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21 Dec 2004 : Column 1719W—continued

Vocational Qualifications

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what action he is taking to improve the coherence and convergence of funding streams for vocational education within schools, further and higher education. [204498]

Dr. Howells: The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) as the planner and funder of all post-16 vocational learning, excluding higher education, is responsible for working towards coherence within the sector and my officials are ensuring the input of schools and higher education interests to the council's work. The Higher Education Funding Council and the LSC are also working together to reduce the burdens placed on further education colleges that deliver higher education and also looking at how they can support progression for students. Our response in the new year to the Tomlinson proposals will take forward our work to ensure better coherence in learning, particularly vocational provision, for young people.

Working Time Regulations

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills 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. [204145]

Derek Twigg: 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.

There are currently 21 members of staff who have signed an opt-out agreement. The Department is committed to reducing the number of employees who are required to work in excess of 48 hours per week to an absolute minimum. Hours worked by staff in Ministerial Private Office are regularly reviewed.

WORK AND PENSIONS

Age Concern

Tom Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent discussions he has had with Age Concern representatives regarding pensions and benefits paid to the elderly living in the Greater London area. [206189]


 
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Malcolm Wicks: We have regular discussion with Age Concern at a national level through their membership of the Partnerships against Poverty forum which brings together Government and non-government organisations to develop benefit take up strategies for pensioners. In addition, we have had local discussions with Age Concern in the Greater London area. Age Concern is also a member of a recently established joint visiting team with the local Pension Service and the Richmond Council.

Age Discrimination

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his Department's policy is towards age discrimination. [202442]

Maria Eagle: The Department is committed to providing equality of opportunity for all employees, regardless of their age. It has a policy not to tolerate unfair discrimination on the grounds of age.

The Department is however required to meet the Civil Service Management Code standards which set an upper age limit for retirement across the civil service of 65.

The Department actively encourages applications from all age groups when recruiting. It accepts applications from those aged between 16 and 64. The minimum retirement age for DWP is 60; the minimum age at which employees are eligible to retire and access their civil service pension. An individual can choose to retire anytime between age 60 and 65.

The Department reinforces its policy commitment on age discrimination by including age among the criteria which are monitored, to ensure that its policies and procedures do not have an unfair impact. A range of resources supports formal employee policies on age across the Department. Age forms a key strand of the "Diversity Toolkit", a learning and information resource developed by the Department. Other initiatives include staff networking groups, supported by an "Age Champion" from the Department's senior management team, which have been set up to identify issues related to age diversity.

The Department plays an active role in tackling age discrimination and promoting age diversity policies in the employment market through its work with the "Age Positive" campaign. It also has representation on the Executive Steering Group of the Employer's Forum on Age, a network of leading employers seeking to promote the benefits to business of attracting and retaining experienced employees, regardless of their age.

Apprenticeships

David Hamilton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many young people in (a) Midlothian and (b) Scotland (i) have participated in apprenticeship schemes and (ii) undertook apprenticeships between 1990 and 1997. [204601]

Mrs. McGuire: I have been asked to reply.

Modern apprenticeships in Scotland are a matter for Scottish Ministers. The information is not available in the format requested. Figures for 1997 are available for Scotland as a whole; they are not broken down further
 
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by geographical area. 5,038 individuals in Scotland undertook training within a modern apprenticeship in 1997.

Council Tax Benefit

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many pensioners currently entitled to council tax benefit fail to claim (a) in total, (b) broken down by council tax band and (c) broken down by housing tenure; [206606]

(2) what is the total level of entitlement to council tax benefit among pensioners (a) in total, (b) broken down by council tax band and (c) broken down by housing tenure. [206607]

Mr. Pond: The latest available information is in "Income Related Benefits Estimates of Take Up in 2001/2002", a copy of which is in the Library. Estimates by council tax band are not available.

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many recipients of pension credit also receive council tax benefits. [206608]

Mr. Pond: The information is not currently available. Data on which other benefits are in payment to council tax benefit recipients is taken from an annual count. The most recent available such data is for May 2003, before pension credit was introduced. Further data will not be available until late next year.

Child Support Agency

Mr. Dhanda: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department is taking to assist parents who are financially worse off as a result of the delay in migration of Child Support Agency cases from the old to the new system. [205923]

Mr. Pond: We have always made it clear that old scheme cases will not be transferred to the new scheme until we are sure that the new arrangements are working well. Money continues to flow under the old scheme to children. We believe it is better to ensure that this flow of money continues rather than put at risk these cases by bringing them across before we are sure that the new system is robust.

Dangerous Substances

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to update the 1991 Report on Major Hazard Aspects of the Transport of Dangerous Substances; and if he will make a statement. [206160]

Mr. Pond: We have no plans to update the 1991 Report on Major Hazard aspects of the Transport of Dangerous Substances.

Policy responsibility for the carriage of dangerous goods transferred to the Department for Transport in April 2004.

Departmental Expenditure

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his estimate is of the cost of building refurbishment carried out by his Department in each of the last two years. [202435]


 
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Maria Eagle: The available information is in the following table:
£ million

2002–032003–04
Business-related refurbishment works
(non modernisation programme)(56)
25.81922. 932
Modernisation programme works(57)274. 181335.068
Total300358


(56) Business-related refurbishment works are ongoing, internal changes to buildings to meet developing business needs e.g. the removal of partition walls to accommodate organisational moves of staff.
(57) Modernisation programme works are part of a major programme funded by the Treasury to improve the way in which DWP services are delivered to the public. The physical surroundings of several of the businesses within DWP are being changed, including Jobcentre Plus, The Pensions Service and Debt Management Services. This spend is a combination of new acquisitions, major refurbishments to buildings already part of the estate, as well as the smaller, business-related refurbishment works costs. While the overall cost of the programme is known it is not possible to provide separate figures for refurbishment works.
Note:
Additionally, our private sector partners Land Securities Trillium are responsible for providing an ongoing maintenance programme for all buildings on the estate. DWP pays for this as part of the unitary charge for the serviced accommodation it receives at each building and it is not possible to provide separate costs for this.




Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what crèche facilities are provided by his Department; and at what cost. [202441]

Maria Eagle: At August 2003, the latest date for which information is available, the department provided the following childcare facilities.

Nurseries:
Total Nurseries:15
Total Places300
Total Parents subsidised:350
Holiday Playschemes:
Total Playschemes45
Total Places750
Total Parents Subsidised600

There are no childcare vouchers in payment. Payments are made by a variety of methods including direct payment to childcare providers, formal Contracts or Service Level Agreements and in some cases direct payment to parents.

Financial accountability is mainly at local business unit level and so exact details of the overall costs incurred in providing assistance with childcare is not readily available centrally. Investment in each childcare facility is based on a business case which must demonstrate business viability and value for money. Indication suggests that costs per year range between £700,000 and £1 million. We are unable to determine exact costs of Childcare across the Department due to differing payroll systems inherited on creation of DWP.

The DWP Diversity and Equality Division are currently working on producing a Department wide Childcare Policy Framework for implementation in April 2005. This will allow Businesses within the
 
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Department to support individuals with childcare commitments through direct subsidy payments to parents/guardians. There are no plans to close the current provision but by implementing a policy of direct payment subsidies for parents it allows the individual to make use of provision which best suits them and their child.

In addition there is work taking place on an underpinning childcare salary sacrifice scheme to support the Departmental Childcare Framework and provide a minimum option to all staff. The Salary Sacrifice Scheme is scheduled for April 2006 to accommodate changes to the Resource Management and Payroll systems which cannot currently accommodate this Inland Revenue initiative. On implementation eligible individuals will be able to benefit from Tax and National Insurance Savings on a sacrificed amount.


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