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Local Authority Employees (Early Retirement)

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will issue guidelines on the use of added years for purposes of early retirement for local authority employees. [26424]

Mr. Raynsford: I have no plans to do so. Decisions about early retirement for local authority employees are the responsibility of locally elected councillors. It is for them to establish their own policies and decide, within the appropriate regulations, whether or not to award added years in each particular case. However, my Department will be reviewing several aspects of the early retirement compensation arrangements, taking into consideration the Audit Commission's recent report on early retirement in local government.

Thameslink 2000

Mr. Efford: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he has decided to hold a public inquiry into Railtrack's application for an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 in respect of the Thameslink 2000 project. [27355]

Ms Glenda Jackson: In the light of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions statement to the House on Wednesday 28 January 1998, Official Report, columns 466-74, about the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), the Secretary of State has decided to defer until 25 March the date by which he must reach a decision on whether to hold a public inquiry into Thameslink 2000. The reason for this is that powers for works which form important components of the Thameslink 2000 project are contained in the CTRL Act 1996 and cannot be used other than as part of the CTRL.

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Local Government Finance

Mr. Etherington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he expects to announce the outcome of consultation on the local government finance settlement; and if he will make a statement. [27182]

Mr. Prescott: I am today laying before the House the Local Government Finance Report (England) 1998-99, the Limitation of Council Tax and Precepts (Relevant Notional Amounts) Report (England) 1998-99, and the Special Grant Report (No.31). These reports establish the amounts of revenue support grant (RSG) and non-domestic rates (NDR) to be paid to local authorities in 1998-99, and the basis of their distribution; specify the amounts which are to be used as the basis of comparison for measuring increases in certain local authorities' budgets in 1998-99 for the purposes of capping, and provide for a special Standard Spending Assessment (SSA) reduction grant to be paid to certain authorities for 1998-99. Drafts of these reports were issued for consultation on 2 December 1997. I also announced on that date my provisional guidelines for capping the budgets of local authorities. The Department received written representations from 248 authorities and my Ministerial colleagues at DETR met 95 delegations from local councils.

I have considered the views of local authorities and others who have commented on my initial proposals. However, I have decided to make no changes in the SSA methodology which formed the basis of consultation, nor in the capping guidelines. The SSAs for individual authorities may be slightly different from those at consultation, generally reflecting more accurate data that have become available since then.

This year's local government finance settlement is better, fairer and more flexible than the plans set out by the previous Government. We have been able to achieve this within the tight constraints on public expenditure needed to achieve this Government's economic aims. The Government's intention is that local authorities should be able to respond by giving top priority to education--the Government's and the nation's priority. That is why we have made available £835 million extra for education on top of what was originally planned.

We are also publishing, for the first time, a Plain English guide to the dauntingly complex world of local government finance. This carries the Crystal Mark of the Plain English Campaign. I am keen that hon. Members and members of the public have the clearest possible understanding of how local government finance works.

I shall be sending copies of these reports and the Plain English guide to all authorities, together with tables showing each authority's Standard Spending Assessment and its entitlement to RSG, NDR and special grant, and information on capping guidelines and limits. Copies of the reports, tables, the capping information and the guide have been placed in the Library.

2 Feb 1998 : Column: 456


Non-career Civil Servants

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many non-career civil servants have been appointed to his Department since 1 May 1997.[25847]

Mr. Tom Clarke: The number of casual, fixed-term appointees and Special Advisers appointed since 1 May 1997 is seven.

National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts

Mr. Maude: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what are the proposed acitivities the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts will undertake which will prevent it acquiring charitable status. [25891]

Mr. Chris Smith: Charitable status is unlikely to be compatible with NESTA's objective to support the commercial development of new ideas. It would be for the Charity Commission, in the first instance, to consider whether NESTA is a charity.

USA Visit

Mr. Maude: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if he will give a breakdown of the meetings and film screenings attended by (a) the Minister for Film and Tourism and (b) officials in his Department on the Minister's visit to the USA. [25549]

Mr. Chris Smith [holding answer Monday 26 January 1998]: During his visit to the United States, my right hon. Friend visited the Sundance Film Festival in Utah to promote British Film, and visited Los Angeles to discuss co-operation with the US industry. At the Sundance Festival, my right hon. Friend attended an informal lunch for key members of the British film industry and hosted a reception for a wider audience including many film makers from countries outside the US and UK. He also had discussions with the organisers of the Festival and with the Utah State Film Commissioner and attended screenings of 'Blind Faith' and 'The Spanish Prisoner'.

In Los Angeles, my right hon. Friend met senior executives at four of the seven major studios: Sony Pictures Entertainment; Fox Filmed Entertainment; Universal Studios; and Viacom/Paramount; and also Mr. Jack Valenti, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Motion Picture Association, which represents the interests of the seven major studios. He also met senior executives at Polygram Filmed Entertainment and the head of International Creative Management. More informal discussions were held with representatives of the remaining major studios, other talent agencies and various US film makers during evening events. My right hon.

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Friend also had lengthy discussions with FCO officials based in Los Angeles about the promotion of British interests in the United States.

My right hon. Friend was accompanied by his Private Secretary to all meetings and screenings both at Sundance and in Los Angeles, and my special adviser accompanied him to all meetings in Los Angeles.

Civil Servants

Mr. Rhodri Morgan: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what proportion of Civil Service staff of grade 5 and above within his Department (a) have spent their entire civil service career within his Department, (b) have had secondments to (i) the private sector and (ii) other departments and (c) have come from other departments. [26026]

Mr. Tom Clarke [holding answer 28 January 1998]: The Department for Culture, Media and Sport was created (as the Department of National Heritage) on 13 April 1992 with staff from six existing departments: Department for Education, Office of Arts and Libraries, Department of the Environment, Department of Trade and Industry, Home Office and Department of Employment. The number of staff who have spent their entire career within the Department is therefore very low.

The DCMS has a total of 22 staff in the Senior Civil Service.

Although no Senior Civil Service staff have had secondments to the private sector or other departments from DNH or DCMS, some have in their previous Departments.

    (b) (i) 14 per cent. have had secondments to the private sector prior to joining this department.

    (ii) 32 per cent. have been on secondment to other departments prior to joining this department.

    (c) 95 per cent. have come from other departments, 23 per cent. are currently on loan to DCMS.

Mr. Forth: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many civil servants in his Department at grade 3 or above have (a) resigned, (b) retired before pensionable age and (c) moved to different responsibilities within the Department since 1 May 1997; if he will indicate the Ministers to whom each was responsible; and if he will make a statement.[26926]

Mr. Tom Clarke: None.

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