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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Skills Funding Agency

The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): I would like to inform Parliament that the Government are today announcing a review of the status of the chief executive of skills funding and the Skills Funding Agency—the body which supports him in carrying out his statutory duties.

The review is consistent with the Cabinet Office public bodies review programme, and reflects the requirement placed on all Government Departments to undertake a regular review of their key delivery bodies, and the Government’s ongoing commitment to radically increase the transparency and accountability of all public services.

I will be writing today to the further education and skills sector and to key stakeholders more widely about the review; and can confirm that both the Skills Funding Agency and wider stakeholders will be fully engaged in the review process, while meeting the core principles set by Cabinet Office of ensuring that any wider consultation is proportionate and provides clear value for money.

It is vital that we have the right structures in place to tackle the very real challenges that lie ahead; and this review reflects the Government’s ongoing commitment to building on the strength of the further education system, while ensuring rigorous accountability structures are in place.

We will make a further announcement about the outcome of the review in due course.

Communities and Local Government

Local Democracy

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): The Government have today launched a consultation, “What can a mayor do for your city?” We are asking local communities to contribute their views on the powers that directly elected mayors should be able to exercise in the 12 largest English cities outside London.

The Government are committed to helping all of England’s cities thrive. Experience from London, and from other towns and cities in Europe and beyond, shows that directly elected mayors can provide strong and visible leadership, increase accountability for local decisions, enhance their city’s prestige and maximise the potential for local economic growth.

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In the coalition agreement, the Government committed to creating directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities outside London, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors.

Leicester has already elected a city mayor. The Government are now planning referendums in 11 other cities—Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield—to take place in May 2012. Where local people vote in favour, these cities will move to a directly elected mayor.

The Government start from the assumption that each of our cities is unique, facing challenges and opportunities shaped by its history and location. We think city mayors will be able to do their job best when their remit and powers properly match local circumstances.

Rather than simply seeking to impose a “one size fits all” approach, then, we think cities themselves should have a strong say over how mayors can help their city thrive. With this consultation, we are inviting contributions from the people who live and work in the 12 cities on which powers they believe a city mayor, where elected, should be able to exercise on their behalf.

This approach is in line with the Government’s commitment to localism, and to the ongoing success of England’s cities.

I am placing copies of the consultation document in the Library of the House. The Government are inviting responses by 3 January 2012.


Junior ISAs (Looked-after Children)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): In March of this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the Government would provide support for the long-term savings of looked-after children through junior ISAs. Today, the day that junior ISAs first become available, I can announce that around 55,000 looked-after children across the UK will benefit from a new junior ISA in 2012, with an initial payment of £200 from the Government.

I am particularly grateful for the support of Barnardo’s and Action for Children, with whom we have worked closely to ensure we get the best scheme for as many vulnerable children as possible. The scheme will provide a junior ISA for every child looked-after for 12 months or more and who did not previously benefit from a child trust fund (CTF). This includes those born after the CTF scheme was stopped, as well as older children who were born before the CTF scheme was created.

I am also pleased that, as for previous support to looked-after children under CTFs, this new scheme will apply equally to looked-after children across the UK. I am grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning in Scotland, the Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services in Wales and the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland for their support for our work. Officials at the Department for Education will continue to work with officials in those administrations as we put the scheme into practice.

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The Government want to ensure that looked-after children receive the best possible support and gain the same experience as any other young person. These savings will help them when they reach 18 and are facing difficult choices as they start out in the adult world. I am confident that, when combined with financial education, holding a real financial asset in a savings account will encourage these young people to learn about how to manage their money well.

These children are some of the most vulnerable in our society and we are committed to investing in them so they can thrive. I want these savings to be worth much more than £200 by the child’s 18th birthday and I hope individuals and organisations will also want to use these accounts to contribute and invest in the futures of these vulnerable children.

The Department for Education will shortly be launching a tender exercise to select the best partners to operate the scheme. Potential partners will need to demonstrate not just that they can make the right investment choices for looked-after children, but that they can raise additional funding from voluntary contributions. A key priority will be the ability to operate the scheme with low administrative costs. This will give generous individuals and organisations the opportunity to channel financial support directly to those who are most in need, helping looked-after children take the chances that may otherwise be denied them.

Work and Pensions

Universal Credit

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): Today the Department for Work and Pensions announces its strategy for moving 12 million working-age benefit and credit recipients on to universal credit by 2017.

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Universal credit is intended to provide a streamlined welfare system which makes the financial advantages of taking work or increasing hours clear to claimants. We recognise that the move from one welfare system to another needs to be carefully managed to ensure social outcomes are maximised and no one is left without support.

The transition from the old benefit system to universal credit will therefore take place in three phases over four years, ending in 2017 with around 7.7 million households receiving more support to find more work and be more self-sufficient.

Between October 2013 and April 2014, 500,000 new claimants will receive universal credit in place of jobseekers allowance, employment support allowance, housing benefit, working tax credit and child tax credit. At the same time a further 500,000 existing claimants (and their partners and dependants) will also move on to universal credit as and when their circumstances change significantly, such as when they find work or when a child is born.

From April 2014 the second phase will give priority to households who will benefit most from the transition, such as those working tax credit claimants who currently work a small number of hours a week but could work more hours with the support that universal credit brings. Overall 3.5 million existing claimants (and their partners and dependents) will be transferred on to universal credit during this second phase.

The last and final phase, which begins at the end of 2015 and runs through to the end of 2017, will see around 3 million households being transferred to universal credit by local authority boundary. This phase will have the flexibility to respond to the circumstances of particular local authorities as they change and will focus on safeguarding financial support, such as housing benefit payments, to claimants as the old benefit system winds down.

The Department for Work and Pensions will continue to work with HMRC and local authorities to settle on a precise timing schedule of the move to universal credit. Once agreed, the schedule will be kept under regular review.