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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Post-mortem Procedures (Nuclear Industry)

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. John Hutton): Further to the written ministerial statement by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on Thursday 26 April 2007, Official Report, column 28WS, I wish to announce today slightly revised terms of reference for the inquiry currently being carried out by Michael Redfern QC. The revised terms of reference are as follows:

(a) Having regard to the provisions of the Human Tissue Act 1961, the Coroners’ Rules 1984, the Coroners’ Act 1988 and predecessor legislation, to enquire into the circumstances in which, from 1955, organs/tissue were removed from individuals at NHS or other facilities, and sent to and analysed at nuclear laboratory facilities.

(b) In particular, to establish so far as practicable:

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(c) To consider such other issues in connection with the above matters as the Secretary of State may direct.

(d) To report to the Secretary of State as soon as possible.

(e) To make recommendations.

Michael Redfern QC has requested these revised terms of reference in the light of the work that he and his inquiry team have undertaken so far.


Departmental Expenditure Limits

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): Subject to parliamentary approval of any necessary supplementary estimate, HM Treasury’s total DEL will be reduced by £73,000 from £229,448,000 to £229,375,000 and the Administration budget will be reduced by £2,670,000 from £173,851,000 to £171,181,000. The impact on resources and capital is set out in the following table:









Administration budget (1)






Near-cash in RDEL











Less Depreciation(3)












(1)The total of 'Administration budget' and 'Near-cash in resource DEL' figures may well be greater than total resource DEL due to the definitions overlapping.

(2)Capital DEL includes items treated as resource in Estimates and accounts but which are treated as Capital DEL in budgets.

(3)Depreciation, which forms part of resource DEL, is excluded from the total DEL, since capital DEL includes capital spending and to include depreciation of those assets would lead to double counting.

The resource and capital DELs remain unchanged while total DEL is reduced by £73,000 following an increase in depreciation. The reduction in the administration budget arises from the reclassification of Administration budget spending to other current to finance increased other current spending by HM Treasury to reflect a reduction of £390,000 in appropriations in aid and the Office of Government Commerce to fund the remaining costs associated with the OGC’s voluntary early retirement and severance scheme costs arising from the Transforming Government Procurement review.

Communities and Local Government

Blackpool Task Force Report

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): In March last year the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, invited a taskforce to review the totality of economic, social and environmental development plans in the Blackpool area. The Blackpool taskforce comprised senior representation from Blackpool Council, ReBlackpool,
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English Partnerships, the North-West Regional Development Agency and Government Office North-West.

The taskforce reported in July 2007 and made a number of observations and recommendations. Since that date, the Government have been actively engaged in discussions with Blackpool and national and regional agencies about how best to take forward the recommendations. On 1 February, the Secretary of State for Transport announced a centrepiece of the Government’s response to the taskforce, confirming a £85 million investment of public funds to renew Blackpool’s trams. This and other announcements are contained in the response I am publishing today, which includes:

Education and Skills: Over £100 million will be spent on a complete overhaul of Blackpool’s education facilities, including new schools, a new town centre further education campus, a new higher education facility and major investment in skills training. This investment is vital to produce the highly skilled and qualified workforce that Blackpool needs to diversify from its traditional but declining employment base.

Transport: A £100 million boost to local transport is underway, with an announcement earlier this month for a modernised tram system, together with investments to improve the airport and important studies to take forward rail and road improvements. Improved connectivity is vital to bring not just visitors but also new investors and jobs to Blackpool and its Fylde coast neighbours.

Resort: £82 million already committed to improve the beach and resort offer, with improved seafront defences, investment in events and a promise to respond constructively to bids from Blackpool for investment in the illuminations and further beachfront improvements.

Regeneration: The NWDA is investing, with ReBlackpool, to take forward major town centre regeneration including theTalbot gateway. This initiative, together with environmental improvements, will help restore Blackpool’s position as a major shopping and sub-regional centre.

Housing and Accommodation: English Partnerships will be investing an initial £35 million in the South beach and North beach areas to help improve the housing mix and create more mixed communities. Housing investment will help reduce the surplus of unsuitable houses of multiple occupation and stimulate private sector investment in improved hotels and housing.

Working Across Administrative Boundaries: The Government applaud the co-operation between Blackpool and its Fylde coast neighbours on a multi-area agreement, and the recognition that economic regeneration needs joined-up work both within the town and with neighbouring authorities.

Other recommendations in the report will be the subject of feasibility studies and funding bids, and I am pleased to note the co-operation between the NWDA, English Partnerships, HEFCE, Government Office North-West and Blackpool in developing future plans.

The regional director, Government Office North-West, will report to me on progress on a quarterly basis for the next year, and I intend to visit Blackpool within a year to discuss progress on regeneration.

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Regional Casino-led Regeneration (Alternative Approaches)

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): I am today announcing the publication of a review of the “Alternative Approaches to Regional Casino-led Regeneration” prepared by my officials. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

In July last year the Prime Minister asked me to undertake this review, in recognition of the lack of consensus in Parliament about regional casinos in light of the potential of a regional casino to increase problem gambling within the regional catchment area. The then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) in announcing the review on 16 July 2007 said:

The aim of the review has been to examine the evidence of whether regional casinos are the best way to regenerate specific deprived areas. It has drawn heavily on evidence within the various documents submitted to the Casino Advisory Panel for the licensing of a regional casino, published literature on casinos specifically and the benefits of regeneration more generally. A list of these points of reference is included in the document.

Specifically the review examined:

The review highlights the difficulty in establishing the evidence base for the generic benefits of casinos because the source material is strongly influenced by specific location factors, and by the underpinning purpose of individual pieces of research. In particular, there are uncertainties about the scale of the benefits of a regional casino for job creation; about the wider benefits to an area from multiplier effects; or about the degree of additionality a casino would bring to existing activities. Moreover, the leakage effects—where new jobs are filled by commuters not locals limiting the benefits to the immediate area of the casino—is potentially higher than other forms of regeneration because pay within casinos is relatively high and training opportunities make it attractive to people already in employment. Finally, the review concludes that, as with most regeneration projects, there are economic and social costs associated with casino-led regeneration. In the case of a regional casino there are potentially significant costs that would arise as a result of an increase in compulsive gambling.

The review does recognise that the unique nature of a regional casino, especially in terms of inward investment, would make it challenging for any one of the alternatives the review examines in isolation to achieve the scale of benefits that could be secured through a regional casino. However, when the potential economic and social costs are factored in alongside the uncertainties around the extent to which the benefits of a regional casino are
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truly additional then the difference could be much reduced or even eliminated if a number of alternative options are packaged together.


First Great Western Franchise

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): The performance of First Great Western has persistently fallen short of its customers’ expectations and has been unacceptable to both passengers and Government.

I can inform the House today that First Great Western has breached its franchise agreement by exceeding the limits on cancellations, and also by misreporting those cancellations.

I can now outline the measures I have taken, and the actions I have agreed with First Great Western, which were reported in an announcement by First plc to the Stock Exchange before the markets opened this morning.

First, I am today issuing First Great Western with a remedial plan notice for exceeding the threshold on cancellations which resulted in a breach of its franchise agreement. In response to this notice, First Great Western will submit a remedial plan for addressing this level of cancellations. Discussions are at an advanced stage on what the plan will contain.

Secondly, I am also today issuing First Great Western with a breach notice for misreporting its cancellations.

Thirdly, and importantly for those using First Great Western services, a substantial package of additional benefits for passengers has been agreed.

First Great Western’s franchise contains strict limits on delays and cancellations; specifies the circumstances in which the franchise is in breach, and more seriously still, those circumstances that constitute an event of default; and it sets out the remedies for correcting poor performance.

Every four weeks, the company reports the number of cancellations, and may claim adjustments to the headline number in line with the provisions of the franchise. My Department tests any such claims, allowing only those we agree with. Typically we reach final agreement on performance within six weeks of the end of the reporting period.

For the period ending in mid-September 2007, there were a substantial number of claimed cancellation adjustments, which were then scrutinised by my Department. Early in November 2007, before a conclusion could be reached, First Great Western informed the Department that it had discovered that it had been miscalculating the base numbers of train cancellations. Over subsequent weeks it carried out an internal audit of its method of calculating cancellations that uncovered several errors in the methodology, which First Great Western has now corrected.

First Great Western now accept that they breached the franchise agreement from August to December 2007 in respect of cancellations. I will therefore be issuing later today a remedial plan notice.

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This requires First Great Western to submit to me a remedial plan, to bring the standard of services back to acceptable levels, and it will be contractualised as a remedial agreement. Material non-compliance with the remedial agreement would be a default of the franchise agreement, which could lead to the Government terminating First Great Western’s franchise

In order to prepare an acceptable remedial plan, First Great Western has committed to employ more drivers and other train crew, to deploy extra carriages and to implement a range of other measures to reduce the number of cancellations. First Great Western has already commenced implementation of several of the initiatives.

In addition to the remedial plan, First Great Western has offered a package of passenger benefits amounting to £29 million.

First Great Western has already announced that it has doubled passenger compensation for this year.

But First Great Western has also now committed to the following benefits, as described today to the Stock Exchange:

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