Tuesday 12 March 2019
ECOFIN 12 March 2019
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) will be held in Brussels on 12 March 2019. The UK will be represented by Mark Bowman (Director General, International Finance, HM Treasury). The Council will discuss the following:
Early morning session
The Eurogroup President will brief the Council on the outcomes of the 11 March meeting of the Eurogroup, and the European Commission will provide an update on the current economic situation in the EU. Ministers will then discuss the location of the InvestEU Investment Committee secretariat.
The Council will be invited to agree a general approach on the directive on general arrangements for excise duty (recast), the regulation on administrative co-operation of the content of electronic registers, and the directive on the structures of excise duty on alcohol and alcoholic beverages.
Digital services tax
The Council will be invited to reach a political agreement on the EU-wide digital services tax proposal.
The Council will hold a follow-up policy debate on the location of the InvestEU Investment Committee secretariat.
Current financial services legislative proposals
The Romanian presidency will provide an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
Following a presentation by the Commission on its 2019 country reports, the Council will hold an exchange of views on the implementation of country-specific recommendations focusing on investment in member states.
EU list of non-co-operative jurisdictions for tax purposes
The Council will be invited to adopt Council conclusions revising the December 2017 EU list of non-co-operative jurisdictions for tax purposes.
Status of the implementation of financial services legislation
The Council will discuss the status of the implementation of financial services legislation.
Coalition for climate action
The Finnish Finance Minister will update the Council on plans to launch the coalition for climate action in the context of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund spring meetings in April.
Armed Forces Pay Review Body: Reappointment
On 20 December 2018, I announced that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence had appointed Vice Admiral (Retired) Sir David Steel as the next ex-military member of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB). His appointment was due to commence on 1 March 2019 and run until 28 February 2022. However, Vice Admiral (Retired) Sir David Steel has subsequently been unable to take up this position. A further recruitment campaign will be launched in due course by Department officials.
To provide the AFRPB with important continuity during this interim period, I am pleased to announce that I have invited Rear Admiral (Retired) Jonathan Westbrook to continue to serve as a member of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body for a further 12 month term of office, commencing on 1 March 2019, and he has accepted. This extension has been conducted in accordance with the guidance of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
New Model in Technology and Engineering
My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System (Lord Agnew), has made the following written ministerial statement.
It is the normal practice when a Government Department proposes to make a gift of a value exceeding £300,000, for the Department concerned to present to the House of Commons a minute giving particulars of the gift and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from making the gift until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.
The Department for Education intends to provide a 50-year lease of the former Robert Owen Academy site (Blackfriars Street, Hereford) to the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMiTE). The lease is valued at £900,000 and will be subject to a premium of only £1,000. The sub-lease therefore represents a gift to NMiTE worth £899,000.
The NMiTE aims to secure university status and is supported by national and local government, the University of Warwick, and industry, to transform engineering education in Britain. They are in receipt of grant funding from the Department for Education to support their start-up and development. NMiTE will invest substantially in the site to bring it back into use and deliver specialist higher education.
We believe this lease represents good value, supporting the development of the new organisation aiming to secure university status and avoiding the vacant site holding costs that the Department for Education would otherwise have to bear.
The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
British Council: 2019 Tailored Review
I am announcing today the publication of the recent tailored review of the British Council, an arm’s-length body of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The British Council was established in 1934 and awarded a Royal Charter in 1940. It builds relationships and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries, and makes a significant contribution to promoting the English language, education and British culture overseas. It is a key soft power lever.
As a non-departmental public body (NDPB) sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the British Council is required to undergo a tailored review at least once in every Parliament. The principal aims of tailored reviews are to ensure public bodies remain fit for purpose, are well governed and properly accountable for what they do.
The full report can be read on gov.uk:
This review involved consultation with a broad range of stakeholders across the UK and beyond, including British Council staff, the board of trustees, over 700 stakeholders and heads of mission. It provided an opportunity to better understand the British Council’s contribution to the core business of the FCO, HMG, and the interests of a wide range of stakeholders across the UK and overseas, as well as assessing the British Council’s performance, and readiness to respond and adapt to future challenges.
The review concluded that the British Council fulfils an important and unique role, remaining a world leader in its field. The British Council’s operating model is effective, however work is needed in order to strengthen evidence of this effectiveness, and how it provides value for money for the taxpayer. It also notes that more needs to be done to remain fit for purpose, including improving organisational effectiveness and increasing financial resilience. Overall, it made 29 recommendations including:
The FCO’s single departmental plan should include a high-level British Council objective;
The British Council should have clear criteria for deciding when it will develop its own products, and publicise this to the English language and education sectors;
The British Council should continue its current model of growing its commercial surplus to support cultural relations activities; and
The British Council’s activities should focus on its core strengths of promoting English language, education, and British culture.
The review has also recommended that the FCO and the British Council strengthen their strategic dialogue and co-ordination. The British Council should also strengthen its reporting of impact, while ensuring that it operates with the appropriate level of independence. A joint implementation plan is being developed by the FCO and British Council, with most of the recommendations expected to be implemented by mid-2020.
Copies of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament. uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2019-03-12/HCWS1401/.
Work and Pensions
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will take place on 15 March 2019 in Brussels. I plan to represent the UK.
The Council will be invited to agree a partial general approach on a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council that continues the European globalisation adjustment fund (EGF).
Under the European semester agenda item, the Council will adopt the joint employment report for 2019, along with conclusions on the 2019 annual growth survey, and the Commission will present its country reports for 2019. The Romanian presidency has chosen the social dimension of Europe post 2020 as the theme for debate.
Under other business, the presidency will give updates on six current legislative proposals: a regulation establishing a European labour authority; revision of the regulations on the co-ordination of social security systems; revision of the directive on carcinogens and mutagens (third batch); and directives on work-life balance, on accessibility requirements for products and services and on transparent and predictable working conditions.
The presidency will also provide information on its recent conference on an EU framework on national strategies for Roma inclusion. The Commission will present information on the tripartite social summit which will take place on 20 March, and the Chairs of the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee will present the committees’ work programmes for 2019.
Universal Credit: Managed Migration Pilot
Universal credit is a vital reform. It overhauls a legacy system which trapped people out of work. The next stage, managed migration, will move claimants of legacy benefits on to universal credit without a change of circumstances. As we have previously committed, the Department will pilot this approach, following the passing of an affirmative statutory instrument, from July 2019; starting with small numbers with no more than 10,000 claimants. This is expected to take around 12 months. We will report on our findings to Parliament and bring forward legislation for the wider roll out of managed migration. We will, as planned, complete full roll out of universal credit by the end of 2023.
I am updating Parliament to announce that we have selected Harrogate in North Yorkshire to be our initial site for the managed migration pilot.
Harrogate has a mix of benefit claimants with a varying range of needs, in both rural and urban areas. Harrogate has also had universal credit since 2016 which is earlier than many other places. In that respect it does very much reflect the situation we will face across the country as we begin the broader process of moving people from the old system to the new universal credit system. This means the lessons we learn here will be directly applicable to places that start moving claimants from the old system to the new system in 2020 and beyond who will have started with UC in 2017 and 2018.
We will take a careful approach to delivering managed migration. Claimants will be informed of their move in advance, receive full information and support from the Department to move, including through home visits where appropriate.
We do not intend to stop anyone’s benefit during the pilot. In the pilot phase, our intention is to learn how to effectively assist people on to universal credit and to develop processes to deliver that help. This is particularly important for vulnerable and hard-to-reach claimants, who the Department will help to move across to the new system.
Managed migration will open up the world of work for thousands and deliver financial support for those whose circumstances have not changed. The process will eventually provide over £3 billion total transitional protection for 1.1 million families. Transitional protection will be available and we will help people who need it access discretionary payments which could be used, for example, to pay the equivalent of the two-week run on. Eligible claimants who received the severe disability premium under the legacy system will receive transitional payments as a result of the regulations bringing them into effect.
The Department is working with stakeholders to develop our approach to managed migration, with support for the most vulnerable in at the forefront of our minds. We will continue to do this as we deliver.