Tuesday 4 December 2018
ECOFIN: 4 December 2018
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) will be held in Brussels on 4 December 2018. The Council will discuss the following:
Early morning session
The Eurogroup President will brief the Council on the outcomes of the 3 December meeting of the Eurogroup, and the European Commission will provide an update on the current economic situation in the EU. Following this, the Commission will present its forthcoming communication on the international role of the euro, and the Council will exchange views on the European Investment Bank as a follow up to September informal ECOFIN in Vienna.
Digital services tax
The Council will be invited to agree a general approach on the digital services tax directive.
Strengthening of the banking union
The Council will be invited to endorse the results of the trilogue with regards to the banking package. The Austrian presidency will then present a progress report on the European deposit insurance scheme.
Current financial services legislative proposals
The Austrian presidency will provide an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
European semester 2019
The Commission will present the annual growth survey 2019, the alert mechanism report 2019 and their recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area, followed by an exchange of views.
The Commission will present the third progress report on implementation of the non-performing loans action plan, followed by an exchange of views.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council
The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport (EYCS) Council took place in Brussels on 26 and 27 November 2018. The UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU represented the UK for the Youth session on the 26 November and Culture and Audiovisual and Sports sessions on the 27 November.
This session of the Council began with the partial general approach on the regulation on the European Solidarity Corps 2021-2027, which the UK was content to support. This Council then adopted a resolution on the European Union Youth Strategy 2019-2027, as well as conclusions on youth work in the context of migration and refugee matters.
A policy debate was then held on the European Union Youth Strategy 2019-2027: from vision to implementation.
This meeting began with a progress report on the regulation on Creative Europe 2021-2027.
The meeting then adopted conclusions on the Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022. In addition the meeting adopted conclusions on the strengthening of European content in the digital economy.
There was also a policy debate on countering the spread of disinformation online, looking at the challenges for the media ecosystem.
Information was provided from the German delegation on dealing with items from colonial contexts in European collections. In addition, information was also provided from the Danish delegation on problems concerning protection and transnational resale of tickets to cultural and sports events.
The sport session of EYCS began with a policy debate on major sporting events as drivers of innovation. This was then followed by the adoption of Council conclusions on the economic dimension of sport and its socio-economic benefits.
The EU member states represented in the World Anti-Doping Agency Foundation Board presented information on the Foundation Board meeting on 14-15 November.
The Romanian delegation set out their work programmes as the incoming presidency, for the first half of 2019. They highlighted a number of priorities for the presidency. These priorities included improving the cross-border circulation of European cinema works, continuing efforts on disinformation through media literacy and quality journalism, and improving access to organised sport for people with disabilities.
The telecommunications formation of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council will take place in Brussels on 4 December 2018. The deputy permanent representative to the EU, Katrina Williams, will represent the UK.
The Council will begin with the Austrian presidency seeking to secure a partial general approach on the digital Europe programme. A progress report and policy debate will then take place on the European cyber-security industrial, technology and research competence centre and the network of national co-ordination centres proposal. Following this, a progress report and exchange of views will take place on the e-privacy regulation
Afterwards, the discussion of AOB items will follow, including the adoption of the European electronic communications code (EECC) and Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC) proposals. Information from the Austrian presidency will be given on the progress of current legislative proposals, namely: the recast public sector information directive; the .eu top level domain regulation; and the Cybersecurity Act. The Austrian presidency will also provide an update on the state of play of the digital single market. The Council will end with a presentation from the incoming Romanian presidency on its work programme for the first half of 2019.
Government Asset Sale Update
I am pleased to inform Parliament that the Government have today completed their sale of part of the older, pre-2012, English student loan book achieving a value of £1.9 billion.
The Government have been clear in their commitment that the position of all borrowers, including those whose loans have been sold, will not change as a result of the sale. This sale does not and cannot in any way alter the mechanisms and terms of repayment: sold loans will continue to be serviced by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Student Loans Company (SLC) on the same basis as equivalent unsold loans. Purchasers have no right to change any of the current loan arrangements or to contact borrowers directly. The sale does not change the Government’s current approach to higher education or student finance.
The Student Loans Company will be writing to borrowers whose loans have been sold within three months to notify them of the sale. No action will be required from borrowers. Government have no plans to change, or to consider changing, the terms of pre-2012 loans. I also want to be clear that these older loans, whose borrowers benefited from lower tuition fees as well as lower interest rates, are not in scope of the current review of post-18 education and funding.
This sale is good for the taxpayer. It releases money that is tied up and serving no policy purpose, to invest in other policy priorities now, while keeping within the spending limits we need to strengthen public finances. The sold loans have already been in repayment for over nine years, and therefore a portion of the original value has already been paid back to the Government. The Government do not expect all of the remaining loans to be paid off in full and the sale guarantees money upfront today rather than waiting for fluctuating and uncertain payments over a long period of time. This sale also transfers risk to the private sector. Repayment income from student loans fluctuates with economic performance, as do tax receipts and managed expenditure like benefits. Selling the loans reduces the Government’s exposure to this fluctuation. The Government are committed to reducing public sector net debt in order to enhance the UK’s economic resilience, improve fiscal sustainability and lessen the debt interest burden on future generations. This sale makes a significant contribution to that objective.
The Government do not sell at any price. Throughout the process, the Government's decision on whether to proceed remained subject to market conditions and a final value for money assessment. This looked at whether we were selling to an efficient market, that can price the asset efficiently, and at a price that was worth more to the Government than retaining the loans. The Government’s retention value takes into account predicted repayments, the effect of inflation, the riskiness of the asset and the opportunity cost of having money tied up in the asset.
I can confirm that the price offered in aggregate across the book was above the Government’s retention value range. I will shortly be laying before Parliament a report on the sale in accordance with section 4 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008. This will provide more detail on the sale arrangements, and the extent to which they give good value as well as covering the sale’s different fiscal impacts.
Health and Social Care
Joint Committee on the Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill Pre-legislative Scrutiny Report
The Government are, today, publishing their response to the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill which conducted pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill. The Committee’s report was published in August 2018.
We published the draft Bill in September 2017 which set out legislative provisions to establish a new independent body to investigate healthcare safety incidents in the NHS in England.
I would like to thank the Chair and the members of the Committee for their report and commitment to improve this legislation. I would also like to thank all the contributors to the scrutiny process and all those who over the past three years have helped to shape and inform the development of the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch and the Bill. I believe this scrutiny process has made a significant contribution to how we should move forward in improving safety and safety investigations in the NHS and the way we learn from incidents when things go wrong.
A copy of the response to the report will be laid before both Houses.
For too long, disability has been a neglected issue in international development. An estimated 1 billion people globally have some form of disability. Disabled people are poorer than their non-disabled peers in terms of access to education, healthcare, employment, social support and civic involvement. They are at higher risk of violence and subject to widespread stigma and discrimination. The world will not achieve the sustainable development goals and its commitment to leave no one behind without a sustained and concerted effort on disability inclusion.
That is why in July this year we hosted a global disability summit with the Government of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance. The summit focused global attention on disability inclusion, and brought together more than 1,000 delegates from Governments, donors, private sector organisations, charities and disabled people’s organisations. The summit mobilised commitments from more than 170 organisations and more than 320 Governments and organisations signed the summit’s “Charter for Change”. To ensure long-lasting impact of these commitments, my Department is working with partners on a robust monitoring process.
To support this ambition to make disability inclusion a reality in developing countries, I will ensure we place disability inclusion at the heart of everything DFID does. Our vision is for a world where all disabled people are engaged, empowered and able to exercise and enjoy rights on an equal basis with others, contributing to poverty reduction.
On international day for persons with disabilities, I launched DFID’s first disability inclusion strategy. We will increase access to inclusive education, improve social protection, empower people to find work and step up in humanitarian contexts. We will support disabled girls and women, tackle stigma and discrimination and harness the power of technology. We will also step up on mental health. The strategy will include stretching targets for all DFID business units to deliver, including a focus on regular and meaningful engagement of disabled people in our work.
DFID’s global leadership on disability inclusion is in the national interest in demonstrating UK values of fairness and inclusion, in supporting the most disadvantaged and in sharing UK expertise and practice. I want the UK to be a trailblazer at home and abroad. To do that we need our political offices to be inclusive and better reflect our society. That is why I am delighted to launch the EnAble Fund for Elected Office—a £250,000 commitment to help cover disability-related expenses people might face when seeking elected office. Further information is available via this link: https://www. disabilityrightsuk.org/enablefund.
A copy of the strategy has been published on gov.uk and will be placed in the Library of the House for the availability of Members (including an “easy read” version designed for people with learning disabilities).
GTR: May Timetable Disruption
I wish to inform the House that the Department for Transport has completed its analysis of the events surrounding this year’s May timetable introduction on the GTR network. In line with Professor Stephen Glaister’s interim report, it has concluded that the disruption on this network was caused by a series of mistakes and complex issues across the rail industry.
I can announce today that the Government are holding GTR to account for its role in the unacceptable performance following the introduction of the May timetable. GTR will make no profit from its franchise in this financial year and looking ahead, we have also capped the amount of profit that the operator is able to make for the remainder of its franchise, which is due to expire in September 2021.
Furthermore, GTR will be contributing £15 million towards tangible improvements for passengers. This is in addition to the £15 million the operator has already contributed towards compensation for passengers since the May timetable disruption. GTR has agreed to work with the rail user groups representing passengers of Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, who will determine what improvements this package will fund.
The Department has concluded that a termination of the franchise would cause further and undue disruption for passengers and is not an appropriate course of action.
Performance after the May timetable change was unacceptable. This action announced today holds GTR to account appropriately and will benefit passengers. The Department will continue to monitor closely the performance of GTR, particularly during the upcoming December timetable change. These measures do not make GTR immune from further sanctions in the event of any subsequent failure to perform.
Work and Pensions
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council: 6 December 2018
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will take place on 6 December 2018 in Brussels. I will represent the UK.
The Council will be invited to agree a general approach on a regulation establishing a European labour agency and on a third batch of amendments to the worker protection directive on carcinogens and mutagens (2004/37/EC).
The Council will receive reports on progress in negotiations regarding a regulation on the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) and a proposal from 2008 for a directive on equal treatment.
The Council is also expected to reach political agreement on a recommendation on access to social protection for workers and self-employed, and to adopt a set of conclusions on gender equality, youth and digitalisation.
The Council will hold a policy debate on an issue related to the European semester. It will also receive a presentation from the Commission on its 2019 “Autumn Package” of annual growth survey, alert mechanism report, draft joint employment report, and draft recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area. The Council will also approve a contribution on that recommendation made jointly by the Employment Committee (EMCO) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC); endorse their joint messages on aspects of digitalisation and robotisation; and endorse EMCO’s key messages on the latest biennial assessment of member states’ progress tackling long-term unemployment.
Under any other business, the Commission will present information on its activities, as well as the Tripartite Social summit which took place on 16 October 2018. The presidency will provide information on current legislative proposals, the joint declaration on gender equality and presidency events on:
(i) Digitalisation of work;
(ii) Fight against occupational cancer; and
(iii) Gender equality.
The Maltese delegation will present a non-paper on future of the LGBTI list of actions and the Romanian delegation will provide information on their work programme for their upcoming presidency.
Automatic Enrolment Annual Earnings Trigger and Qualifying Earnings Band Review
Automatic enrolment into a workplace pension has been a great success to date with over 9.9 million people having been automatically enrolled and all employers now having to comply with their automatic enrolment duties following the completion of the staged roll-out of the duties in March this year. More than 1.4 million employers have met their duties and overall annual pension saving for eligible employees has increased by £11.7 billion since 2012. The second phased increase in the minimum contribution rates to 8% will happen in April 2019.
The main focus of this year’s annual review of the automatic enrolment thresholds is to ensure the stability of the policy during the contribution increase next April. We also want to ensure that our approach continues to enable individuals, for whom it makes economic sense, to save towards their pensions whilst also ensuring affordability for employers and Government. The review has concluded that the earnings trigger will remain at £10,000 and both the lower and upper earnings limits will continue to be aligned to the national insurance contribution thresholds.
I intend to lay an order before Parliament in the new year which will include the following, for 2019-20:
£50,000 for the upper limit of the qualifying earnings band.
£6,136 for the lower limit of the qualifying earnings band.
The automatic enrolment earnings trigger will be maintained at £10,000.
I will place a copy of the analysis supporting the proposed revised thresholds in the House Library. These papers will be available later today on the www.gov.uk website.
Attachments can also be viewed online at: http://www. parliament.uk/writtenstatements