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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 31 March 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Companies House Targets

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I have set Companies House the following targets for the year 2008-09:

Insolvency Service Targets (2008-09)

The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): I have today agreed to the publishing of the Insolvency Service’s Corporate Plan for the period 2008-11.

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The Insolvency Service plans to deal with some 74,200 new insolvencies in the year to 31 March 2009 principally as a result of an increase in personal bankruptcies.

Its planning assumption for the level of redundancy payments and other insolvency-related claims is 80,000 in the year.

Action will continue to be taken against bankrupts and company directors in respect of financial misconduct or dishonesty and I have asked the Service to increase its enforcement output by 7 per cent. over that achieved in 2007-08.

Companies Investigation Branch will continue to investigate the affairs of companies in the public interest and I have set targets in relation to the timeliness of dealing with complaints made and the handling of investigations into live companies that follow from those complaints.

The Service’s “Enabling the Future” strategy, a major programme of IT-led investment, will deliver savings over the period of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review and I have therefore set the Service a target to have reduced its case administration fees by 15 per cent. by 31 March 2011.

The Service’s Corporate Plan 2008-11 will be available at: www.insolvency.gov.uk

Published TargetsTarget 2008-09Target 2007-08

Lower the fees for insolvency case administration in real terms from the 2007-08 level by 2010-11

15% (3 Year Target)


User Satisfaction Index


New Target

Level of public confidence in The Service’s enforcement regime



To reduce the average time from insolvency order to the instigation of disqualification proceedings in appropriate cases

20 Months

22 Months

Increase the quantity of enforcement outputs in 2008-09 from 2007-08 baseline by



Complete consideration of vetting complaints about live companies within two months



Complete internal investigations into live companies within six months



Process Redundancy Payment claims for payment within:

3 weeks



6 weeks



In addition to these targets the Service is required to meet centrally promulgated targets relating to replying to correspondence from hon. Members, making payments to suppliers. The Service will also look to maintain Charter Mark and Investors in People accreditation following reassessments during 2008-09.

Other TargetsTarget 2008-09Target 2007-08

Reply to correspondence from Members of Parliament within 10 days



Process payments to suppliers in 30 days



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Northern Rock

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): On 18 March, Official Report, columns 53-54WS, I informed the House that the Government had formally notified to the European Commission proposals to continue to provide state aid to Northern Rock to support a restructuring of the company during the period of temporary public ownership. In addition, the board of Northern Rock plc set out in general its plans for the future direction of the business during the period of temporary public ownership. The Government’s objectives in relation to Northern Rock remain the protection of taxpayers and consumers, and the maintenance of financial stability.

The board of Northern Rock plc has today published its annual report and accounts for 2007. These show that the Bank of England loan facilities to Northern Rock plc as at 31 December 2007 stood at £26.9 billion. Since then some £2.5 billion has been repaid and the gross loan stands at around £24 billion. These accounts also demonstrate that Northern Rock remains solvent and meets its regulatory requirements.

The board of Northern Rock has also published a more detailed business plan, which I have approved, based around four objectives:

This business plan meets the Government’s objectives. As set out in the Budget, the Government will, during 2008-09, replace the Bank of England’s loan to Northern Rock with direct Treasury funding. The Bank of England and the Treasury are agreeing with Northern Rock the terms of this financing. This will include a back-up liquidity facility, to meet the Financial Services Authority’s requirements, that may remain in place beyond 2010 until sufficient alternative liquidity arrangements are in place. Northern Rock will maintain, but contract over time, its Granite securitisation vehicle.

Furthermore Northern Rock has published as part of its business plan a competitive framework, which is subject to European Commission approval, setting out its commitment not to take unfair advantage of Government support during the state aid period. It will commit to a series of steps, in particular Northern Rock will restrict itself from positions of market leadership on any product category for 2008.

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I have also agreed with Northern Rock a shareholder agreement that sets out the framework within which HM Treasury will operate its shareholder relationship with Northern Rock. This sets out our intention to run Northern Rock on an arm’s length, commercial basis, while approving strategy and holding the board to account for performance against the business plan.

I have placed copies of the accounts, business plan and shareholder framework agreement in the Libraries of both Houses.

Children, Schools and Families

A Strategy for 14-19 Qualifications

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): I am today publishing a consultation document, “Promoting Achievement, Valuing Success: A Strategy for 14-19 Qualifications”. Building on the aim that we set out in the Children’s Plan for a world-class education system for all 14-19 year olds, this strategy will help to ensure that we can unlock the talent of every young person—enabling all teenagers to pursue qualifications that are understood and valued and allow them to achieve and succeed. This strategy builds on the advice we have received from a group of independent experts from all parts of the education sector and employers.

The current qualification system is overly complex—it is often difficult for young people and their advisers to understand which will best meet their needs and support their aspirations. Not every qualification option has clear progression routes to further study or to skilled employment. Not all the qualifications currently on offer enable young people to develop all the skills and knowledge they need, and that employers and universities want. We want more comprehensive and coherent qualifications for young people, supporting better progression through a set of clear, well-valued qualification choices.

Building on the vision set out in the 2005 White Paper, “14-19 Education and Skills”, there will be four key national qualification routes: GCSEs and A levels; Diplomas; Apprenticeships; and the Foundation Learning Tier. These will offer a range of choices from general education to job-specific learning, and will support young people of all abilities throughout the country. This clear new offer will build on the best of existing provision, but will also secure a coherent system of 14-19 education that is truly fit for the future, with the flexibility to meet the needs and aspirations of each and every young person. We have said that we will conduct a first full review in 2013 to consider how diplomas, GCSEs and A levels and any other general qualifications publicly funded for young people at that point, are combining to meet the needs of young people, employers and universities.

These proposals are an essential part of our plans to raise the education and training leaving age to 18, so that all young people have the right skills to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world and can continue learning throughout life.

Some key elements of the strategy are as follows:

We will simplify the system, with a new process to bring in the best of existing qualifications, while building towards the more streamlined offer;

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We will establish a step-by-step process through which we can be assured that in simplifying the qualifications available, we are continuing to meet the full range of learner needs. This will ensure that we can bring in the best of what currently exists, while managing a process of transition to the future simplified system;

This will include the development of a set of criteria against which we will assess whether qualifications will be approved for use for young people in the future;

The appointment of an expert body of external advisers—the Joint Advisory Committee on Qualifications Approval—to advise on how these principles should be applied;

As we are developing new qualification options, we will make sure they are made as comprehensive as possible, to better meet the needs of all young people through:

We are confident that these proposals will go a long way towards our aim of attracting more young people to learning, transforming standards in the basics and in the wider skills for employability, and enabling all young people to be taking qualifications that have a real standing with employers and the public at large, establishing a strong progression route to further and higher education.

The formal consultation process will allow us to take the views of all those interested in these proposals, and to ensure that we are moving in a direction which will make our qualifications system more robust and responsive to the needs of all.

I am placing in the Library copies of the consultation document. The consultation period runs from Monday 31 March to Monday 23 June.

“Staying Safe: Action Plan”

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I would like to update the House on the work we have undertaken and the further action we plan to take to safeguard children and young people from forced marriage.

Keeping children and young people safe is a top priority for this Government and my Department. The Government are committed to improving the safety and welfare of all children and young people, whatever their background or circumstances. We are determined to do all we can to make the existing systems and guidance as effective as possible and to strengthen them where needed. We have introduced new legislation, new guidance and new structures to make children safer. And we are committed to doing even more as set out most recently in the cross-Government “Staying Safe: Action Plan” published last month.

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