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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 10 July 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

EU Energy Council

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): I represented the UK at the informal Energy Council that took place in Paris on 4 to 5 July. This was held back to back with an informal Environment Council, reflecting the priority the French are giving to the climate change and energy package during their presidency. Both meetings were chaired by Jean-Louis Borloo, French Minister for the Environment and Energy. The European Parliament rapporteurs for the various elements of the package were also present.

The main focus of discussion was the renewables directive, including specific debates on biofuels and the flexibilities required for the EU to achieve the 20 per cent. renewable energy target in a cost-effective way. National experiences were also exchanged on energy efficiency and Ministers received a presentation on energy security by Claude Mandil, former head of the IEA, commissioned by the French to produce a report to inform the forthcoming EU strategic energy review.

During the debate on renewables, there was a large degree of consensus on the importance of meeting the targets cost-effectively. There was also widespread recognition that this can only be achieved with some level of exchange between member states allowing countries with potentially expensive domestic renewables resource to buy them more cheaply elsewhere in the EU. There was general agreement among ministers that a UK/Germany/Poland proposal for a system of exchange between member states represented a promising way forward.

A short debate on biofuels followed. I used the opportunity to highlight the key findings of the Gallagher review. There was a discussion on the perceived link between the increased use of biofuels and food prices. It was emphasised that the 10 per cent. objective in the draft directive is for the use of renewable energy in transport, and not a 10 per cent. share of biofuel in transport fuel by 2020; so electric vehicles could also play a part in achieving this target. Several member states agreed that the proposed sustainability regime proposed for biofuels should be more demanding in order to ensure genuine sustainability of biofuels and highlighted the importance of the availability of second generation biofuels in this regard.

Earlier we had a debate on energy efficiency with representatives of NGOs, business and MEPs. There were several presentations on what individual member states were doing domestically (I spoke about the UK’s carbon reduction commitment scheme), and a general agreement that more effort had to be put into energy efficiency both at national and EU level.

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Departmental Staff Training Costs

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I answered the hon. Member for Fareham’s parliamentary question on 12 June 2008 (Official Report, column 414W) on BERR departmental training.

We said that the staff training costs incurred by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s Agencies were £1,714,000 in the last 12 months and £8,443,000 for the previous five years. This figure was also quoted in my letter of 12 June 2008, to the hon. Member for Fareham. A copy of this letter was placed in the Libraries of the House.

These costs were taken from the Department’s consolidated resource accounts for the years in question, which for 2007-08 were in draft at the time of my reply. Furthermore, the consolidated resource accounts do not include the expenditure of Companies House, whose accounts are published separately. Using updated figures, staff training costs for the Department’s agencies were £1,999,000 for 2007-08, and £8,774,000 for the previous five years.

Children, Schools and Families

School Meals

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I am pleased to announce that the School Food Trust, in partnership with LACA (Local Authority Caterers’ Association) has released provisional findings from the third annual survey of take up of school meals, reporting on the 2007-08 financial year.

In primary schools take up in 2007-08 was 43.6 per cent., an increase of 2.3 percentage points on the value reported for 2006-07 of 41.3 per cent.

In secondary schools, take up in 2007-08 was 37.2 per cent., a decrease of 0.5 percentage points on the value reported for 2006-07 of 37.5 per cent.

The values reported for 2005-06 were 42.3 per cent. in primary schools and 42.7 per cent. in secondary schools.

These figures illustrate that the number of primary school children eating school meals rose by roughly 88,000 from 2006-07 to 2007-08. The number of secondary school pupils eating school meals fell by roughly 38,000 over the same period. This is partly explained by a 2 per cent. drop in numbers of pupils on roll in secondary schools.

Average meal price in primary schools in 2007-08 was £1.66, compared to £1.63 reported for 2006-07, an increase of 1.8 per cent. Average ingredient costs were 61 pence per meal, 7 per cent. higher than in 2006-07 (57 pence). Average labour costs were 1.08 per meal, very similar to the 1.09 reported for 2006-07.

In secondary schools, the average meal price is based on the value of a free school meal, which in 2007-08 was £1.78, compared to £1.72 reported for 2006-07, an increase of 3 per cent. Average ingredient and labour costs as a percentage of total service expenditure were 36.5 per cent. and 48,6 per cent. respectively.

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Where take up in schools had increased, local authorities believed the change to be related to (percentage given for primary and secondary services, respectively):

In addition, in relation to secondary school catering provision, 54 per cent. of LAs said that reorganization of arrangements for meals was important (that is, shorter queues, changes in timetable), as was the introduction of a stay-on-site policy (56%).

Where take up in schools had decreased, local authorities believed the change to be related to (percentage given for primary and secondary services, respectively):

In addition, in secondary schools, the main reason for a decline in take up was pupils buying meals elsewhere in response to the provision of more healthy options (91%). Shorter lunch hours were also seen as a deterrent (68%), as was organization of meal provision (62%).

Future support for improving take up

As part of our drive to improve school lunch provision, we announced in 2006 a new specific capital fund of £150 million in this spending review for authorities with the greatest need to build new kitchens in schools where currently there are none. Fifteen authorities submitted bids totalling some £46.9 million and I am now pleased to announce that all of those bids have been successful. This means that schools in West Sussex, Swindon, North East Lincolnshire, Lincolnshire, North Somerset, Dorset, Wigan, Harrow, Hillingdon, Plymouth, Buckinghamshire, Bournemouth, Northamptonshire, Kingston-upon-Thames, and Worcestershire will have new school kitchens over the next three years.

I am also pleased to announce that the remainder of this £150 million specific fund for school kitchens will be made available to all local authorities who submit plans to increase school lunch take-up by building or improving school kitchens and upgrading dining facilities and systems. This means that all authorities and schools will have the opportunity to improve school lunches and increase take-up through better preparation facilities and more attractive dining areas.

Finally, we have decided to provide the School Food Trust with an extra £6 million over the next three years to promote healthy food to young people and raise take up. This is on top of the £21 million funding settlement the School Food Trust received in March.

School Lunch Take-up Figures


The School Food Trust carries out a survey in April of each year to estimate the take up of school meals nationally. The trust asks the catering officers in 150 local authorities (LAs) to provide information on take-up
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and highlight the factors that they believe have most influenced the change in take-up in the previous year. This year’s survey has been conducted in close collaboration with LACA (the Local Authority Caterers Association) and in consultation with other interested stakeholders.

To date, 105 responses have been received from local authorities. The figures quoted above are provisional, based on responses from 70 LAs covering school meal provision in primary schools and responses from 59 LAs covering school meal provision in secondary schools, as clarification of information is ongoing. A full report of the survey results will be published on the trust website in September 2008.

The final report will include information nationally and by region on:

An interim report is available on the trust website at: www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk


The Government announced a five-point plan for school food in September 2006, including a new specific capital fund for authorities with the greatest need to build new kitchens in schools where currently there are none.

Capital for Kitchens

Ministers last autumn agreed to provide £150 million of targeted funding in this spending review period, to fund this commitment. The 15 successful local authorities are:

The remainder of the £150 million fund will be made available to local authorities who submit plans to increase school lunch take-up by building or improving school kitchens and upgrading dining facilities and systems. Further details will be published in due course.

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Communities and Local Government

PPS6 (Revisions)

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): I am today publishing a consultation on proposals to improve planning policy statement 6: “Planning for Town Centres” (PPS6). Copies of the consultation are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Busy town centres with a wide range of shops are vital to communities large and small, rural and urban. For more than a decade, Government planning policy has been designed to ensure that the vitality and viability of town centres is promoted.

Today, there is more retail development in and around our town centres than at any time during the last ten years, but we cannot be complacent—particularly in the current economic climate. Evidence shows that there is scope to refine the policy and make it more effective.

In last year’s Planning White Paper “Planning for a Sustainable Future”, the Government committed to consulting on changes to PPS6. In this consultation we are setting out our proposals in detail.

The proposals reinforce the town centre-first approach to ensure that development continues to take place in town centres and promotes their vitality, viability and character. We will retain the ‘sequential test’ which requires developers to justify why they cannot build in the centre before they seek to build out of town.

The proposals remove the ‘need test’ for proposals outside town centres—which has been shown to be a blunt tool—and introduce a new and broader ‘impact test’ to take better account of economic, social and environmental factors.

The proposals also link design quality and climate change considerations to the impact test, ensuring that developments are better designed and greener.

Alongside these changes, the consultation makes clear that policy will continue to reinforce the principle that development should be accessible by a range of transport modes; that it should promote greater consumer choice and retail diversity; and that it should encourage investment and job creation in disadvantaged areas.

Our amendments do not include any specific policy proposals for taking forward the proposed planning ‘competition test’ for large grocery stores which was recommended by the Competition Commission in its final report on “The Supply of Groceries in the UK market investigation” (April 2008). The Government will be responding separately on this shortly.

The proposed changes I am setting out today will play a part in helping our town centres to thrive for years to come. I welcome comments by 3 October 2008.

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