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Written Statements

Volume 682: debated on Monday 12 October 2020

Written Statements

Monday 12 October 2020

Treasury

Job Support Scheme and Local Restrictions Support Grant

Following my announcement on Friday 9 October that I am expanding the job support scheme (JSS), and increasing the generosity and frequency of local restrictions support grants, I am pleased to share more detail of these schemes and how this Government are supporting and protecting jobs and livelihoods.

The JSS is being expanded to provide temporary, localised support to businesses across the UK whose premises are legally required to close as a direct result of coronavirus restrictions set by one or more of the four Governments of the UK.

This expansion of the JSS will help businesses through the period they are affected by these restrictions, supporting the wage costs of employees in eligible premises who have been instructed to cease work and comply with this instruction. This scheme will enable those premises to reopen as quickly as possible when they can. It will help protect employee incomes, limit unemployment and maintain employer-employee matches.

This is part of the job support scheme, available to employers from 1 November 2020 for six months, with the scheme reviewed in January. Further guidance will be published in the coming weeks. Employers will be able to make a claim in arrears on a monthly basis online through www.gov.uk from early December 2020.

The coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) remains in place until 31 October, and flexibility in the system means if an employer is required to close in October, eligible employees can be furloughed until 31 October. The new job support scheme is available from 1 November, with payments from early December. Eligible employees whose employers use the expanded JSS will continue to be paid by their employer throughout this period. Neither the employer nor the employee needs to have previously used the CJRS to be eligible for the expanded JSS.

In line with the rules for the JSS already announced: all employers with a UK bank account and a UK PAYE scheme registered on or before 23 September can claim the scheme. Only employees that are on their employer’s payroll by 23 September are eligible. This means a real time information (RTI) submission notifying payment of that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before this date. This scheme will cover businesses that, as a result of restrictions set by one or more of the four Governments in the UK, are legally required to close their premises. This includes businesses told to provide only delivery and/or collection services from their premises. This scheme is open to employers across the UK, and we look forward to working constructively with the devolved administrations to ensure it operates effectively in all four nations.

The scheme will pay a grant to the employer calculated based on the number of eligible employees who cannot work at the relevant premises—which has been required to close by Government. Employers will only be able to use the scheme for employees who have been instructed to cease work—paid or unpaid for that employer.

Eligible employees cannot work for a minimum of seven consecutive (or calendar) days. An employee can return at a later date. Claims must not overlap and must be made monthly in arrears. These payments will be taxable, and employers will be required to cover employer NICS and automatic enrolment pension contributions in full, where applicable, but are not required to make further contribution to wage costs. However, employers can top up employee pay if they wish.

In line with JSS payments for hours not worked, the grant per eligible employee available from the UK Government is two-thirds of their normal pay up to a limit of £2,100 per month. Further detail on how normal pay is calculated will be set out in guidance. If an employer is closed by Government regulations then they can claim under the applicable rules. When that changes and they are able to reopen they can claim under the wider JSS for firms facing reduced demand under the criteria we outlined in September. Employers will be able to claim the job retention bonus for employees provided they are eligible. JSS grants can be used by employers to pay an employee's wages and help meet the JRB minimum income threshold.

The employer must use the scheme to cover their employees’ wages and pay relevant payroll taxes. The whole of the grant must be used to meet employee costs. The grant will not cover class 1 employer NICs or pension contributions, although these contributions will remain payable by the employer. Payments will be made in arrears, reimbursing the employer for the Government’s contribution.

On 9 September, the Government announced the local restrictions support grant scheme. This scheme provided businesses which are forced to close for three weeks or more due to a nationally imposed local lockdown in England with grants of up to £1,500 per three-week closure period.

The Government are now making this scheme more generous so that businesses receive up to £3,000 per month, and are eligible for payment sooner, after only two weeks of closure rather than three. The Government are also extending the scheme to include businesses which have been required to close on a national rather than a local basis, or which have not been legally able to reopen since the first lockdown in March.

Businesses will receive the following:

For properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, grants to be £1,334 per month, or £667 per two weeks;

For properties with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000 grants to be £2,000 per month, or £1,000 per two weeks;

For properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over grants to be £3,000 per month, or £1,500 per two weeks;

Local Authorities will continue to receive 5% of the funding which they received for the local restrictions support grant scheme as a discretionary fund, which the Government will encourage them to use to support business that have been legally mandated to close by the Government but are outside of the business rates system.

Grants will be administered by local authorities, and eligible businesses will probably need to provide their details to their local authority to access this support.

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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Electronic Communications and Wireless Telegraphy (Amendment) (European Electronic Communications C

I am today laying legislation in Parliament which implements the European electronic communications code directive.

The importance of electronic communications has been underlined during the covid-19 pandemic. The UK’s networks are ensuring the connectivity which has underpinned the way society is responding to covid-19.

We are confident that the positive changes implemented during the pandemic will outlast the pandemic itself. For example, it has clearly demonstrated that technology enables many businesses to be agile, allowing many people to work from home. Technology has also played a critical role in continued learning, and has played a more important role than ever in keeping people in touch with friends, family and others in their communities.

The increased reliance on and use of digital infrastructure brings new expectations around these services, and the infrastructure must keep up with growing levels of demand. Combined with future expectations around new technologies and services including 5G, building future-proofed networks will be essential to our future economy. This is why we are committed to delivering nationwide gigabit-capable connectivity, and the Budget 2020 committed £5 billion investment in gigabit-capable broadband rollout in the hardest-to-reach areas of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The transposition of the European electronic communications code into UK law will help ensure that both the Government and Ofcom have the tools required to deliver these ambitions.

The directive revises the EU telecoms regulatory framework which has underpinned UK telecoms law since 2003. The UK played a leading role in the negotiations for the European electronic communications code prior to its exit from the EU, and in the development of the directives which preceded it, which largely reflect UK best practice. And our commitments in the European Union withdrawal agreement require transposition of European Union law until the end of the transition period.

The core objectives of the directive are to drive investment in future-proofed networks and communications services through sustainable competition; support efficient and effective use of radio spectrum; and provide a high level of consumer protection. Therefore, the changes introduced in the directive include new measures that are important to delivery of our digital ambitions. Transposing these changes into UK law will ensure Ofcom’s powers remain operable and reflect recent technological innovation. Some measures are being given effect through alternative legislation, such as the requirements for the security of networks and services.

The changes we are making as part of this SI are a crucial milestone towards our delivery of our digital ambitions. These changes will facilitate a pro-investment regulatory environment, supporting gigabit-capable rollout across the UK.

I therefore lay this instrument in the House today.

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Education

Schools: Summer 2021 Exam Series

This Government have always made the education of young people a priority. We are determined to make sure that when the time comes, young people are able to take the next step in their lives with the knowledge and qualifications they need. We want to build on the remarkable efforts of teachers, students and parents across the country as children return to school—and education—through these challenging times. We must continue to do all we can to minimise the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on all those who are studying at school or college.

I know that students due to sit exams next summer have experienced considerable disruption to their education, our £1 billion covid-19 catch-up package will help to tackle the impact of lost teaching time. It is right that our approach to exams and assessments in 2021 also reflects these students’ experience.

Today I can confirm that GCSE, AS and A level exams in 2021 will go ahead, with most exams moved back three weeks next year to give students more time to prepare and a chance to catch up on education lost due to covid-19. We know that exams are the fairest way of measuring a student’s abilities and accomplishments, including the most disadvantaged. We want to give our young people the opportunity next summer to demonstrate what they know and can do.

The main exam series will start on 7 June and end on 2 July. One maths and one English GCSE exam will take place before the May half-term, giving any Year 11 pupils who need to self-isolate during the exam period the best possible chance of still sitting a paper in each of these core subjects. Some A and AS levels with typically very small numbers of students entering will also be scheduled in the days just before half term. It is expected that for the majority of vocational and technical qualifications that are taken alongside or instead of GCSEs, AS or A levels, awarding organisations will look to align timetables with 2021 exams.

Results days for AS, A levels and GCSEs will fall on Tuesday 24 August and Friday 27 August respectively, with students taking vocational and technical qualifications needed for progression to further or higher education receiving their results no later than their peers.

I am also confirming today the subject-level changes to exams and assessments outlined in the public consultation carried out earlier this year by the exams’ regulator, Ofqual. These changes to exams and assessments next year will support teachers and students by freeing up valuable teaching time. Ofqual has also consulted on how assessments of vocational and technical qualifications will be adapted to free up teaching time and respond to any future public health measures.

Schools and colleges have shown exams can be held, even in areas of local restriction, in the autumn exam series which is currently taking place. Exams next year will be supported by contingencies for all scenarios. Today I have written to Ofqual to ask the regulator to support Government in developing these arrangements, engaging closely with the school and further education leaders, teachers, exam boards, unions and the higher education sector. The results of this planning and ongoing discussions with the sector will be published later in the autumn.

I am grateful for the commitment and willingness that has been shown by groups across the sector in enabling and delivering this additional teaching time next year, helping to ensure that young people have the best opportunity to succeed. Our approach will support students to prepare for exams with confidence and ensure they have the best chance of receiving the qualifications they deserve.

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Housing, Communities and Local Government

Local Government Reorganisation

Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset

On Friday, I issued invitations under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 to principal councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and Somerset, including associated existing unitary councils, to submit proposals for moving to unitary local government in those areas. This is the first step in the statutory process under the 2007 Act for establishing unitary councils in response to locally led proposals from one or more existing councils in the area concerned.

Councils in these areas have requested such invitations and have been developing ideas about restructuring local government in their areas for some time. It is right that they should now have the opportunity to take their local discussions to a conclusion, and if they wish, make proposals for unitary reform. Under the statute such locally led proposals, subject to consultation and parliamentary approval, can be implemented if I consider this appropriate.

There is thus no question of any top-down imposition of Government solutions. We are clear that any reform of an area’s local government, where there is strong local support for the principle of a unitary structure, is most effectively achieved through locally-led proposals put forward by those who best know the area.

It is now for the councils in each of the three areas to make, if they wish, their unitary proposals, either individually or jointly with other councils in the area. The invitations provide that if a council is responding it must submit by 9 November 2020 at least an outline proposal, and if a full proposal has not been submitted by then, the full proposal must be submitted as soon as practical thereafter and by no later than 9 December 2020.

I will carefully consider any proposals I receive, assessing them on the basis of the long-standing criteria for establishing unitary councils, namely that if a unitary proposal is to be implemented it must be likely to improve local government in the area, command a good deal of local support overall across the area, and lead to unitary councils covering a credible geography.

While traditionally various population ranges for unitary councils, such as 300,000 to 600,000 populations, have been referred to, regard must be had to the particular circumstances of a proposed unitary council; including issues of local identity, local geography, delivery of public services and economies of scale when assessing population size.

I recognise that when making proposals councils may request that the May 2021 local elections in the area are postponed. Such postponement of local elections where unitarisation is under consideration is precedented, and I will carefully consider any such request.

With these invitations councils in the three areas now have an opportunity to move forward with reforms which can open the way to significant benefits for local people and businesses, delivering service improvements, facilitating economic growth, and contributing to the levelling up of opportunity and prosperity across the country.

Broader policy on local government reorganisation

The Government are also reaffirming their policy position on the issue of local government reorganisation; this broadly reflects that outlined in the written ministerial statement made by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) in July 2019.

Locally-led changes to the structure of local government, whether in the form of unitarisation or district mergers, can be an appropriate means of improving local service delivery, saving taxpayers’ money and improving local accountability. However, restructuring is only one of the different ways that councils can streamline and make savings. Joint working with other councils and partners can take a variety of forms ranging from adopting joint plans, setting up joint committees, sharing back-office services or special purpose vehicles to promote regeneration. Such joint working may extend across county boundaries. Indeed, councils’ general power of competence under the Localism Act 2011 makes it easier for councils to get on with sharing services.

The Government will not impose top-down restructuring of local government and will continue to follow a locally-led approach for unitarisation where councils can develop proposals which have strong local support. This has been the Government’s consistent approach since 2010, when top-down restructuring was stopped through the Local Government Act 2010.

When considering reform, those in an area will know what is best—the very essence of localism to which the Government remain committed. However, the pandemic has rightly necessitated resources across Whitehall and in local government being reallocated to tackling covid-19 and on economic recovery, and this must be Whitehall’s and town halls’ No. 1 priority at present.

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International Trade

UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement: Transparency and Scrutiny

I am setting out transparency and scrutiny arrangements for international trade deals starting with the UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement (UK-Japan CEPA) which will be signed shortly.

At the outset of negotiations, the Government published their objectives for this agreement, along with a scoping assessment. During the consultation period, we have discussed progress with trusted advisers across industry, including with stakeholders in farming. This sector has been involved throughout, to ensure that nothing we agree undermines our farmers’ ability to compete internationally while producing food at a high standard. The Government have also established a Trade and Agriculture Commission to advise on future trade policy. This will look at policy for our trade agreements and our work to improve the world’s trade rules, making sure they work for British business and consumers.

We will share future trade agreements with the International Trade Committee in the House of Commons and the International Agreements Sub-Committee in the House of Lords, in advance of being laid in Parliament through the process set out under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRaG). Today we are doing this for the UK-Japan CEPA.

We will always endeavour to make sure the Committees have at least ten sitting days to read through these on a confidential basis, as we are doing for this deal. We are also sharing a full impact assessment which covers the economic impacts along with the social, environmental, and animal welfare aspects of the deal. This impact assessment has been independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee.

At the end of negotiations, this Government are committed to ensuring the final agreement text, alongside an explanatory memorandum, is laid in Parliament under the CRaG scrutiny procedure for 21 sitting days. This will ensure the House has sufficient time to scrutinise the detail of any deal.

This overall approach goes well beyond many comparable parliamentary democracies. Parliament has been provided with the information it needs to provide effective scrutiny at all stages of the negotiations. We are also working constructively with the Select Committees referred to above, who may choose to produce independent reports on the agreement.

Widespread prior consultation and the publication of detailed impact assessments and objectives up front, allows informed debate at the start of the negotiations. Extensive stakeholder engagement on the detail of the negotiations as they proceed, and confidential briefing of relevant committees, means we have taken best practice at every stage from comparable democratic systems. Combined with the confidential sharing of text at the end of negotiations, this is a best in class approach to transparency and openness to scrutiny by Parliament and other stakeholders, compared with such countries.

For example, before any of our negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand commenced, this Government led a comprehensive public consultation or call for input. Like Canadian, Australian and New Zealand systems, we have kept Parliament updated on negotiations as they progress, including close engagement with relevant Select Committees.

These arrangements are appropriate to the UK’s constitutional make-up and separation of powers. Ultimately, if Parliament is not content with a trade deal, it can raise concerns by resolving against ratification and delay any implementing legislation indefinitely.

This Government are committed to ensuring that no trade deal undermines key industries or lowers standards for consumers. We are concluding free trade agreements that benefit all parts of the UK, by creating opportunities for our world-leading industries and maintaining high standards, while increasing choice for consumers.

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