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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Communities and Local Government

Council Tax

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): On 13 December, I indicated that when the House debated the final local government finance report I would set out council tax capping principles that will apply to local authorities' budgets for 2011-12. I am therefore now informing the House that I will consider an authority to have set an excessive increase if:

(a) the amount calculated by the authority as its budget requirement for 2011-12 is more than 92.5% of-

(i) the authority's alternative notional amount; or

(ii) where no such amount has been specified for the authority, the authority's budget requirement for 2010-11(1); and

(b) the amount calculated by the authority as its band D council tax for 2011-12 is more than 3.5% greater than the same amount calculated for 2010-11 (except see below).

Different principles will apply to the Greater London Authority (GLA), and to the councils of Central Bedfordshire and Shropshire. The reasons for this are-

My officials will write to these three authorities separately with further technical details about how the principles applicable to them will operate. However, I can confirm that the policy aim of the capping principles for 2011-12 is the same for all authorities and that the principles for the GLA, Central Bedfordshire and Shropshire are designed to ensure that appropriate comparisons can be made between the band D council tax set by those authorities in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

I am this year announcing these principles before the dates by which authorities have to set their budgets. This contrasts with the approach of the previous Government, which always required authorities to wait and see whether the council tax they had set would be considered excessive by reference to principles not decided until after the deadlines for setting their budgets had passed.

Moving forward, the Government intend to end the capping regime and replace it with a more democratic and localist measure to allow local residents to veto excessive council tax rises via a local referendum.

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Research Projects

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): Today the Government are publishing a group of reports presenting the findings from research projects commissioned by the previous Administration.

There is a significant backlog of unpublished reports that were produced by the previous Government and over the next few months we will be publishing these reports in groups themed on a particular topic.

The reports and findings are of general policy interest, but do not relate to forthcoming policy announcements. We are publishing these documents in the interests of transparency and as part of our freedom of information commitment to publish the results of all commissioned research. For transparency, all completed work is being published regardless of format or robustness.

The five reports published today represent the findings from three research projects at a total cost of £191,000, excluding VAT. These findings cover fire-related topics.

The Government are concerned to ensure their research delivers best possible value for money for the taxpayer and that sums expended are reasonable in relation to the public policy benefits obtained. DCLG has put in place scrutiny and challenge processes for future research.

All new projects will be scrutinised to ensure the methodology is sound and that all options for funding are explored at an early stage. This includes using existing work from other organisations, joint funding projects with other Departments or organisations and taking work forward in-house.

Cost of Fire

Retained Duty System

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Fire Service Emergency Cover (FSEC) major incidents risk assessment module

These reports and findings are of general policy interest, but do not relate to forthcoming policy announcements and are not a reflection of the current Government's policies and priorities. DCLG is publishing these reports in the interests of transparency.

Copies of these reports are available on the DCLG website. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

Northern Ireland

Counter-Terrorism Legislation Review

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): Following the counter-terrorism legislation review the Home Secretary decided to replace section 44
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of the Terrorism Act 2000 with a more tightly circumscribed power. Consistent with those changes, I have decided to make a similar amendment to a power of stop and search in Northern Ireland.

I intend to amend the power to stop and search a person without reasonable suspicion contained in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007. In future, prior authorisation by a senior police officer, confirmed by the Secretary of State, will be required before the power to search a person without reasonable suspicion to ascertain whether he has munitions unlawfully with him or wireless apparatus with him can be exercised by a police officer. I will also create a new power for police officers to search for such items with reasonable suspicion. In due course I will exercise the power in section 34 of the 2007 Act to make a code of practice governing the exercise of these powers.

Powers of stop and search for the military under the 2007 Act will not be amended.

Changes to the legislation will be brought forward in the protection of freedoms Bill, which will be introduced into Parliament shortly. Robert Whalley, the reviewer of the operation of these powers appointed under section 40 of the 2007 Act, is aware of the changes I plan to make.

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