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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 13 October 2010


ECOFIN (30 September - 1 October 2010)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): The informal Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Brussels on 30 September to 1 October 2010. Many of the items discussed at this meeting followed on from issues covered at the 7 September ECOFIN, details of which are below.

The Informal ECOFIN began with a Ministers' lunch discussion focusing on IMF reform. Ministers then held an initial discussion following a Commission presentation on its economic governance proposals. The informal Council also discussed the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth, focusing on means of making progress on structural reforms.

During the afternoon session, Ministers were joined by Central Bank Governors. Discussions centred on the economic outlook, IMF reform and G20, and the outlook and risks for the financial markets. The importance of fiscal consolidation was reaffirmed.

On the second day, discussions focused on credit rating agencies; financial reform in the EU and US; and a framework for responsible and growth-enhancing behaviour of the financial sector, looking at Basel III and financial levies and taxes.

ECOFIN: 7 September 2010

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 7 September 2010. The Chancellor of the Exchequer represented the UK. The following items were discussed:

Financial supervision

Following trilogues, Ministers agreed the financial supervision package. The new proposals will see:

The Government are content with the final agreement, which fully reflects the priorities secured by the UK in July.

European semester

Ministers endorsed the EU semester. The Government are content with the agreement, which recognises that the UK's budget will be sent to the EU after it has been presented to Parliament.

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Bank levy

The Council exchanged views on bank levies. The Government are a strong advocate of the use of levies as a complement to wider reforms aimed at reducing the probability and impact of banking failures. However, national Governments should decide how proceeds from any bank levy are deployed.

Tax on financial transactions

Ministers held an exchange of views on the possible use of financial transaction taxes. The Government believe that if these are to be properly considered, further discussion would be needed around whether the financial transaction taxes model offers a stable and efficient mechanism. The Council agreed to further discuss the financial transaction tax and bank levies at the informal ECOFIN, before returning as a formal agenda item in October.

Business, Innovation and Skills

Further Education Estate (Further Investment)

The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): On 8 September 2010, I informed the House that the Skills Funding Agency had written to 149 colleges notifying them that they will each receive a renewal grant of up to £225,000. There are also 21 who will receive an enhanced renewal grant taking their total grant up to £1 million. This will help enable colleges to modernise their facilities, giving them a much needed boost at a critical time.

On 8 September I also notified the House that the Skills Funding Agency was still working with a further five colleges to resolve affordability issues so that they can also benefit from the capital investment. I am pleased today to inform the House that these five colleges will all receive a £225,000 renewal grant.

One hundred and fifty-four colleges will now receive over £50 million in capital support this financial year, making a real difference to learners and communities.

The full list of the successful colleges are available on the following website:


Communities and Local Government

Local Government Accountability

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): The coalition programme sets out this Government's commitment to ending the era of top-down Government and giving new powers to local authorities to work for their communities, accountable to local people rather than central Government. In support of this approach, today I am announcing changes to local area agreements (LAA) reward grant and the national indicator set. These changes, alongside our previous decision to end the comprehensive area assessment,
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mark the end of the old, top-down local performance framework. I am also announcing a less burdensome approach to the way local authorities provide data to central Government.

From today, the Government are putting local areas fully in control of their local area agreements. This enables local authorities and their partners to amend or drop any of the current 4,700 LAA targets without needing ministerial agreement. Where they choose to keep the targets, central Government will have no role in monitoring them. I will also not be requiring local authorities to prepare an LAA from April 2011, once the current agreements expire.

I will not be making any payments for performance reward grant for the current LAA targets. Deficit reduction and ensuring economic recovery are the most pressing issues facing Britain today, and of course local government has to take its share of the cuts. My aim is to give local authorities the flexibility they need to protect key services, by removing ring-fences around their money, scrapping comprehensive area assessments (CAA) and getting rid of unnecessary top-down targets and their related bureaucracy.

I am also announcing today the replacement of the national indicator set with a single, comprehensive list of all the data we expect local government to provide to central Government. While in the past, local authorities were required to report against a headline figure of around 200 national indicators, we know that in reality the number of reporting requirements was far higher. My aim is to make the data requirements we place on local government transparent and to review and reduce this for April 2011. I will involve local government in this review, to help us ensure the list contains only the minimum of central Government data needs. We will also keep the sector informed over the coming weeks about when individual data collections can cease, as we make the transition to the single list. We will also work with the sector to develop a process to review the list on an annual basis. Once the list is in place, my commitment to local government will be that if a data requirement is not on the list they will be under no obligation to collect and provide it.

In future, the emphasis needs to be on local authorities being democratically accountable to local people rather than to central bureaucratic systems. That is why I am encouraging local authorities wherever possible to make their performance data accessible to their citizens.

Energy and Climate Change

Parliamentary Written Answer (Correction)

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): I would like to inform the House that a written answer I gave on 6 September 2010, Official Report, column 139W to my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) contained some inadvertent and minor errors in that VAT had not been applied consistently, the effect of which was to overstate the cost of the chairs. In fact several of the most expensive chairs were purchased for slightly less than the previous answer indicated. The hon. Member's question tabled on 27 July 2010 asked how
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many chairs the Department of Energy and Climate Change had purchased since its creation; how much the Department spent in each such year; and what the five most expensive chairs purchased in each such year were.

In my written answer, I provided details of the Department's expenditure on chairs for financial years 2009-10 and 2010-11. An error was made whereby VAT was included in the costs of a small number of chairs although the text of my answer suggested all costs excluded VAT. As a result the total cost of chairs bought by the Department was also incorrect .

The correct information is as follows:

DECC was formed in October 2008 and London-based staff moved into the Department's headquarters, 3-8 Whitehall Place, London, SW1A 2AW, between March and June 2009.

In financial year 2009-2010 1,093 chairs were purchased by DECC.

The total cost for the above chairs was £261,000 excluding VAT.

The five most expensive chairs purchased were special chairs for staff required under health and safety advice. The cost of these were as follows: £811.10, £777.64, £773.85, £755.09 and £729.55 excluding VAT.

From April 2010 to date 25 chairs were purchased by DECC.

The total cost to date is £7,700 excluding VAT.

The five most expensive chairs purchased to date were special chairs for staff required under health and safety advice. The cost of these were as follows: £744.65, £722.15, £689.70, £682.75 and £633.75 excluding VAT.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council (14 October)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and I will represent the UK at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 14 October.

The Council will hold an exchange of views on the proposal for a regulation modifying the directive concerning the possibility for member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory. The Belgian presidency will seek the adoption of Council conclusions on; the 10th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the convention on biological diversity; and on the preparation of the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN convention on climate change and the sixth session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto protocol. The presidency will also seek the adoption of procedural Council conclusions on an analysis of possible options to go beyond the objective of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases and evaluation of the risk of carbon leakage.

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

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Synathon BV v. Licensing Authority of the Department of Health

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): In 2001 and 2002, the Medicines Control Agency (a forerunner to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) refused to accept certain marketing authorisation applications from Synthon. Synthon challenged the decision by way of judicial review.

In 2008 the European Court of Justice issued a judgment in relation to C-452/06 Synthon v. Licensing Authority of the Department of Health following a decision grant by the then Licensing Authority (the Medicines Control Agency) to refuse to grant a marketing authorisation for Synthon's paroxetine mesylate product.

The Court's judgment was that the United Kingdom should pay compensation for Synthon's consequential lost profits.

Following a mediation held on 23 and 24 September 2010 the Department of Health has agreed to pay Synthon €33.25 million inclusive of legal costs in full and final settlement of their claim.

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