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13 Mar 2003 : Column WA189

Written Answers

Thursday, 13th March 2003.

Local Services

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have regarding guidance to help local authorities to improve the quality of local services. [HL2128]

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): The Government have today published a circular on best value and performance improvement, containing guidance for principal local authorities about how to achieve best value and secure continuous improvement in delivering local services. It consolidates and replaces existing guidance.

The services provided by local authorities directly impact on everyone's quality of life. It is therefore vital that these services are delivered to a high standard and in ways that are responsive to the needs of their users.

The circular emphasises the important role that best value can play in helping to drive up the quality of local services. It explains how authorities can make arrangements under best value to secure a well-trained and motivated workforce, to review performance effectively and to use the annual performance plans to record their priorities for improvement and achievements.

It includes a code of practice on workforce matters in local government service contracts. The code will ensure that the provision of local services is not undermined by poor employment practices in respect of new joiners to contracted-out services. Partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors should be selected where these will drive up service performance standards, not in order to drive down staff terms and conditions.

Authorities should use the guidance to continue to challenge how services are delivered and to look for new and innovative ways to deliver quality services.

Today I am also laying an order requiring all best value authorities to consult recognised unions and employees' associations, and staff, when conducting best value reviews. This will ensure that better decisions are made, increase understanding of the reasons for those decisions and help authorities achieve continuous improvement in service delivery.

Copies of the circular have been placed in the House Libraries.

Local Authorities: Transactional Websites

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many of the 467 operational local authority websites had achieved fully transactional status allowing two-way interaction on 28 February 2003;

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    what improvement this represents on the figure of a year ago; and what are the implications of this for their policy of having government services online by 2005. [HL2011]

Lord Rooker: The results of the latest 2003 survey carried out by the Society of Information Technology Management (SOCITM) Better Connected 2003: a snapshot of local authority websites, show that 10 UK councils now have websites that are rated as "transactional". This compares with four UK council "transactional" websites in 2002. The SOCITM 2003 survey results also show an increase in transactions across UK council websites of over 50 per cent compared with 2002.

The most accurate measure of progress towards the 100 per cent target for local government services online by 31 December 2005 target is the Audit Commission's Best Value Performance Indicator 157 relating to electronic service delivery. The definition of online services for this indicator includes delivery by telephone if the transaction carried out is electronically enabled, i.e. the officer receiving the call can access electronic information and/or update records on-line. The Audit Commission reports that by 31 March 2003 35.4 per cent of local authority services in England were online. BVPI 157 projections compiled by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister from this year's Implementing Electronic Government returns show that local authorities in England expect to be 49.4 per cent online by 31 March 2003, 71.0 per cent online by 31 March 2004, 89.3 per cent online by 31 March 2005 and 99.8 per cent online by 31 March 2006.

Pension Schemes

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the provisions intended to limit the total value of individual pension funds apply in the same manner to all categories of persons.[HL1921]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: On 17 December 2002 the Government issued a consultation paper, Simplifying the taxation of pensions: increasing choice and flexibility, which puts forward a proposed framework of benefit rules that would apply to all tax-approved pension schemes. The consultation allows people to put forward their views before final decisions are taken.

Hull: Unemployment

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the current rate of unemployment in Hull; and how this compares with the national average.[HL2019]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.

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Letter from the National Statistician, Len Cook, dated 13 March 2003.

As National Statistician, I have been asked to reply to your recent Question about the unemployment rate in Kingston Upon Hull [HL2019].

The unemployment rate, based on an average for the 12-month period ending November 2002, is 8.0 per cent for the City of Kingston upon Hull and 5.2 per cent for the United Kingdom. These estimates are from the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

Hassan Said, Marwan al-Bannaand Nowaf al-Rosan

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Hassan Said, Marwan al-Banna and Nowaf al-Rosan, who were convicted of the attempted murder of the then Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov, remain in custody. [HL2009]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): It is not normal practice to comment on individual cases. However, I can confirm that, of the three individuals named, two are currently detained under the provisions of the Mental Health Act and the other remains in prison custody.

Prison Service: Race Equality Investigation

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the cost of the formal investigation into the Prison Service by the Commission for Racial Equality; and when the report is likely to be published. [HL1864]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): I am advised by the commission that it intends to publish a report on the formal investigation into the Prison Service as soon as practicable.

It is estimated that the costs thus far incurred by the commission are in the region of £630,000.

Court Orders: Domestic Violence

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made on the survey of court orders in 12 courts in order to consider (a) the rates of enforcement, (b) whether the courts are using options such as supervised or indirect contact of parents with children following break-up of marriage as a result of domestic violence, and (c) what are the rates of domestic violence.[HL1903]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The first survey, carried out in 2001, provided baseline

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information on the levels and nature of enforcement proceedings and incidences of domestic violence in residence and contact applications. As part of our on-going programme to increase safe contact, a more comprehensive survey will be carried out in the spring. This will address the points raised in the Question, gather further statistical data and gauge how courts are dealing with these issues.

Gulf: NBC Protection and Missile Defence

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements are in place for nuclear, biological and chemical protection of United Kingdom base areas in the Gulf; and what theatre missile defence will be available. [HL1678]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): United Kingdom Armed Forces deployed on operations are afforded a range of defences against NBC attack. These include detection capabilities, warning and reporting systems, decontamination equipment and procedures, physical protection, including respirators and protective suits, and medical countermeasures.

Our strategy to manage the threat from ballistic missiles is a comprehensive one whch incorporates counter-proliferation, diplomatic measures, deterrence and threat reduction capabilities, including the NBC detection and protection mentioned previously. Significant protection is available through appropriate tactics, training and procedures.

Gulf: Local Supplies to British Troops

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the problems encountered with local suppliers providing British troops in the Gulf region have now been solved. [HL1942]

Lord Bach: The current level of support provided to British troops by local suppliers is commendable considering the speed and size of build up in the Gulf. It is inevitable with a deployment of this scale that there will be occasional isolated difficulties. Where these have occurred, swift action has been taken to rectify the problem.

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