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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): A Royal Air Force study has been conducted to determine the appropriate size, shape and disposition of the university air squadrons. The study was commissioned against the background of proposed changes to the future size of the RAF, and of the planned tri-service military flying training system in partnership with industry. The results of the study have been carefully considered and I have decided that university air squadron students will no longer undertake elementary flying training while at university, and that elementary flying training will take place on a standard basis for all pilots, after initial officer training.
There are 14 university air squadrons located at 12 airfields across the UK, with a total undergraduate membership of some 1,000. Presently, the main university air squadron roles are to attract high calibre graduates into the RAF and to deliver the RAF's elementary flying training task. Elementary flying training is the first stage of RAF pilot training and is currently undertaken by all pilot university air squadron members during the course of their degrees and by direct entrant RAF pilots over a six-month period following initial officer training.
The study concluded that university air squadrons should continue to play an important role in engaging university students in RAF experience, but their focus should subtly shift to put more effort into leadership and personnel development training, nurturing recruitment to all branches. Flying will be available to all university air squadron members on a voluntary basis, but undergraduates will no longer be required to undertake formal elementary flying training during their university period. Up to 10 hours a year of structured light aircraft flying will still be available to all university air squadron undergraduates, including those in ground branches. In future, ex-university air squadron graduates joining the RAF as pilots will now undertake elementary flying training alongside other direct entrant pilots.
Overall, the changes will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the flying training pipeline and, for the university air squadron undergraduates, lessen the conflicting pressures to achieve a good degree and the highest standard during elementary flying training. They will create a fairer system, and resolve the inherent inefficiencies caused by undergraduates' elementary flying training being spread over such a long period. University air squadrons will now be able to concentrate on the recruitment and personal development of all potential officers regardless of branch preference.
With effect from autumn, the following airfields will no longer be used for elementary flying training and overall flying hours are expected to reduce: RAF Benson, RAF Cosford, RAF Leuchars, RAF Colerne, RAF Leeming, Glasgow Airport, Boscombe Down, RAF Woodvale and RAF St Athan. RAF Cranwell will see a slight reduction in flying due to a reduced requirement to train instructors, whilst RAF Wyton and RAF Church Fenton will see some increase due to the establishment of new training squadrons to meet the elementary flying training task.
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Light aircraft flying for university air squadron members will, however, continue and in some cases, particularly for those in ground branches, be enhanced. If implemented in full, these changes will result in a reduction of 21 RAF posts, but I do not envisage any other significant job implications.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): Because of the wider role that the Deputy Prime Minister may take in relation to the delivery of the 2012 London Olympics, and in order to ensure that the advice set out in the "Guidance on Propriety Issues in the Handling of Planning Decisions in ODPM" is followed, it has been decided that any planning decisions which fall to Ministers to take in respect of Olympics related developments will be taken by Baroness Andrews, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State ODPM.
The Minister of Communities and Local Government (Mr. David Miliband): The Government announced on 20 September 2005 an extension of the scope and length of Sir Michael Lyons' independent inquiry into local government funding so that he can consider issues relating to the wider functions of local government and its future role.
Sir Michael Lyons has discussed with Ministers his work so far and his initial conclusion is that well founded recommendations on possible reforms to the funding of local government cannot sensibly be made in isolation from proper consideration and understandingnot only by Government but by the population at largeof the developing role and functions of local government. He has made clear that any proposals for reform of the funding system raise complex issues, and the Government have agreed that they need to be set firmly and explicitly within the wider context of a clear, shared understanding of the role of local government, and of councils' accountability to service users, residents, and taxpayers. My right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have therefore extended the terms of reference of Sir Michael's inquiry so that he can consider issues relating to the functions of local government and its future role, as well as, and prior to, making recommendations on local government funding. His work will inform the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007.
Sir Michael will issue a series of discussion documents and produce his final report at the end of 2006. To set the scene for this work, Sir Michael will in Autumn 2005 set out his preliminary thinking and publish research and analysis undertaken so far, drawing out the relationship of local government function to finance.
The Government have also announced that they intend to introduce legislation to postpone the revaluation of council tax in England. The case for council tax revaluationthat it is right to maintain a fair alignment between house prices and council tax bandsis linked to wider questions about the structure
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of the council tax, and to the operation of council tax benefit. It is also relevant that there are a number of other imminent changes in the local government finance system, including the move to three year budgets, the review of the local government finance formula, and the creation of a dedicated schools budget. We have reached the view, therefore, that to proceed with the current timetable for council tax revaluation in England would not be sensible. We propose to legislate to substitute for the current revaluation date of 2007 a power to set a date for revaluation by secondary legislation. This will provide for revaluation to take place in such a way as to take full account of Sir Michael Lyons' work on the functions of local government as well as its financing. The Government do not believe that revaluation will occur during this Parliament. I regret that the Government could not make this announcement while Parliament was sitting. However, having reached the decision to postpone revaluation, it was necessary to announce it immediately so that the preparatory work could be stood down and costs kept to a minimum. A copy of the press notice issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which announces the Government's decision, and which includes the extended terms of reference for Sir Michael Lyons' inquiry, has been placed in the House Library.
The future of local government is critical to the future of the country, and the Government are determined to ensure that a sustainable and secure funding base supports the changing and challenging role for local government now being developed.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): The Government are today publishing the detailed programme for commencement of parts 14, 6 and 7 of the Housing Act 2004. Appendix 1 sets out a phased introduction of the provisions from November this year leading to a common commencement date of 6 April 2006 for all these provisions except for certain enforcement measures and the new tenancy deposit arrangements, which will follow later in 2006.
The Government have previously announced a provisional timetable for introducing these provisions as from late autumn 2005. We are now in a position to confirm the full timetable, starting with the laying of the HHSRS regulations next month and completing tenant deposit protection in October 2006. This will maintain the momentum established with local authorities and landlord bodies over recent months to equip each to carry out their responsibilities effectively and at least cost to local taxpayers and tenants as from the due commencement date.
By announcing this timetable, we are able to give certainty as to when the new provisions will be coming into force and enable all sides to prepare fully. The Government will continue to work with local authorities and landlords through the IDeA to complete the current training programme and to extend the extensive local authority/landlord series of discussions that have proved so successful locally in getting the two sides to agree the basis on which applications are to be handled and funded.
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Making the secondary legislation available early in draft form, alongside guidance, and then laying the instruments in good time will do a great deal to inform discussions and ensure a wider understanding of the details and operation of the new system than would have been the case with an earlier commencement date.
ODPM is to appoint a contractor who will undertake work with local authorities to establish a baseline as from later this year and to monitor and measure the impact of the new licensing regime on the private rented sector. Officials will write to local authorities when an appointment has been made and provide details of when the main fieldwork periods will be.
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