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Benefit Fraud (Islington)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Malcolm Wicks): The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate's (BFI) follow up inspection report on the London Borough of Islington was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The BFI first inspected and published a report on the London Borough of Islington in December 2000. The report found that the council had awarded a contract in 1998 to a company to deliver the benefit service on the council's behalf. However, the service was found to be totally inadequate, partly because of weaknesses in the contract but primarily because of the council's failure to manage or enforce it.

This follow up report finds that the London Borough of Islington had attempted to address many of the concerns raised in the first inspection.

The London Borough of Islington and its contractor were committed to improving the delivery of the benefit service, and were working closely to achieve this. Amendments to the contract had enabled the council to better manage the work of its contractor. Challenging targets had been introduced for the contractor, while comprehensive management information and a sound checking regime had been introduced to assist the council to monitor quality.

There had been a significant reduction in the backlog of work and level of customer dissatisfaction since the first inspection. However, at the time of the follow up inspection, claimants were waiting an average of 16 weeks to have their claims dealt with mainly because the council had not tackled the underlying problem of managing the claims process.

The council had significantly improved its counter fraud activities. It had a stable investigation team and it focused its efforts on the prosecution of fraudsters.

There had been no tangible improvement in the area of overpayment recovery. Although the council and its contractor had developed a strategy to deal with overpayment recovery, the delay in implementing this had allowed the outstanding debt to rise by 47 per cent. in 2 years.

The report concludes that the council had planted the seeds for improvement and now needed to ensure that it met its own expectations to deliver a quality benefit

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service. The BFI saw promising prospects for the council and its contractor to deliver the significant improvements needed for customers to receive a prompt and accurate benefit service.

In 2000–01, the London Borough of Islington administered approximately #122.4 million in housing benefits.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address the remaining weaknesses and to further improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as counter fraud activities.

My Rt hon Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.


Pet Travel Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliott Morley): On 1 July I indicated that the Government was minded to extend the very successful Pet Travel Scheme to the USA and Canada but would not do so until clarification had been obtained of some points raised in a peer review of a scientific assessment of the risk of importing rabies into the UK if the Pet Travel Scheme was extended to the USA and Canada.

I am pleased to say that the further work I commissioned has confirmed the results of the earlier risk assessment; extending the Pet Travel Scheme to the USA and Canada will not significantly increase the risk of importing rabies. The Government has decided therefore to extend the Pet Travel Scheme to those countries.

I have today laid before Parliament a Statutory Instrument giving effect to this decision. It will come into effect on Wednesday 11 December 2002. From that date cats and dogs from the USA, which comply with the requirements of the Pet Travel Scheme can enter the UK without going into quarantine for six months. My officials are discussing with appropriate organisations the approval of routes and certification. Until these are available cats and dogs from the USA and Canada will have to spend a short time in quarantine—no more than 3–4 days, while all their documentation is checked. If the animal and documentation meets the requirements of the Pet Travel Scheme the animal will qualify for early release from quarantine.

The European Union is expected to adopt early next year a Regulation on the movement of pet animals. This is based on the same principles as the UK Pet Travel Scheme, which will then form part of the EU system, although we have obtained derogations to continue all aspects of our current scheme, such as the tick and tapeworm testing. Future decisions, about how animals arriving in the UK will be treated, will be dealt with under the procedure laid down in the Council Regulation, when adopted.

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Medical Careers

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is today announcing proposals for a new framework of measures to improve rewards for national health service consultants and modernise medical careers in England. Copies of the proposed new framework have been placed in the vote office.

The new framework involves using the extra resources that the Department had previously set aside for implementation of a new consultants' contract (rising to some #250 million by 2005–06) to achieve the

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continued objective of giving greater rewards to consultants who do most for NHS patients and reforming the way the NHS delivers patient care.

To ensure that this extra investment delivers improvements in NHS consultant capacity, productivity and value for money—and helps reform ways of working—there will be a national framework within which local health services will have a choice of investing in local implementation of the contract negotiated with the British Medical Association in June 2002, where there is a high level of local consultant support; investing in new annual incentives for consultants who make the biggest contribution to improving patient care; and investing extra resources in the new system of clinical excellence awards that is due to be introduced from April 2004.