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It is also open to me to impose a monetary penalty on First Great Western for under-reporting their performance last year. Any penalty would be paid to central Government. Having considered this carefully, and given that a penalty would not, itself, help passengers, I have opted instead for passengers to receive a better benefits package as described above.

The franchising system has encouraged good performance from operators, with many train companies operating above target performance levels. However, in the light of the errors in self-reporting that First Great Western brought to light, I have asked my officials to audit reported performance on a risk basis, in particular for those train operating companies whose performance is close to their franchise benchmarks.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 29 February in Brussels. There are no health or consumer affairs issues. I shall be representing the UK.

The first and main item is the preparation for the spring European Council which will be held on 13 and
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14 March 2008. The key messages paper, prepared by the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee, identifies the key messages emerging from the various other reports for adoption and endorsement at the March Council. The key messages paper will be adopted following a policy debate on strengthening skills, the social dimension and the role of stakeholders.

The second item is an exchange of views in preparation for the Tripartite Social Summit. This will be held on 13 March in advance of the spring European Council to allow the European social partners time to feed in their views to the spring Council. The social summit will be attended by the current presidency, the two subsequent presidencies (France and the Czech Republic), the Commission and the social partners. It meets at least once a year, including before each annual spring Council.

The Council will also endorse an opinion by the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee on the single market review, which highlights
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that the single market makes an important contribution to jobs, growth and social cohesion under the Lisbon agenda. The UK supports this opinion.

The Council will also seek political agreement on the draft Council Resolution on the situation of disabled people in the European Union: the European action plan 2008-09, promoting human rights and the mainstreaming of disability issues. The UK supports the agreement of the resolution.

Under any other business, there will be a Commission presentation on the Mission for Flexicurity. Its objective will be to explain flexicurity and assist those member states who wish help with developing their own reforms, before reporting back to the Council during the French presidency.

In addition, the chairs of the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee will give an oral presentation to provide information on their 2008 work programmes.


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