3 July 2008 : Column 53WS

3 July 2008 : Column 53WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 3 July 2008


Operational Efficiency Programme

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Yvette Cooper): Today I am launching the operational efficiency programme, the latest phase of our drive to ensure that taxpayers receive maximum value for money from the services they fund.

This builds on the Gershon efficiency programme which has delivered £20 billion of savings to date, and the ambitious programme announced at the comprehensive spending review which will deliver £30 billion of savings by 2010-11. The operational efficiency programme will seek to learn from private and public sector expertise and experience to explore whether additional operational savings could be achieved as we prepare for the next spending period. Martin Read, Martin Jay, Gerry Grimstone and Lord Carter of Coles will lead work on the first four cross-cutting work strands, looking at back office and IT; collaborative procurement; asset management and sales; and property respectively. It will also be taking forward work in a fifth area: the incentives for staff to bring forward improvements and cut waste at the local level and what more can be done to reduce bureaucratic burdens on the front line.

The programme will report at Budget 2009 and will drive our value for money programme forward into the next spending review.

Copies of the operational efficiency programme prospectus have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available from the Vote Office.

Children, Schools and Families

Children's Plan

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): In the children's plan, which I presented to Parliament in December 2007, the Government set out their ambition to make this country the best place in the world for young people to grow up. As part of this, we committed to world-class standards in education; a new role for schools as the centre of their communities; and more effective links between schools, health and other children’s services, brought together by children’s trusts in every area, so that together they can tackle all the barriers to the learning, health and happiness of every child.

Today we are taking the next steps to make a reality of these ambitions, and are publishing three consultation documents, copies of which I have placed in the Library of the House. They each draw heavily on the experience, best practice and views of local authorities, schools and other key partners, for which I am most grateful.

3 July 2008 : Column 54WS

Schools have traditionally taken a broad view of education as the development of the whole child, in order to tackle all the barriers to learning inside and outside the school, so that every child can fulfil their potential and get the good qualifications they need. The Government have supported this by placing on schools a duty to promote the well-being of their pupils. This means they have a duty to support the development of all their pupils across all five Every Child Matters outcomes, so that they are healthy, safe, able to enjoy and achieve their potential, secure economically, and can make a positive contribution.

The first of the three consultation documents is draft guidance to schools which explains in more detail what is meant by ‘promoting well-being’ and what support schools should expect from their local authority and other partners in their children’s trust. At the heart of the children’s plan is the vision of a ‘21st century school’: a school which achieves high standards and embraces its role in the wider development of young people, in support of its core mission of ensuring through excellent teaching and learning that all children achieve their potential, and in partnership with parents, other schools and other local agencies. Schools need to be well supported by, and able to work effectively with, a range of other partners including statutory services and the voluntary and community sector, and children’s trust arrangements are intended to bring together all these services locally.

The second document consults on how we should strengthen children’s trusts in order to deliver for all children and young people; to ensure schools consistently get the timely support they need; to narrow gaps in outcomes between disadvantaged young people and their peers; and to take action early where children have additional needs. A great deal is being achieved by leading local areas within the existing framework, and the challenge now is to ensure that good practice is widely implemented and deeply embedded. There is now a strong case for strengthening the statutory basis of children’s trusts on the model of existing good practice.

Schools are key partners for children’s trusts at the local and neighbourhood level, and are well placed to give early warning when things are going wrong for young people. To achieve the objectives of the children's plan, schools must be effectively supported by wider children’s services and involved in determining the strategic direction and commissioning arrangements for those services at board level. Strong collaborative working of this kind is generally welcomed in principle, but in practice can be difficult to achieve. This was a key message from our recent consultation on our draft supplementary guidance to local authorities and others on the ‘duty to co-operate’ (children's trust guidance).

The second document proposes a number of changes to the current framework for children’s trusts. These include extending responsibility for children and young people’s plans and being clearer about what they should cover, extending the ‘duty to co-operate’ to schools, and requiring through statute the creation of children’s trust boards with a defined set of functions and responsibilities. Our proposals include:

I have invited comments on these proposals, and also on what other changes to primary or secondary legislation should be considered in this area, for example to ensure the voluntary and third sectors can play a full role in local children’s services.

The third document relates specifically to the local authority’s strategic leadership role in promoting high standards in education, as established by the Education and Inspections Act 2006. This is a key part of their wider role in promoting the well-being of all children and young people in their local area. The 2006 Act provides the current legal framework for schools causing concern, and makes a crucial contribution to school improvement by enabling early action by local authorities to improve school performance.

Local authorities may already consider a formal warning notice which allows them to employ a range of intervention powers, even where OFSTED has not graded the school as ‘inadequate’. It is important that these powers are used when it is appropriate, because they are designed to address issues where schools are under-performing before they become more serious. As announced to Parliament on 10 June 2008 as part of our national challenge proposals, the Government therefore propose, subject to the agreement of Parliament, to take a new legislative power in the forthcoming Education and Skills Bill to require authorities to consider formal warning notices when these are clearly justified by the school’s performance, and also proposes to extend the current power to require authorities to take additional advisory services where this is necessary.

The children's plan set out a vision in which local authorities, schools and other local providers work together and support each other, both in setting the direction and in driving delivery. The three documents published today, taken together, gives us a framework that will help make this vision a reality. The consultations will remain open until 25 September 2008.

3 July 2008 : Column 56WS


Future Aircraft Carriers

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I informed the House on 20 May (Official Report, column 15WS) of our intention to sign the contracts for the manufacture of the aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales once the proposed joint venture BVT surface fleet had formed. I am pleased to inform the House that following formation of the company, we will today sign the contract and alliance agreement for manufacture of the two future aircraft carriers. The carriers will support a step change in our ability to project expeditionary air power over the coming decades and during their construction are expected to create or sustain 10,000 jobs across the UK.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Marine and Fisheries Agency

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): I have set the Marine and Fisheries Agency (MFA) the following performance targets for 2008-09:

Quality service delivery

Marine works

Marine minerals


Marine pollution incident

Fishing vessel licensing

Quota management

Sea fisheries enforcement

Fisheries data

3 July 2008 : Column 57WS

Value for public money

Capacity and capability

Further details are given in the MFA business plan for 2008-09, copies of which will be deposited in the Libraries of the House.

Pitsford Water Treatment Works

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): During my Oral Statement on 25 June (column 301), I answered a question concerning the water supply incident at Pitsford water treatment works in Northamptonshire. I would like to update the House on the latest position. Following the detection of cryptosporidium at the sampling point for the plant, Anglian Water notified the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) of an increase in risk to consumers. The clear advice I have received from the chief inspector of drinking water is that there is no contamination of the water supply. However, a precautionary ‘boil water notice’ has been in place since 25 June as a result of a notified increase in risk reported by Anglian Water to the Drinking Water Inspectorate. I am pleased to report that all relevant agencies appear to have worked extremely well together to respond to this notification. I understand that Anglian Water are ahead of schedule for returning supplies to normal and will tell customers as soon as is practicable about the lifting of the boil notice.

Single Payment Scheme

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): As at 30 June, the end of the regulatory payment window for the 2007 Single Payment Scheme, a total of £1.431 billion, representing some 98.7 per cent. of the estimated total fund, had been paid in full payments to 103,485 (97 per cent.) claimants.

These figures confirm that the agency has helped to ensure that the UK as a whole has met the EU requirement that 96.154 per cent. of 2007 scheme payments be made by 30 June. This follows earlier confirmation that the agency had met its formal performance targets for this scheme year as set out in the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), on 26 June 2007 (Official Report, column 20WS).

Reaching these targets demonstrates a continued improvement in RPA performance and is another important step towards the agency again providing an acceptable level of service to its customers. I am very grateful to RPA staff who have worked long and hard to make this happen.

Of the outstanding 2007 claims on which processing is not complete, approximately 700 are expected to result in a payment in due course. Work continues to complete the necessary validation of those claims as soon as possible. Interest will be paid to claimants on sums paid after 30 June on the same basis as for the 2005 and 2006 schemes.

3 July 2008 : Column 58WS

Alongside that work, RPA has already begun processing the 106,000 or so claims that have been submitted under the 2008 SPS in order to achieve the more challenging targets for payments—set out in the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) on 18 June 2008 (Official Report, column 51WS)—which also take account of the fact that some corrective work remains to be carried out on a proportion of claims.

Against this background, I would again like to thank the farming industry for its continuing support and patience.

Next Section Index Home Page