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15 Dec 2005 : Column 2195W—continued

Media Relations

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much his Office spent on external media relations in each year since 2001. [29573]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) was created as a central department in its own right in May 2002, since then the ODPM has spent £619,072.66 on media relations with the Central Office of Information over the period.

The figure breaks down as follows:

All spend has been to help promote fire safety in the home

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has spent no money on external commercial media relations in this period.

Occupational Health

Sarah Teather: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much his Department spent on occupational health in each of the last five years. [35581]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was created on 29 May 2002. The information requested is tabled as follows:
Financial YearExpenditure (£)
2002–03 (June to March)11,622
2005–06 (to end October)18,086

Parliamentary Questions

Anne Main: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he will reply to Question 27463 from the hon. Member for St Albans, tabled on 8 November. [33447]

Yvette Cooper: I answered the hon. Member on 1 December 2005, Official Report, column 681W.
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Sunset Clauses

Mr. Amess: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what his policy is in respect of the use of sunset clauses in legislation. [34317]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The appropriateness of a sunset clause for the whole or part of any proposed legislation is considered on a case by case basis. It is also addressed when a regulatory impact assessment relating to legislation is being prepared.

Sustainable Communities Plan

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment the Government have made of the potential impact of the Sustainable Communities Plan on the different growth rates of the English regions. [26926]

Yvette Cooper: The Government have set out a full response to the Barker Review of Housing Supply on 5 December 2005. This builds on the Sustainable Communities Plan and seeks to deliver a better balance between housing supply and demand in every English region. We recognise that affordability problems are not exclusively a problem in London and the South East, but extend to the South West and into parts of the Midlands and hot spots in the North.

We have announced a package of measures, including increases in housing supply, reforms to improve the planning system's responsiveness to the housing market and we are consulting on a planning gain supplement to provide funding to support additional housing supply.

By providing homes where demand is highest, we will tackle constraints to the continued economic development of the country as a whole. National growth is partly dependent on enabling the continued development of London and the South East. Constraints on London and the South East's housing supply and economic development are likely to harm the economy and job growth of the UK as a whole, given the links between regions.

Addressing constraints to growth in London and the South East should also reduce long-term regional disparities in house price inflation. This will enable people to move between regions to take advantage of employment opportunities. Labour mobility helps to reduce disparities between regions. In addition, improving the supply responsiveness of the housing market may also reduce inflationary pressures and all regions will benefit from lower economic volatility as well as lower real interest rates.

We are taking steps to help northern regions to maintain the rate of improvement they have shown in recent years. We have set a regional economic performance target, jointly owned by ODPM, the Treasury and the Department for Trade and Industry, to help narrow the persistent gaps in economic growth rates between the regions. To meet this objective the Government have taken significant measures, in areas such as education, skills, employment and transport, to improve the economic performance of all the English regions.

The housing market renewal pathfinders, which form a key element of the Sustainable Communities Plan, also have an important part to play. They will deliver a
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greatly improved choice of good quality housing in nine areas of the North and Midlands, thus helping to make them more attractive to employers and more competitive nationally and internationally.

Town and Parish Councils

Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what proportion of funds raised through town and parish council precepts in England were spent on (a) capital and (b) revenue projects in the last year for which figures are available. [35387]

Mr. Woolas: The information requested is not collected centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Unlawful Activities

Mr. Amess: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what activities have been made unlawful by legislation introduced by his Department since May 2003; and if he will make a statement. [36217]

Jim Fitzpatrick: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by the Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) on 26 January 2005, Official Report, columns 433–37W. No additional Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Acts of Parliament have been passed since that answer was given.


Academy Schools

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many staff in her Department are involved in promoting and setting up academy schools; which (a) outside agencies and (b) consultancies are involved; and at what cost to date. [36286]

Jacqui Smith: The Academies programme is a £5 billion programme to create 200 Academies open or in the pipeline by 2010. The following table gives the number of my Department's staff employed on the Academies programme (as at the end of the financial year) and the associated running costs for each year since 2002. In addition, my Department employs the external consultants Veredus, Alligan, PriceWaterhouse Coopers and Atkins to advise on the programme as the need arises together with various other individuals providing a consultancy service.
Financial yearNumber of DfES staffCost (£000)Cost of consultants (£000)

(4)Costs and staff numbers to end November 2005.

Outside agencies involved in the programme include the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, and the 13 project management companies on the DfES framework: Alligan Ltd; Appleyards Consulting; BDP; Cambridge Education Ltd; Faber Maunsell;
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MouchelParkman; Nord Anglia Education; PKF; Place Group Ltd; Precept; Tribal Education; Turner and Townsend; 3Es.

Children Act

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills pursuant to the answer of 7 December 2005, Official Report, column 1337W, what work her Department is undertaking in pursuance of the exercise of the power under section 12 of the Children Act 2004. [37230]

Beverley Hughes: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills issued on 8 December the following written ministerial statement.

I am announcing today a step change in the support the Government provides to front-line professionals in children's services by leading the implementation of an information sharing index.

The information sharing index is a key element of the Every Child Matters programme to transform children's services by supporting more effective prevention and early intervention. Its goal is to improve outcomes and the experience of public services for all children, young people and families. Better information sharing is essential for early and effective intervention. The index will provide a tool to support better communication among practitioners across education, health, social care and youth offending. It will allow them to contact one another more easily and quickly, so they can share information about children who need services or about whose welfare they are concerned.

Our decision about the way forward with the index has been informed by substantial input from, and consultation with, many front-line practitioners and managers across a wide range of children's services organisations. We have also drawn extensively on the experience of local index approaches run under existing legislation by Trailblazer local authorities. Our conclusions respond to what stakeholders have told us they need to be able to do their jobs more effectively and take account of views expressed on the design of the index.

The index will be a simple basic online system containing:

No case information will be held on the index. Children, young people, or, where appropriate, their parents or carers will be able to ask to see their records and to challenge any inaccuracies, in accordance with data protection legislation.
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There will be a single central index with its data partitioned into 150 parts, one relating to each local authority in England. A central index will ensure that the system works for children who move areas or who access services from more than one area. Partitioning the data will ensure local authorities take the lead in maintaining the accuracy of the data for children living in their area.

To avoid double-inputting of data and to ensure high standards of accuracy, information on the index will be drawn from and updated through existing systems. It will use proven technology.

Technical access to the index will be either through the practitioner's existing case management systems, via a web link or, where an approved practitioner has no access to appropriate IT facilities, via another approved user who does have IT access.

The Government are determined that the index will be as secure as possible, and will therefore ensure it complies with rigorous security standards. Access to it will be granted only to authorised users who have undergone appropriate checks, including those provided by the Criminal Records Bureau. Practitioner use of the index will be audited to ensure information is only accessed where it is necessary for practitioners to do so, and so guard against inappropriate access by authorised users.

The Government are today making available a report on local authority Trailblazer experience. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House.

The experience of the Trailblazers identifies significant benefits in the effectiveness of services. These include improved access to information to inform action, better identification of children not receiving universal services, and better multi-agency communication and information exchange. Scope for significant efficiency gains has also been demonstrated from time saved by practitioners on such tasks as identifying other services involved with a child, tracking down and contacting the individual practitioners involved, and making wasted referrals to services already involved with a child. These savings have been quantified as worth over £88 million per annum across England. We do not intend to reduce funding for children's services, but instead to enable savings realised to be reinvested in more and better services for children and more effective use of staff time. We anticipate that this will enhance staff satisfaction with their jobs.

The Government will commit substantial resources to the index. One-off implementation costs will be an estimated £224 million over the next three years—this includes the costs of adapting systems that will supply the data to the index and adapting the day-to-day systems used by practitioners so they can access the index from their own systems. It also includes the cost of ensuring the original data supplied to the index is accurate, that there are robust systems in place to ensure security, and that staff are trained to use the index properly. Operating costs, thereafter, will be £41 million per year. Most of these costs will fund the additional staff needed to ensure the on-going security, accuracy and audit of the index. Both set-up and running costs
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will be funded by central Government, so that the costs to local authorities do not form a pressure on the council tax.

Our plan is that a technically robust, secure and accurate index is available to support children's services across England by the end of 2008. To enable this to be achieved we plan to publish draft regulations under Section 12 of the Children Act 2004, which will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. An initial set of regulations in spring 2006 will provide the necessary vires to allow trials to take place for the creation of the initial records. We then plan to publish in autumn 2006 the main regulations to govern the operation of the index. We will consult publicly on draft regulations in the summer/autumn of 2006.

Implementation will be led by a dedicated project team within DfES. The Project Team will continue to work closely with local authorities, users and other stakeholders to ensure that developments continue to be relevant and lead to more effective practice. Building on the current knowledge gained by the local authority Trailblazers, the project team will directly and actively seek the views of children, young people and families and will ensure those views are taken into account as we develop the index."

I have written to the hon. Member about the information sharing index announcement, and also to other hon. Members and Peers who have expressed an interest in the index.

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