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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: SSSB is the department's financial advisers and employed Finsbury Ltd to handle its financial PR from OctoberDecember 2001. The selection of the company was entirely its choice.
The department decided that it continued to need specific, expert advice on financial PR matters connected with the Railtrack in administration project as this expertise was not available elsewhere in the department. SSSB was asked to negotiate a price for continuing to use Finsbury Ltd's services on behalf of the department but it was decided that it would be preferable for the company to be employed direct by the department.
Whether they accept the report in The Times newspaper of 11 March that the average council tax in areas with county councils will show a 9.4 per cent rise on last year; and, if so, what are the reasons for this increase being 3.6 times greater than the underlying inflation rate of 2.6 per cent, and half as much again as the average increase in London and areas with metropolitan councils.[HL3379]
The increases in council tax will be: 6.4 per cent in London; 5.1 per cent in metropolitan areas; 9.9 per cent in areas with shire county councils; and 9.0 per cent in areas with shire unitary councils.
Decisions on council taxes are for local authorities to take, after consulting their local electorate and taxpayers. However, with an average grant increase of 7.5 per cent, local authorities should be able to deliver improvements to public services while setting reasonable council tax increases.
There is some evidence of a link between council tax rises and electoral cycles. This is especially true for county councils, where elections were held last year and the average rise this year is significantly higher than those for most of the other types of authority that have responsibility for the same services.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Lancashire County Council receives a 4.3 per cent increase in general formula grant for 200203 after adjusting for changes in function and funding arrangements. Lancashire's formula grant allocation for 200304 is £2.596 million higher than it would have been without the floor.
Whether they will publish the cost-benefit analysis carried out before roadworks at Vauxhall Cross, London, were undertaken; and[HL3419]
What were the estimates of the delays caused to travellers as a result of the roadworks at Vauxhall Cross, London; and how these compare with the delays actually experienced; and[HL3420]
What, if any, financial payments contractors and others will make in consequence of the delays that their roadworks at Vauxhall Cross, London, cause.[HL3421]
What rate of interest they expect to be necessary on the 95 per cent of third party debt to be underwritten by their letter of comfort, referred to by the Lord McIntosh of Haringey in the House of Lords on 18 March (HL Deb, col. 820); and[HL3423]
How long Parliament will have to scrutinise the letter of comfort referred to by the Lord McIntosh of Haringey in the House of Lords on 18 March (HL Deb, col. 820) before binding contracts are entered into with the providers of third party debt for the London Underground Public Private Partnership.[HL3424]
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My right honourable Friend the Secretary of State is considering issuing comfort letters in relation to the Tube modernisation contracts, but has not yet done so. Drafts of these letters, which are not intended to create binding obligations and do not underwrite 95 per cent of third party debt, have been discussed with bidders. They were laid before Parliament on 20 March 2002 using the Minute procedure.
Precise finance terms for the third party debt raised under the PPP contracts are still to be finalised. To estimate at this stage what rate of interest the private sector infrastructure companies pay on the debt they raise would undermine London Underground's commerical position and jeopardise its ability to deliver best value.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government continue to give strong support to the safety recommendations made by Mr Justice Colman and will adopt as many recommendations as we can. Mr Justice Colman made recommendations to enhance bulk carrier safety and maritime safety generally. These were addressed to the department, Lloyds
In consultation with the others to whom recommendations are addressed, the department is working towards preparing a response to each of the recommendations. This response will be presented to Parliament.
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