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11.46 pm

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): I congratulate the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) on securing this debate and on choosing a subject that, as he hinted in his speech, is close to my own heart. On 25 April this year I will cross the threshold and officially become an older person. A few years ago, I took pride in saying that I was the youngest grandfather in the House, but a few hon. Members who are younger than me now have grandchildren. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that, if only for personal reasons, as the clock ticks on the foothills of old age, we should secure a better future for older people and for ourselves.

The programme has been an excellent example of modernising government in action. At the national level it has brought together older people and central and local government on a consistent basis,which was no mean feat. The voluntary sector and the academic world have also played a significant part. A small but dedicated team, led by the programme's director, Martin Shreeve, has ably supported them. Together they have helped to steer the programme to a very successful conclusion.

The real work has been done at local level, however. The 28 pilot projects, including the one in the Scottish borders, have taken on a wide variety of tasks and adopted different methods to reach their goals. Without the efforts of local authorities, their partner organisations and, most importantly, the older people who played such an active role, we would not now be in position to learn the practical lessons of what works and what does not.

I do not have time to give the hon. Gentleman the Government's response to all the issues that he raised, such as stereotypes, so I shall write to him. On behalf of the Government, I would like to pay tribute to all those involved in the programme. The result of their work will be a better deal for older people from the public services, not over one year, but through continually improving services to older people and their access to them.

On 30 January, the Government will publish their response to the programme's recommendations. I cannot reveal the details, but I can say that the Government look forward to building on the better government for older people programme and its experience and developing the partnerships that it has established. I hope that I have addressed the hon. Gentleman's concern about continuation. I shall write to him as soon as I can and send him a personal copy of the report. Following the meeting on 30 January I shall write to him again about its outcome.

In Scotland and the Scottish borders in particular, the project helped to create a new culture of engagement and partnership in respect of working with older people between agencies and elected representatives. There was a profound change in other people's perception of older people and their potential for positive involvement as well as a change in older people themselves. No longer a burden, older people are now seen as a credible and knowledgeable group of people who should be listened

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to; a resource that can be accessed as articulate, active citizens of the community, with an equal partnership in the community, working not just with other older people, but with younger people, community groups, local authorities, the private sector and the voluntary sector, using their skills, knowledge and experience to build a better community.

A key theme of the pilot was simpler access to community care to secure organisational change in the borders, integrating health and social work services. The team was congratulated by the programme evaluators on

I, too, congratulate all involved in bringing the project to fruition so quickly.

The programme was always intended to last for two years. Its achievements are all the more impressive given the short time scale. The challenge now is to ensure that the lessons are learned and applied more widely across the public sector. In response to the 28 pilot projects, an increasing number of local authorities have sought of their own volition to gather information on best practice and to make changes without being within the pilots. The changes that the hon. Gentleman seeks are already under way. We hope that, following our response on 30 January, there will be even more progress on how local authorities can more effectively deliver services for older people.

Funding for the 28 pilot projects has come overwhelmingly from local authorities, with some additional funding from local partner organisations. It is important for local government to take the decision to continue to support the projects and to widen the drive to modernise services. We will work with local authorities to ensure that that happens.

In Scotland, there has been a more than 9 per cent. increase in funding over the next three years for local services. We are transferring an additional £81 million from the Department of Social Security to the Scottish Executive for the care of the elderly. Resources have flowed from the consequences of the programme.

I will send to the hon. Gentleman a set of practical examples of the pilot projects that have taken place across Britain, to show that there has been a wide dissemination throughout Scotland and the English regions of ideas from older people themselves on education, access to information, health and social care, joining up local services, better environments and how we can better co-ordinate between service providers in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Some amazing work has been done. We want to ensure that hon. Members encourage their local authorities to carry on the work that has been evaluated through the projects.

We are committed to policies that will allow older people to play a full part in society. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has been appointed to co-ordinate policies for the over-50s. The inter-ministerial group for older people will continue to ensure that older people's issues are at the centre of Government thinking. That group will work directly with pensioner organisations. Listening to older people events took place throughout the UK in 1999, and in May 2000 we launched a programme of action under the title "Life Begins at 50".

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A key initiative has been to secure £300 million of investment to get more people involved in their communities, £120 million of which will be used to fund volunteering in public services by experienced people over the age of 50, bringing them back into productive activity. Another has been anti-discrimination legislation, building on the current code of practice on age diversity in employment, which will be introduced by 2006.

Care Direct will get £30 million over the next three years to pilot new approaches to giving people better access to social care, housing and social security benefits. I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the pilot projects for that programme. If they are successful, the programme will be rolled out over the next three years across the United Kingdom, changing dramatically the way in which older people and their carers and families can access advice, support and services in the care sector.

Winter fuel payments were increased to £200 this year. As part of the £1.4 billion announced in the NHS plan, an extra £900 million is to be made available for intermediate care and related services. Free television licences are worth £104 a year.

There have been increases in the basic state pension. We have introduced the minimum income guarantee and the pension credit. Over the next three years, we shall invest £200 million to modernise social security services for pensioners. As a direct result of what pensioners have said to us, there have been dramatic changes. Huge resources have been allocated to change the organisation and structure of government and our delivery of services for older people.

From June 2000, the new home energy efficiency scheme will be provided for older people--especially those in low-income households. They will be able to heat their houses more efficiently.

The national service framework for older people will be published shortly. From October 2001, there will be free medical care for people living in nursing homes. There will be breast screening for all women aged between 65 and 70. There are free eye tests for people aged over 60 and free influenza immunisation for the over-65s.

Many of those measures were initiated by older people themselves; they percolated from the grassroots. Older people have influenced the Government; we give them the credit. We have introduced measures, but they came about through partnership.

Such partnership is about more than considering the narrow issue of delivering and modernising services locally--the approach has been holistic. From the debate articulated by older people, the Government have been able to act on other matters that were outside the pilot project, so as to improve Government services and access to services. We have introduced new services and changed the structure of government. That process will continue over the next few years, until we have a Government structure that meets the daily needs of older people while constantly involving them in considering their priorities, the nature of services and their access to such services and indeed, on occasion, the funding of those services.

The hon. Gentleman and I are at one on this matter. Through the inter-ministerial group, I hope that none of my Government colleagues--whether or not they are directly involved in the delivery of services to older people--has failed to understand and accept the need to

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put older people at the heart of their policy-making processes. However, policy making must become a reality through services. The needs of older people must be at the heart of the decision-making process.

Better Government for older people has been an example of "Modernising Government" in action: high-quality, responsive public services and partnership in working. The involvement of older people in the programme and their commitment to it provides a sharp contrast to the stereotypical and negative way in which they are sometimes portrayed--as the hon. Gentleman pointed out. Without their energy, application, drive, knowledge and commitment, the programme could not have succeeded as it has.

The Government will respond to build on the achievements of the programme; in time, we will help to deliver improvements in services in areas, such as the Scottish borders, that were lucky enough to have been involved from the outset and in those that have taken up

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the challenge more recently, as well as in those areas where better integrated and more responsive services for older people are yet to come. That is the next challenge--not just setting up pilot projects or building on them, but involving those areas of the country that are not yet engaged.

This is a report in progress. The first phase is over; we are going into the second phase after 30 January and then we shall begin the third phase. There will be a rolling programme of improvements. I am happy again to express my praise for the achievements of the Scottish borders pilot, as described by the hon. Gentleman. I look forward to writing to him on several matters after the debate. I thank him again for bringing the issue to the attention of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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