The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 4 March 2008. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended for the UK. Items on the agenda were as follows:
Ministers adopted Council opinions on the stability programmes of Austria, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, and on the convergence programmes of the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, and Lithuania. The UK supports a prudent interpretation of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) which takes into account the economic cycle, sustainability and the important role of public investment.
Following the orientation debate on these documents at the January ECOFIN and further drafting amendments in the Economic Policy Committee and Economic and Financial Committee, Ministers adopted reports which were sent to the spring 2008 European Council. These reports included reformulated draft texts which were endorsed by Heads as part of the launch of the next three-year cycle of the Lisbon strategy. The UK believes that implementation of the Lisbon strategy, including these recommendations, should now be a priority for member states.
Ministers prepared the spring European Councils discussion on issues related to financial stability on the basis of a report drafted by the Economic and Financial Committee which examined the causes and possible policy responses to recent financial market turbulence, preparing a contribution for Heads of State and Government on the matter. Ministers agreed that key issues for discussion were: improving transparency, valuation of financial products, strengthening prudential requirements and making markets function better. The UK believes that as a key global marketplace, EU has an important role to play in the international response to market turbulence.
Ministers prepared the spring European Councils discussion on Sovereign Wealth Funds, following the publication of a communication by the European Commission on the framework for investments made by Sovereign Wealth Funds. The UK welcomes the Commissions recognition of the benefits of open trade and investment.
Ministers adopted conclusions agreeing the Councils budget guidelines for the 2009 EC budget. These guidelines are a set of broad principles which are designed to inform the subsequent and more detailed discussions on the level of appropriations required for the different areas of the budget. The subsequent negotiations throughout 2008 will determine the amounts to be spent under each budget heading. The UK supports the conclusions, which place appropriate emphasis on maintaining budget discipline and sound financial management.
At the March ECOFIN, Ministers had an initial discussion of a Commission Communication on far-reaching changes to the VAT system to help counter fraud. The issue will be re-examined at a future meeting. The UK is strongly supportive of work that will help in the fight against Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) and other VAT fraud, while remaining committed to minimising the burdens on legitimate businesses.
The European Commission updated ECOFIN on its discussions with Singapore, Hong Kong and Macao with a view to bringing them into the framework of the Savings Directive. The Savings Directive enshrines the principle of exchange of information on taxation of savings and extends beyond the EU through agreements with third countries and territories. The UK strongly supports the Commissions continued dialogue with these financial centres.
Ministers also discussed the problem of cross-border tax evasion in the context of recent developments concerning Liechtenstein. The Commission offered to bring forward its report on the operation of the Savings Directive and Ministers welcomed this. The EU has an important role to play in combating tax evasion and the Savings Directive is a key instrument in promoting transparency.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): In December, the Government published their Childrens Plan and set out their ambition to make this the best place in the world to bring up children and young people. I am today making a number of announcements that will support the delivery of our vision:
to unlock the talent and promote the health and happiness of all children, and not just some;
to back parents and help them meet their responsibilities to bring up their children; and
to build a culture of prevention and early intervention so that no child can fall behind.
The Childrens Plan set out the biggest ever investment in play by Government of £225 million over three years. I have now been able to add an additional £10 million to this amount, making a total investment of £235 million. This will fund 30 new adventure playgrounds and up to 3,500 inclusive play sites, creating attractive play areas for children and particularly 8-13 year olds in disadvantaged areas.
I am today announcing the first 20 pathfinder local authorities who will this year begin spending this investment as play pathfinders. Each pathfinder will receive around £2 million capital funding plus approximately £500k revenue funding over three years. A further 10 pathfinder authorities will be selected in the autumn. In additional 43 other local authorities (LAs) will receive funding from this year to develop play areas in their communities. These LAs will receive capital funding of around £l million over three years. A list of the pathfinders and those LAs benefiting from capital funding this year is attached to this statement. This funding will help them transform play opportunities in their areas in partnership with children, families, communities and the third sector. Over the next three years every local authority will receive substantial capital funding to develop public play areas.
We want local authorities to give a high priority to supporting and promoting outdoor play, with play and public play space being seen as an essential characteristic of every healthy community. That is why, from 2009, we will introduce a new national indicator to monitor progress on what children think about the parks and play spaces in their local area.
The package outlined in the Childrens Plan will be detailed in full in a national Play Strategy Fair Play(1) which I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport are launching for public consultation today. I believe that this strategy and the investment underpinning it represents an excellent opportunity to improve local play opportunities, and support childrens play across the whole country.
Young people in their teenage years also need interesting and exciting places to go where they can meet friends and take part in positive and enriching activities. This is particularly important in those areas affected by problems with anti-social behaviour and youth crime.
I am today announcing the launch of myplace, a £190 million programme delivered by the Big Lottery Fund, to invest in world class places for young people to go, delivering on our Childrens Plan commitment to improve youth facilities. I want this funding to start making a difference to our neighbourhoods as soon as possible, so while myplace will open to applicants on 6 May 2008,1 am setting out today the timescales and criteria for the competitive bidding process.
By making grants of between £l million and £5 million, I expect myplace to transform the way that facilities for young people are planned and delivered across England. In particular, I want the programme to support projects that:
reflect real cross sector partnership, maximising leadership from within the community while ensuring the strategic
involvement of local authorities and encouraging support and backing from the private sector myplace will accept bids led by public, third or private sector partners;
demonstrate the active participation of local young people, particularly the most disadvantaged, in the development, design and future running of the project;
are sustainable in the long term and for third sector organisations, who often find this most challenging, we will provide £50,000 to fund development work in this area; and
are linked to wider corporate asset management strategies and Children and Young Peoples Plans for improving places to go in every local authority area ranging from ambitious flagship projects, as supported by the myplace, to smaller scale projects, particularly in the most deprived estates and communities.
The first round of funding will commit up to £160 million, of which up to £50 million will be available through a fast track route which will be open to applicants until the end of July. This will enable early investment in projects that are already well developed, starting to deliver impact for young people and their communities this year. The standard route, which will be open to applicants until the end of September, will also encourage applications from those with further to go. The Big Lottery Fund will ensure that funded projects receive the support they need to succeed.
I urge local partners to start preparations now to take full advantage of this opportunity. Further details about myplace can be found in a leaflet that will placed in the House library and available on the Big Lottery Fund website(2).
Childrens Trusts should bring together all the key partners at local level to achieve our ambition. Making a reality of the vision for our children set out in the Childrens Plan requires 21st century childrens services that put the needs of children and families first and work across traditional professional and institutional boundaries. This is essential to unlocking the potential of every child and is especially important for the most vulnerable children with complex needs.
I am today launching a consultation on draft guidance for Childrens Trusts(3). It recognises the significant advances that have been made in many areas in the planning and delivery of services through Childrens Trusts. But it also makes clear that all Childrens Trusts need now to raise their game to ensure that strong and purposeful partnership activity leads directly to measurable improvements in the lives of children and young people, in the support given to parents and families and, in doing so, making the vision in the Childrens Plan a practical reality. I would also welcome the views of Childrens Trust partners and other interested parties on whether further changes, including to the legislative framework, are needed to enable Childrens Trusts to fulfil the challenging remit the Childrens Plan now gives to them.
The people who work directly with children are at the heart of delivering our Childrens Plan ambitions, whether they work in schools, the NHS, youth services, or childrens social services. I am publishing today Building Brighter
Futures: next steps for the Childrens Workforce.(4) The document gives more detail about the implementation of our commitments in the Childrens Plan to:
invest £73 million in a package of proposals to improve training, recruitment and professional development of social workers working with children and families;
invest £305 million in early years to provide greater graduate leadership of practice in private, voluntary and independent settings towards our ambition of a graduate early years professional in every full day care setting by 2015; and
invest £7.5 million in the play workforce including to give 4,000 play workers access to level 3 qualifications from September 2008.
To help ensure that the whole childrens workforce is of the highest quality, I am also today announcing the creation of an expert group drawn from across the whole childrens sectorincluding unions, other representative organisations and people who provide frontline servicesto advise me on the creation of a long term strategy to bring the workforce together around the needs of children, young people and their families. The Childrens Workforce document I am publishing today asks a number of key questions of the expert group which will be co-chaired by Maggie Atkinson, the incoming President of the Association of Directors of Childrens Services.
Together, this package of measuresmajor improvements in play and youth facilities, and further steps to improve childrens servicesrepresents a significant step towards achieving our Childrens Plan objectives and helping every child and young person to fulfil their potential.
(1)Document can be found at: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultation
(2)Document can be found at: www.biglotteryfund.org.uk
(3)Document can be found at: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations/conDetails.cfm?consultationld=1544
(4) Document can be found at: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/publications/childrensplan
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 provides for a reformed conduct regime for local authority members in which responsibility for standards of conduct and dealing with allegations of misconduct by members is largely devolved to each councils independently chaired standards committee. The Standards Board for England will have the role of a light touch regulator, providing guidance to councils and their standards committees, monitoring the handling of misconduct allegations, and itself dealing with the most serious misconduct cases.
We intend this reformed conduct regime should be in force this May, following the local government elections. From this point all allegations of misconduct by council members will in the first instance be considered by the councils standards committee, which may thereafter pass the most serious cases to the Standards Board.
Accordingly, we will shortly be making the necessary order to commence the relevant provisions of the 2007 Act, and laying before Parliament regulations making provision about the procedures standards committees must follow when considering allegations of misconduct by Members.
Earlier this year we consulted local authorities and stakeholders about the provisions for such regulations. I am today placing in the Libraries of both Houses a summary of the 571 responses that we received together with the Governments response to the issues which have been raised.
Having regard to the consultation responses, we intend the procedure regulations will in particular make provision to ensure that standards committee members avoid any conflicts of interest when considering allegations; that given the personal nature of allegations that might be unfounded, there will be no public access to standards committee meetings or papers when allegations are being initially assessed; and to increase the maximum sanction available to standards committee from three to six months suspension from office.
Eco-towns are a response to the twin challenges of an acute housing shortage and climate change. They will test out new ways of designing and building towns to achieve zero carbon standards and promote more sustainable living.
(i) That they should be new settlements of between 5,000 and 20,000 homes, separate and distinct from existing towns, but well linked to them;
(ii) The development as a whole should reach zero carbon standards, and each town should be an exemplar in at least one area of environmental sustainability;
(iii) It should include a good range of facilitiesa secondary school, a medium scale retail centre, good quality business space and leisure facilities;