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4 Feb 2004 : Column 956W—continued

Tourism (Ards Peninsula/North Down)

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to attract more tourists in 2004 to (a) the Ards Peninsula and (b) the North Down area. [149615]

Mr. Pearson: The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) is working with local councils in the Ards and North Down areas and the Kingdoms of Down regional tourism organisation on a range of tourism promotion initiatives. These include marketing and promotion initiatives and familiarisation trips by international tourism interests/key market representatives. A programme of tourism events is planned for 2004, drawing and improving on their successful last year.

The NITB's Strategic Framework for Action 2004–07, which will drive the tourism agenda for the next three years, will provide a focus and impetus to the growth and delivery of tourism to all areas of Northern Ireland, including the Ards Peninsula and North Down areas.

Waiting Lists/Times

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the current average waiting times are for MRI scanning in Northern Ireland. [151224]

Angela Smith: The information requested is not available.

WORK AND PENSIONS

Council Tax Benefit

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make it his policy to introduce within the public service agreements set by central Government a commitment to raise Council Tax Benefit take-up rates for pensioners from the current level of 65 per cent. to 90 per cent. within three years; and if he will make a statement. [148241]

Mr. Pond: We have no plans at present to introduce a target for take-up of Council Tax Benefit by pensioners.

Take-up of Council Tax Benefit has historically been lower than for other income-related benefits, take-up by pensioners being lower than for non-pensioners. However, we are keen to ensure that all pensioners entitled to help with their council tax bills are claiming Council Tax Benefit. We have therefore launched a take-up campaign to help support local authorities in encouraging those who may be entitled to claim.

The introduction of Pension Credit also means around 300,000 pensioner households will be newly entitled to Council Tax Benefit. To help facilitate take up, applicants for Pension Credit who also want to claim Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit are sent a claim form to return to their local authority. We have recently also introduced a shortened version of this claim form for pensioners to make the process of claiming even easier.

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Pension Service

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the (a) error rate and (b) arrears of work levels were for the last year in which pensions work was done in local offices in the South East region; and what the latest figures are for this work in the new pension centres. [151534]

Malcolm Wicks: The Benefits Agency handled payments to pensioners as well as to people of working age through a network of over 400 social security offices. The Pension Service was launched in April 2002 to provide a more unified and responsive service via a network of 26 pension centres. Directly comparable data is not available in the format requested. However, I can confirm that within the South East Region the level of accuracy reported on Retirement Pension work has remained above the 98 per cent. target throughout the transition, and the levels of outstanding Retirement Pension work have reduced by more than 50 per cent..

Pensions

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the cost to the Exchequer, net of savings in means-tested benefits and additional tax revenues, of paying a full basic state pension to each individual, regardless of contribution record, at the rate of the guarantee credit, from the age of (a) 65, (b) 70 and (c) 75 years; and if he will estimate in each case the cost in each of the following four years on the assumption that the pension was then indexed to earnings. [150451]

Malcolm Wicks: The information requested is set out in the following table.

£ billion

2004–052005–062006–072007–082008–09
Over 659.910.210.711.312.1
Over 706.97.17.58.18.6
Over 754.44.64.95.35.6

Notes:

1. Figures are in 2003–04 price terms rounded to the nearest £100 million. It is assumed the change comes into effect from April 2004 and only affects basic State Pensions.

2. Gross costs are estimated by the Government Actuary's Department and are consistent with Budget 2003 assumptions. Estimates are all based on the 2002 population projection and allow for recent revisions.

3. The costs take into account income related benefit offsets, which are calculated using the DWP policy simulation model and April 2004 benefit rates.

4. Additional income tax revenue is estimated by the Inland Revenue using 2004 tax rates.


Sunset Clauses

Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on his policy on the use of sunset clauses in legislation; and which Acts containing such clauses relevant to his Department were passed in each year since 1997. [149336]

Malcolm Wicks: The Department for Work and Pensions actively promotes the better regulation agenda and the use of sunsetting where appropriate.

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The Regulatory Impact Assessment guidance 'Better Policy Making: A Guide to Regulatory Impact Assessment' advises policy officials to consider time limiting or sunsetting at an early stage of policy development, and gives specific circumstances where sunsetting maybe appropriate.

No Acts for which DWP is responsible containing a sunset clause have been passed since the Department was formed in June 2001.

For most of the Department's business, sunsetting would not be appropriate. For example where primary legislation establishing a benefit or other scheme is drafted on the basis that it will last indefinitely and the details will be set out in secondary legislation, it would normally be inconsistent to time limit this.

HEALTH

"Agenda for Change"

Mr. Norman: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what his estimate is of the projected cost increase in each of the next five years if all members of staff eligible for the Agenda for Change programme receive an annual increase in pay of one pay point in a pay band and successfully pass through the (a) foundation and (b) secondary gateways. [151144]

Mr. Hutton: The projected basic pay increases under Agenda for Change—2.5 per cent. on average by 2005–06 and 5.9 per cent. in the longer term (compared with 2002–03) in addition to annual pay uplift—assume that all staff will progress annually through pay points and pay gateways up to the maximum of their pay band. These projections also assume that the distribution of staff between the different pay points in a given pay band, taking account of joiners, leavers and annual pay progression, will remain similar to the distribution seen in current National Health Service pay bands. In other words, the additional costs do not arise from pay progression as such (which is a feature of most current NHS pay systems), but from the changes in the basic pay ranges to which NHS staff will be entitled.

Cataracts

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the reasons that Netcare delivers cataract services on behalf of the NHS at a price less than NHS costs. [149029]

Mr. Hutton: All selected preferred bidders for the contracts for new independent sector treatment centres have gone through a rigorous procurement process to ensure that they are fit to deliver high quality clinical services for national health service commissioners. This has been independent of their price or the commercial aspects of the contract.

Netcare has been awarded the contract to provide an innovative mobile theatre solution that will perform over 40,000 additional operations at different sites over

4 Feb 2004 : Column 959W

the next five years. The contract has been negotiated at a price less than the comparable NHS cost: this will benefit patients who will benefit from speedier treatment and is a good deal for the NHS.

Consultants

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assumptions his Department has made about the level of take-up of the consultant contract. [151569]

Mr. Hutton: We estimate around 70 to 80 per cent., of consultants are likely to take up the contract this year.

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what criteria his Department used to decide on the (a) location and (b) number of training places for consultants in grown-up congenital heart abnormality. [152166]

Mr. Hutton: The Department makes decisions about the allocation of consultant training places or national training numbers (NTNs) each year. This includes decisions about NTNs in cardiology, which includes adult congenital heart disease.

The decisions are based on intelligence collated from local and national bodies on workforce needs and are a balance of the needs of all medical specialties. The number of NTNs allocated to cardiology is made in consultation with the National Clinical Director for heart disease.

New training places in cardiology are distributed to sites that have available training capacity and where possible are distributed nationally to areas which are most under-resourced.


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