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10 Feb 2010 : Column 49WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Communities and Local Government

Local Government

The Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination (Ms Rosie Winterton): On 8 December 2009, Official Report, column 14WS, I informed the House that the Boundary Committee had provided the advice requested on certain matters respectively relating to the unitary proposals (the "original proposals") made by Exeter city council, Ipswich borough council, and Norwich city council. In their advice the Boundary Committee put forward alternative proposals for a single unitary county authority for Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk, and in addition in the case of Suffolk proposed a further alternative of two unitary authorities covering the county area.

Following the end of a period for representations on 19 January 2010 to be made to the Secretary of State about the Boundary Committee's advice and original proposals, we have now taken our statutory decisions under section 7 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 on the unitary proposals relating to Devon and Norfolk. For the reasons explained below we decided not to take our statutory decisions on the proposals relating to Suffolk, and to invite the councils in Suffolk through a county constitutional convention to work together with their Members of Parliament to reach a consensus on a unitary pattern of local government for that area.

Under section 7 of the 2007 Act we can decide to implement, with or without modification, any of the unitary proposals before us, or to take no action on them. Owing to family connections with the Devon area, to avoid any perception of bias, the Secretary of State remitted decisions on unitary proposals for Devon to me.

We have considered each of the unitary proposals before us, both the alternative proposals made by the Boundary Committee and the original proposals, on its merits. We have sought to balance a number of factors in each case. We have had regard to the Boundary Committee's advice, all the representations we have received, and all other relevant information.

In the case of each proposal we have reached a judgment on it by reference to the five criteria-affordability, broad cross-section of support, strategic leadership, neighbourhood empowerment, and value for money and equity on services. Our presumption has been that where for an area there is one unitary proposal that meets the criteria, we will implement it, unless there are compelling reasons for the contrary; if there are several such proposals we will implement the one we judge to meet the criteria on leadership, neighbourhood empowerment, and value for money, to the greatest
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extent. Where we judged that a proposal does not meet all the five criteria, our presumption has been not to implement it unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary.

Our assessment is that, contrary to the Boundary Committee's views, the alternative proposals for unitary county councils in Devon and Norfolk do not meet all the criteria. Our judgment is that there is not a reasonable likelihood, if these proposals were implemented, of their delivering the outcomes specified by the broad cross-section of support criterion. I also judged that if a unitary council for Devon were implemented there is also not a reasonable likelihood of it delivering the outcomes specified by the neighbourhood engagement criterion. Accordingly, we have decided to take no action on these proposals.

In his statement to the House of 5 December 2007, Official Report, column 66WS, the then Minister for Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), stated that the Secretary of State judged that the unitary proposals for Exeter and Norwich would, if implemented, not be reasonably likely to deliver the outcomes specified by the affordability criterion, nor in the case of Norwich the outcomes specified by the value for money services criterion. The then Secretary of State also judged that these proposals, if implemented, would be reasonably likely to deliver the outcomes specified by the other criteria.

We have considered these proposals afresh against the criteria and our assessment is the same as my right hon. Friends in December 2007. However, we consider that in both cases there are compelling reasons to depart from the presumption that unitary proposals which do not meet all five criteria are not to be implemented.

In both cases these reasons are twofold.

First, the Government's priorities today are, above all, for jobs and economic growth. Local government has an essential role to play in delivering these economic priorities, and this role is of a significance that could not be contemplated in 2006 when the criteria were developed. We believe, as has been made clear to us by the representations we have received, that a unitary Exeter and a unitary Norwich would each be a far more potent force for delivering positive economic outcomes both for the city and more widely than the status quo two-tier local government.

Secondly, with today's approach to developing public service delivery, as envisaged by our Command Paper-"Putting the Frontline First"-announced by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 7 December 2009, Official Report, column 1WS, including the Total Place approach, a unitary Exeter and a unitary Norwich could open the way for improvements to the quality of public services. Through innovative shared services and partnership arrangements the public services for the cities will be able to be tailored to the needs of the urban area while still being able to achieve the economies of scale that are possible under the countywide delivery of such services as adult social care and children's services.

Accordingly, the Secretary of State in the case of Norwich, and I in the case of Exeter, have decided, subject to Parliamentary approval, to implement a unitary council for each of these cities from 1 April 2011. In accordance with the 2007 Act we are thus laying before
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Parliament today drafts of orders, which if approved by Parliament, we will make to give effect to our decisions to create a unitary Exeter and a unitary Norwich.

The draft orders make provision not only for the creation of the new unitary councils, but also for appropriate transitional arrangements. These arrangements reflect both the experience we have gained from implementing the nine new unitary councils on 1 April 2009, and also the discussions we have offered this year to all councils potentially affected by any of the unitary proposals before us. In particular the draft orders are providing for the 2010 elections to Exeter and Norwich city councils to be cancelled and for subsequent whole council elections to the new unitary councils to take place in 2011.

Preparations for the new unitaries will be the responsibility of an implementation executive made up of existing councillors from both the city and county councils. We are committed to applying the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) which will ensure that employees who transfer to the new unitary councils will do so with their terms and conditions protected on transfer. We expect the affected councils to have early discussions with the trade unions on staffing issues arising from restructuring.

Recognising the importance and scope for innovative service delivery we will be inviting all existing councils in Devon and Norfolk to work together and with Government to develop the new service delivery models which, with the advent of unitary councils for the cities, will enable the best quality and most efficient public services to be provided both to the cities and the wider county areas. In developing these models we will be looking to maximise the new freedoms and flexibilities on offer in our Command Paper.

We share the Boundary Committee's assessment that the alternative proposals they have put forward for Suffolk meet the criteria, the proposal for a single unitary county, to the greater extent. We have also assessed afresh the unitary proposal made by Ipswich borough council and have concluded that we share the view the Secretary of State reached in December 2007 that this proposal, if it were implemented, would not be reasonably likely to deliver the outcomes specified by the affordability criterion.

From the representations we have received it is clear that there is wide agreement across the county that there should be a unitary solution in some form. However, it is equally clear that neither of the unitary proposals which we consider meet the criteria is supported by all the principal councils in the county. Accordingly, we have concluded not now to take a statutory decision on the Suffolk proposals before us, and to invite all the Suffolk councils, with their Members of Parliament, consulting other stakeholders and through a county constitutional convention, to reach a consensus on a unitary solution for that area.

We are clear that the decisions that we have taken are in the best interests of the people for the areas concerned. They recognise the genuine local appetite for unitary Government in the cities of Exeter and Norwich. They provide a robust framework for the future prosperity of those cities and surrounding county areas. They open the way to better and more efficient public services. This potential will be delivered through the commitment and collaboration of all councils involved-this is what local people will rightly expect.

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Defence Medical Rehabilitation (Ward Beds)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): The Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court, provides first-class rehabilitation treatment for service personnel, most notably for operational casualties at the present time, but also for a range of other patients. Many of its patients, particularly those who have suffered severe injuries, need to return to the unit for further treatment at intervals, often over a period of years.

We keep the number of beds required under regular review. The unit's facilities currently include 66 ward beds and 120 other beds for patients. As prudent contingency planning, we propose to increase the number of ward beds available in the near to medium-term. We are therefore now working on plans to provide up to 30 extra ward beds later this year, as well as updating and expanding our existing clinical facilities at Headley Court in the longer-term. Planning permission for new buildings will be sought in the normal way.

We are determined to ensure that the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre continues to provide the excellent service that our armed forces deserve. I shall inform the House when final decisions on our requirements for additional ward beds have been made.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I wish to update the House on recent developments related to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

I announced the start of a review of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on 16 July 2009, Official Report, column 55WS. Today I am publishing the report of this review.

The review was part of a Government recommendation that public bodies are subjected to periodic study to ensure that they are still delivering high quality services and are adequately resourced. The review was carried out by independent consultants led by Sir Neil Chalmers, Warden of Wadham College Oxford, on behalf of DEFRA, who gathered evidence from individuals and organisations with an interest in the work of the RBG, Kew.

The report focused on whether Kew has been effectively fulfilling its statutory obligations under the National Heritage Act 1983 since 2001 (the date of the last review) considered sustainable funding options in the present economic climate, examined the effectiveness of the delivery of Kew's science programme, issues of maintaining the heritage buildings, improving the visitor experience and aspects of governance and sponsorship by the Government. It concluded that Kew has been fulfilling its statutory functions since 2001 and that DEFRA should remain lead sponsor for Kew but put
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forward a number of recommendations for financial and organisational remedies to sustain Kew as a centre of world-class science and as a major, iconic visitor attraction and a world heritage site.

The report does not constitute DEFRA policy. DEFRA officials will now examine the recommendations proposed in the report in more detail and will explore their financial and organisational implications, including consultation with other Government Departments. I intend to publish a Government response later in the year.

Copies of the full report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and an electronic copy can be downloaded from the DEFRA website at:


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Finances

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The House has recently expressed interest in the financing of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The FCO is working to manage the impact on the purchasing power of its budget next year caused by changes in the value of sterling. That impact is over £100 million in the current financial year and an estimated £110 million in the year ahead.

The FCO has now agreed with Her Majesty's Treasury a range of measures to help manage these pressures in the next financial year:

In addition, I have agreed with other parts of the FCO family, including the British Council, BBC World Service and FCO Services Trading Fund, that they will make a contribution to help manage these pressures. A broad programme of streamlining and cost-savings will also be implemented within the FCO's own operating spending to reduce further back-office costs, implement more innovative working practices, and review staff allowances. This package of measures will substantially offset the foreign exchange pressures on the FCO budget.

In common with other Government Departments, the FCO is committed to delivering increased efficiency which will require further cost reductions and rigorous prioritisation, including in areas of programme spending. Good progress is being made. On this basis, I am confident that the FCO will continue to deliver a world-class and comprehensive diplomatic service for the UK, and that the Government's highest foreign policy priorities, including our counter-terrorism programme, will continue to be funded effectively.

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Home Department

Immigration and Nationality Services

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): On 20 January 2010 I laid the regulations that set fees for immigration and nationality services that are above the normal administrative cost of providing the service. I am today laying regulations for fees that are set at or below the cost of processing. The Government review the fees on a regular basis and make appropriate changes as necessary.

These fees are set out in regulations and are subject to the negative procedure. The fees contained in these regulations are set at, or below the administrative cost of an application or process, in line with the Government's charging model. By charging below the administrative cost of delivery on the application types referred to in this instrument, the UK Border Agency is able to support wider Government objectives, particularly where it is believed that a cost recovery fee would be so high as to damage international competitiveness in this area, (e.g. for short term visit visa applications, tier 5 temporary work applications). To help enable this, the UK Border Agency sets fees for other application types above the cost of delivery. For transparency, I have included the estimated unit cost for each route, so that it is clear the degree to which certain routes are set at or below cost.

We have succeeded in limiting the extent of our general increases by taking a more targeted approach to fees adjustment which is consistent with both the UK Border Agency's strategic charging principles, and also with broader Government objectives. We have made amendments to the tier 4 (student) visa fee, introduced a fee for sponsor action plans and we have proposed a nominal 10 per cent. fee for all applications for UK-based dependants to reflect the fact that each individual brings a processing cost to us. Finally, we will continue to generate revenue to fund the transitional impacts of migration. The migration impacts fund has played a vital role in helping ease the pressures on certain communities. Full details of all fees changes are outlined in the explanatory memorandum accompanying these regulations.

I believe our proposals continue to strike the right balance between maintaining secure and effective border controls and ensuring that our fees structure does not inhibit the UK's ability to attract those migrants and visitors who make a valued contribution. It is right that those who benefit directly from the immigration system should pay to meet the costs of securing the UK's borders. This will help to support the immigration system, maintain public confidence, and ensure that migration is managed for the benefit of the UK.

Full details on how to apply for all of these services will be provided on our website: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk.

The table below details fees for 2010-11 for immigration and nationality services that are set at or below the normal administrative costs of the service.

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Visa Fees
Products2009-10 Fees (£)Estimated Unit Cost for 2010-11Proposed Fee for 2010-11

Non PBS Visas

Short term visitor visa




Transit Visa




Certificate of Entitlement




Vignette Transfer Fee




Call out/out of hours fee

£128 per hour up to a max of £922 a day


130/hour up to a max of £939 a day

PBS Visas

T1 (Post Study) *




T1 (Transition)




T1 (Transition) CESC




T4 **












* The fees for these applications include a contribution of £50 per person to the migration impacts fund.
** The fees for T4 applications include a contribution of £20 per person to the migration impacts fund.

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