Tuesday 20 June 2023
Business and Trade
UK-India Free Trade Agreement Negotiations
The10th round of UK-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations began on 5 June and concluded on 9 June. As with previous rounds, this was conducted in a hybrid fashion—UK officials travelled to New Delhi for negotiations and others attended virtually.
Technical discussions were held across 10 policy areas over 50 separate sessions. They included detailed draft treaty text discussions in these chapters.
The UK-India trade relationship was worth £36 billion in 2022. A balanced deal which respects the domestic sensitives of both sides will strengthen the economic links between the UK and India, boosting the UK economy and bringing benefits to UK businesses, families and consumers. In this negotiation, as with all our FTA negotiations, the NHS and the services it provides are not on the table.
Both sides continue to work towards a modern and comprehensive agreement. We will only sign a deal that is fair, balanced, and ultimately in the best interests of the UK.
The 11th round of negotiations is due to take place in the coming months.
The Government will continue to keep Parliament updated as these negotiations progress.
Military Accommodation: Safety Inspections
The Ministry of Defence is responsible for some 47,800 military homes in the United Kingdom. Since 1 April 2022, the management and maintenance of the vast majority of that accommodation has been delivered by three contractors: Amey in the central and northern regions; VIVO in the south-east and south-west; and Pinnacle who run our national service centre.
There are 27 different statutory and mandatory housing safety inspections that apply to each property, which contractors are required to complete at different time intervals. These inspections are each undertaken by the contractor on a regime planner, with the schedule dates at least 12 weeks in advance of the expiry date of any certification.
By law, all occupied rented homes are required to undertake landlord gas safety inspections (LGSI) every 12 months. As part of the standard protocol, all personnel who move into Defence accommodation should have an LGSI, alongside an electrical installation condition report (EICR), completed within 28 days.
Since April 2022, more than 12,000 families have moved into military houses and been provided with valid statutory and mandatory certificates at the point they move in. However, it has become clear that progress to update gas certificates and electrical inspections for a number of existing residents which had already elapsed was not quick enough. Consequently, as of 20 June, there are 795 homes currently occupied by service families without valid gas certificates.
A number of factors have led to this situation. It appears that in many cases operatives were unable to gain access to properties due to miscommunication. On other occasions, contractors missed agreed appointments. Then there were supply chain resource problems, including sourcing suitably qualified gas and electrical tradespersons and a backlog of work inherited from the previous contract. Furthermore, legislation has reduced the currency of existing electrical safety certificates from 10 years to five, increasing this battery of checks.
The expiry of a certificate does not immediately render a house unsafe, but, clearly, the longer a home is left with expired certificates, the greater the risk that it could become so. During checks to date, no issues have been identified that would represent a serious safety concern for the families involved. That said, the safety of our personnel is paramount and it is unacceptable for any family to be living in a home without the necessary checks.
I was made aware of this issue in early May and immediately acted to address the problem, speaking with the FDIS contractors personally, making it clear to our industry partners that we expect this backlog to be cleared, less any exceptional cases, by the end of June at the latest and preferably sooner.
Although not a statutory requirement, the Ministry of Defence also requires its accommodation contractors to maintain current certificates on unoccupied homes—minimising the safety risk to neighbours or those required to visit for maintenance purposes. It is anticipated that all these unoccupied military homes will have up to date gas safety certificates by mid-July.
Finally, all electrical safety certificates should be up to date by the end of August.
One immediate lesson that has emerged is the need for improved communications. Until now contractors had relied on email to notify residents of upcoming checks. It appears that, for numerous reasons, these were not always seen in enough time to ensure that someone was available at the property.
That has now changed with contractors contacting families through letters, by telephone and through house calls. Instead of the usual individual house appointments, gas engineers have been attending military housing estates on nominated days and, supported by the military chain of command where necessary, have moved between homes to carry out the required inspections.
Service personnel have been notified in advance of these changes and are working closely with the military chain of command and our industry partners to ensure staff balance the need for availability with operational demands. If a service person living in SFA has not received a letter notifying them of this process, they can be assured their home is not in scope.
This is not the first time issues have been raised about military accommodation. Problems will always arise to some degree when you are dealing with an estate of this size and scale and with residents whose job by its very nature is demanding and time constraining. Nonetheless, we must do better. Since Amey and VIVO have not met the acceptable level of performance in this case, the relevant performance credit for fixed and variable profit for the service period has been withheld.
There are signs of improvement, but we are closely monitoring the performance of our contractors over the coming weeks to see the deadlines are met and I receive regular updates on progress.
We are also putting in place a lessons learned process for the medium and long-term. Specifically, what can we learn from the failures here that we can apply to future contracts to avoid similar mistakes.
The safety of our personnel remains our top priority. We rely on them to keep us safe and they rely on us to provide them with safe homes.
Health and Social Care
Volume Price Promotion Restrictions
The Government are announcing their intent to delay the implementation of restrictions on volume price promotions, such as “buy one get one free” or “3 for 2” offers, on less healthy products by 24 months. These restrictions will now come into force on 1 October 2025.
Given the current challenges caused by higher food prices, the Government do not want to take actions that may restrict consumer choice.
Therefore, we are delaying the restrictions until October 2025 in light of the unprecedented global economic situation.
The intention of the promotion restrictions is to shift the balance of promotions towards healthier options, encouraging people to make healthier choices. We will continue to work closely with food businesses to reformulate products to be healthier. We have already seen success in some categories of the sugar reduction programme including a 14.9% reduction in average sugar levels in retailer and manufacturer branded breakfast cereals and a 13.5% reduction in yogurts and fromage frais.
The delay to volume price promotions does not impact the location restrictions which are currently in force. Under these restrictions, less healthy products in scope can no longer be promoted in key locations, such as checkouts, store entrances, aisle ends and their online equivalents. The location restrictions are the single most impactful obesity policy at reducing children’s calorie consumption and are expected to accrue health benefits of over £57 billion and provide NHS savings of over £4 billion, over the next 25 years.
We intend to consult in the coming weeks on the secondary legislation to implement the delay to the volume price restrictions.
The Government remain committed to halving childhood obesity by 2030 and delivering on these measures.
HMICFRS Inspection Report: National Crime Agency’s Effectiveness at Dealing with Corruption
The National Crime Agency (NCA) leads and co-ordinates the overall law enforcement system response to Serious and Organised Crime (SOC) across the UK. It manages intelligence and information requiring the highest levels of security, with the power to task law enforcement and the capability to address the impact of SOC and counter corruption.
This is the 11th HMICFRS inspection of the NCA and examines how effective the NCA is at dealing with corruption, prejudicial and improper behaviour. This included the vetting of staff, its capability to prevent and counter corruption and insider threats, and its ability to tackle behaviours that discriminate.
I have asked HMICFRS to publish the report. It will be published today and will be available online at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk. I will arrange for a copy to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The inspection found that the NCA takes these matters seriously, with a robust vetting process in place and an enhanced apparatus established to tackle corruption and promote professional standards. The report also concludes that the NCA has a more diverse workforce than ever. However, the Agency must continue to promote diversity, particularly in its leadership, as well as its operational units, where a lack of diversity was found. The NCA also needs to strengthen its ability to tackle insider threats and address prejudicial and concerning behaviours.
The Inspectorate raised concerns that gender-based discrimination and casual sexism continue. A zero-tolerance approach must be instilled across the NCA to ensure such behaviours are tackled and misconduct appropriately managed. I expect the Agency to demonstrate leadership in putting an end to any form of discrimination, and to put the appropriate practices and approaches in place to robustly address the concerns raised by the Inspectorate.
The inspection also identified a need to consider possible changes to legislation to clarify and strengthen the Agency’s professional standards, and to allow the NCA to have a Barred List established to ensure those staff who are dismissed for misconduct are prevented from working elsewhere in law enforcement. I am clear that the requisite changes should be made at the earliest opportunity.
The Inspectorate has made 19 separate recommendations which will help ensure that the NCA’s approach to corruption, vetting and standards is more robust and will deliver a safe and secure environment and positive culture for all staff to work in, in turn, helping to increase public confidence in law enforcement agencies.