The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ed Balls): Following the March 2005 Treasury Committee report on Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) charging, the Treasury invited the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (John McFall), to chair a Working Group on ATMs including banks, independent ATM operators and consumer groups to take forward work on key issues. The Working Group published a report on 13 December 2006.
The Working Group announced an agreement to provide over 600 new free cash machines across 1,707 target low-income areas that it identified as lacking convenient access to these machines. To achieve this, a market-based financial incentiveknown as a financial inclusion premiumwould be introduced, to encourage ATM operators to place or retain free ATMs in deprived areas. The Working Group also agreed to implement improved transparency rules for charging cash machines.
The Government are pleased to report that, just six months since the publication of this report, industry has made excellent progress towards the goal of placing over 600 non-charging machines in low-income areas across the UK, with more than 1 million individuals on low incomes standing to benefit.
As of 15 June 2007, sites for 471 of the 600 new ATMs required have been successfully identified. Of these, 127 new free machines are already issuing cash to the public, with a further 344 confirmed ATM sites under contract to have a free ATM installed, most of them before the end of this year.
The financial inclusion premium was introduced on 1 March 2007. Operators of the 127 newly live cash machines are already receiving this premium from cardholders banks and building societies. In addition, a further 100 ATMs that existed prior to the Working Group announcement are also benefiting from this premium, given their special status as the last ATM in town.
Banks, building societies and independent ATM operators have all contributed new free-to-use cash machines, with independent ATM operators having provided or in the process of supplying 41 per cent. of the confirmed new non-charging ATMs. The UK ATM network, LINK, is continuing to work with its member banks and ATM operators to identify suitable sites in the remaining target areas, co-ordinating with Members of Parliament, local authorities, consumer councils and landlords.
This work is already having an important effect on financial inclusion, particularly on the ability of low-income customers to access and manage their accounts. According to data from LINK, the new free ATMs in operation are enabling over 260,000 residents in the target low-income areas to access cash more conveniently. A further 822,000 residents in deprived areas will stand to benefit from the confirmed additional ATMs that are being supplied all across the UK over the coming months.
For all cash machines that do charge users, operators are continuing work on signage to make it absolutely clear that a charge will be applied when withdrawing cash, so customers can see at a glance whether a machine is free or charging.
The Government are encouraged by the concrete progress achieved, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in extending free access to cash to those who need it the most. Today my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire and I have written to all MPs thanking them for their support and urging them to continue to identify sites for the remaining 129 free cash machines. The Government look forward to a further update from the industry on its work to deliver against the ATM Working Group recommendations before the end of this year.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): Today HM Treasury has published documents launching a consultation on Gift Aid. The launch of the consultation starts a process of engagement with the charity sector that will include regional and national events and discussion with a wide range of charities. The consultation was announced at the Budget, and the Treasury expects to report on progress before the end of the year. Copies of the consultation documents are available in the Library of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Meg Munn): Following the annual review, on 26 June the Secretary of State will lay regulations to update the home loss payment thresholds in section 30 of the Land Compensation Act 1973 (as amended). Home loss payments are paid at a rate of 10 per cent. of the market value to owner-occupiers who are displaced from their homes as a result of compulsory purchase or certain housing orders. These are subject to maximum and minimum payments. Tenants receive a flat rate equal to the minimum payment to owner-occupiers.
With effect from 1 September 2007 the maximum payment to owner-occupiers displaced from their home will be increased from £40,000 to £44,000 and the minimum payment will be increased from £4,000 to £4,400. The flat-rate will be increased from £4,000 to £4,400.
The period of two months between laying the regulations and commencement will give acquiring authorities reasonable notice to revise their budgets for compensation. This is similar to the notice period given in previous years for revisions to the home loss payments thresholds.
The document Delivering Housing and Regeneration: Communities England and the Future of Social Housing Regulation outlines proposals to create a new housing and regeneration agency, Communities England, and also responds to Professor Caves review of social housing regulation.
At the end of last year I asked Professor Martin Cave, Director of the Centre for Management under Regulation at Warwick Business School to carry out a review of social housing regulation, the first for 30 years. Professor Caves report, Every Tenant Matters, is published today. The Governments initial response to Professor Caves report is also published today, and forms part of Delivering Housing and Regeneration: Communities England and the Future of Social Housing.
the delivery functions that are proposed to transfer to Communities England from central Government, and also the proposed roles that central Government will retain.
the portfolio of investment tools that are proposed for Communities England;
the new agencys place making role; explaining how Communities England will tailor its interventions to the needs of communities and seeking views on how it should work with local partners, including the private sector, to create vibrant and economically sustainable places;
proposals for the future regulation of social housing in response to Professor Cave; ensuring that the system better protects and empowers tenants, works better with central and local government and reduces unnecessary burdens.
the proposed accountability of the new organisation to Ministers and local communities, and how it will report its outcomes;
work that is already being undertaken to prepare the way for the establishment of Communities England; and
next steps required to make Communities England a reality.
A draft Statutory Instrument to simplify the Housing (Right to Manage) Regulations 1994 for local authority tenants to make it easier for those who wish to trigger the process of developing tenant management with their local authority. This
follows a commitment in the local government White Paper: Strong and Prosperous Communities to review these regulations.
a proposal to promote a voluntary tenant management process for all social housing tenants and landlords.
opportunity to comment on how tenant management organisations may extend their role to wider neighbourhood services.
a proposal to form a national tenant organisation.
Consultation on options for tenant led/tenant owned ALMOs.
Tenant EmpowermentA consultation paper at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1511393
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): On 27 March my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government announced that 16 proposals for unitary local government were proceeding to stakeholder consultation, 27 March 2007, Official Report, column 71WS. That consultation runs until 22 June.
Eight of those proposals relate to local authorities which lie within, or partly within, a national park, and may thus have implications for the appointments which local authorities make to national park authorities.
At present, local authority appointees make up a majority of the members on each national park authority but those appointments are shared between a number of different local authorities. In the event that all or most of those local authorities were replaced by a single unitary, there would be a significant concentration of appointmentsunder some permutations a single unitary authority would be able to appoint 12 out of the 22 members on a national park authority (at present no single local authority appoints more than six members).
The Government think that such a concentration of appointments is undesirable. National park authorities have been independent bodies since 1997 and I believe their independent status has helped them to deliver the national park purposes and to meet both local and national needs. That independence might be
threatenedor might seem to be threatenedif a single local authority appointed too high a proportion of their members.
Practically I am also conscious that a new unitary local authority, given its total number of members and the many responsibilities upon it, may have difficulty in finding sufficient members who were able to devote the necessary time to serving on a national park authority .
For those reasons I have decided that where unitary local government might lead to a single local authority appointing eight or more members on to a national park authority, I shall want to take action in advance to ensure the independence of that authority. If such circumstances arise, I intend to review the membership of each affected national park authority with a view to reducing the number of its local authority appointees.
Where I conclude that it is indeed appropriate to reduce the number of principal local authority seats on any national park authority, I shall also want to reflect on whether that should be allowed to feed through into a smaller overall size of authority or whether the number of other seatsfor example, those appointed by DEFRAshould be expanded so as to maintain the same overall size.
If I do conclude that it would be appropriate to add some extra seats within the other categoryfor example, those appointed by DEFRAI would envisage using those new seats to recruit particular qualities that are either under-represented at present or might become so following a reduction in local authority members.
By this mechanism one might aim to ensure, for example, that there was always a minimum number of members with strong local links, or with knowledge of youth issues, or with knowledge of the regional layer of government.
The potential changes I have described could all be achieved through secondary legislation, following the amendments to the 1995 Environment Act which were introduced by section 61 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
If, having reviewed the membership of individual national park authorities, I do in fact conclude that changes in membership are desirable, I shall of course undertake a full public consultation on my precise proposals before laying the necessary statutory instrument before Parliament : I am in any case required by the Environment Act 1995 (schedule 7 paragraph 2 (3)) to consult the local authority (ies) with land in a national park before making any changes to the local authority membership of that national park authority.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett):
I have today placed in the library a copy of the report by Mrs. Linda Costelloe Baker, the Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance Refusals with Limited Rights of Appeal, covering the period 1 January to 30 September
2006. A copy is also available on the UKvisas website at: www.ukvisas.co.uk together with UKvisas response to the monitors recommendations.
I welcome Mrs. Costelloe Bakers constructive and positive report, which is based on her detailed review of 1,117 cases out of the 2.1 million handled by UKvisas during the period 1 January to 30 September 2006. Mrs. Costelloe Baker notes a significant improvement in the quality of UKvisas work as it began to focus more firmly on balance and customer service.
Mrs. Costelloe Baker is satisfied that 90 per cent. of refusal decisions in her sample were reasonable. This is a rise of 3.7 per cent. over the 2005 sample. The report contains a number of practical recommendations to UKvisas in regard to the quality of its decision making, customer service and complaint handling. UKvisas intends to make use of these recommendations to make further improvements to its business performance and customer service delivery.
I wish to express my thanks to Mrs. Costelloe Baker for her hard work in completing this, her second report as Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance Refusals with Limited Rights of Appeal. Her next report will cover the period from October 2006 to March 2007 and will be published in autumn 2007.
The NHS Choices website will provide the public with information about conditions, treatments and services available from the NHS, comparative data on the quality of services and information on healthy lifestyle options. Patients will also have the opportunity to provide comment on their experiences of NHS services. Potential patients can view these comments as part of their own decision-making about health and health services. Over time, NHS Choices will build into a comprehensive information service that covers a wide range of health and health service issues.
The address for the NHS Choices website is: www.nhs.uk.
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