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Written Statements

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2023

Written Statements

Wednesday 13 December 2023


Information Commissioner's Office Investigation

I would like to update the House on the announcement made today, 13 December 2023, by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The announcement follows an investigation by the ICO into an Afghan relocation and resettlement policy scheme data incident involving group emails sent in September 2021. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has fully co-operated in the ICO’s investigations.

On 21 September, the then Secretary of State stated before the House how disappointing it was. While this mistake was the result of human error during a pressured time in the aftermath of the Operation Pitting airlift, it should not have occurred, and better data handling processes needed to be in place.

I take compliance with the Data Protection Act extremely seriously and we are committed to learning from these incidents. To support those who were impacted, the MOD will establish a financial compensation scheme to enable all directly affected individuals to receive compensation in respect of any damage that may have been caused. Work is well under way on designing the scheme and further details will be shared as soon as is reasonably practicable.

The Defence Afghan relocation and resettlement team have worked hard to improve information management practice while continuing to deliver a challenging programme at pace. Process improvements include a new case management system which significantly reduces the need to send mass emails. We have recruited information management specialists into the team and will continue to grow this capability to meet the demands of holding vast quantities of personal data. Training has been delivered to all members of the team and through frequent mandatory training we will ensure that staff are continuously improving their knowledge and practices concerning information security and data protection, and a significant programme of work is being delivered to safeguard best practice in these areas.

Despite this setback, we have continued to deliver the ARAP programme and make good on the commitments we made to those brave Afghans who served alongside us in support of the UK mission in Afghanistan. At the time of writing, my Department has relocated over 13,600 eligible persons and family members to the UK under the ARAP scheme. We will continue to honour our commitment to relocate all eligible Afghans and their families to the UK.


Health and Social Care

NHS Vaccination and Immunisation Services

In 2019 the Government’s manifesto committed to continue to promote the uptake of vaccines via a national vaccination strategy. I am pleased to announce that on Wednesday 13 December NHS England published that strategy.

Vaccination saves lives and protects people’s health. It ranks second only to clean water as the most effective public health intervention to prevent disease. Through vaccination, diseases that were previously common are now rare, and millions of people each year are protected from severe illness and death.

Building on the success of our world-leading NHS covid-19 vaccination programme, which has delivered over 150 million vaccinations to date, and learning from many decades of successful immunisation delivery, NHS England, in collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Care, the UK Health Security Agency and other partners, has developed a strategic direction for the delivery of vaccination services, focused on improving uptake and coverage of all vaccinations across the whole population while reducing disparities of uptake in under-served communities. To do so, the strategy aims to:

Simplify and streamline access to vaccinations, including extending online booking capability;

improve access for people who are currently under-served by offering vaccination through community-based, targeted approaches; and

deliver vaccination through flexible, integrated, neighbourhood teams that can deliver other preventative interventions alongside vaccination.

The strategy proposes that integrated care boards have the responsibility and flexibility to deliver these aims through local vaccination delivery networks that are tailored to the needs of local people. These local networks will be underpinned by timely, accurate data flows and responsive vaccine supply chains. Local systems will have a robust plan for managing disease outbreaks and surge responses, collaboratively developed with partners including local government, and setting out clear roles and responsibilities.

In developing this strategy, NHS England has sought the views of a wide range of stakeholders, including service users via a public survey, GPs, community pharmacy, NHS trusts and directors of public health. Stakeholder input has been invaluable in developing an ambitious plan for the future of vaccination delivery, as well as describing what should be retained, improved and adapted from the current approach to ensure that it meets everyone’s needs.

The strategy supports NHS England’s ambition to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040, with England among the first places in the world to set this ambition within the next two decades, by making it as easy as possible for people to get the lifesaving human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and increasing cervical screening uptake.

A copy of the strategy will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.


Home Department

Serious and Organised Crime Strategy

As Home Secretary, my first priority is to keep the public safe. Today I have published a new and updated serious and organised crime strategy. The strategy has been laid before Parliament as a Command Paper (CP 992) and copies are available in the Vote Office and on

Serious and organised crime is a major threat to the national security and prosperity of the United Kingdom. It costs lives, blights communities, hampers economic growth, causes financial loss to individuals, businesses and the state, and corrodes the global reputation of the UK and its institutions.

Since the publication of the previous strategy in 2018, we have invested in strengthening the National Crime Agency (NCA) and policing capabilities, built new comprehensive plans and strategies for dealing with illegal drugs, economic crime, fraud, child sexual abuse and other types of crime, and introduced new powers for law enforcement agencies to respond to the threat posed by organised criminal groups. However, it was a five-year strategy and it is right that we now update our response to reflect changing threats and emerging challenges.

This new strategy sets out our mission to reduce serious and organised crime in the UK by disrupting and dismantling the organised crime groups operating in and against the UK through a comprehensive and end-to-end response to ensure there is no place for serious and organised criminals to hide. The strategy aims to reduce serious and organised crime in the UK through five lines of action:

In-country: We will disrupt and dismantle organised crime groups operating in and against the UK. We will also build resilience in local communities, deter and divert individuals, design out crime and raise barriers online.

UK Border: Strengthening the UK border, including disrupting the exploitative business model of the criminal groups involved in organised immigration crime.

International: Relentless disruption at source of international organised criminals operating against the UK; improving international information and intelligence sharing; and reducing the global drivers.

Technology and capabilities: Ensuring the best intelligence and data collection, analysis and investigative capabilities are in place to identify and disrupt organised criminals.

Multi-agency response: Ensuring all public and private sector partners are working together as effectively as possible with the right capacity, skills, structures and tasking processes.

To support delivery of the new strategy, we are bringing forward legislation in the Criminal Justice Bill, introducing new criminal offences for the possession, importing, manufacturing, adapting, supply and intending to supply specific articles for use in serious crime—vehicle concealments, templates used to print 3D firearm components and pill presses. We will also strengthen serious crime prevention orders to make it easier for police and other law enforcement agencies to place restrictions on suspected offenders.

We will strengthen the UK border and enhance disruptive activity against the organised immigration crime groups who enable people to enter the UK illegally, increasingly through dangerous small boat crossings in the channel. This includes doubling our funding to increase the multi-agency intelligence and investigative response in 2023-24 and 2024-25.

We will continue to roll out “Clear, Hold, Build”, the local policing and partnership response to serious and organised crime, expanding it to every territorial police force by spring 2024 to reduce crime and build community resilience in hotspot areas in a sustainable way.

The Government are also introducing new measures to support closer collaboration between the NCA and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to tackle serious and complex fraud and corruption. We will amend the Crime and Courts Act 2013 to allow the director general of the NCA to direct the director of the SFO on matters relating to the investigation of suspected incidents of serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption, in the same way that the NCA has power to direct the police in relation to serious and organised crime.

The new strategy will refocus efforts in response to new and emerging challenges, including the growth in online crime and the exploitative business model of people smugglers. It brings together extensive work across Government, ensuring all capabilities available to the UK intelligence community, the NCA, policing and at the border are fully focused on disrupting and dismantling organised criminals.


Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Local Government: Statutory Interventions

All hon. Members will recognise the critical role local councils play in providing essential statutory services to their residents and being accountable to the communities they serve. Where councils do not meet the high standards that we set for local government, it is right that Government intervene in order to protect the interests of residents. Today I am updating the House on three statutory interventions: Woking Borough Council, Nottingham City Council and Liverpool City Council.

Woking Borough Council

In May 2023, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), intervened in Woking Borough Council, using his powers from the Local Government Act 1999 (the 1999 Act), following evidence of extensive best value failure in the external assurance review relating to the exceptional level of financial and commercial risk to which the council had exposed itself, the quality of its strategic financial decision making and concerns over its commercial dealings. As part of this, the three reviewers were appointed as commissioners, given powers over a broad range of council functions and tasked with overseeing the improvement. The Secretary of State committed to consider the skills and experiences required to support Woking on its improvement journey within six months, following the receipt of two reports from the commissioners.

In those first six months, the council has worked collaboratively and co-operatively with the commissioners. That being said, the situation remains grave. The commissioners’ first report, published on 19 October, made it clear that the scale of the challenge at the council “should not be underestimated”. In their second report, published today, the commissioners continue to paint a stark picture of the challenges, noting that the council

“remains in an extremely vulnerable position due to its overhanging debt and historical lack of rigour in its commercial activity.”

Overall, the council has made some limited progress on areas of focus identified by the commissioners in their first report, but there remains a significant deficit in the council’s capacity and capability in some corporate functions.

This second report comes at a key point for the council’s improvement: the coming months will require the council to manage the converging pressures of setting a balanced budget, preparing for local elections and undergoing the required transformation. In the short term, tough decisions need to be made, requiring clear leadership across the council, and a steady hand at the wheel. Following the resignation of the council chief executive, Julie Fisher, the Secretary of State has decided to increase the capacity of the commissioner team by appointing a managing director commissioner, Richard Carr. Mr Carr has more than 25 years of experience and will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the council and will provide strategic direction and leadership, until such time as a permanent appointment to the post of chief executive can be made. This appointment will increase the council’s capacity to deliver vital improvements and provide stability over the rough road ahead.

Having served as lead commissioner for six months, Jim Taylor has decided to step down from his role for personal reasons. I wish to thank Mr Taylor for the clear leadership and real dedication to his roles as both lead reviewer and commissioner at Woking. He will continue in his role as commissioner at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. The Secretary of State is appointing Sir Tony Redmond as lead commissioner. Sir Tony is a respected figure with a long career in local government and is currently chair of the Nottingham City Council improvement and assurance board. He will focus on finding longer-term solutions for Woking and promote a clear strategic direction for the council. The next phase of improvement is critical and we are grateful to Sir Tony for bringing his expertise and experience to lead that change. We will keep the intervention under review to determine whether further changes are needed given the challenging weeks and months ahead.

Nottingham City Council

Nottingham City Council has been in intervention since the improvement and assurance board (“the board”), chaired by Sir Tony and made up of independent experts, was first appointed in January 2021. The intervention was escalated in September 2022 by the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), with the issuing of statutory directions compelling the council to follow the advice of the board and to increase the momentum with which the necessary improvements were to be made. While the council has made efforts to address the recommendations issued by the board in February this year, the board’s latest assessment, as presented in its two latest progress reports, is that the council is still not acting at the required pace to make the necessary improvements. Weaknesses in finance and transformation, along with an underlying culture of poor governance, continue to manifest themselves. On 29 November 2023, the council issued a section 114 notice due to its inability to balance the budget for 2023-24. The precarious nature of the council’s finances, and its effect on overall transformation, together with outstanding governance issues, are causes of serious concern.

In the light of this evidence, the Secretary of State is satisfied that Nottingham City Council is continuing to fail to comply with its best value duty and he agrees with the board that improvements are not being made quickly enough. He is minded to escalate the current intervention arrangements in order to secure compliance with that duty and to ensure that the necessary improvements are made for the benefit of the local community. To that end, and in line with procedures laid down in the Local Government Act 1999, officials in my Department have today written to the council seeking representations on the board’s reports and on the proposed intervention package.

I want to place on record that the Secretary of State recognises the rigour with which Sir Tony and his fellow board members approach their work in supporting the council to address the many challenges it faces. Indeed, without their sustained efforts to date, the current situation would be even more challenging. However, a change in approach is now required to secure the necessary improvements rapidly; there are still many difficult and pressing decisions ahead and the scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated.

The Secretary of State is minded to appoint commissioners to exercise certain and limited functions as required, for two years. The proposed move to the commissioner model of intervention represents a significant change to ensure that public trust in the council is restored, particularly as the council has been working with the board since it was first appointed in January 2021. The commissioner team, if appointed, would consist of three appointments: a lead commissioner; a commissioner for finance; and a commissioner for transformation. I am announcing the proposed commissioner team structure to provide clarity to the council around the most pressing priorities, to make it clear that there can be no slippage in making the necessary improvements, and to enable representations to be made before the final decisions.

Our proposal is for the council, under the oversight of the commissioners, to reappraise its improvement plan within the first three months of the intervention and report on the delivery of that plan to the Secretary of State every six months.

The Secretary of State is proposing to direct the transfer to commissioners all functions associated with:

the governance, scrutiny and transparency of strategic decision making by the authority;

the financial governance and scrutiny of strategic financial decision making by the authority;

the strategic financial management of the authority;

the authority’s operating model and redesign of the authority’s services to achieve value for money and financial sustainability;

the development, oversight and operation of an enhanced performance management framework for officers holding senior positions;

the appointment and dismissal of persons to positions, the holders of which are to be designated as statutory officers, and the designation of them as statutory officers; and

defining the officer structure for the senior positions, to determine the recruitment processes and then to recruit the relevant staff.

I hope it will not be necessary for the commissioners to use these powers, but they must be empowered to do so if they consider that required improvement and reforms are not being delivered.

I am inviting representations from the council on the board reports and the Secretary of State’s proposals by 2 January 2024. We want to provide the opportunity for members and officers of the council, and any other interested parties, especially the residents of Nottingham, to make their views on the Secretary of State’s proposals known. The Secretary of State will consider carefully all representations and any other evidence received, before deciding whether to change the intervention, as he is minded currently to do, to make the necessary statutory directions under the 1999 Act and appoint commissioners. Our expectation is that the council will continue to work with the board to make the necessary improvements until a final decision is made. We will update the House in due course.

Liverpool City Council

On 10 June 2021 the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), updated the House that he was intervening in Liverpool City Council and had appointed a team of four commissioners and given them oversight of the council’s highways, regeneration and property management functions together with the associated audit and governance arrangements. Their appointment runs to June 2024. This followed a best value inspection, which concluded that the authority had failed to comply with its best value duty over a number of years. On 8 November 2022, the current Secretary of State confirmed that he was expanding the intervention and issuing further directions to appoint a finance commissioner and give commissioners finance, governance and recruitment functions.

On 6 October 2023, the commissioners submitted their fourth report. Since the last report, there has been a change in leadership at political and officer levels. The new leadership team have shown strength and grip as they continue to make improvements, and commissioners believe they are well placed to deal with challenges. Having carefully considered that report, I am announcing that the Secretary of State is minded to make a number of changes to the intervention.

First, the Secretary of State is proposing to reduce the scope of the intervention and return certain functions to the council by March 2024. This would be part of a planned and phased transition towards the end of the intervention. The Secretary of State is therefore minded to amend the current directions so commissioners no longer exercise the following functions:

All executive functions associated with highways in March 2024;

The requirement from section 151 of the Local Government Act 1972, to make arrangements for the proper administration of the authority’s financial affairs, and all functions associated with the strategic financial management of the authority, by March 2024, to include:

the power to amend budgets where commissioners consider that those budgets constitute a risk to the authority’s ability to fulfil its best value duty; and

providing advice and challenge to the authority in the setting of annual budget and a robust medium-term financial strategy for the authority.

All functions in relation to the appointment, organisation and performance of persons to positions the holders of which are not designated as statutory officers, and the designation of those persons for tiers one to three as soon as practicable.

Secondly, the Secretary of State is minded to issue further directions to the council, either to support the proposed return of powers or to address concerns raised by commissioners in their report. The Secretary of State is therefore minded to direct the council to undertake a range of actions to the satisfaction of commissioners, including:

allow commissioners to provide advice and challenge to the authority on strategic decisions related to its finance function, including the setting of annual budgets and medium-term financial strategy;

continue to take steps to rebuild trust with residents, and in particular to improve FOI performance, report writing and systems to record delegated decisions;

have completed a review of the strategic risk management and implement a strengthened mechanism based on its recommendations;

progress significantly the implementation of the corporate landlord model, commence the stock condition surveys to better understand the asset base, develop comprehensive asset management plans and produce a revised structure for the property directorate;

continue to establish and implement a cultural change programme that embeds a customer focus, performance management culture, systems and reporting across the organisation.

While I welcome the commissioners’ comments that the political and officer leadership of the council have made strong progress since May 2023 and there is early evidence of improvement, there remains a lot to do. The new leadership have not yet had the time to demonstrate their leadership of continuous improvement or their ability to resolutely make necessary difficult decisions. In order to provide enough evidence of a well-set trajectory, more time is needed to observe the impact of this new leadership as they drive improvement. The commissioners currently consider a form of statutory intervention is likely to be recommended beyond the current end date of June 2024. Their next report, in March 2024, will be vital to support my decision on how to proceed. I will update the House at that time.

I am now inviting representations from the council on the report and the Secretary of State’s proposals, also by 2 January 2024. We want to provide the opportunity for members and officers of the council, and any other interested parties, especially the residents of Liverpool, to make their views on the Secretary of State’s proposals known. Should the Secretary of State decide to act along the lines described here, he will make the necessary statutory directions under the 1999 Act. I will update the House in due course.


I want to acknowledge the work of the dedicated staff who deliver the important services of councils in today’s announcement on which local residents depend, many of whom have strived to deliver those services over recent years despite the financial, leadership and governance challenges faced by their respective authorities. I also want to thank the commissioners for all they do. They all play a vital role in each council’s recovery. I will deposit in the House Library copies of those reports I have referred to, which are also being published on today.


Planning: Local Energy Efficiency Standards

My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State (Baroness Penn) has made the following written ministerial statement:

As a Government, we continue to make progress towards the net zero goal set out in legislation in 2019, including by improving the energy efficiency of homes and moving to cleaner technologies and sources of power within the homes and building sector.

There has been a long-standing debate within planning about both the best method and body to set energy efficiency and environmental standards. For a number of years, the plans of some local authorities have sought to go further than national standards in terms of such efficiency for new-build properties. Equally, there is a legitimate consideration for the Government to want to strike the best balance between making progress on improving the efficiency and performance of homes while still wanting to ensure housing is built in sufficient numbers to support those who wish to own or rent their own home.

In 2015, in reference to an un-commenced provision in the Deregulation Act 2015 which amended the Planning and Energy Act 2008, a written ministerial statement—HC Deb, 25 March 2015, vol 584, cols 131-138WS—stated that until that amendment was commenced, local plan policies exceeding minimum energy efficiency standards should not go beyond level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. Since then, the introduction of the 2021 Part L uplift to the Building Regulations set national minimum energy efficiency standards that are higher than those referenced in the 2015 WMS rendering it effectively moot. A further change to energy efficiency building regulations is planned for 2025 meaning that homes built to that standard will be net zero ready and should need no significant work to ensure that they have zero carbon emissions as the grid continues to decarbonise. Compared to varied local standards, these nationally applied standards provide much-needed clarity and consistency for businesses, large and small, to invest and prepare to build net-zero ready homes.

The improvement in standards already in force, alongside the ones which are due in 2025, demonstrates the Government’s commitment to ensuring new properties have a much lower impact on the environment in the future. In this context, the Government do not expect plan-makers to set local energy efficiency standards for buildings that go beyond current or planned buildings regulations. The proliferation of multiple, local standards by local authority area can add further costs to building new homes by adding complexity and undermining economies of scale. Any planning policies that propose local energy efficiency standards for buildings that go beyond current or planned buildings regulation should be rejected at examination if they do not have a well-reasoned and robustly costed rationale that ensures:

That development remains viable, and the impact on housing supply and affordability is considered in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework;

The additional requirement is expressed as a percentage uplift of a dwelling’s target emissions rate, calculated using a specified version of the standard assessment procedure;

Where plan policies go beyond current or planned building regulations, those polices should be applied flexibly to decisions on planning applications and appeals where the applicant can demonstrate that meeting the higher standards is not technically feasible, in relation to the availability of appropriate local energy infrastructure—for example adequate existing and planned grid connections—and access to adequate supply chains;

To be sound, local plans must be consistent with national policy—enabling the delivery of sustainable development in accordance with the policies in the National Planning Policy Framework and other statements of national planning policy, including this one;

The Secretary of State will closely monitor the implementation of the policy set out in this WMS and has intervention powers provided by Parliament that may be used in respect to policies in plans or development management decisions, in line with the relevant criteria for such intervention powers;

The above supersedes the section of the 25 March 2015 WMS entitled “Housing standards: streamlining the system”, sub-paragraph “Plan making” in respect of energy efficiency requirements and standards only. Planning practice guidance will also be updated to reflect this statement.


Future Homes and Buildings Standards

This Government understand that we must act quickly to reduce the carbon emitted by new buildings while delivering the good quality homes that are needed by communities across the country. That is why we are today launching a technical consultation on the future homes and buildings standards.

Set to be introduced in 2025, the new standards will play an important role in delivering on our commitment to reach net zero by 2050. These standards build on the increase in energy efficiency standards for new homes and non-domestic buildings introduced in 2021. The proposed changes would deliver zero-carbon ready new homes and non-domestic buildings, meaning no further work would be necessary to ensure they have zero carbon emissions once the electricity grid has decarbonised. Furthermore, the proposed changes would ensure that new homes have lower bills than typical existing homes, making it cheaper for occupants to heat their homes. The Government are mindful of the additional burdens being placed on, and the viability of, development and welcome views on this as part of the consultation process. The consultation also seeks views on introducing higher energy efficiency standards for new homes created through conversions—material change of use—and asks whether overheating standards, introduced in 2021, should be amended.

Following analysis of consultation responses, we will legislate for the future homes and buildings standards by amending the Building Regulations in 2024.

The consultation will run until 6 March 2024 and the consultation documents can be found online at: