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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Communities and Local Government


The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): Local authorities were central to the response to the flooding that occurred this summer which caused widespread damage to homes, businesses and key public services. With around 48,000 homes affected and damage to schools and roads, councils remain central to the recovery operations and some may struggle to meet key service targets such as waste collection, recycling and decent homes.

Therefore, I am announcing plans today to ensure that councils severely affected by this summer's floods will not be unfairly penalised through the local performance framework. To ensure our approach is clear, consistent and transparent, I am publishing a statement of principles, which is set out below.

I want to ensure that local authorities and partners are able to concentrate on flood recovery whilst continuing to deliver the best service they can to their citizen. The Government will adopt this to enable departments and inspectorates to take into account evidence showing temporary dips in performance resulting from the flooding against an improving trend or previous good performance.

However, we are also clear that maintaining momentum on existing improvements is important, especially as we introduce the new local performance framework and indicator set over the next year. For this reason we will not make general revisions to targets for the flooded areas. The process for agreeing any flexibilities will be transparent and clear.

Statement of Principles - Guidelines for considering performance management flexibilities

While performance management flexibilities will need to be agreed on a case-by-case basis with each area, the following are some broad principles to inform the engagement with authorities affected by floods:

Main principles

1. Where the impact of the floods results in an unusual strain being placed on local authorities and their partners, Government Departments and the relevant inspectorates will recognise this when considering performance assessment data. In particular we would expect common sense to be used when reacting to any temporary dips in performance against an improving trend or previous good performance.

2. Nonetheless, the best value duty to secure continuous improvement still applies and citizens have a right to expect that disruption to services will be minimised as far as possible. So, we would only expect flexibilities to be agreed in areas significantly affected by flooding and where clear evidence can be demonstrated as to why flexibilities are necessary.

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5. In line with practice in other cases where the performance of authorities and partners has been affected by events beyond their control, we cannot agree to renegotiate the targets against which reward grant is paid, either from Local Public Service Agreements or the reward element of Local Area Agreements.

6. However, we are looking at the possibility of allowing some flexibility in terms of assessment of performance attained if affected by flooding. This would be done through provision of direct evidence to independent assessors that a target would have been met in full or the threshold for reward attainment exceeded if flooding had not occurred. This would not result in adjustment of a target; rather, a change in the performance judged to have occurred.

Handling procedures

1. GO Locality Managers will be the channel for any discussions held between relevant departments, inspectorates and local authorities to achieve agreement on individual issues.

2. Inspectorates are responsible for the independent judgements they make and the methodologies on which they do so. It will therefore be for them to determine what reasonable flexibilities they can agree, within the boundaries of the principles outlined above. This might include cancelling or rescheduling an inspection, or taking account of the impacts of the flooding in reaching any judgements.

3. While we recognise the impacts of flooding can take several years to fully repair, we believe performance management flexibilities should be limited to the period that authorities are dealing with the immediate impacts and setting up their longer term arrangements. Therefore, we would expect flexibilities to be limited to within the financial year 2007-08 (recognising that this also covers inspections and assessments made in 2008-09 using 2007-08 data).

Home Department

Protective Security

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced in his statement on 25 July 2007, column 841, volume 463, a review by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Security and Counter-Terrorism (Lord West) of how best we protect crowded places, transport infrastructure and critical national infrastructure from terrorist attack.

This review has been completed and shows that a substantial amount of work has been undertaken or is under-way to increase levels of protective security in each of these three areas. It also identifies areas where further improvements could be made but recognises that we must ensure that protective security measures are proportionate to the risk.

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We need to ensure that individuals and businesses are free to carry on our normal social, economic and democratic activities and, as a result, there will always be some vulnerability to terrorist attack. I do not intend to publish the review because I do not wish in any way to compromise our security. But I can mention some of the main points.

Crowded Places

Lord West has concluded that we need to make further improvements in reducing the vulnerability of crowded places to terrorist attack. This will be done by publishing next year, after further consultation, a new strategic national framework to encourage greater partnership working at the local level between local authorities, other local partners and in particular businesses. This will build on existing local partnerships such as Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships, and help local partners to incorporate counter-terrorist security advice into their existing work to improve community safety.

Local police Counter-Terrorism Security Advisers (CTSAs) already provide general counter-terrorism protective security advice in person to businesses, communities and other stakeholders. The Government will strengthen their work by investing a further £1.5 million in Counter-Terrorism Security Adviser posts from April 2008 which will enable more protective security advice to be provided at the local level to both the public and private sector.

We are also raising the profile of protective security at a local level by including an indicator on “Protection against terrorist attack” in the Single Set of National Indicators for Local Authorities and Local Authority Partnerships (published on 11 October). Following consultation, we intend to bring into effect during 2008-09 a standard way for police Counter Terrorism Security Advisers to assess vulnerability and other relevant factors which will enable local partnerships to prioritise their work and assess progress.

Professional protective security guidance is a crucial part of this approach. The police National Counter-Terrorist Security Office (NaCTSO) has already produced guides to improving protective security by business sector. Guides aimed at sports stadia, pubs, clubs and bars, shopping centres and high streets and visitor attractions have been produced and distributed to businesses in these sectors and copies are available from www.nactso.gov.uk.

Other protective security guidance for cinemas and theatres, restaurants and hotels and the education and health sectors will be produced by April 2008. Guidance for major events (which will include open air events and festivals) religious sites/places of worship and commercial centres will be produced by July 2008.

In addition, we will make improvements to the planning process, as identified by the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), in his contribution to the review so that more is done to protect buildings from terrorism from the design stage onwards. For example, new initiatives have been identified with the support of relevant professional bodies to raise the awareness and skills of architects, planners and police Architectural Liaison Officers in relation to counter-terrorism protective security.

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Transport infrastructure

The review has acknowledged the effectiveness of the security programme that has already been implemented across the transport sector. This focuses on delivering security measures that help protect the travelling public and transport staff and facilities from terrorism threats, without impacting disproportionately on how the industry operates. While the regulated operators themselves deliver and fund these security measures, the Government regulate what these measures need to be. The report acknowledges the proportionality and practicality of our requirements and the extent to which the industry is involved in their development, as well as the challenges implicit in the “user pays” principle.

The report notes the significance of particular areas of work under-way. In particular, the Government will issue further guidance to the aviation industry on measures that can be taken to provide an appropriate level of protective security at entry points to airports and terminals. We will also accelerate work to deliver better measures to protect railway stations from the risk of a vehicle attack. The Government's Multi-Agency Threat and Risk Assessment (MATRA) approach that we employ across a range of transport modes will ensure that measures are co-ordinated efficiently.

Critical National Infrastructure (CNI)

The review showed that there is a high standard of protection of the critical national infrastructure from the threat of terrorism. Security specialists such as the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) are working effectively with Government Departments and the private sector to provide a proportionate level of protective security response commensurate with the different types of threat and risks affecting the CNI.

Nevertheless, the review has identified some specific improvements which could be made to the way in which we protect the CNI. For example, we intend to build on work already under-way to implement a modernised approach to identifying and categorising critical infrastructure which takes full account of information networks as well as physical assets and of the interdependencies across sectors. This will enable better prioritisation and most effective use of resources in order to deliver security improvements across the national infrastructure where they are most needed.

The new approach will be in use across the majority of sectors by the start of the next financial year (2008-09). In addition, further CPNI work on measures to protect against vehicle borne attack will be accelerated, and new research initiatives progressed.

Leader of the House

Legislative Programme

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I am pleased to announce I am publishing today “The Government’s Draft Legislative Programme—Taking a Wider View”.

Copies of this document can be obtained from the Vote Office

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Aviation Security

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): The restriction on the number of cabin bags which passengers are permitted to carry onto an aircraft (the ‘one-bag rule’) was introduced following the August 2006 security alert. The alleged plot to bomb aircraft on transatlantic flights highlighted a new method of terrorist attack, using relatively small amounts of liquids and other components.

It was clear that in the wake of this new danger, we needed a new regime that would prevent dangerous liquids being taken on board aircraft—and yet would be practical to implement, while also ensuring that security levels would not be compromised. As a result screeners would be looking for a substantially bigger range of potentially dangerous items.

We were clear from the beginning, though, that the one-bag rule was a temporary arrangement—and that the one-bag rule would change once the industry had demonstrated its ability to screen passengers and bags to an acceptable standard, in the light of the new threat.

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We have assessed the effectiveness of the one-bag rule over the past year, considering airport investment in new screening technologies, and the improvements that extra security staff and new procedures have made at selected airports around the country.

I am announcing today a new approach to hand baggage security that will be introduced progressively as airports are ready to handle the extra capacity, so we can pass the benefits on to the passenger as quickly as possible.

We are inviting each airport to submit plans to take advantage of new technology, operational innovations, and unexploited capacity in the system to make a real difference to passengers as soon as possible.

Because airports are so busy at Christmas, the earliest date that airports will be able to introduce a new approach to hand luggage will be 7 January 2008. I hope to see rapid progress across the whole country—with all airports submitting plans over the next few months.

This is not about relaxing security; it is about allowing airports to take advantage of smarter technologies and improved processes to deliver a better service to the passenger.

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