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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 20 July 2009

Business, Innovation and Skills

Higher Education

The Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property (Mr. David Lammy): My noble Friend, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Mandelson) has made the following statement:

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Icelandic Water Trawlermen Scheme

The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan): My noble Friend the Minister for Postal Affairs and Employment Relations, Lord Young of Norwood Green, has made the following statement.

Statement of Insolvency Practice 16

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Ian Lucas): The Insolvency Service is today publishing its first report on the operation of Statement of Insolvency Practice 16 (SIP 16).

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SIP 16 sets out required practice for insolvency practitioners who carry out pre-packaged administrations. The Insolvency Service's report examines practitioners' compliance with the SIP in its first six months of operation, and the conduct of directors who have engaged in pre-packs. A further report will be issued in early 2010.

Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report is available at:

http://www.insolvency.gov.uk/insolvencyprofession andlegislation/policychange/sip16-final.pdf


EC Budget White Paper

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): I am today laying before Parliament the annual European Community Finances White Paper "Statement on the 2009 EC budget and measures to combat fraud and financial mismanagement" (Cm 7640). This White Paper is the 29th in the series. It gives details of revenue and expenditure in the 2009 EC budget and covers recent developments in EC financial management and measures to counter fraud against the EC budget. It also includes updated details on the own resources decision, the UK consolidated statement on the use of EU funds in the UK, and new text on the European economic recovery plan.

Tax Credits

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): Tax credits are delivering guaranteed minimum incomes for working families and families with children, reducing child poverty, and improving work incentives. In these tough economic times they provide support to 20 million people including around 6 million families and 10 million children. Take-up is now higher than for any previous system of income-related financial support for in-work families.

Against this backdrop HM Revenue and Customs has today published its estimate of error and fraud in tax credits for 2007-08. The collection, analysis and publication of this data help inform efforts to strengthen the administration of the programme.

The analysis-based on a sample of 4,100 cases-estimates error and fraud at 8.6 per cent. of finalised tax credit entitlements for 2007-08. This comprises error favouring the claimant at 7.8 per cent. of finalised entitlements, and fraud at 0.7 per cent. This compares with the 2006-07 central estimate of error and fraud at 7.8 per cent.

The Government are determined to reduce the incidence of error and fraud in tax credits. In July of last year, the Government set HM Revenue and Customs a target to reduce the combined levels of error and fraud in tax
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credits to no more than 5 per cent. of finalised entitlement by the end of March 2011. HMRC is committed to delivering to achieve this target.

At the same time HMRC also published a new strategy for reducing error and fraud. By using the Department's improved understanding of risks, and of customer needs, it has already introduced additional checks and interventions tailored to help prevent error entering the system while ensuring those who abuse the system are caught. HMRC has also been embedding this deeper understanding of customer behaviour into its entire compliance programme, deploying resources to areas of greatest risk.

By helping customers to get their claim right from the outset, and to keep their award on track, HMRC is reducing the risk of loss and improving customer service. Through the tax credits transformation programme it is now offering better support to customers-for example, HMRC is helping new customers to make their claim accurately, tailoring the level of extra support to their particular needs. The Department is also contacting large numbers of customers to check that their tax credits award remains up-to-date throughout the year and continues to reflect their current circumstances. Additional assistance is also being provided to some vulnerable customers when they renew their claims. Overall HMRC is contacting over 500,000 customers this year offering additional help.

HMRC has also introduced additional checks of many new claims, making better use of information it already holds to prevent financial loss from some of the most frequent mistakes. It is also contacting certain customers who have not reported changes of circumstances for some time to offer assistance to make sure their award is up to date and correct. HMRC is also expanding its outreach work through children's centres by providing advice and support to customers.

On fraud, the Department has implemented a range of measures designed to restrict the opportunity for abuse of the system. These include tighter control on the issue of claim forms, fraud awareness training for staff, and deploying compliance officers in tax credit call centres. Efforts to target organised fraud have successfully reduced the level of identified losses due to organised fraud from the levels in 2005-06. HMRC prevented incorrect tax credits payments due to organised fraud of £66 million in 2007-08.

HMRC is also getting tougher on individuals who commit fraud. It is increasing its use of data matching, using information from a wide variety of sources, within Government and beyond, to identify those who attempt to abuse the system. It is also sharing intelligence with other Government agencies and investigating cases jointly with the Department of Work and Pensions. Those who are caught face being charged a penalty and interest in addition to repaying the amount they defrauded, and in the most serious cases, the Department can and does prosecute. This approach is consistent with HMRC's vision about being passionate in helping those who need it and being relentless in pursuing those who bend or break the rules.

HMRC will use the analysis published today to refine its strategy further.

A copy of these statistics has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is available on the HMRC website.

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Cabinet Office

Government and Voluntary Sector Compact

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Angela E. Smith): I am today placing in the Libraries of both Houses copies of the report of the annual meeting held on 2 December 2008 and the action plan 2009-10.

The independent Commissioner for the Compact, Sir Bert Massie spoke about the state of the relationship between Government and the sector and the findings from the debate on the future of the Compact:

We now have the opportunity to renew the Compact for the 21st century, to ensure it is stronger and capable of delivering for both the public and third sectors in a changing economic environment. Simon Blake, the Chair of Compact Voice, and I, as representatives of the two signatories to the Compact, have asked Sir Bert to begin work engaging both sectors on updating the Compact documents, and in making changes to the Commission. This will build on work the Commission has already achieved to ensure the Compact is better understood and accepted.

The refresh of the Compact is a major piece or work to be done as part of our joint action plan for the next year. The action plan has been developed by the Commission, Compact Voice, Office of the Third Sector and the Local Government Association-taking account of the discussion at the annual review. Along with the report of the annual review meeting I am also placing copies of the Joint Compact Action Plan 2009-10 in both Houses. The action plan is grouped around four themes:

At the annual review meeting my predecessor also announced the baseline for annual reporting on the commitment to three-year funding for the Third Sector by Government Departments. The percentage of the value of all Government grants that have been reported to OTS that are for three years or more is 85.4 per cent. A baseline will also be set in 2009-10 for performance on contracts and performance by NDPBs and agencies.

Communities and Local Government

East of England Regional Spatial Strategy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Shahid Malik): My right. hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is today publishing the revision to the east of England plan-the revision to the East of England regional spatial strategy-concerning accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers and travelling showpeople, together with the accompanying supporting
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document, which includes a summary of consultation responses and a sustainability statement. This final, single issue revision to the east of England plan reflects consideration of responses to the consultation on the Secretary of State's proposed changes, which were made in the light of the recommendations of the independent panel who conducted an examination in public into the draft policy.

This is the completion of an important single issue revision to the east of England plan, which was published in May 2008. It builds on the foundations of the draft policy, which was prepared by the east of England regional assembly and the findings of the independent panel who conducted an examination in public.

The policies that are published today become part of the East of England plan and provide a framework for local planning authorities to prepare relevant policies in their development plan documents, which must be in general conformity with the East of England plan.

The strategy reflected in the final policies aims to guide development of additional accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers and travelling showpeople in the East of England most immediately to 2011, and in the longer term to 2021.

The policies adopt the independent panel's conclusion that the number of pitches in the region should be slightly increased from the total proposed in the draft policy, in recognition of the pressing need for additional accommodation in the East of England. They also reflect the panel's conclusions that the revision should make provision for additional transit sites for temporary use by Gypsies and Travellers and more permanent plots for seasonal use by travelling showpeople. The spatial strategy reflected in the policies provides for meeting the most pressing accommodation needs where they arise coupled with an equitable distribution of additional pitch and plot requirements across the region's local authority areas.

The policies were subject to assessment under the habitats regulations. The sustainability statement concludes that the policies are in accordance with the principles of sustainable development and that they do not give rise to adverse environmental impacts.

The culmination of this single issue review of the East of England plan represents an important milestone in putting in place a strategic framework for addressing the pressing accommodation needs of the Gypsy and Traveller and travelling showpeople communities. The essential task now is to ensure that the policies are implemented quickly and effectively. We look forward to working with the local authorities and other key partners on their delivery.

The policies resulting from the review, together with the supporting document have been placed in the Library of the House and have been provided for all of the region's MPs, MEPs and local authorities.

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