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Mr. Willis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what level of support for the Erasmus Lifelong Learning programme has been agreed for the UK for each of the years from 2007 to 2013. 
Bill Rammell: The EU Education Council, which my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, chaired on 15 November 2005, reached a partial political agreement on the new lifelong learning programme for 200713, which includes Erasmus. This agreement covered all aspects of the programme except the budget, which was subject to agreement on the overall EU budget.
While the December European Council reached agreement on the overall EC budget for the new financial perspective period 200713, the level of support for the Erasmus programme will depend on the outcome of negotiations with the European Parliament on both the overall size of the budget and the share of
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the relevant heading to be spent on the lifelong learning programme, and within that for Erasmus. Once this has been agreed, later this year, the programme will then return to the Education Council for the outstanding issues to be negotiated and for a political agreement to be sought. Only then will it be possible to determine the national allocations for each programme.
Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment she has made of whether the proposed level of minimum foster care allowances are adequate; and what representations she has received from (a) representative, (b) expert and (c) voluntary groups in the field of fostering on the level of these allowances. 
Maria Eagle: The national minimum allowance proposed in our consultation is based on thorough consideration of the research available into the cost of caring for a child and on the additional costs associated specifically with fostering children. The steering group that contributed to the development of the proposals included key stakeholders such as the Fostering Network and the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, local authority representatives, members of voluntary organisations, fostering services and others. Focus groups of foster carers, children with experience of foster care and fostering services also informed the consultation paper. It is too early to report on representations received in response to the consultation, which was launched on 31 January and will run for three months. We will produce a report on the consultation response in early summer, before announcing the level of the national minimum allowance in July.
Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what total sum has been received by her Department for the provision of information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in its first year of operation. 
The Freedom of Information Act allows for public authorities to determine when the cost of processing a request will exceed the appropriate limit, which for central Government is set at £600 and for the wider public sector £450. In this instance the public authority may decide to either approach the applicant to help them refine their request and where possible to bring it under the appropriate limit. Alternatively, public authorities may charge the applicant the cost of processing the request. There is, however, no obligation for Departments to provide information if the cost of processing the request exceeds the appropriate limit.
Public authorities may also charge for disbursements when handling requests where it is deemed appropriate. Further information on the FOI fees regime can be found on the DCA website at http://www.foi.gov.uk/feesguide.htm
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Bill Rammell: Information about the total Learning and Skills Council's (LSC) post-16 programme expenditure for all further education (FE) providers including colleges is available from the LSC's published accounts as follows:
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what arrangements are required for the vetting of staff in further education colleges, with particular reference to those in contact with pupils aged under 16. 
Arrangements for the vetting of staff working in further education colleges are set out in the Department's guidance Child Protection: Preventing Unsuitable People from Working with Children in the Education Service" (issued May 2002) which states that
Safeguarding children in education" (September 2004) emphasises the wider responsibilities on employers including adopting recruitment practices which involve scrutinising applicants, verifying any qualifications, obtaining references, checking previous job history as well as the mandatory check of List 99 and CRB check where appropriate.
Recent changes announced by the Secretary of State mean that existing arrangements detailed in the above guidance will be strengthened through the introduction of new regulations which will make an on appointment CRB check compulsory for all new appointments of teachers and teaching support staff in a further education institution who have not worked in a further education institution or school in the last three months.
Mr. Gauke: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what measures she has undertaken to improve procurement in the further education sector; and what assessment she has made of the effect of these measures on costs. 
Bill Rammell: The Learning and Skills Council has recently established a procurement development team to drive forward improved procurement in the FE sector, working closely with the Centre for Procurement Performance at the Department for Education and Skills. Significant progress has been made over recent months including:
We will be measuring efficiency gains from a range of specific initiatives which contribute to our Gershon efficiency target, including improved procurement in the FE sector. These are set out in our Efficiency Technical Note. In most cases, the gains are recyclable at the frontline into other activities rather than being clawed back by the Department. The Department is reporting progress towards our overall efficiency target through existing departmental reporting processes. We reported progress towards our target in the Department's autumn performance report and will report further progress in the departmental annual report which we expect to publish in April.
Mark Simmonds: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many applications to higher education institutions there were for the (a) 2006/07, (b) 2005/06 and (c) 2004/05 academic year; and if she will make a statement. 
Bill Rammell: Latest figures published by Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that, between 2004/05 and 2005/06, total applicants from England to full-time undergraduate courses rose from 339,967 to 368,801, an increase of 8.5 per cent.
Latest figures for 2006/07, covering students who applied by mid-January, show that applicants from England are down by 4.5 per cent., from 284,359 to 271,663. Given the big increase in applications last year, it is not unexpected that this year's UCAS application figures reveal a fall in comparison. But applications this year are still up by 12,500 (or 4.8 per cent.) compared to the corresponding figure in 2004, and I am confident that we will continue to see a return to a long term upward trend as happened after tuition fees were introduced in 1998. Figures from UCAS also show that there has been no reduction in the proportion of students from lower socio-economic groups applying to university.
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