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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Children, Schools and Families

The Play Strategy

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Fun and exciting opportunities to play are at the heart of a happy, healthy and enjoyable childhood. Better outdoor play opportunities are good for children, good for families and good for communities.

Time and space to play safely is integral to delivering our children’s plan ambition to make England the best country in the world for children and young people to grow up in—it is vital to children’s physical, emotional, social and educational development.

Today, with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, I am delighted to publish the first national play strategy for England, backed by the children’s plan investment of £235 million. This investment will mean that every residential area has a variety of high-quality places for all children to play safely, and free of charge.

An accelerated roll-out of our new investment will mean that children across the country will be able to benefit sooner from improved play sites, and £30 million due to be spent in 2010-11 will now be brought forward to 2009-10 as part of Government action to support the country during the economic downturn. This means that every local authority will have been offered at least £l million capital funding by April 2009, which they can begin spending in line with local plans and supported by our national delivery partner, Play England.

The strategy sets out in more detail how we will deliver our capital investment programme from 2008 to 2011 so that up to 3,500 new and refurbished play sites and 30 large staffed adventure playgrounds will be built to reflect the needs of children, parents and the local community.

The Government’s action is a direct response to demands from children, young people and their families for better play facilities in every area. In April, our “Fair Play” consultation set out an ambitious range of proposals to make a reality of our vision for world-class play opportunities.

This consultation attracted an overwhelming response, with 9,400 children and young people letting us know how they would like Government to support their play—12 per cent. of these responses came from disabled children, reinforcing the need to do even more to make sure that we make play accessible for all children, regardless of their circumstances.

The enthusiastic support for our proposals in the “Fair Play” consultation underpins the play strategy. The play strategy sets out Government’s commitment to:

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The first new outdoor play areas are already being built across the country. We want to maintain this momentum, making sure that every local authority works to improve levels of satisfaction that communities have with their local provision.

As a result of our investment and the implementation of this play strategy, led locally by children’s trusts, we want at least 100,000 more children to tell us every year that their local play areas and parks are good or very good. Increasing levels of satisfaction in every local authority will show us that we are successful in developing more child-friendly communities, which value children’s play and provide better environments for children and young people to enjoy.

We know that we can only achieve our vision for play in 2020 by working in partnership with local and national delivery partners, including the third sector, and by putting children, young people and their parents at the heart of the design and development of neighbourhood provision.

We hope to build on the huge interest and engagement with our consultation earlier this year to deliver the improvement in local facilities that every family wants.

Communities and Local Government

Disabled Facilities Grant

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): The Government are today announcing the local authority allocations for the Disabled Facilities Grant programme, making available £157 million for the Disabled Facilities Grant programme in England for 2009-10, an increase of 7 per cent. on the amount for 2008-09. Over 230 local authorities will receive an increase in their allocation. A table detailing the funds provided to individual authorities has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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The Disabled Facilities Grant programme has seen successive increases in funding in recent years, increasing from £57 million in 1997 to £146 million in 2008-09. The Disabled Facilities Grant programme helps around 37,000 disabled and older people each year to live as comfortably and independently as possible in their own homes through the provision of adaptations. The Disabled Facilities Grant programme provides mandatory grants for housing adaptations including improving access to a home and to the basic facilities within a home such as the provision of ramps, door widening, stair lifts and level access showers.

Following publication in the summer of “The Nation’s Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans” (Cm 7424), we have now changed the Disabled Facilities Grant regulations in order to help the most severely disabled ex-service personnel by disregarding Ministry of Defence compensation schemes from the Disabled Facilities Grant financial test. This is in recognition of the unique contribution service personnel make to society. The change will come into force on 31 December 2008.

Local authorities are being informed of their individual allocations. Details of the amount awarded to each authority will be available on the CLG website.

Culture, Media and Sport

Listed Events (Review)

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): I have today appointed David Davies OBE as the independent Chairman to carry out a review of the listed events regime and to make recommendations to me about the future and content of the UK’s list. The Chairman will lead an advisory group, whose membership will be broadly drawn and include sporting, broadcasting and wider business expertise. The group will also have a perspective from the devolved nations. The Chairman and advisory group will be supported by a project team within my Department.

I have agreed that the review should cover three main areas:

The review process will include consultation with broadcasters, rights holders and the public as appropriate. The review will also take account of relevant research.

The advisory group will bring forward recommendations to me in the second half of next year.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Food Security

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): In July of this year, I published a discussion paper entitled “Ensuring UK Food Security in a Changing World”. I wanted to start
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a debate on the long-term challenges to our food security such as climate change, increased demand—particularly for some foods—and the energy dependence of our food supply. I also wanted to assess the impact of shorter term issues, including export bans and rises in commodity prices, that are in part a consequence of these same challenges.

Annual food price inflation has now decreased from a peak of 14.5 per cent. in August 2008 to 11.2 per cent. in November. We expect it to continue to decline over the coming months, reflecting the falls we have seen in oil and commodity prices. The UK feed wheat price currently stands at £88 per tonne, less than half the peak of £185 back in March. Pig prices have edged down over recent weeks, where the change in the value of sterling continues to offset the impact of declining wider EU market prices, whilst cattle and sheep prices have remained relatively level. The average farm gate milk price in September—the latest month for which figures are available—was 27 per litre, 17 per cent. higher than a year earlier, but we have seen price falls in many dairy commodity markets over recent months. The proportion of income spent on food by the UK’s poorest 20 per cent. went up from 15.5 per cent. to 16.5 per cent. at the peak of food price inflation and is not likely to have changed substantially since July. We are doing further work to see what this has meant for food purchasing decisions.

We received over 100 written responses to July’s paper and held three workshops. It was clear that many people, from producers to retailers and consumers, feel strongly about agriculture and food. A wide range of views were expressed ranging from support for intensive farming to calls for a radical rethinking about the relationship between traditional agricultural inputs and the food we produce. Issues raised included landscapes, water, food distribution, agricultural research, nutrition, and skills in farming and food sciences.

Many of those responding agreed that we should not base our food security policy on the pursuit of self-sufficiency, and the debate has shifted to a broader discussion of the complex factors that contribute to our food security. Twenty six countries—including our own—provide 90 per cent. of our food consumption, with the majority coming from other EU countries. In addition, inputs to food production such as oil, fertiliser and feed, are globally traded commodities. Trade with developing countries is also important, and respondents agreed that the Government needed to continue to pursue both radical CAP reform, and an agreement from the current Doha trade round. Nonetheless, UK production does—and will in the future—provide an important contribution to our food supply, which varies widely across sectors, from 10 per cent. in fruit, to over 100 per cent. in cereals.

As a result of all the comments we have had on our discussion paper, it seems clear that food security is most usefully looked at in terms of the resilience of our food supply chains, access to safe, nutritious, affordable and diverse foods, and ensuring the long-term environmental sustainability of the food and farming sector. Our agri-food sector, from farm gate to retail is hugely important. It is worth £79 billion and employs 3.7 million people.

I am today announcing that the membership of The Council of Food Policy Advisers, which I have established
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to support our work on food security, affordability and sustainability, under the Chairmanship of Dame Suzi Leather, will be:

Additional members will be announced later.

I will ask the council to advise on what may be necessary in future to ensure that we have a secure and sustainable food system in the UK. I will also invite the council to examine the draft indicators for food security that DEFRA has been developing in the light of the responses we have had. We will continue to work with stakeholders as we develop these and consider broader risks to our food security.

The UK’s food security is strongly linked to global food security. The Foresight project on the future of food and farming, conducted by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor John Beddington, is looking to 2050 and examining how we will feed a global population of 9 billion healthily, equitably, and sustainably, and what implications this has for UK policy.

Part of the answer lies in promoting environmentally sustainable agriculture throughout the world. The Government will continue to support this, drawing on domestic and international research and expertise including this year’s International agricultural assessment headed by Professor Bob Watson, DEFRA’s chief scientific adviser.

In addition, the Government will continue to press for the establishment of a Global Partnership For Agriculture And Food Security (GPAFS). GPAFS will bring together Governments, international institutions and civil society to help develop national and international plans for agriculture, food security and nutrition and support increased sustainable agricultural production.

I also welcome the EFRA Select Committee’s announcement that they will be holding an inquiry into the strengths and weaknesses of the UK food system, and the opportunities and challenges the country faces in responding to the global demand for increased food production. DEFRA looks forward to submitting evidence.

The Government are committed to ensuring sustainable food security in the face of climate change and a rapidly increasing global population. To do so will require leadership in the UK, co-operation with other countries and a transformation in our international institutions. I will update the House as this work develops.

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Innovation, Universities and Skills

EU Education Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. Siôn Simon): I represented the UK at the Education Council, on behalf of DIUS and DCSF.


The council adopted resolutions on multilingualism and on lifelong guidance. The Council also agreed conclusions on co-operation on schools; vocational education and training; and youth mobility. The texts of all the dossiers adopted are in line with UK national priorities.


A resolution was adopted on multilingualism which recognises the value of multilingualism both in terms of personal development and to the economy. The UK agrees with these overall goals, but has worked to ensure that the definition of multilingualism is as wide as possible, including world languages and less widely used European languages.

Ministers agreed conclusions on enhanced co-operation in vocational education and training.

These conclusions form the latest review of the Copenhagen process which was designed to improve European co-operation on vocational education and training. Commissioner Figel noted that their communication “New Skills for New Jobs”, to be published on 16 December, would have a key role to play in linking vocational education and training to the labour market.

A resolution was adopted on guidance in lifelong learning. This resolution aims to strengthen the role of guidance within countries’ national lifelong learning strategies and to strengthen European co-operation in this field. A ministerial debate flagged the wide range of approaches underway in different countries. I highlighted the new Apprenticeships Bill and the adult advancement and careers service as examples of the work the UK is doing.

Ministers adopted conclusions on European co-operation on schools, which propose areas of focus for future co-operation at a European level on schools through the open method of co-ordination. The conclusions acknowledge that the responsibility for organising school systems and education policy lies entirely with member states. All who spoke welcomed the text and agreed that, although this was an area of member state competence, the EU had a useful co-ordination role in helping countries to meet their 2010 goals in education and training under the Lisbon strategy. By the end of this year, the commission would also publish their draft priorities in the area of education and training for the period up to 2020.

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