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The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): Along with Jeff Rooker, Minister of State for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, I have deposited copies of the annual report and financial statements of Ilex URC Ltd. for the year ended 31 March 2004 incorporating the auditor's report in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): Together with my noble Friend the Attorney-General I am pleased to announce today the launch of the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland.
This new service was one of the main recommendations of the Criminal Justice Review, which was published in March 2000. The review itself stemmed from the Belfast agreement. The recommendations of the review were implemented by the Justice (Northern Ireland) Acts 2002 and 2004.
The Public Prosecution Service will take responsibility for all prosecutions arising from a police investigation. It will provide an enhanced service for victims and witnesses, and encourage greater provision of prosecutorial and pre-charge advice to police. All charges will be reviewed by a public prosecutor before first appearance at court to ensure the case is properly brought. Prosecutions in the magistrates, youth and county courts will be carried out by public prosecutors. The new service will make use of the range of diversionary opportunities including informed warning, caution and youth conferencing as well as a range of restorative justice measures.
The number of cases dealt with by the service will increase from approximately 10,000 cases per year to more than 70,000 cases because it will take over all prosecutions originally conducted by the police. This increased demand will be met by a considerable increase in the number of lawyers, support and administrative staff. The current workforce of 150 staff and 40 lawyers will increase to 550 staff with 165 lawyers. The new service will grow to become one of the larger employers in Northern Ireland and the largest employer of lawyers and legal staff.New staff will be subject to an intensive six month training programme. It is a programme that ensures prosecution staff are not only knowledgeable in the law, but in the standards of fairness and of human rights that form the basis of any fair prosecuting authority. The training programme has already won a regional award in a National Training Awards UK competition.
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The new Public Prosecution Service will operate an enhanced case management system. When the Causeway project goes on line on 21 June 2005, it will enable the service to receive files electronically. These, and other changes, will promote efficiency and help reduce the causes of delay.
The new Prosecution Service will also follow the recommendation of the Criminal Justice Review and be a regional service. It will have a devolved structure with regional prosecutors and five regional offices based in Ballymena, Lisburn, Londonderry, Newry and Omagh. This will not only allow for greater involvement with the community at a local level but will also create jobs in the regions.
The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland is publishing a code of practice, which includes a code of ethics. These detailed documents will provide for the first time in Northern Ireland a detailed explanation of the factors and considerations taken into account in deciding on a prosecution and will set out the standards by which the prosecution will carry out its task. The code is the result of two periods of public consultation.
I provisionally approved a Government contribution of £170 million, in cash terms, towards the cost of Merseytram Line 1. That commitment remains if the scheme can be delivered at that cost. However, it has become increasingly clear that there is a problem with the cost of the scheme. The public sector cost has increased by 40 per cent. since I gave provisional approval, and that is for a smaller scheme.
In November 2004 Merseytravel advised the Department that the public sector cost was £325 million. The Department's contribution was then presented as £204 million. That was for a reduction in scope, compared with the scheme we approved. If the northern loop was still included, that would have added around £25 million to the costs, bringing the cost increase for the original scheme to over 50 per cent.
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In February 2005 it also became clear that Merseytravel would seek additional funding from the Department if its proposal for a finance lease did not proceed as proposed. This assumed the Department would pay all its contribution upfront and allowed Merseytravel, in effect, to take advantage of the leasing company's tax allowances, providing Merseytravel with an extra £30 million but at a cost to the Government and taxpayer. The Department advised Merseytravel that this was an unusual arrangement for the public sector, which would need careful consideration within Government. I have concluded that I cannot approve it.
The Department told Merseytravel in March 2005 that under the new approach to approvals a final decision on whether to fully approve the scheme would not be made until the prices and risk allocation were firm, based on negotiated terms. Merseytravel advised the Department in May 2005 that, following negotiations with the preferred bidder, the total public sector cost was £315 million. But with the proposed local contribution of £77 million, the Government's contribution would be £238 million.
Last summer Merseytravel was confident of delivering the scheme for the agreed Government contribution of £170 million. Since last November, when Merseytravel put forward a revised public sector cost of £325 million, the Department has kept closely involved with the way the costs have developed. Merseytravel has managed to bring the costs down at the margin, reducing the total funding requirement by £10 million. However Government's contribution remains at some £238 million40 per cent. more than the original capped figure of £170 million.
I appreciate that Merseytravel has made every effort to keep costs under control. However, it is clear that costs remain significantly higher than those that I approved, and that this scheme is an expensive way of delivering these transport benefits for Merseyside. Whilst I support tram schemes, I cannot do so at any cost. In the light of all the information I have therefore concluded that I cannot approve the proposal for Line 1.
I recognise that transport investment is needed in Merseyside to tackle the current problems and to support the future growth of the city. We have committed over £200 million to transport improvements in Merseyside over the last five years, and I intend to continue to support good value schemes in the area.
The £170 million that I committed to Merseytram Line 1 remains available if the scheme can be delivered at that cost. If it cannot, a great deal can still be done for Merseyside through other transport improvements; the Department would welcome a discussion with Merseytravel to develop a good value package of improvements, especially for improved public transport for the areas that would have been served by the tram. The funding will be there for the right proposals.