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Written Statements

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2023

Written Statements

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Business and Trade

Northern Ireland Investment Summit

Yesterday I launched the Northern Ireland Investment Summit (NIIS) in Belfast, which I am hosting today in partnership with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland ( Chris Heaton-Harris). The event will be a key moment in the 25th anniversary years of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. This is an opportunity to look to the future, and consider how we can build on the remarkable progress Northern Ireland has made this past quarter century. Northern Ireland is an integral, uniquely positioned part of the UK and is an ideal location for companies to grow. Its combination of a highly educated workforce, competitive operating costs and unique market access make it a compelling proposition for both domestic and international investment. The summit will set out how the UK Government intend to strengthen the UK’s already competitive business environment and ensure it remains one of the most attractive destinations for international investment.

The summit, jointly hosted with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and delivered in partnership with Invest Northern Ireland, will bring together over 150 investors from the United States, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East, and India, to discover the opportunities available to businesses in Northern Ireland. This event will be an opportunity to promote what Northern Ireland does best, with breakouts covering some of Northern Ireland’s key sectors including technology, financial and professional services, life and health sciences, green economy, advanced manufacturing and engineering, creative industries and capital investment opportunities.

It will also mark a key moment to encourage investment into Northern Ireland—the Windsor framework has further enhanced the attractiveness and competitiveness of Northern Ireland as an investment location for businesses seeking market access to the UK and the EU single market for goods. The summit will showcase its strengths across all parts of Northern Ireland to build a sustainable and inclusive economy that will benefit everyone.

The Department for Business and Trade is committed to championing investment across the UK, and this event is yet another example of this Government’s commitment to growing the UK economy—as laid out in the Prime Minister’s key priorities for 2023.

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Shipbuilding Credit Guarantee Scheme Update

Further to the statement by my hon. Friend, the Minister for International Trade last week, I have today laid the accompanying departmental minute before Parliament describing a contingent liability arising from the launch of a shipbuilding credit guarantee scheme.

The SCGS is a finance instrument which will provide guarantees to banks in respect of loans made to vessel owners and operators seeking to place orders at UK shipyards. The scheme will guarantee a portion of the value of eligible loans, sharing the risk with lenders to encourage offers of finance to UK vessel owners and operators.

The SCGS is one of a number of targeted interventions being taken as part of over £4 billion of Government investment planned through the Government’s national shipbuilding strategy refresh, to encourage UK ship owners and operators to place new orders and upgrade their existing fleets with world-leading shipyards that are based up and down the UK. HM Treasury has approved the arrangements.

In addition, I hereby give notice of the Export Credits Guarantee Department’s—known as UK Export Finance, UKEF—intention to seek an advance from the contingencies fund. This was made over recess, and I am notifying Parliament at the earliest opportunity. I have previously notified the Chairs of the Public Accounts Committee and the Department for Business and Trade Select Committee. UKEF will act as service provider to DBT. It will manage inquiries and applications under the SCGS and DBT will cover resource and other costs. To have the necessary approvals to undertake this work on behalf of DBT, UKEF must apply for a contingencies fund advance.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £105,000 for this new expenditure will be sought in a supplementary estimate for UK Export Finance. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £51,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the contingencies fund.

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Back British Farming Day

British farmers play a crucial role in driving economic growth, supporting national food security, and achieving our ambitious net zero goals. On Back British Farming Day, the Government are proud to celebrate our British farmers and growers who work tirelessly to produce world-renowned, high-quality produce all year round.

British food is the best in the world and this Government want to do all they can to support hard-working British farmers to produce it. We are backing industry-led action that helps customers to “buy British” when they shop online and we are supporting the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s We Eat Balanced campaign, which endorses the excellent taste and quality of home-grown meat and dairy products.

Across Government, we are taking concrete actions to back British farming and strengthen our domestic food production. Today, the Government are setting out further support for British farmers and encouraging more people to buy high-quality British produce. These latest measures form part of the £3.1 billion being invested into the UK farming sector every year and will help meet our commitment to continue to produce at least 60% of the food we consume here in the UK. By improving farm productivity, they will also provide a further boost to the economy, with the sector contributing £127 billion to the UK’s economic prosperity annually.

Today we are building on the significant progress made with a new package of measures designed to cut red tape, support our farmers to invest in new technologies and build energy resilience, and boost our vitally important abattoir network. Today the Government are announcing:

The Government will support British food, which is the best in the world. That is why we are backing industry-led action to signpost customers to “buy British” when they shop online. We are also proud to support AHDB’s campaign, which launched on 8 September, and aims to highlight the exceptional taste and quality of our home-grown meat and dairy produce, and its role in a nutritionally balanced and sustainable diet. We are today confirming that farmers producing sustainable British food under our environmental land management schemes will be able to use them to help meet public procurement standards, benefiting our British farmers and allowing the public sector to benefit from more excellent British food.

The Government will bring forward the planned payment schedules for all those who join the sustainable farming incentive (SFI). The new and improved sustainable farming incentive 2023 – which has 23 actions on offer for farmers—is currently accepting expressions of interest and will start accepting applications from 18 September. Today, in recognition of the challenges faced with inflation and rising input costs, we are confirming that farmers who have a live sustainable farming incentive 2023 agreement before the end of the year, will receive an accelerated payment in the first month of their agreement, helping with cashflow and ensuring SFI works for farm businesses.

Our food and drink exports bring £24 billion to the British economy, and we have had great success stories in recent years including securing access for British lamb to the US. Our network of agri-food attachés play an important role in breaking down barriers to trade and opening up new trading markets. Following our commitment at the Farm to Fork Summit, we have launched a recruitment drive to appoint an additional five agri-food attachés to boost the UK’s agri-food exports, bringing the total number of dedicated UK agri-food attachés to 16. The new attachés will cover northern Europe, southern Europe, Australia/New Zealand, South Korea and Africa.

The Government will help farmers to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their energy resilience and productivity. As well as producing food for our tables, farmers and land managers play a crucial role in helping the UK achieve our ambitious net zero plans. Through our farming investment fund, we are helping farmers invest in climate-smart technologies that enhance productivity and reduce carbon emissions.

Today, we are pleased to announce an additional £15 million for farmers to invest in solar equipment, opening later this year, backing their energy security and cutting costs in the long term. This funding complements the £10 million already available for cattle farmers under the animal health and welfare infrastructure grant, which included a solar offer alongside grants to improve calf housing.

We are also unveiling plans to allocate an additional £15 million to farmers and growers and in England to fund the purchase of innovative robotic and automated equipment. By supporting our famers to invest in modern farming techniques, innovation, and infrastructure, we not only enhance the productivity of the sector, but strengthen our competitiveness in global markets. The second round of our successful improving farm productivity grant, part of the farming investment fund, will launch later in 2023.

The Government want more abattoirs around the country. That is good for farmers and for animal welfare. We are identifying opportunities to remove unnecessary burdens while maintaining our animal welfare standards. We have listened to the concerns of smaller abattoir owners and are identifying opportunities to cut unnecessary burdens, making it easier for them to operate and support farmers in reaching local and international markets while maintaining our world-leading standards.

The Government recognise that a thriving livestock sector depends on a sustainable abattoir network. We are going to support small abattoirs—financially and by cutting red tape. The £4 million smaller abattoirs fund will launch in Q4 2023, to support abattoirs to improve productivity, enhance animal health and welfare, add value to primary products, and encourage innovation and investment in new technologies.

I encourage you to champion our schemes with farmers in your area. Our schemes are about supporting resilient and sustainable farm businesses, preserving and improving the countryside that we have stewarded for generations and putting food on the plates of people across the nation.

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Delivering for our Protected Landscapes

Our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), collectively known as Protected Landscapes, are home to some of our most iconic and beautiful places. These remarkable landscapes support our nation’s health and wellbeing and are crucial to delivering our commitments to tackle climate change and restore nature, including our international commitments under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

As we approach the 75th Anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which legally safeguarded these precious landscapes, the Government are acting to accelerate the recovery of nature in England’s National Parks and AONBs.

Delivering enhanced management plans that contribute to our targets

Through the introduction of new legislation in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, we are enhancing management plans and placing a stronger requirement on partners to contribute to their delivery. This will ensure protected landscapes organisations and their partners collaborate effectively, creating a national network of beautiful, nature-rich spaces that can be enjoyed right across the country. We will table an updated Government amendment to the Bill at Third Reading to deliver this and will shortly publish our response to the Landscapes Review consultation which will set out our action plan for these special places.

We will also shortly publish our new Outcomes Framework. The Outcomes Framework will define the contribution that our protected landscapes should make to national targets to guide local decision-making and prioritisation. This is a landmark step forward in achieving our global goal to protect 30% of land for nature by 2030.

Establishing a new protected landscapes partnership

We are supporting the creation of a new partnership between the National Association for AONBs, National Parks England, National Trails UK and Natural England to deliver a range of exciting projects and programmes on nature recovery and widening access to nature. The partnership will also boost opportunities for private sector investment in our protected landscapes. The first meeting of the partnership will take place by the end of November, and it will be backed by over £2 million of funding.

Enhancing support for farming in protected landscapes

We have extended the Farming in Protected Landscape (FiPL) programme by a further year until March 2025 with £10 million additional funding each year in recognition of the positive feedback and outcomes delivered. In the first two years we have:

Supported more than 2,500 projects, engaging around 5,000 farmers and land managers.

Created 41 new farm clusters and supported more than 100 existing ones.

Funded more than 400 projects to make the landscape more inclusive for visitors, including around 200 projects delivering educational access visits.

Created more than 40 miles of new permissive access.

Engaged more than 5,000 volunteers.

Planted around 100 miles of hedgerow and restored eight miles of dry-stone walling.

Created or restored 262 ponds.

Undertaken positive management on around 27,000ha of SSSIs.

Improved management for biodiversity on around 69,000ha.

Funded more than 400 projects reducing carbon emissions and other forms of pollution.

Restored, enhanced and better interpreted more than 300 historic structures, buildings and features.

Improved access to nature in protected landscapes

The £9.3 million three-year Access for All programme in our protected landscapes is now at the halfway point. We have already distributed £3.6 million to our National Parks and AONBs to deliver accessibility improvements across all 44 Protected Landscapes. This has resulted in more accessible paths, more changing places toilets and rest stops, more accessible physical and digital way-marking of paths including access guides for autistic and visually or hearing-impaired visitors, new equipment such as accessible e-bikes, or beach access kits and other accessible infrastructure such as upgraded bridges.

Together with our local partners, we will ensure people and nature can thrive in these special places for the next 75 years and beyond.

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Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Elections Act: Implementation and Evaluation

My hon. Friend the Minister for Faith and Communities (Baroness Scott of Brybrook) has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Elections Act 2022 is a critical part of the Government’s work to ensure the integrity of our elections. I am today providing an update on the implementation of the Act, and the Government’s progress towards its evaluation.

Non-party campaigner code of practice

The Act took important steps to strengthen the political finance framework to support the existing principles of fairness, transparency and integrity. Section 29 of that Act created a duty for the Electoral Commission to prepare a code of practice on the operation of controls relating to third party national election campaigns to provide greater certainty for campaigners. It also provides a defence for third parties who are charged with offences under part 6 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, where they can demonstrate compliance with the code of practice.

Following the commencement of part 4 of the Elections Act 2022, the Electoral Commission ran a consultation on a draft code of practice. Responses received from a range of groups were overall positive. However, the Commission made some modifications in response.

The Government have considered the draft code provided by the Commission and is today laying the code, with some minor and technical modifications, before Parliament for approval.

In two areas the version of the code of practice presented to the Secretary of State required modification to avoid providing a statutory defence where no defence is intended by the underlying primary legislation. It is important the code accurately reflects the legislation. The Department worked with the Commission in developing these minor modifications.

The first set of modifications I have made is to insert the words: “the Commission considers that” under the sections on overheads and staff costs. These costs are not explicitly exempted from contributing to controlled expenditure under schedule 8A of the 2000 Act. These modifications will accurately reflect both the legislation and the position that the Electoral Commission takes as an independent regulator.

Secondly, it is important that the code of practice does not suggest a third party is only involved in a common plan if the campaigner intends to spend money themselves, where the legislation is clear that a third party is party to a joint campaign even if the intention is that controlled expenditure is incurred on their behalf.

I have therefore modified the code under the heading “What is joint campaigning” to add the phrases “whether that expenditure is to be incurred by, or on behalf of, each non-party campaigner” and “whether that expenditure is to be incurred by, or on behalf, of the non-party campaigner in question”.

If the guidance is approved by Parliament, it will come into force later this year. To facilitate parliamentarians’ access to the guidance, the document has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Progress towards evaluation of the Elections Act 2022

The introduction of voter identification for reserved polls at polling stations in Great Britain fulfilled the Government’s commitment to protecting the integrity of our elections through introduction of the policy, and brought the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland, where this has been a longstanding requirement.

The local elections in England in May were our first experience of the new voter identification requirements in practice, and the Electoral Commission’s interim report on the May polls showed that 99.75% of voters in polling stations were able to cast their vote successfully under the new rules. The Government are pleased with the smooth roll-out of new practices and processes, and we are grateful for the work of local authorities and other partners in delivering the change in requirements. The Association of Electoral Administrators noted, in their own report of the May 2023 elections, that the polls were “well run” and “run smoothly as usual, without any major issues” and the Electoral Commission found that 90% of voters were satisfied with the process of voting in May’s elections—in line with the most recent comparable elections in 2019, when 91% of voters were satisfied.

We are also committed to ensuring we fully understand how the policy has operated in practice, what has gone well and where there are any areas for improvement in the future. To this end, we are, as set out in legislation, conducting an evaluation of the implementation of voter identification at the local elections in May as well as at the next two UK parliamentary elections.

To provide Parliament with an assurance of progress towards the publication of the first evaluation report in November 2023, I have today published two documents which will provide further detail of the work being carried out.

An external research agency—IFF Research—has been appointed to conduct the evaluation, and the Electoral Integrity Programme Evaluation Plan sets out IFF’s plan for an impact and process theory-based evaluation of the introduction of the new requirements.

As part of this evaluation, research into public attitudes towards and experiences of voting, and perceptions of the changes to the process of voting due to the introduction of the Elections Act, is being carried out by another external research agency, IPSOS UK, through a series of public opinion surveys. The first report of these surveys, published today, indicates that voter satisfaction with voting in elections remains high, with the majority of voters reporting they are confident that the recent local elections were run well and that in person voting is secure.

We will continue to learn from this research, from other sources of data, and from research conducted by the Electoral Commission, to ensure the full picture of the impact of the implementation of voter identification is understood. The Government remain committed to stamping out the potential for voter fraud and ensuring our democracy remains fair, up-to-date, and secure well into the future.

The associated documents will be deposited in the House Libraries.

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Work and Pensions

DWP Estate: Decommissioning of Temporary Jobcentres

I provided updates on decommissioning temporary jobcentres and expanding our services on 23 March 2021, and expanding our services on 21 October 2021. These statements reaffirmed the Department’s commitment to reducing its jobcentre estate back to pre-pandemic levels by decommissioning these temporary jobcentres—or the additional space in established jobcentres—in a phased approach, where the increased capacity is no longer needed. The full list of temporary jobcentres and their current status can be found here.

As part of this ongoing, phased, approach to decommissioning the temporary jobcentres, the Department is today announcing the fourth and latest phase, which consists of decommissioning a further 26 temporary sites—or additional space in existing jobcentres. Subsequent phases of decommissioning will continue to follow throughout 2023 and 2024 and Parliament will be kept updated. Details of the sites being decommissioned are listed below.

The decommissioning of temporary jobcentres will not reduce the levels of service, or access to face-to-face appointments. Customers will return to being served by an established jobcentre and there will be no reduction in the number of work coaches supporting customers as a result of the decommissioning.

The Department continues to support and update colleagues in a timely and sensitive manner. We also remain committed to ensuring all relevant stakeholders, organisations and Parliament are engaged and regularly updated on our work. Letters are being sent to each MP with changes in their constituency to explain what this means for their local jobcentre, its staff, and their constituents.

The 26 temporary jobcentres or additional space in existing sites to be formally decommissioned are:

Phase 4

Temporary Jobcentre Location

Address

Barnsley

Wellington House, 36 Wellington Street, Barnsley S70 1WA

Basildon

Church Walk, Great Oaks, Basildon SS14 1GJ

Bedford

Woodlands Annexe, Manton Lane, Bedford MK41 7NU

Blackburn

The Mall, Northgate, Blackburn BB2 1BD

Bracknell

Phoenix House, Cookham Road, Bracknell RG12 1RB

Exeter

Units 1 and 2, The Depot, Belgrave Road, Exeter EX1 2FT

Falkirk

Part of MSU 4, Callendar Square Shopping Centre, High Street, Falkirk FK1 1UJ

Harlow

Unit 58-60 Harvey Centre, Harvey Centre Approach, Harlow CM20 1XR

Hounslow (Additional space only)

Unit 27, Treaty Centre, 44 High Street, Hounslow TW3 1ES

Huddersfield

Unit 2, 11 Trinity Street, Huddersfield HD1 4DA

Kingston

Anstee House, Wood Street, Kingston upon Thames KT1 1TG

Leeds

123 Albion Street, Leeds LS2 8ER

Leeds

Temple House, Ring Road, Seacroft, Leeds LS14 1NH

London Bromley

129 Burnt Ash Lane, Bromley, BR1 5AJ

London Croydon Borough

Part Grd, 1st and 2nd Floors, Simpson House, 6 Cherry Orchard Road, Croydon CR0 6BA

London Edmonton (Enfield)

10 West Mall, Edmonton Green, Edmonton N9 0AL

London Hammersmith

1 Hammersmith Broadway, London W6 9DL

London Rushey Green (Lewisham)

Old Town Hall, 1 Catford Road, Rushey Green, London SE6 4HQ

London Walthamstow

Grd, and 1st Floors of Units 9 and 10, The Mall, 45 Selborne Walk, Walthamstow E17 7JR

Newport

Unit 31, Kingsway Centre, John Frost Square, Newport NP20 1EB

Oldham

West Wing Grd and 1st Floor, Oldham Business Centre, University Way, Oldham OL1 1BB

Ramsgate

The Argyle Centre, 9 York Street, Ramsgate CT11 9DS

Reading

Kennet Place, 121 Kings Road, Reading RG1 3FR

Rhyl

7 Bodfor Street, Rhyl LL18 1AS

Scunthorpe

22-24 Southgate Mall, The Foundery Shopping Centre, Scunthorpe DN15 6SU

Southampton

Frobisher House, Nelson Gate, Wyndham Place, Southampton SO15 1GX

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