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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 3 April 2008



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:

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact. Stability and Convergence Programmes: Second series of Member States

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.

Preparation of the European Council (13-14 March)

i) Broad Economic Policy Guidelines 2008-10/11 and Country-Specific Integrated Recommendations

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.

ii) Financial stability

Ministers prepared the spring European Council’s 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.

iii) Sovereign wealth funds

Ministers prepared the spring European Council’s 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 Commission’s recognition of the benefits of open trade and investment.

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General Budget of the European UnionCouncil priorities for the 2009 budget

Ministers adopted conclusions agreeing the Council’s 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.


Fight against tax fraud

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.

Taxation of savings

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 Commission’s 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.

Children, Schools and Families

Children's Plan

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): In December, the Government published their Children’s 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:

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The Children’s 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 Children’s 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 children’s play across the whole country.

myplacedelivering world class places for young people to go

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 Children’s 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:

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

Children’s 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 Children’s Plan requires 21st century children’s 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 Children’s Trusts(3). It recognises the significant advances that have been made in many areas in the planning and delivery of services through Children’s Trusts. But it also makes clear that all Children’s 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 Children’s Plan a practical reality. I would also welcome the views of Children’s Trust partners and other interested parties on whether further changes, including to the legislative framework, are needed to enable Children’s Trusts to fulfil the challenging remit the Children’s Plan now gives to them.

Childrens workforce

The people who work directly with children are at the heart of delivering our Children’s Plan ambitions, whether they work in schools, the NHS, youth services, or children’s social services. I am publishing today “Building Brighter
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Futures: next steps for the Children’s Workforce.”(4) The document gives more detail about the implementation of our commitments in the Children’s Plan to:

To help ensure that the whole children’s workforce is of the highest quality, I am also today announcing the creation of an expert group drawn from across the whole children’s sector—including unions, other representative organisations and people who provide frontline services—to 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 Children’s 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 Children’s Services.

Together, this package of measures—major improvements in play and youth facilities, and further steps to improve children’s services—represents a significant step towards achieving our Children’s Plan objectives and helping every child and young person to fulfil their potential.

I will be placing copies of all the documents referred to in this statement in the Libraries of both Houses.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government

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 council’s 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 council’s standards committee, which may thereafter pass the most serious cases to the Standards Board.

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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 Government’s 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.


The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): In July last year, the Government published a prospectus outlining its intention to build up to ten “eco-towns”.

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.

The eco-towns prospectus outlined the criteria for a successful eco-town:

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