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Reducing Reoffending through Skills and Employment

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): I am today, with my right hon. friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, presenting to the House a document setting out our strategy to help reduce re-offending through improved skills and employment opportunities for offenders.

The Government will publish in the new year a five-year strategy for reducing re-offending and protecting the public. This will emphasise the importance of punishment and deterrence in preventing offending. But it will also recognise the need to deal with the range of factors which lead some offenders into a cycle of repeat offending. This cycle carries a considerable cost to the Exchequer: a re-offending former prisoner costs the criminal justice system an average of £65,000 up to the point of re-imprisonment and £37,500 each year in prison. On top of this, there are often unquantifiable costs to the victims of crime and their communities.

An important part of the Government strategy is a concerted drive to transform the skills and employment prospects of offenders. The challenge is stark. A majority of offenders have poor skills, with over half having no qualifications at all. Nearly half have experienced exclusion from school. Two thirds were unemployed before prison.

Evidence suggests that employment and a reduction in re-offending are linked, and that stability and quality of employment are key factors. Accordingly, there is a strong case, as part of our wider strategy, for seeking to get more offenders into jobs, and to raise their skill levels in order to improve their chances of becoming more productive and successful in employment, to the benefit of individuals, their families, and the wider society that would be damaged by continued offending.

A great deal of progress has been made in recent years. Increased investment has raised the capacity of the prison education service, and improved basic skills training for offenders in the community. Achievement of qualifications in literacy, language and numeracy has more than doubled since 2001. Prisons are subject to the same demanding standards of external inspection as other education providers, and this is driving up quality. Jobcentre Plus offers employment and training advice to offenders in prisons and, with the help of additional Prison Service investment, in 2004–05 there were over 41,000 cases in which an offender leaving prison went directly into employment, training or education.

But there is more to do. Inspection evidence tells us that the quality of learning and skills in prisons is still too often inadequate, and unresponsive to individual needs. We need more coherence in assessment, planning and continuity between different settings, for example when prisoners are moved at short notice, or released into the community. We also need to do better in engaging and motivating particular groups of offenders to improve their skills. Opportunities for education and training must lead to skills and qualifications that are meaningful for employers and to real job opportunities.
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We intend to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the sentencing reforms of the Criminal Justice Act 2003—which make rehabilitation one of the statutory purposes of sentence—together with the creation of the National Offender Management Service, to build a new approach. The strategy is set out in the document, "Reducing Re-offending Through Skills and Employment".

The document sets out the case for action and outlines a radical vision to make a step change in four main areas:

Some action can begin at once. In other areas we propose to test new approaches in order to make the best use of the resources and capacity within the system. We look forward to the widest possible debate—with employers, with the learning and skills sector, and with colleagues working in prisons, probation and in jobcentres.

This may in the past have been an area of education and training that has had a low profile. Along with my right honourable friends I am determined that we should set a new ambition: to provide more offenders with the tools and motivation to turn away from crime and become employable and productive members of society.


Bovine Tuberculosis

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The Government are today announcing new measures to tackle bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle in England. These include:

The consultation on badger culling follows the publication yesterday of results from the "Randomised Badger Culling Trials". It also follows a cost benefit analysis by DEFRA of a number of badger culling options, drawing on the evidence of the trials carried out in Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

The Government continue to pursue the development of potential bovine TB vaccines for both cattle and badgers. We are also planning to extend the use of the gamma interferon test to improve diagnosis of TB in cattle.
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The Government are also announcing the setting up of a new independent stakeholder group to provide advice on bovine TB policy.

Copies of all the relevant documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Autumn Performance Report

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight): The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' 2005 Autumn Performance Report (Cm 6692), which highlights progress towards achieving the Department's Public Service Agreement targets since the publication of my Departmental Report (Cm 6537) in June, will be published on Friday 16 December. Copies will be placed in the House Libraries.

Avian Quaratine

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): On 26 October, I announced an independent review of the UK's avian quarantine system. The review panel, chaired by Professor Nigel Dimmock, Emeritus Professor of Virology at Warwick University, examined the avian quarantine system as a whole.

The independent review group has concentrated on the principles of the system, assessed how effective it is and given recommendations about how it might be improved.

I have now received Professor Dimmock's report and copies are available in the House Libraries.

The main conclusions include:

My Department will study the reports findings carefully, including the associated costs and benefits of each of the findings. The work will be taken forward in partnership with the EU and stakeholders, and the appropriate action will be taken as quickly as possible.

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