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Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what consideration has been given to potential (a) enhancement of multi-agency response resilience and (b) financial efficiencies, from combining the training offered by location of the Fire Service College and the Emergency Planning College on one site. 
Mr. Dhanda: Traditionally the Fire Service College has focused on specialist training for the Fire and Rescue Service at the operational (bronze) and tactical (silver) levels. With the need to develop and enhance national resilience the college has undergone a period of considerable change and there is now more focus on command and control of major incidents and on the exposure of Fire and Rescue Staff to multi agency working at the strategic (gold) level.
We have invested significantly in new training facilities and student accommodation at the Fire Service College and it has a large and unique incident ground which would readily support multi-agency working. There is already a degree of co-operation with the Emergency Planning College and, with closer collaboration having the potential to enhance the multi agency approach to large scale operational exercises and strengthen national resilience, the options for more joint working are being actively explored.
Mr. Dhanda: The Department undertook to work with the Commission for Racial Equality to produce an internal guide for Whitehall Departments on mainstreaming race equality duties. Unfortunately, it proved impossible to agree the content between us before the CRE merged into the new Equality and Human Rights Commission on 1 October 2007. We are continuing to work with the new Commission to determine how best to ensure that Departments can improve their performance.
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what risk and contingent liabilities her Department has allowed for in relation to potential fines from the European Commission for not correcting the deficiencies in the allocation of European Regional Development Fund funds and potential fraud. 
John Healey: As stated in the Communities and Local Government annual report 2007, laid before the House on 17 May 2007 (Cm 7094), the Department has a contingent liability in place for £62 million. The Department is working hard to satisfy the European Commissions concerns and ensure any possible fine would be considerably less than this. The Commission have yet to take final decisions, and it should also be noted that there has never been any suggestion of fraud in the issues raised by the Commission.
Mr. Dhanda: The Firelink contract was let in March 2006. Achievement of the first four milestones has been delayed. Milestone 1, relating to production of detailed plans and designs by the contractor, was achieved in March 2007, six months later than originally planned. This was largely due to the need to ensure the contractor's basis for project implementation was robust, and had the support of the Fire and Rescue Service. Sign off of Milestones 2-4, which relate to the installation of the network infrastructure is currently being withheld to ensure that the contractors proposed schedule for implementation is realistic. There are no other overdue Milestones at present. The overall target date for completion of Firelink with voice functionality is 2009, and this remains unchanged since contract signature; and as each brigade migrates to their regional control centre they will obtain full functionality including data transmission.
Andrew Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what account was taken of her Departments policy of encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to participate in public sector contracts when awarding the contract under the Integrated Clothing Project for the Fire and Rescue Service; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Dhanda: In line with the Small Business Friendly Concordat, launched by the Office of Deputy Prime Minister, the Local Government Association and the Small Business Service in March 2005, Firebuy Ltd. has actively engaged with Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME) and encouraged them to participate in all national tenders.
Andrew Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what process was followed by Firebuy Limited in setting the technical specifications for procurement on behalf of the Fire and Rescue Service; what mechanism is in place to provide assurance in relation to this process; what recent (a) discussions she has had and (b) representations she has received from (i) the Fire and Rescue Service and (ii) others on the (A) procedures and practices, (B) conclusions and (C) overall performance against objectives of Firebuy Limited in relation to the Integrated Clothing Project; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Dhanda: The Integrated Clothing Project operates under the principles of the Prince2 project management method and is subject to Gateway reviews by the 4ps (Public Private Partnerships Programme) who are the local government procurement experts. Firebuy Ltd. works with the Chief Fire Officers Association, as the professional voice of the Fire and Rescue Service, in the setting of national technical specifications. The testing methodology utilised by Firebuy Limited, for Personal Protective Equipment, has become the benchmark process and is now contained within European Standards.
There have been recent (a) discussions and (b) representation from both (i) Fire and Rescue Authorities (FRAs) and (ii) suppliers to the industry on when the Integrated Clothing Project will be let as this kit is required urgently by some FRAs. It is too soon to comment on the (A) procedures and practices, (B) conclusions and (C) overall performance against objectives as the project has just completed the Stage 3 Gateway Review, which looked at the investment decision.
Andrew Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much Firebuy Limited has spent on determining the (a) items and (b) item specifications of procurement on behalf of the Fire and Rescue Service; and over what period of time such determination was conducted. 
Mr. Dhanda: The costs of determining the (a) items and (b) items specifications of procurement on behalf of the Fire and Rescue Service cannot be quantified as separate components within the Firebuy Ltd. budget. These activities are intrinsic to Firebuy Ltd.s purpose as the national procurement agency which develops user requirement specifications.
Since Firebuy Ltd. was formerly established on 1 April 2006 it has spent approximately £1.5 million per annum on various procurement operations. This expenditure includes staff costs, project scoping, developing specifications, inviting and evaluating tenders from the market and awarding and managing contracts and framework agreements. Firebuy Ltd. has already delivered over £lm savings since September 2005 when it was set up as Company Limited by Guarantee. Expected future benefits for Fire and Rescue Authorities are estimated at £10 million over the next five years.
Andrew Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will place in the Library a copy of the Stage 3 Review of the Integrated Clothing Project by 4ps (Public and Private Partnerships Programme) gateway review team undertaken from 18 to 20 June. 
Mr. Dhanda: The stage 3 Gateway review on the Integrated Clothing Project will be made available on the Firebuy website (www.firebuy.gov.uk) as soon as it is published.
Grant Shapps: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what assessment her Department has made of the potential effect on council tax bills of the recent flooding in the worst flood-hit areas. 
John Healey: Decisions on the level of council tax are a matter for individual authorities. To date the Government has made available a significant package of over 46 million to support areas affected by the flooding of June and July 2007. This includes:
£17,390,000 in Flood Recovery Grant released to local authorities affected by the floods to support their work in helping those in greatest and most immediate need.
£13,288,000 released to schools and childrens services affected by the floods
An initial £3 million for local authorities to repair damage to the local highway
Over £11 million from Regional Development Agencies for businesses affected in their regions
£1 million for use by Jobcentre Plus to support additional demand for Social Fund Community Care Grants
£1 million to support rural tourism in England through promoting rural destinations and visitor attractions and a targeted marketing campaign.
This is additional money to that available under the Bellwin scheme which provides emergency financial assistance from Government to local authorities, to help meet the uninsurable costs of immediate action to safeguard life or property or prevent severe inconvenience to inhabitants in the case of an emergency or disaster. In recognition of the exceptional nature of the recent flooding we have made it easier for local authorities to claim back additional costs from Government through the Bellwin scheme by significantly extending the period for which authorities can claim and increasing the proportion of costs they can receive in support grants to 100 per cent. above threshold.
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether councils receiving 100 per cent. Bellwin contributions following the recent flooding will have to pay for the Bellwin threshold contribution from their own resources. 
Yes. In keeping with the established principals of the Bellwin scheme we take the viewas have previous Administrationsthat it is reasonable to
expect authorities to cover costs themselves up to a certain level. Every authority is required to maintain reserves, one of whose main purposes is to meet unexpected costs.
The threshold above which an authority is eligible to claim Bellwin funding is 0.2 per cent. of its annual budget and is only applied once in the financial year. Therefore, if an authority exceeded its threshold in June and was hit by floods again in July it would not be required to spend up to the threshold in July before qualifying for grant. For the recent flooding, expenditure above the threshold will be eligible for 100 per cent. assistance from Government, and the Bellwin scheme announced for the recent flooding was, alongside that for the floods in 2000, the most generous ever announced.
Mrs. Lait: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will make an assessment of the merits of powers for local authorities (a) to regulate and (b) to ban the use of out-door patio heaters on licensed premises; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Iain Wright: Since 2003-04, the majority of our homelessness grants are paid to local authorities to support them in their work on tackling and preventing homelessness effectively. Previously the majority of funding went direct to the voluntary sector. We do however continue to provide homelessness funding direct to the voluntary sector, where appropriate.
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