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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 10 June 2010


Financial Services Authority (Annual Report)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): The Annual Report 2009-10 of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has today been laid before Parliament. Copies have also been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report forms a key part of the accountability mechanism for the Financial Services Authority under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA), and assesses the performance of the Financial Services Authority over the past 12 months against its statutory objectives.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government Savings Package

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): The Government have made clear that deficit reduction is their most urgent priority. On 24 May, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced therefore that the Government would save over £6 billion from spending during this financial year. Included in that savings package were £1.166 billion reductions in grants to local government. I have today placed in the Library of the House information on the revenue and capital grants that will be reduced.

The Government are clear that deficit reduction, and continuing to ensure economic recovery, is the most pressing issue facing Britain. This will restore confidence in the economy and support the recovery. Advice from the Treasury and Bank of England is that it is better to start to make the reductions in the current financial year. Not to do so will simply delay the need for savings in future years, thereby compounding the impact on public services, including those delivered by local authorities, in the future. It is fair that local authorities make a contribution to the savings to enable Government to take immediate action to tackle the UK's unprecedented deficit in this financial year.

It is time for a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to individuals and their communities. We want to end the era of top-down government by providing a radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local authorities.

So we will reduce the performance management burden on local government through abolishing the comprehensive area assessment and reducing ring-fencing of central
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government grants, freeing up resources to concentrate on local priorities and the delivery of essential front-line services. We are committed to a full review of local government finance, to giving councils a general power of competence, and to working with local authorities to freeze council tax in England for at least one year as outlined in the coalition agreement and seek to freeze it for a further year, in partnership with local authorities. All of this will help to create the shift of power from the centre to local people that we are determined to deliver.

I am absolutely clear about the importance of the services that local government provides. So we have been determined to ensure local authorities can shield their key front-line services.

The Government have looked at whether it is possible to focus the reductions on grants which have not yet been committed through grant determinations or other statutory restrictions. This has been possible to some extent. Some of the reductions occur in grants where there are underspends, where the money has yet to be allocated or where a grant determination has not yet been made. However, because of the scale of the contribution from local government, it has not been possible to achieve the necessary levels of reduction without reducing some allocations included in grant determinations. Local government, along with the rest of society, is being asked to play its part in helping to reduce the deficit. Where we have reduced revenue grants, no local authority will face a reduction of more than 2%. This compares to the cut in running costs for my Department and its quangos of 10% in 2010-11

We have ensured that councils have the flexibility to take decisions locally on how to deliver the savings needed. I am pleased that we have been able to keep formula grant at the level approved by Parliament of £29 billion. We have also announced further removal from ring-fencing of central government revenue and capital grants. This gives councils extra flexibility to make decisions about where savings are found, although this is subject to the usual rules which ensure that capital funding is used on capital expenditure. A list of grants that have been removed from ring-fencing is included in the information made available in the House.

There are good reasons for the changes we have made. For example, we believe that the housing and planning delivery grant has proved to be an ineffective and excessively complex incentive. The coalition agreement set out that we will provide incentives for local authorities to deliver sustainable development, including for new homes and businesses.

The Government believe that there is significant scope for local authorities to find efficiencies in the way in which they deliver services. We believe there are further opportunities for an increased role for joint working between local authorities and between different types of public authorities across local areas. Our focus on providing councils with the flexibility to manage budgets effectively will ensure that councils can deliver those services that local people wish to see.

I recognise that making savings in-year will be challenging for local authorities, as it will be for other parts of the public sector. The information that my Department is sending today to every local authority provides the detail councils need to make the necessary decisions as quickly as possible on how they will deliver the necessary changes. I have also made available in the Library of the
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House a copy of the information that we have sent to each local authority which sets out the revised allocations.

I know that councils want this information as a matter of urgency and we have worked hard to deliver this. The Government therefore wish to provide as much clarity and flexibility to local authorities and other public bodies as quickly as possible so that they can best handle the changes proposed without an impact on key front-line services.

I am satisfied that we have adopted a fair approach to making the necessary reductions in the different grants and funding streams. We are therefore simply asking councils to check quickly to make sure that there are no errors in the calculation of the reductions.

The detailed spending decisions we are outlining today show a clear determination to help tackle the immense public deficit the new Government have inherited.


Munro Review (Child Protection)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): I informed the House on Monday 7 June 2010 that the Government had decided to commission Professor Eileen Munro of the London School of Economics to carry out an independent review to improve child protection. The Secretary of State for Education has written to Professor Munro today to set out the remit of this review and I would like to take this opportunity to provide the House with further details.

The reforms led by the previous Administration were well intentioned. The immense dedication and hard work of front-line professionals is an inspiration. But the child protection system in our country is not working as well as it should. It is the Government's view that we need a fundamental review of the system and to ask ourselves what will help professionals to make the best judgments they can to protect vulnerable children.

I firmly believe we need reform to frontline social work practice. I want to strengthen the profession so that social workers are in a better position to make sound judgments, based on first hand evidence, in the best interests of children, free from unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation. I want social workers to be clear about their responsibilities and to be accountable in the way they protect children. I particularly want social workers to have the confidence they need to challenge parents when they have concerns about the circumstances in which children are growing up, and to know they will be supported by the system in doing so.

The Secretary of State for Education and I have therefore asked Professor Munro to set out the obstacles preventing improvements and the steps required to bring about improved social work practice. This will include considering how effectively children's social workers and professionals in other agencies work together. As part of the review, we have asked Professor Munro to take account of emerging thinking from parallel reviews such as the Family Justice Review. We also want any review to be informed by the strongest systems of child protection in other countries.

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This is complex territory and necessarily wide-ranging. We have given Professor Munro a broad remit, so that she is able to consider a wide range of issues. Three principles will underpin the Government's approach to reform of child protection: early intervention; trusting professionals and removing bureaucracy so they can spend more of their time on the front-line; and greater transparency and accountability. We have asked Professor Munro to produce her final report by April 2011 with an interim report in January 2011 and a first report in September 2010.

The Government are committed to implementing the recommendations of the social work taskforce, which provide a strong starting point for Professor Munro's review. We look to the social work reform board to take forward those recommendations while the review is in progress.

To support further improvement on the front line, the DfE is confirming today that the £23 million local social work improvement fund will be available to local authority children's services in 2010-11.

The successful CWDC programmes to support recruitment and retention of social workers will also continue, subject to some efficiencies, which have been achieved by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and marketing and overlap with the work of the social work reform board.

We are also confirming the funding that will support the establishment of an independent college for social work and that pilots of social work practices will continue. This confirmation relates to funding, which has been protected in 2010-11. Funding for future years will need to be confirmed as part of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.

I would also like to take this opportunity to confirm to the House the Government's commitment to ensuring that serious case reviews, with identifying details removed, are published.

The key purpose of undertaking serious case reviews is to enable lessons to be learned from cases where a child dies or is seriously harmed and abuse or neglect is known, or suspected, to be a factor. In order for these lessons to be learned as widely and thoroughly as possible, professionals need to be able to understand fully what happened in each case, and most importantly, what needs to change in order to reduce the risk of such tragedies happening in the future. Only by publishing serious case reviews will this greater level of transparency and accountability be achieved. The Government's aim in publishing SCR overview reports is to restore public confidence and improve transparency in the child protection system, and to ensure that the context in which the events occurred is properly understood so relevant lessons are learned and applied as widely as possible.

That is why Ministers have today written to all local safeguarding children board chairs and directors of children's services to confirm that, with immediate effect, the overview report and the executive summary of all new serious case reviews initiated from today should be published. Overview reports should be published together with the executive summaries unless there are compelling reasons relating to the welfare of any children directly concerned in the case for this not to happen. Both the overview report and the executive summary should be anonymised and should not contain identifying details.
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This means preparing SCR overview reports in a form suitable for publication, or redacting them appropriately before publication.

The publication of serious case reviews is a sensitive and complex matter. Serious case review overview reports contain personal information and it is vitally important that published serious case reviews are appropriately redacted and anonymised to protect the privacy and welfare of vulnerable children and their families. There is an important balance to be struck between transparency and openness so that lessons can be learned, and the protection and welfare of individuals. We believe that publication to the extent that we are proposing is reasonable and in the greater public interest.

The tragic case of Peter Connelly, and other recent high profile cases such as those in Edlington, Birmingham and Kirklees, shocked the nation. They also prompted public concern that vital information needed to be made available so that agencies could be properly held to account and all the lessons properly learned. The Government are therefore confirming today their intention that the overview reports (together with the executive summary) of all these serious case reviews will be published, appropriately redacted and anonymised, starting with the two serious case review overview reports on the case of Peter Connelly.

As part of her review, Professor Munro has also been asked to consider how serious case reviews could be strengthened and whether there are alternative learning models that could be more effective and efficient.

Finally, I want to inform the House that the cross-Government National Safeguarding Delivery Unit will be disbanded with immediate effect and staff resource allocated to new priorities, including supporting the Munro review. The safeguarding group within the Department for Education will retain lead responsibility for the Government's child protection policy and will continue to work closely with other Government Departments, in particular the Department of Health, the Home Office, and the Ministry of Justice.

I have placed a copy of the letters sent today to Professor Munro, and to all chairs of local safeguarding children boards and directors of children's services, in the House Library.

Energy and Climate Change

Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): Lord Henley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and I will represent the UK at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 11 June.

The Council will consider progress reports on the proposal for a regulation on the placing on the market and use of biocidal products; the proposal for a directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS) (recast); the proposal for a directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) (recast); and the proposal for a regulation concerning the setting emission performance
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standards for new light commercial vehicles as part of the Community's integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles.

The Commission will present to Council its communication on the options to move beyond 20% greenhouse gas emission reductions and assessing the risk of carbon leakage. This will be followed by a policy debate and the adoption of some procedural Council conclusions.

The Council will also seek the adoption of Council conclusions on water scarcity, drought and adaptation to climate change, on preparing forests for climate change, and the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP/MOP 5) serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Nagoya, Japan, 11 to 15 October 2010). There will also be an exchange of views and adoption of Council conclusions, on the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development ("Rio+20") (New York, 17-19 May 2010).

The following topics will be covered under "any other business":

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council will be held on 14 June in Luxembourg. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will represent the UK with the Secretary of State for International Development at the respective sessions of Foreign and Development Ministers. I will also attend.

The agenda items are as follows:

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC): Foreign Ministers


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