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8 May 2003 : Column 839W—continued

Sickness Absence

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many staff in his Department were on long term sick leave in each of the last five years. [109259]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: My Department is committed to managing sickness absence effectively and to maintain its efforts to try and meet the 2003 target for reduced sickness absence as set out in its Service Delivery Agreement.

My Department does not hold this information centrally and could provide it only at disproportionate cost.

Strategic Area Reviews

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will make a statement on the timetable and progress of Strategic Area Reviews by local Learning and Skills Councils. [110884]

Margaret Hodge: All local Learning and Skills Councils are conducting Strategic Area Reviews of post-16 LSC-funded provision. These started in April 2003 and will be completed by March 2005. Nine local LSCs have been identified as pathfinders: one in each region plus a pathfinder involving all five local LSCs in the London region. The process will undergo early evaluation and lessons learnt will be shared with local LSCs across the country.

Student Debt

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the average level of debt accumulated by university students and students in higher education at the end of their course of study was (a) in the most recent year for which figures are available and (b) in 1997; and if he will make a statement. [106593]

Margaret Hodge: Student loan borrowers are liable to repay their loans from the April after they finish or leave their course, depending on their income. They are described as "entering repayment status" from that date. Students that started their course from the 1998/99 academic year will repay income contingent loans. Loans for those who started their course before 1998/99 are repayable on a mortgage style basis. The table shows estimates of average student loan debt at the point at which they entered repayment status for borrowers who became liable to repay their loans in financial years 1998–99 and 2002–03.

New student support arrangements were introduced from academic year 1998/99. Most new students in that year (apart from specified exceptions) received support for maintenance expenditure through means-tested grants (about 25 per cent. of the support available) and non-means-tested student loans (about 75 per cent. of the support). From 1999/2000, students who entered higher education after 1998/99 received support for maintenance expenditure through loans. About three quarters of the value of these loans is not subject to means-testing. The repayments on these loans are on an income contingent basis.

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Students who started their course up to 1997/98, and those who entered in 1998/99 under the existing arrangements, are eligible for mortgage style loans. Students in this category received support for maintenance through non-means-tested loans (about 50 per cent. of the support available), and means-tested grants for those that qualify (about 50 per cent. of the support).

The first cohort of students on a three-year degree course who entered higher education under the new student support arrangements became liable for repayment in April 2002. That cohort includes a disproportionate number of students on shorter courses as well as those who have left higher education before completing their courses. Therefore the average level of debt will not be representative of the average debt experienced by those who complete their courses.

Average student loan debt on entering repayment status(10),(11)

Financial year enteredrepayment status(12)Mortgage styleloans £(13),(14)Income contingent loans £(15)
1998–992,870(16)
2002–035,1606,000

(10) Data rounded to nearest £10. Includes interest.

(11) Excludes any repayments which may have been made before borrowers enter repayment status.

(12) Borrowers enter repayment status in the April following their graduation or otherwise leaving their course.

(13) Loans made to students who entered higher education up to 1997/98 or who entered in 1998/99 under existing arrangements. Includes loans repayable to the private sector following the sale of two portfolios of student loans.

(14) Includes loans sold in the two portfolios of student loans which are administered by the Student Loans Company.

(15) Loans, repayable on an income contingent basis, available to students who entered higher education from academic year 1998/99. These loans were subject to a repayment holiday until April 2000. Includes hardship loans and the fixed rate loans (£500) to eligible part-time students.

(16) Not applicable.

Source:

Student Loans Company


Data on debts for which there is no public subsidy, such as overdrafts, credit cards, and informal debts to family and friends, are not available centrally.

Sure Start

Mr. Willis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills which senior members of staff within the Sure Start Unit have a specialist early years teaching qualification. [109297]

Maria Eagle: Senior staff in the Sure Start Unit have a range of different qualifications, including in early years teaching, and a number have worked in the early years and child care fields. The unit and Ministers have access to specialist expertise in a range of ways through advisers, consultative groups, research contracts and informal contacts.

Working Hours

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what policy on (a) core hours and (b) flexible working hours is operated by his Department and each agency and non-departmental public body for which his Department is responsible. [107645]

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Mr. Stephen Twigg: My Department is committed to accommodate requests from staff to work flexibly, subject to overriding operational requirements, and therefore does not require attendance for core hours beyond the opening and closing times of its offices. My Department has a standard working week of 41 hrs for full-time staff working in the London pay area and 42 hours for full-time staff working elsewhere. These totals include 5 hours for paid meal breaks.

With the exception of staff in the Senior Civil Service, and at Grade 7 and Grade 6 level, all staff in my Department are eligible to work a formal flexitime arrangement. Managers are expected to make every effort to accommodate individual preferences for working hours, which are consistent with delivering the Department's business. Grade 6 staff and Grade 7 Team Leaders are also able to work alternative full or part-time flexible working patterns outside the formal flexitime arrangement with the agreement of their line manager.

In addition, my Department supports a wide range of flexible working arrangements to help staff achieve a good balance between their home and work life. This includes part-time working, job-sharing, homeworking and term-time working.

It has not been possible to provide the requested information for my Department's NDPBs and agencies without incurring disproportionate costs.

SOLICITOR-GENERAL

Al Mujaharoon

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Solicitor-General if she will investigate the public statement made by the leader of Al Mujaharoon, on 1 May 2003 on suicide bombing and on British Muslims joining its jihad; and if she will make a statement. [111875]

The Solicitor-General: While I take all allegations of this type extremely seriously, I do not have any powers to investigate criminal matters. The police have responsibility for investigating criminal matters and for deciding whether or not to charge an offender. It would not therefore be appropriate for me to comment further.

Crown Prosecution Service

Simon Hughes: To ask the Solicitor-General how many complaints were made against the Crown Prosecution Service in each year since 1997 to 2003; and what the outcome was. [111121]

The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service holds records of complaints dating back to 1998. The number of complaints received in each year for which figures are available were as follows:

Number
19982,423
19992,192
20002,793
20012,815
20023,080

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However, no central record is held of the outcome of complaints. The majority of complaints relate to prosecutions handled locally by the 42 areas of the Crown Prosecution Service. The details of complaints and the responses to them could be ascertained only by examining the individual case records held in each Crown Prosecution Service office.


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