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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 7 February 2008

Communities and Local Government

Homes and Communities Agency (London)

The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): The Housing and Regeneration Bill, currently before Parliament, establishes the Homes and Communities Agency, bringing together, for the first time, land and money to deliver decent, affordable housing and regenerate our communities by creating places where people choose to live. It will give local authorities a clear strategic partner to work with on housing and regeneration, and will enable better and more effective use of a range of assets, resources and funding streams to respond to the particular housing and regeneration problems in different communities.

Work to establish the agency is progressing well. Following his appointment as chief executive designate of the agency, Sir Bob Kerslake has appointed a full time set-up team comprising staff drawn from the Housing Corporation, English Partnerships and CLG. The team will lead the delivery of the detailed work necessary to bring the agency into being.

Reflecting the devolved arrangements that operate for the London Development Agency, and the Mayor of London’s responsibility to produce a housing strategy for the capital, my predecessor asked Sir Bob Kerslake, chief executive designate of the Homes and Communities Agency, to discuss how the HCA and the Mayor’s bodies could most effectively co-operate to meet London’s housing and regeneration needs. Following those discussions, I have agreed to their proposal that, once the agency is established, a sub-committee of the HCA board should be set up with specific responsibility for London. The board will be chaired by the Mayor, and the vice chair will be the chief executive of the HCA. The London boroughs will also be actively involved through participation on the sub-committee and involvement in the delivery of individual schemes on the ground. The sub-committee will be supported by a team comprising the London staff of the HCA and staff drawn from the London Development Agency. The team will be able to draw on the resources and assets of both the HCA and the LDA in meeting London’s housing and regeneration needs.

Planning Delivery Grant

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I am today announcing the final allocations of the second tranche of £90 million of planning delivery grant (PDG) for 2007-08. The grant is paid to local authorities to support improvement in the delivery of planning services. Over the period 2003-08 the Government will have
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made available a total of £605 million through PDG which has played a significant part in raising the profile of planning, providing additional resources for both development management and plan-making, and incentivising improvement in performance against a background of a rapidly increasing number of planning applications.

The total PDG for 2007-08 amounts to £120 million which has been paid in two parts. The first tranche was paid in May 2007.

The grant is performance-related. The aim is to enhance resources for the planning system in a way that drives performance improvement and ensures effective delivery of our objectives for sustainable communities.

Grant allocations are not ring-fenced and authorities have complete discretion in the way they spend this money. However, to encourage investment for the future, 25 per cent. of the total grant paid to any individual authority must be spent on capital. The remaining 75 per cent. can be spent by the local authority on resource or capital budgets.

A copy of the determination and a table showing the local authority allocations is available in the Libraries of the House.


Burton Review (MOD Data Loss)

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): On 21 January 2008 I informed the House about the theft of laptop computers from Ministry of Defence vehicles and premises and announced that, following consultation with the Information Commissioner, I had invited Sir Edmund Burton to undertake a full investigation into the losses. In response to questions I gave an undertaking to the House to provide further details of the Burton Review, including reporting timescales, when they were available. I am now in a position to do so.

I have agreed the following terms of reference for the review with Sir Edmund following consultation with the Information Commissioner:

I will make a further statement to the House once Sir Edmund’s work has been concluded.

Armed Forces Pay Review Body Report

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): The 2008 report of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body (AFPRB) has now been published. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the review body for their report. I am pleased to confirm that the AFPRB's recommendations are to be accepted in full, with implementation effective from 1 April 2008.

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In line with the AFPRB recommendations, the basic military salary for officers and all other ranks will increase by 2.6 per cent. In addition, the AFPRB has recommended an increase to X-factor of 1 per cent. and a restructuring to increase the amount of X-factor paid to officers at Lieutenant-Colonel, Colonel and Brigadier (and equivalent) ranks.

The rates of specialist pay (including flying pay, submarine pay, diving pay and hydrographic pay) will also increase by 2.6 per cent. The Government have also accepted the AFPRB’s recommendation to introduce additional targeted financial retention incentives for Nuclear Submarine Watchkeepers, Army Vehicle Mechanics, Royal Artillery, RAF Regiment Gunners and Firefighters and a new category of specialist pay for Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel to tackle specific recruitment and retention issues.

The Government remain committed to the Independent Pay Review Body process. This award is consistent with achievement of the Government’s 2 per cent. CPI inflation target which helps contribute to low and stable inflation, macroeconomic stability and economic growth.

Copies of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body report are available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Future Water (Water Strategy for England)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I am today publishing the Government’s new water strategy “Future Water”, together with consultation documents on social and environmental guidance to Ofwat, on surface water drainage and on controls on phosphates in domestic laundry cleaning products. The consultations will close on 30 April 2008.

Securing and maintaining water supplies is vital to the prosperity of the country and to the health of people and the environment. In some areas, current supplies are already unsustainable and this situation was exacerbated by the drought in South East England between 2004 and 2006. These pressures are going to get worse as the climate changes, the economy grows, and population increases. Combined with the need to reduce CO2 emissions from the water industry and from our use of hot water in our homes, this means that we must find ways of improving efficiency, and of reducing demand and wastage.

There is no single answer. What is needed is a combination—or in some areas all—of one or more of the following measures:

The strategy summarises the action we are taking on all of these.

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We will be commissioning an independent review to advise on the future of water charging and metering including whether there is a need to move beyond the current system in which companies in seriously water stressed areas can introduce mandatory metering where there is a clear case for doing so. The review will need to look at social, economic and environmental concerns. Any proposed change would need to include measures, such as tariffs, that help vulnerable customers.

As well as drinking water, we are concerned about the quality of our lakes, rivers and streams. These are affected by discharges from sewage treatment works, and by direct pollution, such as from agriculture. High quality water is important for habitats and ecosystems and is greatly valued for recreation and leisure.

Over the last two decades we have made great improvements to water quality in the environment. This has been achieved mainly through the tightening of controls on pollution from the end of pipes such as the discharge from sewage treatment works. We must now take action on a wider range of pollution including: tackling phosphate pollution of rivers and lakes by phasing out phosphates as an ingredient in laundry cleaning products by 2015; continuing to clean up the water that is discharged from sewage treatment works; and using river basin management plans under the water framework directive to tackle direct pollution of water from agriculture and water run off in urban areas. I am today publishing a consultation on controls on phosphates in domestic laundry cleaning products which will consider both voluntary and regulatory control options.

The drought was followed in 2007 by major flooding. While this may seem a different problem, science tells us that both droughts and floods will become more frequent with climate change. I announced on Monday the allocation of funding for flood management, and the outcomes we expect to see from this funding. The floods of 2007 have made us all aware of the need to tackle surface water drainage. A consultation on surface water drainage is being launched today on the recommendations from Sir Michael Pitt’s ‘lessons learned’ report. The proposals include introducing surface water management plans to coordinate activity, and clarifying responsibilities for sustainable drainage systems, as well as reviewing the ability of new development to connect surface water automatically to the public sewer.

Alongside the strategy, I am today publishing draft statutory social and environmental guidance to the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) for consultation. In reflecting the policies set out in “Future Water”, it is one of the ways in which the strategy can begin to be implemented. Following the consultation it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny as set out in the Water Industry Act 1991, as amended by the Water Act 2003.

Copies of “Future Water—The Government’s Water Strategy for England” and the consultation documents on social and environmental guidance to Ofwat; and surface water drainage have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The documents are also available on the website of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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Cabinet Office

Absence Management (Civil Service)

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Tom Watson): Managing sickness absence continues to be a key priority for the Civil Service.

The latest figures for 2006-07, now available at: http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/statistics/sickness.asp show that Departments need to continue their effort to address this. Copies are also available in the Library of the House.

Over the past year, Permanent Secretary Management Group have focused on this area and agreed a suite of actions that include:

From April 2008, Departments are now required to collect, analyse and publish their own sickness absence data each quarter and annually in departmental reports.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council - 25 and 26 January 2008 - Correction to Written Ministerial Statement of 4 February

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): Due to an administrative error the text of my written ministerial statement of the 4 February on the Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council was not issued in its entirety. The full statement is as follows:

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