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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

EU Cohesion Policy

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms): In the Fourth Cohesion Report, published on 30 May 2007, the European Commission assesses the impact of cohesion policy at community, national and regional levels in the European Union. The report also identifies a range of challenges that cohesion policy may be confronted with in the coming years and puts forward a set of questions for consultation. The consultation was formally launched at the Fourth Cohesion Forum in Brussels, held on the 27-28 September 2007, which I attended, and will close on 31 January 2008.

Cohesion policy is supported by actions at EU, national, regional and local levels. The consultation is not therefore solely about the Structural and Cohesion Funds (SCFs) which have new objectives for the 2007-13 period.

The SCFs are, however, a significant part of the EC budget, on which the Commission has recently published a Communication: “Reforming the Budget, Changing Europe”, also for public consultation, to prepare for the Budget review in 2008-09. According to the Communication, the Commission’s approach is one of openness and with nothing ruled in and nothing ruled out: it will prepare this review with no preconceptions and encourages all interested parties to contribute to the consultation.

The Government are considering their approach both to the Commission’s consultation on the future of cohesion policy and to the budget review process.

In considering the Cohesion report the Government will be looking at:

The Government’s view on the EC budget is that it should be reformed so that the EU is better equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Its approach is set out in the recent publication “Global Europe: Meeting the Economic and Security Challenges, October 2007” publication. This identifies budgetary reform as one of the priority areas for EU action and sets out the three principles that will guide the Government’s approach when considering how to achieve budgetary reform. Based on these principles, a priority for reform in the future will be

This is consistent with the policy direction set out in the Government’s March 2003 publication “A modern regional policy for the United Kingdom”.

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The Government encourage interested parties in the UK to respond directly to the Commission on the Cohesion report. We would also be interested in their views.

Children, Schools and Families

ContactPoint: Funding and Implementation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I am announcing today levels of funding to local authorities to support the implementation of ContactPoint and providing an update on the implementation timetable.

Some £40 million will be made available to support local implementation until March 2009, made up of the following elements:

We have also provided indicative funding allocations to local authorities for future years: £27 million in 2009-10 and £15 million in 2010-11. My officials will write to local authorities and national partners today to inform local authorities and other partners about this funding.

ContactPoint is a key element of the “Every Child Matters” programme to transform children’s services by supporting more effective prevention and early intervention. Its goal is to improve outcomes and the experience of public services for all children, young people and families. ContactPoint will provide a tool to support better communication among practitioners across education, health, social care and youth offending. It will provide a quick way for those practitioners to find out who else is working with the same child or young person.

ContactPoint will be a simple basic online tool containing:

No case information will be held on ContactPoint.

ContactPoint is being developed with extensive input from a wide range of stakeholders. These include:

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Over the last few months we have been considering the substantial stakeholder feedback we have received and looked at the implications that the resulting proposed changes could have on the system. It is clear from the considerable work we have done so far that we will need more time than we originally planned to address the changes to ContactPoint which potential system users suggested.

The change to the timetable will mean that deployment of ContactPoint to the ‘Early Adopters’ local authorities and national partners will be in September or October 2008. It will be deployed to all other local authorities and national partners in 2009, between January and May, depending on final deployment slots. The additional time available presents a number of opportunities to do more work in the period prior to ContactPoint deployment that will help to realise some benefits earlier. The fundamental design of ContactPoint will not change; the alterations will make sure the system works even more effectively for users and improves the ability of local authority ContactPoint teams to manage user access.

The news on Tuesday 20 November of the loss of large volumes of child benefit data from HMRC has raised questions about the safety of large scale personal data in other Government systems, including ContactPoint. ContactPoint will not contain any financial information (such as bank details) or case information (such as case notes, assessments, medical records, exam results or subjective observations).

On Tuesday 20 November, the Department conducted an assessment of how personal data are stored and protected in the Department. As a result of that assessment, I am confident that we have very robust procedures in place. On Wednesday 21 November, the Prime Minister confirmed this approach when he asked all Departments to check their procedures for the storage and use of data. In light of the security breach at the HMRC, we are continuing to check our procedures to ensure standards are as high as they can be. To this end, on 20 November, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families decided to commission an independent assessment of its security procedures. This will be undertaken by Deloitte. Delaying the implementation of ContactPoint will enable the independent assessment of security procedures to take place as well as address the changes to ContactPoint that potential system users have told us they need.

Delivery partners will receive further information early in the new year. In the meantime, progress will be reported to local project managers regularly through their ContactPoint implementation co-ordinators. They will work with individual authorities and national partners to agree new deployment slots as soon as it is possible to do so.

Communities and Local Government

Planning Reform

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): In the white paper “Planning for a Sustainable Future”, published on 21 May 2007, we set out a wide-ranging package of proposals for reform of the planning system.

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Planning is critical to protecting the countryside and our environment, building sustainable homes and communities, and supporting growth and prosperity. It also plays a vital role in ensuring individuals and local communities have a say in what gets built.

Since 1997 we have made major improvements to town and country planning: more houses are being built, with better use of brownfield land; more development in town centres is helping to revitalise our towns and cities; planning decisions are being made quicker; and we have made the system more efficient and customer focused.

But significant problems remain. The planning system remains too complex, bureaucratic and inefficient. These problems are particularly acute for major infrastructure projects, which are subject to different planning regimes. Currently a single project may require consent under numerous different regimes. Lack of clarity in national policy, poor preparation of specific project proposals, lengthy and adversarial inquiry processes and slow decision-making mean that some planning decisions have taken years.

These delays, combined with the lack of certainty in the system, can result in high costs for business; prolonged uncertainty and blight for communities; and pose a serious threat to UK competitiveness, growth and jobs. Moreover delays in the provision of essential infrastructure needed to ensure clean, secure energy and water supplies and decent transport have quality of life implications for everyone.

We need to ensure that the planning system enables us to meet the long-term challenges we face as a society:

Our proposals for planning reform are a central part of the Government’s wider agenda for addressing these long term challenges in a way which demonstrates our commitment to achieving a prosperous economy and high quality of life for all; while also reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment.

The White Paper proposed that we should establish a new, single consent regime for nationally significant transport, energy, water and waste infrastructure projects under which:

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Responses to the White Paper have indicated that there is clear agreement that the current system is not working effectively. Our proposals have been widely welcomed including by business and many in the planning community and local government.

However a number of issues and concerns have been raised. Questions have arisen in particular about:

The proposal to produce national policy statements for major infrastructure sectors has been welcomed by the large majority of respondents to the White Paper. Over the forthcoming months, my colleagues the Secretaries of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, for Transport, and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will set out further details of how they propose to ensure national policy in their infrastructure sectors is clearly set out; a short summary of proposals is at Annex A.

We acknowledge that it is essential to ensure that our objectives in relation to sustainable development are central to consideration of future infrastructure needs. The Bill will therefore include a duty on Ministers to ensure that national policy statements are drawn up with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. We will also make it a requirement that all national policy statements should be subject to an appropriate appraisal of the sustainability of the policy they set out.

The Bill will also put effective public consultation and participation at the heart of all three key stages in the regime:

In order to support more effective engagement with communities and hard-to-reach groups, we will be increasing the resources we provide to bodies that promote community engagement in planning. We also intend that local authorities should have an important role in ensuring the views of the communities they represent are fully reflected.

Finally, the Bill will strengthen accountability and ensure decision-making is fair and transparent:

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