Thursday 7 February 2008
Armed Forces: Pay Review Body
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The 2008 report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) has now been published. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the review body for their report. I am pleased to confirm that the AFPRB's recommendations are to be accepted in full, with implementation effective from 1 April 2008.
In line with the AFPRB recommendations, the basic military salary for officers and all other ranks will increase by 2.6 per cent. In addition, the AFPRB has recommended an increase to X-Factor of 1 per cent and a restructuring to increase the amount of X-Factor paid to officers at lieutenant-colonel, colonel and brigadier (and equivalent) ranks.
The rates of specialist pay (including flying pay, submarine pay, diving pay and hydrographic pay) will also increase by 2.6 per cent. The Government have also accepted the AFPRB's recommendation to introduce additional targeted financial retention incentives for nuclear submarine watchkeepers, army vehicle mechanics, Royal Artillery, RAF Regiment gunners and firefighters and a new category of specialist pay for explosive ordnance disposal personnel to tackle specific recruitment and retention issues.
The Government remain committed to the independent pay review body process. This award is consistent with achievement of the Government's 2 per cent CPI inflation target which helps contribute to low and stable inflation, macroeconomic stability and economic growth.
Copies of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body report are available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.
Civil Service: Sickness Absence
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office (Tom Watson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Managing sickness absence continues to be a key priority for the Civil Service.
The latest figures for 2006-07, now available at www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/statistics/sickness.asp, show that departments need to continue their effort to address this. (Copies are also available in the Library).
Over the past year, Permanent Secretary Management Group has focused on this area and agreed a suite of actions that include:
guidelines to departments—to help boards assess their current procedures and systems on a “comply or explain” basis;
senior management master classes—a series of events exploring management aspects of the health and well-being agenda for senior Civil Service management; and
high impact interventions—a series of good practice case studies from both the public and private sectors on how to achieve a healthy workplace has been identified.
From April 2008, departments are now required to collect, analyse and publish their own sickness absence data each quarter and annually in departmental reports.
Education (Student Support) Regulations
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (John Denham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have today laid amended Education (Student Support) Regulations, making changes in the way we support prisoners undertaking full-time higher education courses.
The education of offenders is an integral part of strategies to reduce reoffending. Improving the skills of offenders, helping them to move into jobs, is likely to help break the cycle of reoffending.
Offenders are encouraged to study at all levels, including courses offered by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). We estimate that about 590 prisoners are currently studying on part-time distance learning courses, usually provided by the Open University. A smaller number of students study full-time in higher education. They must satisfy attendance criteria agreed by the HEI and the prison governor by, for example, securing release on temporary licence (“day release”). All prisoners released on temporary licence are subject to regular and rigorous risk assessment by the governor.
Financial support for students attending full-time higher education courses is provided through the Student Loans Company (SLC), in conjunction with relevant local authorities which assess entitlement in accordance with the student support regulations. Support comprises loans for tuition fees and loans and grants for maintenance. Payments for tuition fees are paid by the SLC directly to HEIs.
It has been brought to Ministers’ attention that there is a long-established but unjustifiable provision in the student support regulations that has allowed prisoners on full-time courses in higher education to receive financial support in the form of loans and grants for maintenance.
Payments properly made under the student support regulations will have been in compliance with the law. However, I do not believe that it has ever been the intention of Parliament that prisoners, who are accommodated at public expense, should receive any additional form of financial support for maintenance. Nor do I believe that it is an appropriate use of public money.
Last week, I suspended all student support payments to prisoners with immediate effect. While I am examining this further, I am laying amended Education (Student Support) Regulations today to enable me to prevent any further payments of maintenance support being made. These regulations will come into force on 28 February 2008.
I have taken a number of further immediate steps to ensure that no further successful applications for maintenance support can be made by prisoners.
The Permanent Secretary of my department is today writing to higher education providers, requesting that they immediately inform the SLC when offering a prisoner a full-time place at their institution. With the support of the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, the Deputy Director-General of the Prison Service has instructed prison governors to identify all prisoners currently undertaking full-time higher education and to inform any such prisoners that they must not apply for maintenance support. In addition, as soon as the amended regulations come into force, all prison governors will be instructed to inform the SLC if an offender within their establishment is offered a place to study full time in higher education, or is currently a full-time student. These measures will enable the SLC to identify all future applications from prisoners, and assess them in accordance with the amended regulations.
I have also instructed the SLC to continue to identify and review all current and past applications, as well as live cases. We will then provide a complete estimate of the number and cost of payments and our investigations will ensure that all legal requirements were properly complied with.
The decisions of HEIs to accept prisoners as students, and the decision of prison governors to allow their attendance, are taken at local level. The student support regulations do not require an applicant to identify themselves as a prisoner. Nor do regulations provide explicitly for the circumstances of a student who is subsequently subject to a custodial sentence. Individuals may also successfully apply for student support while in prison for courses that they take up on release. In addition, since full-time student support was introduced in 1962, prisoners have not been specifically excluded from these regulations. As a result, there is no central list of offenders studying full-time HE courses. Current estimates of the amount of support received are therefore provisional. We have identified 91 prisoners who have received a total of £250,000 of repayable maintenance loans, and £120,000 in maintenance grants in the 2007 calendar year.
Our preliminary investigations suggest that, since current SLC operational systems were put into place in 1998, approximately 250 prisoners have received up to £250,000 in maintenance grants. Where prisoners have received loans, these will be repayable in the usual way. These cases will be examined on a case-by-case basis.
I am minded to conclude that support for offenders studying in higher education, which remains a proper government objective, should be provided through regulations made specifically for that purpose. In consultation with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, I have asked the Permanent Secretaries of my department and the Ministry of Justice, drawing on the wider resources of the Civil Service, to oversee the SLC’s review of cases, in conjunction with relevant local authorities, officials from my department, the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service, and to make recommendations to me about the management of support for offenders in full-time higher education.
Although this long-established anomaly applies to full-time higher education in England, I have also informed the devolved Administrations, further education providers and the Learning and Skills Council on a precautionary basis, in case there are implications for them.
I will endeavour to make further relevant information available to the House prior to any debate on the revised regulations.
General Commissioners: Amalgamation of Divisions
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have made an order under Section 2 (6) of the Taxes Management Act 1970 amalgamating a number of divisions in Kent as follows.
With effect from 11 February 2008:
the Maidstone Division, the Sevenoaks Division and the Lower South Aylesford Division are merged into one division called the Maidstone and West Kent Division; and
the Peterborough Division and the Wisbech Division are merged into one division called the Peterborough and Wisbech Division
The amalgamation was made at the request of the general commissioners in all the divisions with the aim of improving the organisational efficiency of the divisions concerned. Copies of the Amalgamation of Divisions of General Commissioners have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
Housing and Planning Delivery Grant
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Iain Wright) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing the final allocations of the second tranche of £90 million of planning delivery grant (PDG) for 2007-08. The grant is paid to local authorities to support improvement in the delivery of planning services. Over the period 2003-08 the Government will have made available a total of £605 million through PDG which has played a significant part in raising the profile of planning, providing additional resources for both development management and plan making, and incentivising improvement in performance against a background of a rapidly increasing number of planning applications.
The total PDG for 2007-08 amounts to £120 million which has been paid in two parts. The first tranche was paid in May 2007.
The grant is performance related. The aim is to enhance resources for the planning system in a way that drives performance improvement and ensures effective delivery of our objectives for sustainable communities.
Grant allocations are not ring-fenced and authorities have complete discretion in the way they spend this money. However, to encourage investment for the future, 25 per cent of the total grant paid to any individual authority must be spent on capital. The remaining 75 per cent can be spent by the local authority on resource or capital budgets.
A copy of the determination and a table showing the local authority allocations is available in the Libraries of the House.
Housing: Homes and Communities Agency
My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (Caroline Flint) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Housing and Regeneration Bill, currently before Parliament, establishes the Homes and Communities Agency, bringing together, for the first time, land and money to deliver decent, affordable housing and regenerate our communities by creating places where people chose to live. It will give local authorities a clear strategic partner to work with on housing and regeneration, and will enable better and more effective use of a range of assets, resources and funding streams to respond to the particular housing and regeneration problems in different communities.
Work to establish the agency is progressing well. Following his appointment as chief executive designate of the agency, Sir Bob Kerslake has appointed a full-time set-up team comprising staff drawn from the Housing Corporation, English Partnerships and CLG. The team will lead the delivery of the detailed work necessary to bring the agency into being.
Reflecting the devolved arrangements that operate for the London Development Agency, and the Mayor of London’s responsibility to produce a housing strategy for the capital, my predecessor asked Sir Bob Kerslake, chief executive designate of the Homes and Communities Agency, to discuss how the HCA and the mayor’s bodies could most effectively co-operate to meet London’s housing and regeneration needs. Following those discussions, I have agreed to their proposal that, once the agency is established, a sub-committee of the HCA board should be set up with specific responsibility for London. The board will be chaired by the mayor, and the vice chair will be the chief executive of the HCA. The London boroughs will also be actively involved through participation on the sub-committee and involvement in the delivery of individual schemes on the ground. The sub-committee will be supported by a team comprising the London staff of the HCA and staff drawn from the London Development Agency. The team will be able to draw on the resources and assets of both the HCA and the LDA in meeting London’s housing and regeneration needs.
Ministry of Defence: Data Loss
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 21 January 2008 I informed the House about the theft of laptop computers from Ministry of Defence vehicles and premises and announced that, following consultation with the Information Commissioner, I had invited Sir Edmund Burton to undertake a full investigation into the losses. In response to questions I gave an undertaking to the House to provide further details of the Burton review, including reporting timescales, when they were available. I am now in a position to do so.
I have agreed the following terms of reference for the review with Sir Edmund following consultation with the Information Commissioner.
To establish the exact circumstances and events that led to the loss by MoD of personal data; to examine the adequacy of the steps taken to prevent any recurrence, and of MoD policy, practice and management arrangements in respect of the protection of personal data more generally; to make recommendations; and to report to MoD's Permanent Secretary not later than 30 April 2008.
I will make a further Statement to the House once Sir Edmund's work has been concluded.
Prison Service Pay Review Body
My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have today laid before Parliament the seventh report of the independent Prison Service Pay Review Body (PSPRB) on the pay of governing governors and other operational managers, prison officers and related support grades in England and Wales in 2008 (Cm 7325). I would like to thank the chair and members of the PSPRB for their hard work in producing these recommendations.
The recommendations include a 2.2 per cent consolidated increase to the minimum and maximum of the operational support grade and prison officer and the maxima of other operational support staff and other operational managerial pay scales.
The PSPRB also recommended a restructuring of the operational support grades pay scale and a 2.7 per cent increase to the minimum of the principal officer pay scale, the senior officer single salary point and the maximum of the highest paid operational managers.
The Government remain committed to the independent pay review body process. This award is consistent with the achievement of the Government’s 2 per cent CPI inflation target which helps contribute to low and stable inflation, macroeconomic stability and economic growth. I am pleased to confirm that the PSPRB’s recommendations will be implemented in full from 1 April 2008. The cost of the award will be met from within the delegated budget allocation for the Prison Service.
The key pay review body recommendations are:
a 2.2 per cent consolidated increase to the minimum and maximum of the operational support grade, and the maximum of other operational staff pay scales; and
a restructuring of the operational support grades pay scale.
a 2.2 per cent consolidated increase to the minimum and maximum of the prison officer pay scale; and
continuation of incremental increases for prison officers within the pay scale.
a 2.7 per cent consolidated increase to the senior officer single salary point.
a 2.2 per cent consolidated increase to the maximum and a 2.7 per cent increase to the minimum of the principal officer scale.
a 2.7 per cent consolidated increase to the highest paid operational managers and a 2.2 per cent consolidated increase to the maximum of other operational managerial pay scales;
decoupling of the operational manager pay spine into seven separate pay ranges; and
continuation of performance-related increases for operational managers within the pay range.
Roads: Dartford Crossing
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
In December 2006, the department consulted on proposals to revise the charges for use of the Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing. The consultation noted that: without any charges traffic levels would be substantially higher than they are now, leading to extensive congestion; that even with the current charge levels, usage levels are leading to regular congestion and occasional very severe congestion; and that without action the likelihood of severe congestion will increase.
The consultation document proposed: an increase in tolls for those paying by cash; substantial reductions for those choosing to pay on account using a DART-Tag to register their charge; and the removal of night-time charges for all vehicles, when congestion is less of a problem. The intention was to continue to apply an effective pricing signal given growing congestion pressures while at the same time providing an incentive for more people to opt for alternatives to paying cash, thereby easing flow through the charging booths.
In the run-up to the consultation exercise suggestions were put forward that local residents should benefit from a substantial discount for use of the crossing. The Government invited views on these suggestions.
Substantial numbers of people expressed a desire to see a local discount scheme. Details are set out in the summary of responses to that consultation, which is published on the DfT web-site at www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/closed/dftconsuldartford/dartsumconsul.
On 2 April 2007 the department announced that it would develop a local discount scheme for further consultation, noting that any scheme had to be fair to both local residents and the taxpayer.
I am announcing today our proposals. These are that:
private cars should be eligible for discounts when used by residents of Dartford and Thurrock local authority areas;
there will be a £10 annual registration fee, which will entitle residents of these areas to 50 free one-way journeys per year. Thereafter journeys will be charged at 20p each. (London charges the same annual £10 fee for those who make use of their residents' discount scheme) and
to benefit from the discount residents will need to register annually and apply for an electronic “tag” that is fitted in the windscreen of the nominated vehicle. The tag will be provided free of charge but a £10 charge will be levied for replacement of lost or damaged tags.
The Government’s intention is that the discount scheme should be implemented alongside the other changes to the charging regime on which we consulted in December 2006. This includes the possibility for any car user, regardless of where they live, to use the crossing for the current £1 rate if they opt to use a tag and open an account.
Our December 2006 consultation document made clear that if a local discount scheme were introduced then all revenues would go towards national transport projects. Therefore the current arrangement, under which a proportion of revenues from the crossing (£1.75 million) is made available to help deliver integrated transport policies in the Dartford and Thurrock areas, would be discontinued.
The consultation document will be published next week and copies will be placed in the Library of the House. The consultation exercise will run for 12 weeks from the date of publication.
The Government will make every effort to ensure that the new charges, including the local discount scheme, can be implemented in the autumn of 2008, subject to being able to complete the necessary technical work to that timescale. Given that the Government have put forward a clear statement of their preferred approach, work has already started to put in place the necessary systems and processes. A further announcement about the precise start date for the new regime will be made at the end of the consultation period.