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Civil Service Pensions

Mr. Viggers: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what information was given to retired civil servants prior to the transfer of their pension administration to the private firm Capita; and how many complaints have been received about (a) the change and (b) the manner in which the change was effected. [80797]

Mr. Alexander: Civil Service pensions have been paid through the private sector since the former Paymaster Agency was privatised in April 1997. The contract with Paymaster (1836) Ltd. expired on 30 September 2002 and, following a competitive procurement process, a new contract was awarded to Capita Hartshead.

As part of the procurement process, Cabinet Office consulted the Civil Service Pensioners' Alliance, the Civil Service Retirement Fellowship and the Council of Civil Service Unions. Cabinet Office also consulted pensioners at local branch meetings of the Alliance and the Fellowship. As a result of feedback from pensioners' groups and others, Cabinet Office was able to include a number of improvements in the new contract as well as tighten the performance standards.

All pensioners were advised of the change before Capita Hartshead paid their first instalment of pension. Letters to pensioners explained that:

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The letters were sent to the 550,000 pensioners in batches from 20 September, as soon as the live data, with all the details required, was available for use by Capita Hartshead. It would have been premature to make an announcement before data had transferred successfully from Paymaster, acceptance testing had been completed and a Permit to Operate issued. If these processes had not been completed successfully, pension payments would continue to have been made by Paymaster at least in the short-term.

Cabinet Office has received 27 inquiries from pensioners about the change of provider, of which nine were complaints about the manner in which the change was effected.


Non-stipendiary Ministers

35. David Taylor: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the need for new ordained non-stipendiary ministers to succeed all ministers who are likely to retire in the next 10 years. [81529]

Mr. Bell: No assessment has been made within those parameters, nor is there an express strategy for attracting NSMs. However, there continues to be an expansion in the number of ordained local ministry schemes, and considerable effort is being devoted to increasing vocations generally to all types of licensed ministry.

Clergy Pensions

40. Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement on the level of pensions of clergy. [81536]

Mr. Bell: Clergy in office receive a stipend and are housed. When they retire, they have to meet the costs of their own housing, but they receive a pension from the state as well as that provided by the Church's clergy pension scheme. The basis for determining the benefits provided by the latter—a lump sum at retirement plus a pension—was designed to take into account all of these factors. The full service pension is currently #10,693 per annum and the retirement lump sum is #32,079.

House of Lords Attendance Costs

41. Mr. Bryant: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, how much bishops' attendance in the House of Lords has cost the Church Commissioners each year since 1997. [81537]

Mr. Bell: Bishops claim reimbursement of their costs in respect of attendance at the House of Lords directly from that body. There is no cost to the Church Commissioners.

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VAT (Repairs and Maintenance)

Huw Irranca-Davies: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement on discussions with European partners on obtaining a reduced rate of value added tax on repairs and maintenance of church buildings. [81527]

Mr. Bell: The Churches Main Committee will be represented on the delegation I am leading to Brussels. The committee has made a submission to the European Commission urging that the rate of VAT on the repair and maintenance of listed places of worship be reduced to 5 per cent. I welcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer's indications of support from the UK Government for this case and the churches have discussed their submission with HM Treasury who I understand are preparing the Government's own representations on this matter.


Domestic Violence

Norman Lamb: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister, what research has been carried out by his Department into the impact of dispersal and settlement patterns on the cost of providing services in rural areas as part of the local government formula grant review. [80931]

Mr. Raynsford: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to my honourable friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) on 4 November 2002, Official Report, column 49–50W.

Emergency Fire Cover (Bedford)

Mr. Edward Davey: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many Bedford self-propelled pumps were available for emergency fire cover in each year since 1972. [81698]

Mr. Raynsford: Information about the period 1972 to 1990 is not held centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost. The current arrangements for an emergency stockpile of vehicles were started in 1991 when the vehicles were concentrated at Marchington. At that time there were 1037 useable vehicles for England and Wales. An additional 116 vehicles were added in 1994 from Scotland. There are currently 1027 vehicles including the 116 for Scotland.

Exchange Flags, Liverpool

Mrs. Ellman : To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) what arrangements he has entered into with the Walton Group to ensure that the agreement to recover Government grant in respect of Exchange Flags, Liverpool, will be implemented in full; [81098]

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Mr. McNulty: English Partnerships, acting as agent for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, has secured a first legal charge over the Exchange Buildings, which is owned by the Walton Group. In the event that the Walton Group do not honour its commitment, EP will enforce the security.

The City Grant agreement made no provision for an automatic legal entitlement to interest. We believe that the settlement represents a satisfactory outcome, which avoided further legal costs. There is however, provision within the agreed settlement terms for interest to accrue under certain circumstances.

I am conscious that the original City Grant was provided to assist the regeneration of Liverpool City Centre. I am therefore looking at how this original intention can be best fulfilled.


Linda Perham: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the emotional strain on families of long-term homelessness. [80530]

Mrs. Roche: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister recognises that the experience of homelessness can place families under emotional strain, particularly when they are placed in bed and breakfast hotels. This is why we are investing #125 million this year to tackle homelessness more effectively. This includes helping local authorities develop new approaches that tackle the problems that are making and keeping them homeless.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has also commissioned research which will explore the range and type of support needs of homeless families and approaches to meeting these support needs. We are expecting to publish the research in late summer 2003.

Lynne Jones: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what additional housing has been funded to enable local authorities to meet their additional responsibilities under the Homelessness Act 2002. [80732]

Mrs. Roche: The Homelessness Act places new duties on local authorities and, together with the Priority Need Order, extends the priority groups whom local authorities have a statutory duty to help. Affordable housing is an important part in tackling homelessness that is why we have doubled the resources available for housing since 1997 and will be increasing investment by a further 1.4 billion over the next three years. However, as we made clear in 'More than a roof', the provision of affordable housing will not solve homelessness on its own.

Investment of 125 million this year, together with changes to Housing Benefit subsidies, is helping local authorities to meet this commitment. It will also support new approaches that help people tackle the problems that are making and keeping

them homeless.

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