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Private Finance Initiative

David Taylor: To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent assessment has been made of the tendering process for private finance initiative contracts. [206116]

Mr. Boateng: The tendering process for private finance initiative contracts follows EU procurement rules. Supplemental to this, the Treasury has issued a third updated version of guidance on standard contracts, "Standardisation of PFI Contracts: Version 3" ("SoPCS") in April 2004, and detailed guidance outlining how procuring authorities should ensure value for money throughout the procurement process in August 2004.

Tax Credits

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much of the estimated £34 to £49 million in overpayments for tax credits in 2003–04, referred to in the Inland Revenue Annual Report and Accounts 2003–04, has been successfully recovered; and if he will make a statement. [205935]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 20 December 2004]: For claimants still receiving tax credits, recovery is generally an automatic process, by deduction from the ongoing award. The amount recovered from a family by any date will depend on the amount and frequency of their payments and is not continuously monitored. Statistics on overpayments will be published in Spring 2005.

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many tax credit computer records are awaiting reconciliation of payments made against payments authorised in (a) 2003–04 and (b) the current tax year; and if he will make a statement. [205937]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 21 December 2004]: For 2003–04,1 refer my right hon. Friend to paragraph 2.17 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General attached to the Inland Revenue Report and Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2004.

For 2004–05, a new daily reconciliation was successfully implemented by August 2004. Reconciliation for this year is planned for completion by the end of April 2005.

Miss Begg: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how long on average it took the Inland Revenue to respond to a request not to recover a tax credit overpayment (a) as a first tier complaint and (b) as a second tier complaint in the last period for which information is available. [206256]

Dawn Primarolo: The Inland Revenue aims to deal with letters of complaint from Members of Parliament and members of the public promptly. It aims to deal with 80 per cent. of letters within 15 working days. The Tax Credit Office is on course to achieve this for 2004–05. They do not keep separate figures for complaints involving a disputed overpayment.
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Miss Begg: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in cases where a tax credit overpayment has not been written off, the Inland Revenue writes to the claimant and invites them to make representations as to whether the overpayment should be written off under the tests set out in Code of Practice 26. [206274]

Dawn Primarolo: The Inland Revenue sends customers a decision notice whenever it makes or amends a tax credit award. The notes accompanying the notice refer customers to the Department's Code of Practice 26, What happens if we have paid you too much tax credit?, which explains its approach to recovering overpayments, including the circumstances in which it will write them off.

Often where there is a tax credit overpayment this is because of a change in the customer's income or circumstances which was not notified immediately to the Inland Revenue. It would not be appropriate to invite customers to make representations for their overpayment to be written off in these circumstances.

Working Tax Credit

Dr. Iddon: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what percentage of working tax credit cases have been overpaid since 1 April. [205285]

Dawn Primarolo: Payments made since 6 April 2004 are provisional and any overpayments of 2004–05 awards will not be identified until those awards are finalised after April 2005.

Working Time Regulations

Mr. Brady: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many officials working in ministerial private offices in the Department have worked more than a 48-hour week at any time in the last 12 months for which figures are available; how many of those had signed a waiver under working time regulations; and what percentage these figures represented of the total in each case. [204169]

Mr. Timms [holding answer 13 December 2004]: Departmental policies take full account of the Working Time Regulations and this is reflected in the work-life balance statement on our public website ( The Treasury has rigorous procedures for recording hours worked by staff. 19 officials working in ministerial private offices recorded working in excess of 48-hours in at least one weekly period in the last 12 months, this represents 51 per cent. of officials working in ministerial private offices.

"The Working Time Regulations provide workers with the protection of a limit of an average of 48 hours a week working time. This is not an absolute cap of 48 hours in any one week. This average is normally calculated over a 17-week reference period, although this can be longer in certain situations (26 weeks) and can be extended by agreement (up to 52 weeks). Workers may choose to work more than 48 hours per week over this reference period by signing an opt-out agreement, but employers cannot force a worker to sign an opt-out, and workers cannot be subjected to detriment for refusing to sign an opt-out."
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Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if he will make a statement on economic restructuring in Afghanistan. [205584]

Mr. Gareth Thomas: Since the end of conflict in 2001, the Government of Afghanistan has achieved important progress on economic and structural reforms. It has made a concerted effort in strengthening strategic planning and policy implementation around the national budget process, which is currently on its third cycle. It has embarked on a programme to rebuild fiscal functions of the state, including strengthening of domestic revenue policy and administration. A new currency (the Afghani) was introduced soon after the end of conflict, which the Government have managed well both in terms of the logistical challenges of replacing banknotes and economic challenges of. maintaining financial stability.

The Government have also taken steps to promote private sector development. A draft private investment law is expected to be promulgated shortly, a legal framework for extractive industries is being established and state owned enterprises are being restructured and/or privatised. In addition commercial banking legislation has been adopted and the regulatory framework for the financial sector strengthened.

These are all important achievements in establishing an enabling environment and strengthening economic management for growth and poverty reduction, but there are important challenges ahead, not least the maintenance of security and political stability across the country to enable a strengthened relationship between central and provincial government.

In addition there are challenges in terms of strengthening human and institutional capacity to implement economic and structural reforms. The UK Government are playing a significant role in this area through provision of technical assistance with three year-projects to rehabilitate the Customs, Revenue and Budget departments within the Ministry of Finance. These include support for departmental restructuring and transfer of skills and capacity building in human resources, training, ethics and policymaking. DFID complements this with financial support to the Afghanistan Budget managed by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund in order to encourage a gradual move away from dependence on external aid as the economy picks up and capacity increases for raising domestic revenue.

Aid Delivery

Tom Brake: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what training his Department has provided to partner country staff regarding aid delivery via poverty reduction budget support in the last year. [205878]

Mr. Gareth Thomas: DFID works with other donors to provide training and support to partner country staff at all stages of the Poverty Reduction Budget Support (PRBS) cycle (planning, implementation, monitoring
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and review). As PRBS relies on partner government public financial management systems, training is focussed particularly on these systems.

Where countries are considering new programmes of PRBS, DFID will provide partner country staff with examples of international best practice and discuss alternative forms of aid delivery. As PRBS proposals are prepared, we have detailed dialogue with governments about budget systems, budget allocations and the effectiveness of budget spending. DFID procedures require careful assessment and monitoring of the public—finance management systems, and we aim to conduct these assessments jointly with partner governments.

Where appropriate, we accompany PRBS grants with targeted technical assistance and project support. This can include training or other support on planning, budgeting, procurement and audit. Training is often shared amongst donors participating in multi- donor budget support (MDBS) programmes.

Tom Brake: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what research he has commissioned concerning the effectiveness of aid delivery via (a) conventional programmes and projects and (b) poverty reduction budget support. [205879]

Mr. Gareth Thomas: DFID has commissioned a number of independent evaluations to address the efficient use of aid resources. In 2004–05 DFID commissioned work to assess the effectiveness of harmonisation, a number of country programmes and gender. DFID is also in the process of commissioning evaluations on the effectiveness of aid delivery in the areas of HIV/AIDS, Technical Cooperation and Agricultural Research. Work has been commissioned to look at the effectiveness of global funds and partnerships, and in assessing the effectiveness of the multilateral institutions that the UK supports.

A major joint evaluation of General Budget Support (GBS), led by DFID on behalf of 23 donors and seven partner Governments, will assess to what extent, and under what circumstances and in what contexts, GBS is a relevant, efficient and effective instrument for achieving sustainable impact on poverty reduction and growth. The final findings of the joint evaluation are due to be published in January 2006. DFID has also been involved in a joint evaluation of General Budget Support in Tanzania (1995–2004), using the same framework as is being used for the larger study, which has recently produced its final report.

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