Tuesday 24 January 2017
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) will be held in Brussels on 27 January 2017. EU Finance Ministers are due to discuss the following items:
Early morning session
Ministers will be briefed on the outcomes of the 26 January meeting of the Eurogroup and the European Commission will present an update on the current economic situation. Ministers will discuss the European Court of Auditors report on the single supervisory mechanism.
VAT: reverse charge mechanism
The Commission will give a presentation on the proposal for a temporary derogation to apply a generalised reverse change mechanism.
Current financial service legislative proposals
The Council presidency will provide an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
Presentation of the presidency Work programme
The Maltese presidency of the Council of the European Union will present its priorities for ECOFIN over the next six months, which will be followed by an exchange of views.
European semester 2017
Ministers will adopt Council conclusions on the annual growth survey, alert mechanism report and approve the Council recommendations on the economic policy of the euro area.
Basel Committee’s post-crisis banking reform agenda
The Commission will give Ministers an update on the progress made on the finalisation of the post-crisis reforms since the Basel meeting in November 2016.
High-level group on own resources
Mario Monti, Chair of the High-level group on own resources will present the group’s final report, which will be followed by an exchange of views between Ministers.
EIB Economic Resilience Initiative
Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank, will outline the state of play of the Economic Resilience Initiative, providing preliminary evidence of its initial implementation and the ongoing fundraising process for the grant component of this initiative.
EU: Prospectus Regulation
This Government have decided not to opt in to the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) provision within the European Commission’s “Proposal for a regulation on the prospectus to be published when securities are offered to the public or admitted to trading”.
Article 31(1) of the proposal requires that where member states have chosen to pursue a criminal sanctions regime for breaches of elements of the proposals, those member states must ensure that information can be shared between competent authorities across the EU. As the provision requires co-operation involving law enforcement bodies, the Government believe these are JHA obligations and therefore our JHA opt-in is triggered. The Government will inform the Council of their decision not to exercise their right to opt in to the relevant provision.
The Government have decided not to opt in to these provisions as there are no significant benefits to be gained from doing so. The obligation to share information will fall on member states who have a relevant criminal sanctions regime, and UK competent authorities will be in a position to access this data irrespective of the decision to opt in. The Government have no intention to introduce a criminal sanctions regime in a way that would lead to this regulation imposing an obligation on the UK or on our competent authorities.
National Infrastructure Commission
I wish to update the House on the establishment of the National Infrastructure Commission.
The purpose of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is to provide expert, impartial analysis of the long-term infrastructure needs of the country. The NIC reports on high-priority issues and produces an in-depth, independent assessment of the UK’s major infrastructure needs on a 30-year time horizon.
On 12 October 2016 the Government informed the House that the NIC would be established on a permanent basis as an Executive Agency of HM Treasury in January 2017. [HCWS181]
The Government are today establishing the NIC as an Executive Agency of HM Treasury, and the Treasury is today publishing a framework document. The framework document sets out the broad framework within which the NIC will operate, and outlines its roles and responsibilities. A copy of the framework document has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
National Infrastructure Commission Reports: 5G/Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Corridor
I am today depositing in the Libraries of both Houses two recent National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) reports, in accordance with the National Infrastructure Commission charter.
“Connected Future”, published on 14 December, sets out what the UK needs to do to become a world leader in 5G networks. The Government will consider the recommendations carefully and respond at Budget 2017. The Government have already taken steps to ensure that Britain is 5G ready and the Chancellor recently announced a £1 billion investment which will support 5G trials and investment in fibre networks.
“Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Interim Report”, published on 16 November, sets out immediate investment priorities and challenges to ensure a joined-up strategy for the area bringing together planning, housing and transport. The Government welcomed this interim report at autumn statement and committed to invest £137 million to support the Commission’s transport recommendations on the Oxford to Cambridge expressway, and East West Rail. The Government also welcomed the NIC’s work looking at a range of delivery models for housing and transport in the corridor, including development corporations.
The National Infrastructure Commission was set up in October 2015, to provide expert independent analysis of the long-term infrastructure needs of the country. As well as in-depth reports into specific issues, it produces a once-in-a-Parliament national infrastructure assessment (NIA) setting out a long-term vision for UK infrastructure.
Mersey Gateway Transport
The Government support investment in the transport network given the benefits it provides to the economy. That is why we are providing substantial funding for the Mersey Gateway bridge scheme in Halton.
In addition, the Government are delivering a number of transport improvements in and around Halton. These include:
the Halton curve which will enable passenger services from north Wales and west Cheshire to directly access Liverpool city centre and Liverpool John Lennon airport;
Warrington Waterfront transport infrastructure scheme, a package of highway investment, including a bridge over the River Mersey, which opens up commercial land and alleviates congestion to the south of Warrington town centre;
the Omega J8 (M62) highway improvements to support the rapid and significant expansion of the Omega employment site now employing over 5,000 people; and
access improvements to Knowsley industrial park and A5300 Knowsley expressway improvements, highway investments to support access to one of the major employment sites in Liverpool city region.
As part of the Department for Transport’s road investment strategy, Highways England will deliver the M56 J11a scheme to provide a new junction with the Mersey Gateway Bridge which will support the Daresbury enterprise zone, key to the knowledge economy in the north-west.
In 2015 the Government announced they would look at the feasibility of extending Mersey Gateway bridge toll discounts to residents of Cheshire West and Chester and Warrington. The Department has undertaken detailed work and evaluated options for how this could happen, what the costs would be and what this would do to the contracts already signed by Halton Borough Council to deliver the scheme and the tolling infrastructure.
The feasibility work considered the legal position and the costs to the taxpayer and concluded that free tolling will not be extended beyond Halton Borough Council.
The Government have already provided £86 million to Halton to develop the scheme, to pay for land and to deal with land contamination. Once the scheme opens, the Government will also be providing a further substantial contribution of £288 million to help fund both the cost of the bridge and also to increase the funds available to enable residents of Halton to use the bridge for free.
It is Government policy that users of estuarial crossings should help pay for the benefits they receive. The Mersey Gateway is no different. As is the case with the Dartford crossings, an exception is to be made for residents of Halton given that the existing Silver Jubilee crossing is the only road link between the two halves of the borough. Other users will have a range of frequent user discounts available to them to use a crossing that will deliver considerable congestion and journey time improvements to boost the region’s economy.
In evaluating the options open to the Government we have considered a number of issues. On the legal side, the feasibility work showed there would be a significant risk of a successful legal challenge to a decision to extend free tolling to some local councils and not others. On the cost side extending free tolling to only a handful of local councils would still be at a substantial cost to the taxpayer. An extension of user discounts to not just Cheshire West and Chester and Warrington, as originally suggested, but also to the other three authorities that neighbour Halton (Knowsley, Liverpool City Council and St Helens), would be at an estimated cost of £604 million to the public purse. If, as is the case with Halton, the cost was to be split between the Government and local authorities, £377 million would fall to the five local councils. For all these reasons we have taken the decision not to extend free tolling beyond Halton.
The Mersey Gateway bridge is on target for opening in autumn 2017 which is a great testimony to the hard work that all parties including Halton Borough Council have put into this scheme.