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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 29 March 2007


United Kingdom Coins 2008

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Her Majesty The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve my recommendation that the following coins should be issued in 2008:

a crown piece to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Prince of Wales;

a crown piece to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth I; and

a two-pound coin to mark the 100th anniversary of the London Olympic Games of 1908.

Collector versions of these coins will be released at a premium above face value and, during the course of 2008, the coins will also become available at face value from banks and post offices.

Cabinet Office

Compact on Relations between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): I am today placing in the Library of the Houses of Parliament copies of the report of the annual meeting to review the Compact held on 22 November 2006.

The coming years present the opportunity to make significant steps forward in the implementation of the Compact, building on what has been achieved. This year has seen a record 28 Compact Annual Meeting commendations for excellence, showing that the Compact is increasingly being used as a tool to improve partnership working and increase sector involvement. The publication of the Partnership in Public Services Action Plan, the Local Government White Paper and the review of the future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, will all contribute to the creation of an environment in which Compact principles can flourish.

We will continue to work to ensure that Compact principles become fully embedded in the culture of central and local government bodies and voluntary and community organisations. The appointment of the Commissioner for the Compact, John Stoker, will help us with this process, overseeing partnership working and the operation of the Compact. He will report to future annual reviews on the state of the relationship. The next annual review will look at progress against the Compact Action Plan.

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Together we need to achieve consistent good practice, building on the Compact and improving public services, and supporting the sector's role in advocating for and empowering people and communities.

Civil Service Fast Stream Recruitment 2006

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): The 2006 Fast Stream Recruitment Report was published on-line at http://www.cabinetof.gov.uk today. It summarises the results of the Civil Service Fast Stream recruitment competitions completed in the year ending November 2006.

Key facts and figures from the Report are as follows.

All vacancies in the Graduate Fast Stream scheme, and 93 per cent. of

Fast Stream vacancies overall, were filled.

The proportion of successful female candidates rose to 50.4 per cent.

from 43.7 per cent. in 2005.

The proportion of successful candidates from ethnic minority

backgrounds rose to 11.1 per cent., from 7.1 per cent. in 2005.

The proportion of successful candidates with a declared disability rose

to 7.4 per cent, from 6.7 per cent in 2005.

The Fast Stream selection process itself is subject to continuous review, and the results are monitored in detail to ensure no adverse impact on any particular groups of applicants. We shall continue to work to improve Fast Stream recruitment from the point of view of both applicants and employing Departments.

The Fast Stream Development Programme remains a popular career choice, and has featured continuously in The Times Top 10 Graduate Employers since the survey's inception. Over the last five years it has attracted an average of 14,000 applications a year.

Copies of the Report have been placed in the Library for the reference of Members.

Communities and Local Government

Permitted Development Rights for Householder Microgeneration

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): The Government will shortly be issuing a consultation paper on this subject. Copies of this paper will be made available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Council Tax

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): Figures published by my Department on 27 March show that the average council tax increase in England in 2007-08 is 4.2 per cent.

We had made it clear to authorities that we expected to see an average council tax increase of less than 5 per cent. and I am pleased that overall local government has responded in a positive manner in keeping down the average council tax increase.

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We have therefore decided not to exercise our reserve capping powers in 2007-08.

However, keeping council tax under control remains a priority for the Government. We will have no hesitation in using our capping powers in future, if the circumstances require it.

Building Control System

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith): I am today publishing a short report by my Department on options for the future development of the building control system. This report follows in-depth discussion with a wide range of stakeholders over the last year which has raised a number of areas of concern and highlighted the need for reform to the system to ensure that it is fit for purpose now and in the future. This report is not a statement of intended Government policy. It is an indication of those ideas which we believe have the greatest potential for reforming the building control system effectively and which we intend to develop further before issuing a full consultation document later in the year.

The package outlined in the report includes possible reforms in six broad areas:

The Future of Building Control - Establishing the Vision and Strategy for Future


Modernising the System - Effective Risk Based Inspection and Enforcement

New Routes to Compliance - Minimising the Burden

Customer-Centric Approach - Improving Guidance and Other Tools to Aid

Individual Compliance

Improving our Approach to Regulation - Stability and Forward Planning

Performance Management and Future Capacity

The report can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: www.communities.gov.uk/buildingregs and is also available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Government Response to the All-Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am pleased to announce that I am today laying before Parliament a Command Paper setting out Government's response to the all-party inquiry into Anti-Semitism.

The Government welcome the all-party Parliamentary inquiry's constructive and comprehensive report into anti-Semitism and is grateful to the Committee for the detailed work it has undertaken in this area.

The Government share the Committee's commitment to the eradication of racism and intolerance wherever they exist. We acknowledge that there is no room for complacency, and recognise and commit ourselves to the practical nature of many of the Committee's recommendations.

The Government strongly condemn anti-Semitic incidents and understand the fears and concerns of the Jewish community. Anti-Semitism is not just a problem
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or concern for the Jewish community but impacts on society as a whole. The Government have a shared responsibility to tackle anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism and prejudice—not only with those communities directly affected, but with all members of society.

We believe the best way to do this is through effective implementation of strong legislation against racial and religious discrimination and racially and religiously motivated crime, underpinned by policies and strategies to increase racial equality and build community cohesion particularly through education.

The document I am publishing today sets out in full the Government's response to each of the Committee's recommendations.

Communities and Local Government

Major Works’ Costs (Leaseholders)

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): This statement reports progress on the Government’s review of the complex issues raised by the high major works bills now faced by some owners of ex-council flats (‘leaseholders’). It sets out progress and further steps that the Government will take to address these issues, while looking for other sustainable solutions in the longer term.


Tenants who buy flats from local authorities, and people who buy flats formerly owned by local authorities, are responsible for contributing towards the cost of repairing, maintaining and improving the properties in which those flats are situated.

Some current works of repair, maintenance and improvement to local authority properties are generating high major works bills, particularly in London. We have commissioned research into the impact on leaseholders, and have published the results on our website, at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id:=l504262.

The Government’s Review

We recognise that substantial major works bills may cause difficulties for some leaseholders and have consulted widely on the implications with all the stakeholders.

Our review has mainly focused on the range of ways in which local authorities can help leaseholders to pay their bills. It has also considered how landlords currently communicate with leaseholders on scheduled major works and their costs.

Capping of Service Charges

Leaseholders do not always have to pay the full amount that their lease requires. Major works charges are capped to no more than £10,000 in any five-year period when the works are funded by specified Government grants.

Ways of Helping Leaseholders Pay Their Bills

Local authorities can already help leaseholders to pay their bills in a number of ways.

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Some local authorities offer leaseholders the HouseProud equity release scheme managed by the Home Improvement Trust. A number of lenders also offer other equity release products that can be tailored to people’s needs.

Taken together, these offer leaseholders a wide range of options. But we have found that these are not all available in all areas.

What the Government Will Do

We think more can be done in the short term to help leaseholders to deal with high major works bills by means of these existing options, with enhancements and additions in the longer term.

But the alternative of simply extending the existing scheme for capping bills would bring severe problems. Capping all major works bills to £10,000 while taking no account of ability to pay would be very expensive—in London, this could, on current figures, cost more than £40 million.

But we recognise that there may be people whose financial resources are so squeezed that more targeted action may be needed. So we will do the following:

We will make it clear to local authorities that they should:

We are continuing to look further at ways to address this complex and sensitive issue. These actions represent work in progress. We will also actively monitor developments, to ensure that all concerned focus on the best ways of tackling these issues both now and in the future.

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