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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 10 December 2009


Financial Sector

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Treasury has today published a discussion document on possible international options to reduce the cost to taxpayers of financial sector failures. "Risk, reward and responsibility: the financial sector and society" is a contribution to the international debate on the future of the global financial sector.

The document highlights the importance of the financial sector to the UK economy alongside the risks it poses to society. While some risk-taking is inherent in financial sector operations, the recent financial crisis has shown the high cost to taxpayers when risk-taking becomes excessive. The document considers ways in which the financial sector might contribute to the potential costs of any residual risks it poses to taxpayers and to broader social objectives.

I have placed copies of the document in the Library and the document is also available on HM Treasury's website.

Children, Schools and Families

Early Years Funding

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Dawn Primarolo): This Government have transformed the provision of early years education and childcare in this country, increasing investment sevenfold since 1997 and creating a universal free offer for three and four-year-olds.

As a result there is now nearly universal take-up of the 121/2 hours of free early learning and childcare available to three and four-year-olds, and we remain on course to extend the provision to 15 hours per week from September 2010. The commitment and endeavour of early years providers across the country have been crucial to this success.

In 2007 we announced plans to introduce a single local Early Years Single Funding Formula (EYSFF).

This aims to provide greater consistency and transparency in local decision-making concerning the funding of the free entitlement for three and four-year-olds.

The necessary paving legislation for the EYSFF was included in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which has recently completed its passage through Parliament. The introduction of the EYSFF was welcomed by Members on all sides of both Houses.

Our intention has been that every local authority should implement the EYSFF from April 2010. In anticipation of this many local authorities have been working hard to prepare for this and have engaged positively with local providers.

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However, during the summer it became clear that a significant number of local authorities were experiencing difficulty in developing their EYSFF. More recently, parents and providers, from both the maintained and the PVI sectors, have expressed concerns about the potential adverse impact on provision if the EYSFF is introduced now.

In response to these concerns the Department acted quickly to survey all local authorities, to establish how much progress they had made. This was completed towards the end of November and found considerable variation in terms of their readiness.

The data and information we have collected now suggests that less than a third of local authorities will be in a secure position to implement their EYSFF from April 2010. While it is difficult to generalise about the underlying reasons it seems clear that some local authorities have experienced serious difficulties in obtaining accurate data from their providers, while others have simply found the task extremely challenging.

I have therefore decided to postpone the formal implementation date for the EYSFF by one year until April 2011.

I have asked my officials to invite all local authorities that are confident they are ready to implement their new formulae in April 2010 and who wish to do so to continue as planned. These local authorities will be able to apply to join a pathfinder programme, which currently involves nine local authorities but which we will now expand.

This expansion will increase the capacity of the pathfinder programme to develop practice from which other local authorities can learn.

The Government remain strongly committed to the introduction of the EYSFF in all areas from April 2011. We believe that it is only through the effective implementation of the EYSFF that all providers across the sector can have confidence in local decisions about funding. This 12-month delay should provide sufficient time for concerns to be addressed, without incurring a risk of drift. It will also allow time for more dedicated support to be offered to those local authorities that need it in order to complete the development of their formula.

Revised Schools Admissions Code

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): Today I have presented to Parliament a revised School Admissions Code ('the Code'). Subject to the usual Parliamentary procedure, this revised Code will come into force in February 2010.

This statement follows on from previous statements I have made accepting recommendations made by Sir Jim Rose from his primary curriculum review in April 2009, in particular those designed to help improve outcomes for summer-born children, by enabling them to start school from the September following their fourth birthday.

Sir Jim Rose recommended that, subject to parents taking into account their child's maturity and readiness to enter reception class, summer-born children should
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be entitled to start part school in the September after their fourth birthday. This could be at part-time basis if parents prefer.

A study for the primary curriculum review by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that admissions policies do matter and that, in general, summer-born children are slightly better off in terms of cognitive outcomes at Key Stages 1-3 if they start school in the September following their fourth birthday. The IFS study also reported that summer-born children risk being treated as 'immature' in comparison with their older classmates, giving rise to lack of confidence and low self-regard that may limit expectations of them and their expectations of themselves. Furthermore, a literature review by the National Foundation for Educational Research concluded that children who start school later will spend less time in reception class prior to entering Year 1 of primary school, and therefore they may lose some of the educational experience that will develop and prepare them for their school careers.

The majority of local authority areas already operate an entry point in September following a child's fourth birthday so summer-born children do not have the same education opportunities across the country. Implementing this proposal will therefore provide a fair system for parents, which also gives them more choice to meet their own child's needs. Research conducted by Sir Jim Rose found that 61 per cent. of parents of children currently in part-time maintained provision and 63 per cent. of parents with summer-born children would move to a full-time provision once offered.

The aim of the policy change is to enable parents to choose between school or other early learning provision for their four years olds. Some parents have a strong preference for their child's early years experience to take place outside a school setting. I am therefore also making arrangements to enable all children to receive full and part time provision in private, voluntary, independent and maintained nurseries from the September after their fourth birthday up until compulsory school age.

Parents who prefer to delay their child's starting school would be able to defer a school place until compulsory school age-as they can already do now. But it is right that all children should be in school-playing and learning and developing-from age five.

The four years olds proposal is just one of many recommendations made by the primary curriculum review aimed at giving greater parental choice and improving transition and outcomes for all children, particularly summer-born children and vulnerable groups such as those with SEN, who Sir Jim felt would benefit most from starting school early. We are already reforming the primary curriculum to encourage a smoother transition from early years foundation stage (EYFS) into school by arranging the curriculum in six areas of learning (similar to EYFS areas of learning and development) and free it up for teachers. This supports my proposal by creating an appropriate school environment for all four years olds.

Continuing play based learning into primary schools and ensuring children receive learning experiences appropriate to their age and circumstances is a key feature of the new primary curriculum. Whether in
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reception classes, or in nurseries, four year olds will benefit from receiving the early years foundation stage full-time.

Also in line with my earlier statement, over the next few months, we will provide information to parents and local authorities about the optimum conditions, flexibilities and benefits to children of entering reception class in the September immediately after their fourth birthday.

Following a consultation on relevant changes, this revised Code will require all admission authorities to provide for the admission of children following their fourth birthday, from September 2011 onwards.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Food Labelling (Occupied Palestinian Territories)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): DEFRA has today issued advice to retailers and importers who wish to respond to consumer demand for information about the origin of food that has been produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Importers, retailers, NGOs and consumers have asked the Government for clarity over the precise origin of products from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs). The label "West Bank" does not allow consumers to distinguish between goods originating from Palestinian producers and goods originating from illegal Israeli settlements.

Rules on the labelling of produce are set by the European Union and require that the place of origin or provenance should be supplied on foodstuffs where omission of such information might materially mislead the consumer about true origin or provenance of the foodstuff.

Since the "West Bank" is a recognised geographical area within the OPTs, labelling produce with the "West Bank" does not infringe EU labelling rules. However, retailers have informed us of consumer demand for more detailed information.

Therefore, in March, the Government arranged a round-table discussion between interested parties to look at how retailers could make labelling clearer for consumers.

We have taken these views into account, and have today issued advice to retailers and importers. This will help them consider how best to respond to consumer demand for information about the origin of food that has been produced in the OPT.

The Government will keep their policy on labelling food imports from the OPTs under review, in conjunction with the European Commission and other EU member states, and in the light of developments in the middle east peace process. The Government believe that that existence, and continued growth, of Israeli settlements poses a significant obstacle to peace in the middle east. At the same time, the clear position of the Government is that we are opposed to boycotts of Israel or Israeli goods. We do not believe that boycotts help engage or influence Israel, or lead to progress in the middle east peace process.

Copies of the advice will be placed in the House Library and on the DEFRA website: www.defra.gov.uk.

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South Downs National Park

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): On 12 November, Official Report, column 32WS, I informed the House that I was confirming the designation of the South Downs national park and signing the orders which set the precise boundary. I am now proceeding to establish a national park authority for the new national park.

On 16 July 2009 I consulted on the membership of the future South Downs national park authority, proposing that the authority should have from 29 to 37 members. I am most grateful to all those who have taken the time to submit a response to that consultation.

There was a diverse range of views expressed, not only on the size of the proposed authority, but also on its composition, and on the representation of those who live in and around the new park. Although several people offered views on how parish seats might be allocated, this is a matter for the parish councils within the park to determine.

The main reasons cited by those in favour of a 37 seat authority or larger were that it would enable proportional representation of all local authorities, as well as enable more "grass roots" representation with parish councils having several seats. While I understand the reasons for many respondents favouring such a composition, it is the case that, once selected to serve on the park authority, members are expected to act in the best interests of the park in its entirety, so any emphasis on weighted representation is not really consistent with that principle.

A number of respondents favoured a "medium" sized authority of around 31-33 members, in preference to the two ends of the range laid out in the consultation paper. While appreciating that this might draw together the best features of both a large and small authority, it would not be large enough to allow it to be fully weighted nor would it be small enough to minimise the additional administrative burden which a larger authority might create.

Those supporting a smaller, 29 seat authority saw it as creating an efficient, cost-effective authority, with faster decision making, and at a lower cost to the taxpayer. The suggested composition was generally 15 local authority, eight national and six parish seats. Although a smaller authority would mean weighted representation would not be possible, it would still allow every local authority one seat.

A further option emerged in the wake of the consultation which is for a 27 seat authority. This is made possible because two local authorities have stated they wish to share a seat. This would reduce the minimum number of local authority seats from 15 to 14. As I have previously confirmed my view that local authorities should have an absolute majority, this would require the Government to respond to the reduction in local authority members by reducing the number of "national" members from 8 to 7. So the overall composition could be 14 local authority, seven "national" and six parish seats.

Having considered each of the above options carefully, and being satisfied that it would be appropriate for Worthing and Adur councils to share a seat, I have decided to opt for a 27 seat authority. In order to ensure that the national park authority keeps in close touch
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with communities and is able to respond to their concerns, I expect the authority to place a big emphasis on community and stakeholder engagement. I shall now include the 27 member authority in the statutory instrument which I shall lay before Parliament around the turn of the year. With Parliament's consent, this will allow the national park authority to be established from 1 April 2010 and to become operational from 1 April 2011.

A summary of the responses, plus a list of all respondents, can be found on the DEFRA website at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/south-downs-membership/index.htm.


Autumn Performance Report

The Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham): I have today laid before Parliament my Department's autumn performance report for 2009 (CM 7776). The report is in the Library of the House and copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office.

The autumn performance report provides the second public report of progress on our public service agreements, departmental strategic objectives and value for money targets set for this comprehensive spending review period.

NHS 2010-15

The Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham): I have today laid before Parliament "The NHS 2010-15: from good to great. Preventative, people-centred, productive" (Cm 7775). The paper is in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office.

"The NHS 2010-15" maps out how we will build on the achievements of the last decade to create a more preventative and people-centred NHS-a service that is better for patients, but also more productive. It is intended to give the NHS time to plan for the challenges of a new era.

In the past, a tougher financial environment has meant that patients have paid the price through longer waits. But this will not happen this time. We will not back away from the NHS. The Pre-Budget report confirms that we can lock in the achievements of the last decade, while protecting staff and the service as a whole.

The document also sets out how we will continue to improve the NHS, according to the principles set out in the next stage review. It outlines the following key steps:

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