completing their nomination form.

The Government have listened to the views of the electoral sector, candidates and political parties that the need to collect a high number of signatures for nomination as a candidate in some types of poll was encouraging an unhelpful and unnecessary amount of interaction, as well as complexity for candidates. While it is essential that candidates in a poll can demonstrate a clear amount of local support, we must balance the importance of democracy with the need to protect people in these unique circumstances. In reaching a decision about the approach to nominations we have consulted the Parliamentary Parties Panel and considered other cross-party representations.

These statutory instruments, one affirmative and one negative, will therefore make changes to the nomination process to reduce the number of signatures that candidates are required to collect for almost all types of poll due to be held on 6 May, including council elections, mayoral elections and police and crime commissioner elections. These provisions are time-limited; the elections next May (2022) will automatically revert to the standard rules.

I intend to publish further guidance for candidates, their agents and political parties later this month. The Government will be engaging with the Parliamentary Parties Panel on the new guidance and on campaigning provisions, to ensure the views of political parties are taken into account.

The associated documents have been placed in the Libraries of the House.



Free Schools and School Rebuilding Programme

I am confirming details of the first 50 schools to benefit from the new school rebuilding programme announced by the Prime Minister in June 2020, as well as details of a further 21 new

free schools.

As part of the Government’s plan to drive growth beyond the covid-19 pandemic, we are committed to investing in infrastructure, skills and innovation. Investing in our school buildings is vital to deliver the world-class education needed to get the country back on its feet.

As set out at the recent spending review, we are delivering on our promises by launching a 10-year rebuilding programme, with a commitment to 500 school rebuilding projects over the next decade. This will replace many poor condition and ageing school buildings with modern, energy efficient designs, transforming education for thousands of pupils.

The 10-year school rebuilding programme demonstrates our continued commitment to investing in the school estate and providing a long-term pipeline of projects for the construction sector as we build back better.

The Department for Education will build on its existing construction expertise with a continued focus on innovative modern methods of construction to support more highly skilled jobs and improved productivity. Our market leading frameworks, including a new construction framework later this year, will continue to provide opportunities across the industry and enable small and medium-sized enterprises to benefit from the opportunities that a decade-long pipeline will bring. The construction projects procured through these frameworks will support jobs and create apprenticeships and T-level placements across England.

The first 50 schools to benefit from this programme have been prioritised based on condition need and will be supported by over £1 billion in capital funding. These first projects include primary and secondary schools as well as a sixth-form college and special and alternative provision settings.

This also represents a substantial investment in schools in the midlands and north of England, with 38 out of 50 projects located in these regions. We expect construction on the first sites to begin from autumn 2021.

The 10-year programme will continue to target school buildings in the worst condition across England and we will set out further plans shortly.

Alongside the rebuilding programme, the Government have committed £1.8 billion in 2021-22 for maintaining and improving the condition of the school estate.

Thousands more children across the country are also set to benefit from a new free school opening in their local area in the years to come, as I have approved 21 successful new free schools, providing over 15,500 new school places once open. In addition, I have approved in principle a further eight schools, subject to meeting certain conditions.

These schools will help level up opportunity across the country by providing high- quality school places in the areas where they are most needed. Ten of the 21 free schools approved will open in some of the most deprived areas—including three in opportunity areas, where the Department works to remove barriers that could stop young people achieving their potential.

These new schools reflect the Government’s continued commitment to the free school programme. Two hundred and forty nine free schools have now been approved to open in the coming years, spreading the benefits of the free schools programme to even more areas of the country and joining the 558 free schools already open.

We are also investing £10.1 million of funding in schools across England, to allow them to open their existing school sports and swimming facilities outside of the school day.

Funding will be distributed via Sport England’s network of county-level Active Partnerships. Schools will have the opportunity to bid for this funding in the summer term.

Further details, including lists of the school rebuilding projects and successful free school applicants, have been published on Copies will be placed in the House Library.


Remote Education

On Friday 5 February, I laid before Parliament the Education (Coronavirus, Remote Education Information) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, which require schools to publish information on their website about the remote education they are providing to their pupils. If schools do not have a website, the regulations set out alternative requirements for ensuring that this information is accessible.

The regulations come into force on 12 February 2021, which is seven days after being laid, rather than the 21 days required by convention. This is to ensure parents have the earliest access to the information they need about schools’ remote education. The Department for Education has published a suggested template that schools may use to present this information.

The requirement for schools to publish this information on their website will not be more onerous than what has already been asked of schools in the guidance, “Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak”. This guidance was updated on 3 December 2020 to include an expectation that schools would publish this same information by 25 January 2021.

On 4 January 2021, the Prime Minister announced that all schools would immediately move to remote education provision for all but vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. The Prime Minister’s statement on 27 January confirmed that full return to on-site education will not occur until 8 March at the earliest.

Remote education has become the principal means of delivering the school curriculum. Requiring schools to set out the details of their remote education curriculum will provide parents with key information about schools’ plans for ensuring pupils continue their education at home.


Home Department

Deletion of PNC Records: Response and Recovery

Further to my statement to the House on the 18 January, this is an update on the work being carried out to recover the records deleted from the Police National Computer (PNC) in error.

The Home Office is taking forward a four-phase plan to respond to the incident and recover the data:

Phase 1 has been completed and involved using code to identify and extract the complete list of what had been deleted;

Phase 2 has also been completed and involved analysis to establish an accurate list of the affected systems and records for each force;

Phase 3 is ongoing involves recovering the data from the PNC and the IDENT1 (Fingerprint) and National DNA systems;

Phase 4 will involve work to ensure we are deleting any data that should have been deleted as usual when this incident first began.

Phases 1 and 2 of the work found that a total of 209,550 offence records have been wrongly deleted, which are associated to 112,697 persons’ records. Of these 15,089 individuals have had their data deleted in totality. Our analysis has identified that only 195 full fingerprint records were deleted, with all these records relating to cases over 10-years old. We have also confirmed that no records of convictions have been deleted. Our analysis shows that 99.5% of the deleted records were created prior to 2011.

Phase 3 is now well under way and technicians are confident that all the data that has been deleted can be restored. Work to recover that data is moving forward as quickly as is possible, but it is vital that the data is restored safely to protect the integrity of the data. Our current assessment suggests that the work will take approximately 12 more weeks to complete, though clearly, we will accelerate this if we possibly can.

While the data is incomplete, there is the possibility that law enforcement partners will not have access to records and information that could help progress their inquiries and investigations.

Outlined below are details of such mitigation activities:

First, they can search the Police National Database (PND). This is a national intelligence database that holds records of arrests of individuals and contains information that will allow law enforcement partners to judge whether there is biometric information or other key evidence missing from the affected systems. If missing data records are identified, then the investigating officers can request copies of biometric samples and arrest records from the owning organisations.

Second, forces have a wide variety of local systems in place to log calls and to maintain custody records. These are frequently used as the primary system into which information is entered, before it is then integrated into PNC for national use.

Third, the police can also continue to search other relevant national databases, such as the violent offender and sex offender register.

Fourth, where an individual is suspected of a crime and the PNC confirms the existence of a duplicate set of fingerprints then officers can request the set of prints from the force who retain a hard copy.

Fifth, if the police have enough evidence and they believe that the DNA of a suspect is required but cannot find any records on the PNC or other systems, they can arrest suspects and collect their DNA in line with their powers.

Sixth, the Home Office, and our suppliers, have worked to make the incorrectly deleted DNA profiles available to policing while the full capability is restored. In order to deliver this mitigation, we have restored the DNA database backups to a temporary, secure location. We have made this data accessible to forces and national agencies this week and setup a business process has been created to enable matching in support of ongoing investigations. During this period all audit and legislative requirements will be met.

Finally, the Home Secretary and I have commissioned an external review led by Lord Hogan-Howe to ensure the necessary lessons are learned to avoid similar incidents in the future.

The review is expected to report by the middle of March. After the review has concluded and been considered by the Home Secretary, a summary will be placed in the Library of the House.

We will provide a further update to the House in due course.


UK Terrorism Threat Level

On 4 February, the joint terrorism analysis centre (JTAC) lowered the UK national terrorism threat level from severe to substantial. This means that a terrorist attack is still likely.

The decision to change the UK terrorism threat level is taken by JTAC independently of Ministers. JTAC keeps the threat level under constant review and conducts a formal review every six months. This is a systematic, comprehensive and rigorous process, based on the very latest intelligence and analysis of internal and external factors which drive the threat.

The decision to lower the threat level from severe to substantial is due to the significant reduction in the momentum of attacks in Europe since those seen between September and November 2020. However, the UK national threat level is kept under constant review and is subject to change at any time.

Terrorism remains one of the most direct and immediate risks to our national security. “Substantial” continues to indicate a high level of threat; and an attack on the UK is still likely. The public should continue to remain vigilant and report any concerns to the police.

The Government, police and intelligence agencies continue to work tirelessly to address the threat posed by terrorism in all its forms and the threat level remains under constant review.



Contingencies Fund Advance

I hereby give notice of the Wales Office’s intention to seek an advance from the Contingencies Fund. The Department requires an advance to meet an urgent cash requirement pending parliamentary approval of the supplementary estimates 2020-21.

The Wales Office’s net cash limit for 2020-21, approved in the main supply estimate, will be reached by mid-February 2021. This is a consequence of meeting in full the funding requirements of the Welsh Government. Significant additional consequential funding for the Welsh Government, arising from announcements made by the UK Government, will be provided in the supplementary supply estimate. This will cover the increased costs incurred by the Welsh Government in response to the covid-19 pandemic.

Parliamentary approval for additional non-budget expenditure of £3,800,000,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Wales Office. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £3,800,000,000 will be met by a repayable cash advance from the Contingencies Fund.

The advance will be repaid immediately following Royal Assent of the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill in March 2021.


Work and Pensions

Plan for Jobs

Our Plan for Jobs is an ambitious programme of job creation and support to help people of all ages move into work or gain the skills that will open up job opportunities. I would like to update the House on two of the schemes: SWAPs—our Sector-based Work Academy Programme, and our new Job Finding Support service, which went live across Great Britain on 11 January.

SWAPs are helping people in England and Scotland to upskill, retrain and pivot towards surging sectors, including construction, infrastructure and social care to meet local labour markets and employer demand. SWAPs are not currently offered in Wales as there is a similar programme provided by the Welsh Government. Today I am pleased to inform the House that we are increasing the number of placements on the scheme to 80,000 for the upcoming financial year. This builds on the more than 40,000 starts we have already seen since last April.

I am very excited about this expansion of SWAPs—it will mean work coaches can help many more people open the door to jobs they may not have previously considered and move back into work with new skills, work experience and a guaranteed interview for a job. They will join those who have already started roles through SWAPs, including in care worker jobs with Derby City Council, security roles with the Mercury Group and GMS Group in Birmingham, and banking jobs with Barclays and the Wise Group in Kilmarnock.

These are just a few examples of how SWAPs is helping people gain the right skills and experience to support them into work following the impact of the pandemic and into the jobs employers and the country needs as we look to secure our national economic recovery.

Job Finding Support also launched last month and has made rapid progress to help people quickly bounce back into work. The new digital support service is in operation across Great Britain and we expect this vital service to help up to 160,000 people over the course of the next 12 months.

This new light-touch support, provided entirely online, is helping those who have become unemployed and claimed benefits within the past 13 weeks. Many of them will have worked in continuous employment for several years and will not have recent experience of applying for jobs, so Job Finding Support aims to address any skill gaps and help people move rapidly back into work.

Participants receive a minimum of four hours’ flexible, personalised support, including a mock interview, and at least one digital online group session aiming to help identify their transferable skills and provide sector-specific job advice. Participants will also be helped to fine-tune their CV, with a Job Finding Action Plan tailored to their needs. Those who fulfil the eligibility and suitability criteria will be referred by Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches, on a voluntary basis.

Our Plan for Jobs is a plan for everyone; creating the opportunity to level up the nation, the opportunity for hope, and the opportunity to build back better.