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Departmental Activities

Mr. Richards: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on his Department's activities since April 1992. [214]

Mr. Hague: Details of the Department's activities since 1992 are set out in full in the Welsh Office departmental reports for the relevant years. The key achievements include the following.

The Department has worked with local government to ensure a smooth transition to the new pattern of 22 unitary authorities. It is extending the influence of local government in Wales by cutting unnecessary central controls under its "redefining the relationship" initiative. It has exerted pressure on local authorities to secure value for money through the use of compulsory competitive tendering and associated financial targets. Council tax was successfully introduced on 1 April 1993.

The Department has supported local authorities' responsibilities under the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 for arranging community care services to meet individuals' needs. Through the mental handicap strategy it has helped to develop community-based support for individuals with a mental handicap and to improve the quality of care. The Department supports voluntary organisations which represent the interests of, and promote the development of services for, people with disabilities, older people, children and carers across Wales. It promotes volunteering through the "make a difference" initiative.

The incidence of homelessness has been reduced. More people own their homes and more homes are available in the social rented sector, with over 16,000 additional dwellings provided by housing associations between 1992-93 and 1995-96. There has been substantial investment in the renovation of private sector homes, with over 64,000 grants being made to a value exceeding £709 million over the same period. Through estate partnership there has been additional expenditure of over £30 million to address the problems of the worst council estates. The publication of the housing White Paper, "Our Future Homes", in June 1995 and the subsequent legislation set the framework for the future.

As part of the unique Welsh people and prosperity programme, "A Bright Future" is a comprehensive plan of action to raise educational standards and performance

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for all pupils; the results of statutory tests, public examinations and the views of the independent office of Her Majesty's inspector of schools in Wales demonstrate that standards are now at record levels. The Government have increased parental choice and diversity of provision through continued support to voluntary-aided schools through a unique Welsh initiative which enables popular schools to expand doubling the number of children able to take up assisted places at good independent schools in Wales the option for schools to go grant-maintained and the introduction of nursery vouchers from next April. The Government have made possible record levels of participation in higher and further education. The charters for parents and students make clear their opportunities, rights and responsibilities.

The Government have established an independent Arts Council of Wales. National lottery funding via the Arts Council of Wales and the Sports Council for Wales is providing an additional £15 million each year for the arts and for sport. Funding has been provided for new galleries in the main national museums and galleries building in Cardiff and a major extension of the national library of Wales. Support for the Welsh language has continued through record levels of grant and the implementation of the Welsh Language Act 1993.

Since 1992, the structure of the NHS--the reforms were introduced in April 1991--has been developed by:

The quality of service has been greatly improved by the implementation of the patients charter for Wales. This set standards and guarantees for a wide variety of NHS activities including waiting times for hospital appointments and treatments which showed significant improvements. The results are published each year in performance tables of hospital improvements.

The efficiency of the NHS has also greatly improved. Cumulative savings of £380 million have been achieved since 1992-93 enabling, for example, the number of in-patients treated to increase by 17 per cent.

The Welsh Office Health Department has encouraged a wide variety of initiatives and developments to improve the service provided by the NHS, including research and development, health promotion and activities to improve the effectiveness of treatments.

A report of the Welsh Office's chief medical officer on the health of the people of Wales has been published for each year from 1992 to 1995.

In 1992-93, provision for the NHS in Wales was £1.877 billion. In 1996-97, the provision is £2.274 billion, which represents an increase of 21 per cent. in cash terms and 10.1 per cent. in real terms.

Since 1992, the Welsh Office has played a full part in the development and implementation of the common agricultural and common fisheries policies, including the

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introduction of the integrated administration and control system. The environmental dimension of support for agriculture in Wales has been expanded with the introduction of five environmentally sensitive areas and an agri-environment programme specific to Welsh needs has been steered through the process approved by the EU. Advice has been provided through the countryside advice information service and ADAS to help farmers take advantage of the support available to them and to encourage a cost-effective and efficient farming economy in Wales, while the new food strategy addresses the opportunities that exist for the marketing and development of Welsh food products. Between the beginning of 1992-93 and the end of 1996-97 the Department expects to have paid out over £1 billion in support to the agricultural and fishing industries in Wales.

The Department completed the A55 dualling between Chester and Bangor in north Wales in October 1994. The total cost of this project, including the tunnels, was £700 million. In south Wales, completion of the M4 in December 1994 finalised a continuous motorway between London and west Wales, at a cost since 1979 of £230 million in Wales. The second Severn crossing, opened to traffic in June of this year, has more than doubled road capacity across the estuary.

In April 1992, the Planning Inspectorate was established as an agency of the Welsh Office and the Department of the Environment. In 1996, the Department issued "Planning Guidance (Wales): Planning Policy" and "Planning Guidance (Wales: Unitary Development Plans". The former presents, for the first time, integrated planning policy guidance for Wales; the latter provides guidance to local planning authorities on the preparation of their unitary development plans.

The Welsh Office has continued working to protect the Welsh environment and promoting sustainable development. Important wildlife and habitats throughout Wales are being conserved through environmental designations--for example, 35 candidate special areas of conservation have been submitted to the EC and 910 locations in Wales have been designated as sites of special scientific interest. The Department has established three national parks in Wales as free-standing special purpose authorities; has instigated the Tir Cymen countryside stewardship scheme; has established an air quality forum and Wales biodiversity group; and, following the major oil spillage earlier this year, has established and funded the Sea Empress environmental evaluation committee.

Over £2 billion has been committed for the economic, social and environmental development of Wales.

The Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales, the Cardiff Bay development corporation, the Wales tourist board and the Land Authority for Wales have pursued gross programmes totalling £1.29 billion over this period. Projects valued at £295.7 million have been financed under my Department's strategic development scheme with a further £24.5 million approved under the urban investment grant. European programmes for industrial south and rural Wales, and various Community initiatives, have been negotiated, providing £359 million funding across the Principality. A new £178 million three-year programme for industrial south Wales will shortly be started.

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This funding has helped support the objectives of the five-year programme for the valleys launched in 1993, promising £1 billion of public sector investment, and of the rural White Paper published in March 1996.

There have been 725 inward investment projects with a capital investment of £5.7 billion, promising 37,600 new jobs and 24,362 safeguarded jobs.

From January 1997, the newly formed Welsh European programme executive will take over most of the Department's responsibilities for structural funds management, and the Welsh Office will succeed the Department for Education and Employment in managing the European social fund in Wales. From April 1997, SDS funding totalling £38 million per annum after three years will be progressively delegated to local authorities and a new £20 million Welsh capital challenge will take effect.

Since December 1992, peak seasonally adjusted unemployment in Wales has fallen by 38,900 or 29 per cent. to 94,800--a work force rate of 7.5 per cent. This is the lowest unemployment rate in Wales since January 1991.

Manufacturing output in Wales in the quarters to Q2, 1996 was 18.1 per cent. higher than in the four quarters to Q1, 1992, compared with a rise of 8.3 per cent. for the UK as a whole.

Over the period 1994-95 to 1996-97, the Welsh Office has contracted with the Welsh training and enterprise councils for 8,200 young people to start modern apprenticeships.

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