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8 Dec 2003 : Column 335W—continued

EU Aid Budget

Mr. McFall: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the EU aid budget for developing countries. [141930]

Ruth Kelly: The Government believe it is vital that the EU puts development assistance to the most effective use and maintains flexibility in the budget to meet new international challenges such as Iraq. Research evidence strongly suggests that development assistance is most effective when focused on the poorest regions that want to reform, and on poverty reduction programmes. In addition, the ED, through its member states, is committed to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, placing poverty reduction at the heart of the Union's development objectives.

However, the proportion of EU assistance spent on poverty reduction is still only around 50 per cent. (provisional figure for 2002). A substantial shift in favour of poorer regions, poverty programmes and quality is

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called for. To support this my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented at ECOFIN in May an action plan, designed to improve the effectiveness of EU development assistance, particularly in terms of poverty reduction and meeting the Millennium Development Goals. The action plan covers the remainder of the current Financial Perspective and seeks to ensure that reform is institutionalised after 2006.

The action plan builds on the Commission's on-going reforms and has been well received by Finance Ministers and by the Commission. Some elements of it are already being implemented, albeit at the early stages. However, it will take time to bear fruit: the Government does not expect significant changes in the allocation of EU development assistance before 2007, when most assistance programmes are due for renewal. The Government will be working in ECOFIN and the General Affairs and External Relations Council, to pursue implementation of the plan.

Fair Trade Products

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it is the policy of his Department to use fair trade products, as a matter of course, in (a) sales on Departmental premises and (b) receptions and meetings involving staff and visitors. [142814]

Ruth Kelly: The Treasury's catering contractor offers fair trade products for sale to staff. Such products are not used as a matter of course in catering for official functions.

Inland Revenue (IT System)

Richard Burden: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the problems with the Inland Revenue's IT system to which paragraph 9 of the Government Response to the Treasury Committee's Tenth Report refers, on Inland Revenue Matters (HC 834) of Session 2002–03 have been resolved; and what corrective measures have been taken by the Inland Revenue to ensure that similar problems do not reoccur when end-of-year-reconciliation occurs. [141307]

Dawn Primarolo: The IT support for the new tax credits is a major system. Though there were a number of difficulties in the early days of live running, the system

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has been stable for some months with significantly improved performance. We have carefully reviewed our plans for future IT releases. An audit by independent IT consultants was commissioned as part of that review. Its results are informing the implementation of the next major IT releases, which will deliver the processes for finalising tax credit awards and renewing claims in 2004. We have also asked the consultants to support the Inland Revenue and its IT supplier in implementing the lessons learned from previous IT releases.

Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Martlew: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what his estimate is of the average cost of answering (a) a written and (b) an oral parliamentary question. [142316]

Ruth Kelly: The average cost of answering a written parliamentary question was £135 in April 2002, as I announced in a written answer on 11 April 2003, Official Report, column 466W. The April 2002 figure for an oral question was £313. An annual uprating of these figures will take place in the new year.

Private Finance Initiative

Jon Trickett: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) how many Government construction projects with a net present value of £250 million or more are utilising (a) Private Finance Initiative methods and (b) conventional methods of procurement; [142321]

Mr. Boateng: While construction is often a major element of a PFI project, it is not true for all. PFI procurement also involves design and maintenance of public facilities. We do not therefore breakdown contract value by the component parts and cannot therefore provide figures for PFI construction by value centrally. Individual departments may, however hold this information on an individual project basis.

The Treasury does submit data on signed PFI projects to parliament biannually. This information, which includes the capital value and nature of each project, is submitted by departments and collated into a 'Signed Projects List' which is published on the Treasury's website

The most recent Signed Projects List states that there are 13 projects with a capital value of more than £250 million. I am happy to write to my hon. Friend

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with the details of these projects should he so wish. Departments do not submit information on the net present value of their projects.

There is currently no central data source on the capital value or net present value of conventionally procured projects.

Jon Trickett: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) in how many Private Finance Initiative contracts the value of the cost estimates increased after the time at which the relevant department had established the identity of the contractor; what the increase in value was in each case; and what the percentage increase was in each case; [142322]

Mr. Boateng: PFI covers a broad range of procurements across government. This means that there is no standard breakdown of a public sector comparator. The new green book provides Departments with further advice on how to incorporate optimism bias and risk calculations into the project appraisal process.

The information requested by my hon. Friend is not held by the Treasury. Where available, information on individual PFI projects will be held by the procuring authority or sponsoring Department in question. Information on construction performance, both general and project specific, is also available on the NAO website at

Public Sector Employment

Mr. Cousins: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the stock of public sector jobs was in each region and nation in 1997; what the net change in such jobs in each region and nation has been in each year since 1997; and what the stock of such jobs was in each region for the most recent period for which figures are available. [142329]

Ruth Kelly: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.

Letter from Len Cook to Mr. Jim Cousins, dated 8 December 2003:

Public Sector Jobs in the UK
Thousands, not seasonally adjusted

August 1997August 1998August 1999August 2000August 2001August 2002
Number of jobs4,9544,9445,0945,0945,2125,298
Change on previous year-10150011886

Source:Administrative returns from public bodies

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Public Sector Pay

Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many public sector employees are covered by index-linked pay; what their total pay has been for each year since 1997; and what it would have been if the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices had been applied. [142290]

Mr. Boateng: Police are the only public sector employees whose pay is index linked. Individual employers and departments are responsible for the pay arrangements of particular groups of employees.

Public Sector Pensions

Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many public sector pensioners are paid index-linked pensions; what the annual payouts to them were in each year since 1997; and what the payouts would have been if the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices index had been applied. [142289]

Mr. Boateng: All public service pensions are increased annually in line with the retail prices index (RPI) directly under, or by analogy to, provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971 and section 59 of the Social Security Pensions Act 1975. In addition a number other schemes in the wider public sector may opt to provide full RPI, but no information is held centrally on these schemes.

There are approximately 3.3 million pensions in payment to members of public service pension schemes or their dependants. Expenditure on public service pensions was about £20 billion in 2002–03.

Expenditure for previous years can be found in the schemes' published resource and appropriation accounts. There are no plans to change the indexation of public service pensions from the RPI to the harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP) and no analysis has been carried out on what the costs and benefits would be of doing so.

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