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Written Statements

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2009

Written Statements

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Coastal Erosion

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am announcing today the outcome of the coastal change pathfinder competition that I launched in June. The following 15 local authorities have been selected as pathfinders to explore new approaches to planning for, and managing, adaptation to coastal change together with their communities, using the £11 million coastal change fund that I announced in June:

Chichester District Council;

Dorset County Council;

East Riding of Yorkshire Council;

East Sussex County Council;

Great Yarmouth Borough Council;

Hampshire County Council;

Hastings Borough Council;

Lincolnshire County Council;

North Norfolk District Council;

Scarborough Borough Council;

Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council;

Somerset County Council;

South Hams District Council;

Tendring District Council; and

Waveney District Council.

Between now and spring 2011, these 15 pathfinders will explore a range of approaches to both building capacity and finding practical solutions. These approaches include new ways to engage local communities, helping them to plan for how the coast could change; ways of retaining community vitality by planning for and managing change, for instance through roll-back and buy-to-let schemes; and capital projects that enable continued enjoyment of changing coastal environments e.g. building and maintaining boardwalks and beach infrastructure.

Further information on how pathfinder bids were assessed together with details of funding allocations and the pathfinder projects is available on the Defra website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/flooding/ manage/pathfinder/index.htm.

The pathfinder programme is all about learning and, throughout it, lessons learnt will be shared so that other coastal authorities and organisations can benefit.

Correction to Commons Written Answer

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I regret to inform the House that some of the figures in the Answer I gave to Parliamentary Questions 298819-298839 on 11 November (Official Report, cols. 368W, 369W and 370W) about the spend to date, forecast future spend and total projected costs of Highways Agency road schemes contained inaccuracies.

Subsequently errors were found in some non-major project schemes arising from arithmetical error; reporting of 2009-10 costs only; and error in data entry in the table containing the 116 Highways Agency road schemes.

The Highways Agency has prepared a revised table. The table has been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Housing and Planning

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the provisional allocations totalling £135 million for the second year of housing planning delivery grant (HPDG) (2009-10). HPDG was established in 2007 to reward local authorities for improved delivery of housing and other planning services as part of their strategic, place-shaping role and to provide more support to communities and local councils which are actively seeking to deliver new homes. We consulted on changes to the consultation to the distribution mechanism earlier in the year. The decision to review the grant scheme follows our public commitment to monitor the grant in light of changes in economic circumstances.

The changes to the allocation formula for 2009-10 are:

an additional reward for those who could demonstrate housebuilder involvement in developing strategic housing land availability assessments (SHLAA); and

to increase the reward for demonstrating land for having a five-year land supply at the expense of having development plan documents in place.

A copy of the provisional allocations have been placed in the House Library and are available on the Communities and Local Government website at https://internetstg.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding/planning/planningpolicyimplementation/planningdeliverygrant/hpdg2009/?version=1.

A summary of responses and formal Government response to the consultation paper will be published with the final allocations in the new year.

Iraq

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bill Rammell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The House will be aware from my previous Statement on 22 October that the UK-Iraq agreement was approved by the Iraqi Council of Representatives last month. The Iraqi Presidency Council has now also ratified the agreement, and on 22 November our embassy in Baghdad received a diplomatic note from the Government of Iraq confirming that their constitutional procedures are now complete.

My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary wrote to Opposition spokesmen and the chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee in September to explain our intention to bring the agreement into force as soon as the Iraqi Government were ready. Our agreement with Iraq on training and maritime support has now entered into force.

Training of the Iraqi Navy has been paused since June, and it is right that we resume this activity as soon as possible. It is vital that the Iraqi Navy quickly develop the capacity to protect their territorial waters and the offshore oil platforms on which their economy is so dependent. Our Royal Navy trainers have therefore returned to Iraq, and our ships have re-entered Iraqi territorial waters. Both tasks are being undertaken alongside our US colleagues.

Planning: Eco-towns

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

One of the key roles of local authorities in responding to climate change is to be innovative in how new development is planned. Today, I am announcing that we have had a very encouraging number of responses from local authorities which want to take forward major new development to the exemplar green standards which we set out in the Eco-towns PPS published in July of this year. This shows how the standards we set are influencing the thinking of local authorities across the country as they consider how to do new development. Possible second wave bids are still at an early stage and will be subject to further, widespread consultation on proposals, before public consultation and local planning approval.

The Eco-towns PPS sets the highest sustainability standards ever required for new development. One of the key components of the eco-towns concept is to exploit low- carbon innovation at community scale with a minimum development over time of around 5,000 homes. It is the scope for a new community or communities to create the opportunity of large-scale innovation in how jobs, schools and services are delivered in low-carbon ways that will help us pilot new approaches in responding to climate change.

I am today announcing that we are taking forward nine expressions of interest from local authorities and city regions, covering 14 locations, for support for the further planning and feasibility work which will test whether potential development in these areas could meet the concepts and standards set out in the Eco-towns PPS. They comprise:

existing schemes at Shoreham Harbour and Northstowe, where there is now an opportunity and desire to redesign elements of the project to see if it can meet even higher sustainability standards;

a total of five authorities and partnerships, covering 10 locations in Taunton (Monkton Heathfield and Corneytrowe), Yeovil, Leeds City Region (Aire Valley, York North West, North Kirklees and Bradford-Shipley canal corridor), Coventry and Lincoln (Lincoln Area and Gainsborough). In these locations the concepts are still at an early stage but development work under the Eco-towns PPS offers the possibility of creating an outstanding new community providing it is feasible and deliverable; and

Cornwall, which is already taking forward one of the first eco-towns, and Sheffield City Region (Dearne Valley, South Yorkshire) wish to use the eco-towns concept to carry out a broader survey of potential, test alternative options for development and then use the eco-town concept and standards to see if this can be successfully applied to their area.

The locations and places I am announcing today show how local authorities want to use the eco-town concept and standards in a variety of ways. Developing these projects will be a demanding process requiring good co-operation between central and local partners and the private sector. We will now be taking these proposals forward in more detailed discussion with each authority with a view to providing funding support for more detailed design and to test feasibility, drawing on the £5 million fund for studies which I announced in July. We will be working with partners across government and the agencies to ensure that infrastructure, environment and sustainability issues are suitably addressed. In all cases these proposals are or are intended to become part of the local plan work being led by the authority and will be subject to the full local planning process.

I am also keen that this is not just planning work but that we can help communities see some of the potential by funding demonstrator low and zero-carbon exemplar schemes as we currently envisage in the first four eco-towns. To this end I am making available £5 million capital funding to enable authorities to show the type of development that will be possible and my department will be issuing further advice on this in conjunction with the Homes and Communities Agency.

Railways: Franchises

Statement

The Greater Anglia franchise, currently operating as National Express East Anglia, consists of services from London Liverpool Street to north and east Greater London, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. As I announced to the House on 26 November, the current franchise will terminate on 31 March 2011. The department will be consulting on the new franchise specification over the spring of 2010, with a view to issuing an invitation to tender in the summer of 2010 and an announcement of the successful bidder in late 2010 to start the new franchise on 1 April 2011.

Social Work

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and I have today accepted the recommendations of the social work task force. This is an important moment for social workers in England. It will make a big difference for the many children, young people, families and adults in vulnerable circumstances in our society who depend on their support.

The task force was established to conduct a nuts and bolts review of social work and to put forward the reforms needed to secure excellent front-line practice. Its recommendations, which cover children’s and adult social work, have been considerably influenced by the work of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee in its report on the Training of Children and Families Social Workers. We are very grateful to it for its important contribution.

The task force’s recommendations, all of which we are accepting, will make a real difference to the support that social workers receive, the training and education they can access and to the status and public understanding of their work—they will also make a difference that must be sustained for future generations of social workers and those thinking about entering the profession now. These recommendations include:

a career structure for social workers so that experienced practitioners can progress in front-line roles as well as in management. This must ensure that social workers are appropriately rewarded for their work;

a new and independent college for social work, led and owned by the profession, which must establish a stronger voice for social work and exercise appropriate influence over national policy-making and public debate; and a programme of work to improve public understanding of social work and of the essential contribution social workers make;

a new standard for employers to ensure that all employers put in place the conditions that social workers need to practice effectively, including high-quality supervision, time for continuing professional development and manageable workloads;

reforms to initial social work training, so that people of high calibre enter social work and all students receive good quality education and practise learning placements, equipping them for the challenges they will face when they begin to practise;

a new licensing system, which will introduce an assessed probationary year in employment for new social work graduates. This must ensure that they are both properly supported in their first year in practice and are properly assessed before they are fully licensed;

a revamped framework for continuing professional development, underpinned by a practice-based Masters qualification, so that all social workers can keep their skills up to date and develop specialist knowledge as they progress in their careers; and

all this in addition to the reforms to the integrated children’s system the task force has already proposed and the Government have accepted. Over the next few months these should significantly reduce bureaucracy on the front line.

The task force has said that to deliver this change, we need to work with the profession, employers and social work educators through a comprehensive reform programme which will require commitment over a number of years. As Secretaries of State for Children and for Health, we are determined to do that, and will continue to work together to provide strong leadership and drive.

We must ensure that the momentum the task force has established is maintained. So we are grateful to Moira Gibb, who has ably chaired the task force and brought so many different interests to the table, for agreeing to establish a new Social Work Reform Board, which will oversee the development and implementation of the reform programme.

The task force says that the profession should establish a college of social work, to develop a more powerful and equal voice in shaping policy and reform. We have therefore agreed that the Government should work with the profession to help it to establish the college of social work as soon as possible. Our civil servants have begun discussions with key representative organisations—as well as with social workers on the task force—about how best to do this. The college must be led by the profession and will be an independent institution and not a government body.

We want to see the college acquire royal status to give the profession the standing it deserves and the status it needs to influence national policy-making and public debate. The college will have to establish itself as a credible, independent voice for social work and for the profession, and while Government will provide it with start-up support the college will need to work with social workers to determine its independent funding and governance arrangements. It may also wish to explore the potential to expand its coverage to other parts of the UK.

Early in 2010, the Government—with the support of the Social Work Reform Board—will publish an implementation plan for reform of adult and children’s social work. This will set out how we will put in place the key elements of the reform programme, making a sustained commitment to improvement for the future.

Social workers, and those who educate and employ them, have been important members of the social work task force. Many more have contributed to the development of their recommendations through the impressive programme of regional events, visits to local areas and consultation processes and through their extensive survey of social worker workloads. Service users have also played a vocal and critical role on the task force and by contributing their perspective of the difference that social work—and really good social workers—can make for them.

We must act quickly, ensuring that our actions have lasting impact—making a difference not just for the current generation of social workers, but for those who will follow them over the next decade and beyond. This is of potential benefit to all of us in society who may need social work services at any time in our lives. And we must act together. As Secretaries of State for Children and for Health, that is what we intend to do. To succeed, we will need employers, educators and the profession to rise to the task force’s challenge and seize this opportunity.

We have written today to all social workers in England to thank them for their work and to explain how we are responding to the task force’s report, to local authority employers and to higher education institutions to explain what this means for them, and to honourable Members of this House, to ask for your help in celebrating the work of social workers and those who employ and educate them, encouraging them to seize this important opportunity.

I am placing copies of the report and our response in the Libraries of both Houses.