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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 27 October 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Support for Business

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Ian Pearson): My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has made the following ministerial statement:

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): My hon. Friend the Minister for the Natural and Marine Environment, Wildlife and Rural Affairs and I will represent the United Kingdom at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. Richard Lochhead will also attend.

There will be the usual approval of the list of ‘A’ points, followed by fisheries items. The Council is due to agree proposals and discuss the following:


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On agriculture there will be discussions on the school fruit scheme, CAP health check, and the placing on the market of timber and timber products.

The following issues will be raised under any other business:

Transport

Driving Standards Agency Fees 2009

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I have today published a consultation paper seeking views on fees and charges proposed for Driving Standards Agency services in 2009.

The fees and charges are grouped into three areas:

Copies of the consultation paper and initial impact assessments have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The documents are also available from the DSA website at: www.dsa.gov.uk or by telephone on 0115 936 6099.

Those wishing to comment on the proposals have until 18 January 2009 to do so.

Wales

Delivering Digital Inclusion: An Action Plan for Consultation

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): As Minister with responsibility for digital inclusion, on Friday 24 October, I published “Delivering Digital Inclusion: An Action Plan for Consultation”, with proposals for achieving greater digital inclusion.

Inequality in the use and application of digital technologies is a new driver of social exclusion in the 21st century and carries an immediate and urgent risk of accelerating existing social divides and creating new ones.

With the Cabinet Committee for Digital Inclusion, and a cross-Government Digital Inclusion Team in place, we now have effective governance to drive forward
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further action. Government are currently taking forward over 70 actions across the public sector, detailed in the annex to this document, and outside of Government much excellent work to tackle digital inclusion is taking place, but we now need to extend its reach and impact.

We are consulting on both the analysis we have set out in this document and the proposed actions. Of particular note is the introduction of a Charter for Digital Inclusion and an expert taskforce which would inform the work of a new Digital Inclusion Champion, who will take on the role of championing the digital inclusion needs of the most disadvantaged citizens and communities.

The role and responsibilities of the Champion, and the objectives of the Digital Inclusion Charter, will form part of the consultation so that the views of stakeholders can be taken into account.

We invite all those with an interest in digital inclusion to take part in this consultation, and to play a role in influencing the future direction of change.

The consultation, which closes on 19 January 2009, can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/consultations.

A copy of “Delivering Digital Inclusion: An Action Plan for Consultation” and the annex to the plan, have been deposited in the Library of the House.

Work and Pensions

Employment and Support Allowance

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Purnell): As hon. Members are aware, the Welfare Reform Act 2007 and the Welfare Reform Act (Northern Ireland) 2007 contain provision for a key element of the
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Government’s Welfare Reform proposals including the introduction of employment and support allowance.

I am pleased to confirm that employment and support allowance has successfully gone live this morning. This means that any new customer wishing to make a claim on the grounds of ill health or disability is able to contact Jobcentre Plus to make a claim for ESA and that the new business and IT systems are in place to support this.

Today is the start of customers’ journey on ESA which includes a clear framework of rights and responsibilities delivered using an enhanced regime of work-focused interviews, with a firmer conditionality regime.

To support ESA we have introduced an end-to-end ESA customer service supported by an initial business operating model and supporting IT. All ESA claims will be taken in one of the six contact centres that will handle ESA customers’ claims. The full integrated IT system will be tested through the trailblazer in Tees Valley, in its benefit delivery centre and associated jobcentres. The rest of the benefit delivery centre and jobcentre network will operate an interim process to provide an opportunity for DWP to learn from initial deployment to ensure a fully optimised system rolls out nationally.

Guidance (Social Fund Guide)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Kitty Ussher): The Secretary of State will be making changes to the discretionary social fund, with effect from 27 October 2008, because of the introduction of employment and support allowance. Income-related employment and support allowance is added to the qualifying benefits for community care grants and budgeting loans. People in receipt of income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and pension credit are already eligible.


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