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Probation Service

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): The indicative budget for 2010-11, communicated to probation chiefs in February 2009 was £844 million, compared with a budget of £894 million in 2009-10. This would have been a 5.6 per cent. reduction year-on-year.

In the light of strong representations I have received from the probation service and from the probation unions, and my particular concern about employment
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prospects for recently qualified probation officers, I can announce today that the confirmed 2010-11 allocation will be £870 million, £26 million more than the original indicative budget. This equates to a reduction of 2.68 per cent. year-on-year. This is consistent with the savings expected across the public service.

In this economic climate the probation service along with all public services has to achieve efficiency savings. Probation boards and trusts have been required to review their structures, overheads, support services and efficiency levels. This funding will enable probation boards/trusts to review their staffing plans for 2010-11 which will benefit both the September 2009 graduates and the 305 trainee probation officers due to graduate in September 2010.

The additional funding will be targeted to increase confidence in community penalties and divert low risk offenders from short term custody. Directors of offender management will be required to negotiate specific service improvements with individual boards/trusts which will be incorporated in SLAs contracts for 2010-11 to ensure that this additional funding is targeted on front line delivery. Detailed work will be undertaken by directors of offender management with areas/trusts to agree additional service delivery requirements and finalise individual allocations.

The total case load of offenders being supervised by the probation service rose by 53 per cent. between 31 December 1997 and 31 December 2008 (from 159,200 to 243,400). This compares to an overall rise in the probation service budget of 70 per cent. in real terms between 1997 and 2007.

The total offender case load has remained stable in recent years. At 31 December 2007 there were 242,700 offenders being supervised, compared to 243,400 at 31 December 2008 and 244,300 at 31 March 2009.

The overriding priority for the probation service is public protection which will not be put at risk. Probation areas are looking to make any required savings through back office and management rationalisation and improvements in efficiency and processes, protecting front line delivery.

Northern Ireland

Report of the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland is responsible for all aspects of electoral administration in Northern Ireland, including the conduct of all elections and referendums, as well as electoral registration. Section 14 of the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962-as amended by Section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006-provides that the Chief Electoral Officer must submit an annual report to the Secretary of State. The annual report of the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland for the year 2008-09 has been laid before Parliament today. Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Transport for London

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, has made the following ministerial statement:

Local Services (Operation by Licensed Hire Cars) Regulations 2009

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): The Secretary of State for Transport has today laid regulations under the Local Transport Act 2008 which will allow the owners of private hire vehicles (PHVs) to use their vehicles to provide local bus services.

The regulations will come into force on 27 November 2009.

Section 53 of the 2008 Act allows the holder of a PHV licence to acquire a special public service vehicle (PSV) licence from the traffic commissioner and to register a local bus service using a licensed PHV.

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It is likely that this new opportunity will be of particular benefit to those in rural areas where it might not be cost-effective for bus operators to run services using larger buses.

The regulations apply in England, (outside London), Wales and Scotland. Transport for London are responsible for making any regulations governing PHV-buses in London. The ability to run bus services has been available to the owners of licensed taxis since 1986.

A summary of the responses received to the consultation exercise on the draft regulations, which was launched on 17 December 2008, has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

Discretionary Social Fund

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman): The Secretary of State will be making changes to the discretionary Social Fund, with effect from 30 October 2009.

The change introduces the requirement for most customers to be interviewed at a local Jobcentre Plus office when they make a third or subsequent application for a crisis loan to cover living expenses.

During such an interview customers will be provided with a leaflet that contains details of local and national organisations that can provide money management advice. The leaflet has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament and copies are also available in the Vote office.

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