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Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (1) what recent assessment she has made of whether the target to reduce staff absence to nine days per employee by 2003 will be met; 
(3) what recent assessment she has made of whether the target to reduce absence to six days per staff year by 2003 will be met. 
Dr. Howells: No, but significant progress has been made. In 2001, the average sickness absence was 7.86 days per member of staff, compared with 9.28 in 2000.
Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if the target to reduce absence in the Royal Parks Agency to 10 days per employee by 2001 was met. 
Dr. Howells: Responsibility for the subject of this question has been delegated to the Royal Parks Agency under its Chief Executive, William Weston, and I have asked him to reply.
Letter from William Weston to Mr. John Bercow, dated 10 April 2002:
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Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what was the outturn achieved at 31 December 2001 on the target that all invoices not in dispute should be paid within 30 days. 
Dr. Howells: 99.1 per cent. of invoices not in dispute were paid within 30 days, or agreed contractual terms, by the Department during the period January to 31 December 2001.
Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will take steps to improve the response time to Parliamentary Questions. 
Tessa Jowell: In its response to the Public Administration Select Committee's Second Report of Session 200001 on ministerial accountability and Parliamentary Questions, the Government made clear their commitment to providing prompt and accurate answers to Parliamentary Questions. This continues to be the Government's position.
Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what proportion of departmental services and activities have so far been reviewed, as required by the policy set out in the handbook, "Better Quality Services". 
Dr. Howells: So far reviews of 8 per cent. of departmental services and activities have been completed. A recent study carried out jointly with the Treasury and the Centre for Management and Policy Studies will lead to the completion of reviews of a further 40 per cent. The Department is on course to meet its service delivery agreement target of conducting better quality services reviews of 50 per cent. of its activities by the end of 2004.
Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what new measures her Department took in 200102 to protect its property from theft or damage. 
Dr. Howells: I refer the hon. Member to my reply to him of 31 January, Official Report, columns 54749, in which it was stated that measures were being taken to resite internal and external surveillance equipment. All departmental premises abut public thoroughfares making more stringent preventative measures impractical.
Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many press officers there were in her Department on (a) 1 May 1997 and (b) the latest available date. 
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Dr. Howells: There were nine press officers in my Department on 1 May 1997, including two working part-time. The figure today is seven.
Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what the total cost of running his press office was in (a) 199697 and (b) the latest year for which figures are available. 
Dr. Howells: The total cost of running the Department for Culture, Media and Sport press office in 199697 was £236,524.53. The latest year for which figures are available for the total cost of running the press office is 200001, which totalled £582,442.74.
Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many times special advisers have accompanied Ministers on overseas visits in each of the last five years; which countries were visited; and what the total cost of each individual visit was. 
Mr. Caborn: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) on 28 February 2002 Official Report, column 1534W.
Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how much was spent by departmental special advisers on food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for official entertainment purposes in each of the last five years. 
Mr. Caborn: Expenditure on official hospitality by special advisers in this Department over the past three years was:
Information on earlier years is not readily available.
Mr. Peter Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many residents of Dumfries and Galloway are in receipt of free television licences; and how many residents are entitled to this benefit on age grounds. 
Dr. Howells: TV Licensing, which administers the free television licence scheme for the BBC as Licensing Authority, is not able to provide geographical breakdowns of the number of free licences issued. However, estimates based on the 1991 Census indicate that there were approximately 10,700 people aged 75 or over in the constituencies of Dumfries and Galloway and Upper Nithsdale.
Mr. Letwin: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will award concessionary television licences to the partially-sighted. 
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Dr. Howells: No. The independent review panel on the future funding of the BBC, which reported in 1999, considered the concessionary arrangements but recommended the introduction only of a 50 per cent. reduction in the licence fee for registered blind people. We have implemented that recommendation but have no plans to extend the concession.
Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what payments have been made to individuals following findings of maladministration ombudsmen with responsibility for agencies under the remit of her Department in the last 12 months; and what plans she has to review the powers to increase the level of awards that can be made. 
Dr. Howells: The Department has responsibility for one executive agency, the Royal Parks Agency. No payments have been made to individuals following findings of maladministration ombudsmen with responsibility for the Royal Parks Agency in the last 12 months.
Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what plans she has to relocate executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies under the remit of her Department to Scotland. 
Mr. Caborn: There are no such plans at present.
Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will make a statement about the progress of the English Tourism Council's stepping stones scheme. 
Dr. Howells: The stepping stones scheme is currently in its third year of operation and eight local authority districts are already participating, exceeding the target of six by the end of 200203. Of these eight participating districts, five (including North Devon) are in the south-west region where over 600 assessments have taken place to date.
Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how the new grading schemes for hotels, guest accommodation, caravan parks and self-catering accommodation introduced by the English Tourism Council are being evaluated; and if she will make a statement. 
Dr. Howells: The English Tourism Council (ETC) evaluates the quality assurance schemes it has introduced in a number of ways: standards are reviewed periodically in consultation with the industry and consumers; statistics on numbers participating are compiled monthly; quarterly feedback is sought from the 22,000 participants and from the quality assessors; and the industry is also asked three times a year for its views on the assessment process. In addition, Regional Tourist Boards monitor comments and complaints about accommodation in their regions; and the ETC has commenced market research this year on changing public perceptions of accommodation quality.
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The Department for Culture Media and Sport has highlighted accommodation quality as one of the most important areas of work for the ETC, who must report under its funding agreement on increased participation in the schemes, which should impact ultimately on occupancy levels.
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