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The Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid): The Government made clear last year on 21 July 2004, Official Report, column 348 their commitment to maintaining the effectiveness and safety of the nuclear deterrent including making the necessary investment in the facilities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and Burghfield. To that end agreement has been reached with AWE Management Ltd. (AWE ML) to take forward a programme of investment in sustaining key skills and facilities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment. This will include the provision of necessary extra supporting infrastructure. Local planning authorities will be consulted on this work in the normal way, under the provisions of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2005.
The purpose of this investment of some £350 million over each of the next three years is to ensure that we can maintain the existing Trident warhead stockpile throughout its intended in-service life. In the absence of the ability to undertake live nuclear testing given that the UK has signed and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it is necessary to invest in the facilities at AWE which will provide assurance that the existing Trident warhead stockpile is reliable and safe.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick):
I am delighted to announce that today we have launched a four-month consultation on potential changes to the fire safety aspects of the building regulations (part B) which set the design standards for new and altered buildings. Research reports that underpin the consultation have also been published.
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The consultation covers a wide range of issues, including the use of sprinklers and door-closing devices, changes to the guidance on domestic loft conversions and increased measures to assist firefighters dealing with fires in tall buildings.
The consultation document sets out proposed changes to both the building regulations and the supporting guidance in approved document B. The potential changes would affect future building work in England and Walestypically the erection, extension or material alteration of a building. Separate legislation applies in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The review has drawn upon recent experience and takes into account the findings of relevant research and the results of comprehensive stakeholder engagement. It has considered fire safety in all types of premises including dwellings, residential care homes and warehouses. It has also considered the important role that sprinklers and other types of fire protection measures may have, particularly if the provision is targeted at buildings where the occupants are most vulnerable to fire. The proposed changes would help to ensure an even higher level of fire safety for both building occupants and firefighters.
However, any changes must be fully justified and taken forward in a robust and efficient manner. To this end we are also seeking further evidence to support a number of the proposals, particularly in terms of the costs and benefits that they may have. A partial regulatory impact assessment detailing the impacts of the proposals has been published as part of the consultation package.
The move to three-year settlements will provide greater financial certainty and stability for local government, council tax payers, businesses and other local partners. Three-year settlements will provide local government with the same certainty and planning horizons that departments already benefit from through our reformed public spending system. They will be a vehicle for greater long term coordination across central government towards local government services. The benefits for local people should be improved service delivery and greater stability in future council tax.
In December, ODPM published a consultation paper, "Three-year Revenue and Capital Settlements", which sought views on the Government's proposals for the implementation of three-year settlements for local government in England. The consultation fulfilled a commitment in the 2004 building regulations to consult on these proposals with local government and other stakeholders with a view to agreeing settlements for 200607 and 200708 during 2005. The consultation ended on 11 March 2005. Some 186 responses were received and they broadly welcomed the principle of introducing three-year allocations for revenue and
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capital funding. A summary of responses was published on 30 June and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The consultation paper stated the Government's intention to move to three-year settlements for local government by the end of the current Parliament. The first settlement, to be announced in autumn 2005, will cover the two remaining years of building regulations 04 (200607 and 200708). From 200809, three-year settlements will be fully aligned with the spending review cycle.
A move to greater certainty in forward indications of local authority council tax levels. This will be based on further discussions with local government to ensure maximum forward looking information for council tax payers.
For formula and revenue grant, we will align all aspects of three-year settlements with the existing spending review round, with firm three-year allocations being announced for the first full spending review cycle after three-year settlements are introduced. To make these settlements more forward looking, stable and predictable we will use projections of changes in population and council tax base; and will not, except in entirely exceptional cases, retrospectively amend any year's settlement.
Capital funding, whether in the form of grant or supported borrowing, will generally be allocated on a three-year forward basis with exceptions for some small bid-based programmes, funding for emergencies and funding for large one-off projects.
The formulae proposed for the 200607 housing revenue account subsidy (HRAS) Determination will remain unchanged for the 200708 HRAS determination. Stock and other data about individual authorities will as usual be updated for 200708 by means of the base data return to be issued in 2006.
To ensure local authorities and council tax payers gain the maximum benefits of three-year settlements, Government Departments will work to ensure that their funding is either moved to a firm three-year basis or designed to offer authorities as much forward certainty as possible. The principles outlined above will be applied by government departments, in conjunction with local government, as they finalise the details of the settlement in the run up to its announcement in the autumn.
The priority goal for Government policy on local government finance is stability and certainty so that Local Authorities, their partners and the public have reasonable expectations of income and expenditure levels and trends.
To that end I am today moving that policy forward with the introduction of three year settlements for local government. It is an opportune time to review the basis on which we distribute formula grant to local authorities in England. Formula grant underpins the provision of a wide range of local services and is not hypothecated, so that decisions on local priorities can be made by local authorities. We have already introduced a degree of stability in the formulae for grant distribution; these were last changed for 200304, and we made clear then
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that we would not change the underlying methodology for a period of three years. From 200607, we therefore have the opportunity to change the distribution system.
We want to take this opportunity to consider four main issues. First, the formulae that we use to distribute grant are designed to reflect the relative circumstances of local authorities, as well as the policy or operational context for local authority services. There have been developments over the years which mean that some formulae are simply out of date in that, for example, they still use old data such as that from the 1991 census.
Secondly, we need to establish a firm basis for the introduction of three year settlements for local government. As part of that agenda, we need to find ways of making the finance settlements more forward looking to reflect growth in population.
Thirdly, we are examining ways of distributing grant that do not involveor appear to involvesecond-guessing councils' spending and taxation decisions, to clarify accountability and responsibility for local choices.
Following the last review of grant distribution formulae, the Government have run a number of research projects and have been working with local government and other interested parties to consider possible changes to the formulae which could be introduced once the freeze had ended. The official level Settlement Working Group, consisting of representatives from all types of local authority in England along with interested parties from central Government, has considered some 75 technical papers together with research reports over that period. Separate technical groups have examined the formulae for the Police, Fire and Rescue services. I am grateful to all those who assisted the Government whether by contributing to these discussions or helping with the research and survey work.
Following on from that work, the Government are now launching public consultation on options for change to the formula grant system. I am today publishing the consultation document on the ODPM website at:
Copies have been placed in the Vote Office and the Library of the House. We look forward to receiving views on our proposals. The consultation period will close on 10 October and the Government will then decide on the shape of the formula grant system from 200607 onwards.
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