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ONS: National Accounts Revisions

Lord Taylor of Warwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

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

Letter from the National Statistician, Mr Len Cook, to Lord Taylor of Warwick, dated 4 October 2003. bjc

As National Statistician I have been asked to reply to your recent question on Britain's National Accounts. (HL5079).

I have assumed that your question refers to the estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) growth during the second quarter of 2003, which was revised from 0.3% to 0.6% in September 2003. This revision represents economic activity of approximately £800 million.

It is standard statistical procedure to revise previously published figures once new evidence becomes available. Revisions mainly arise from the availability of more rich and detailed information, as in this case, where results from a full survey of the construction industry gave a markedly different estimate of activity in this sector than had been provided by earlier model-based calculations, and early returns from the survey.

The magnitude of the revision to GDP was outside the range that is usually expected at this time, and arose from an unusually large revision to the estimate of activity in a single sector of the economy. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is investigating whether this revision reflects ongoing difficulties in measuring a sector which is known to be volatile, and whether the sector measure itself meets our current expectations. We are also continually updating methods and adapting to shifts in the economic base of the United Kingdom.

Further information regarding this revision to GDP appears in the Quarterly National Accounts Briefing Note which is available on the National Statistics website at:

Whenever revisions are made, we publish them in an honest and transparent manner, under the terms of the National Statistics Code of Practice. Furthermore, we periodically publish analyses of the revisions made to the GDP figures, so that users can assess the nature and magnitude of the changes that have been made.

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Income Tax: Overpayments and Tax Codes

Lord Taylor of Warwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they will take to remedy overpayment of income tax by taxpayers as a result of tax code mistakes.[HL5154]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Pay As You Earn collects tax on a provisional basis. If the Inland Revenue becomes aware during the year that the code is incorrect, and too much tax is being deducted as a result, the code can be changed. When this happens the Pay As You Earn system should ensure that the taxpayer is repaid any overpaid tax in their wages. If the Inland Revenue become aware after the end of the year that too much tax has been collected through PAYE, it will arrange for a repayment.

TV Licensing: e-mail Address

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the television licensing authority in Bristol does not give an e-mail address for customers to use in correspondence.[HL5165]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: TV Licensing carries out the administration of the television licensing system under contract to the BBC, which has statutory responsibility for licence fee collection, and the Government have no power to intervene in operational decisions. However, I understand that TV Licensing's e-mail address is published on its website——and it receives approximately 8,000 e-mails a month from members of the public.

Long-term Care: Regulation of Funding Market

Lord Taylor of Warwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will introduce further regulation for the long-term care funding market.[HL5264]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Financial Services Authority (FSA) already has responsibility for regulating the advice and selling of immediate care annuities and long-term care insurance investment bonds. These are investments used to finance long-term care.

On 1 July 2003, Parliament approved the Government's proposals to give the Financial Services Authority (FSA) responsibility for regulating mortgage business and general insurance mediation. That legislation included proposals to give the FSA responsibility for regulating the selling and marketing of long-term care insurance pure protection contracts.

It is for the FSA to decide how it plans to put these decisions into effect. In September 2003, the FSA set out draft policy proposals, rules and guidance for

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regulating long-term care insurance (CP 200). The aim is to put in place a proportionate and consistent regulatory regime for the sale and marketing of all long-term care products designed to meet some or all of an individual's long-term care costs. Regulation will come into force with effect from 31 October 2004.

Financial Services and Markets Act 2000

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they plan to review the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.[HL5285]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government are today announcing the scope of the two-year review of the Financial Services and Markets Act, details of which are set out in a paper which is available in the Printed Paper Office and the Library of the House.

Regulations: Cost to Business

Lord Taylor of Warwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    (a) what is the total cost to business of regulations introduced since 1998; and (b) of the total costs, how much is as a result of regulations which emanated from the European Union.[HL4804]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): There is no comprehensive accurate measure of the cost to business of regulations. bern

Energy: Security of Supply

Lord Taylor of Warwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the sudden power cuts in London in August, what contingency measures will be taken to prevent more power cuts this winter. [HL4915]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Following the power cuts in London and the Midlands the Department of Trade and Industry, with the industry regulator, Ofgem, have launched investigations into the cause of the failures. The Government believe it would be inappropriate to comment further whilst these investigations are still under way.

NGT's Group Chief Executive, Roger Urwin, assured the Energy Minister, Stephen Timms, in a letter of 15 September, that National Grid had put in hand appropriate steps to avoid a recurrence.

More generally government is working with Ofgem, through the Joint Energy Security of Supply working group (JESS) to monitor energy security, specifically taking a forward look and making the conclusions publicly available—allowing market participants to react in good time.

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Renewables Obligation Certificates

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the fall in the monthly value of trades in fixed price renewables obligation certificates since (a) 1 May 2003; and (b) 12 August 2003; and [HL4954]

    What was the total value of renewables obligation certificates traded in the first compliance period; and [HL4955]

    What is their estimate of the state of the market in renewables obligation certificates on the forward programme of investment in the generation of electricity from renewable source.[HL4957]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The prices paid by electricity suppliers for renewables obligation certificates are a matter for the industry, although we recognise that the renewables obligation certificate market is important in terms of providing investor confidence for longer term renewables projects. In view of this, the Government have been working closely with the industry to see if any further steps need to be taken to avoid a recurrence of the sort of problems cause by TXU UK going into administration.

While we do not have information as to the value of ROCs traded in the first obligation period, I can confirm that over 5.5 million ROCs were issued from 1 April 2002 until 31 March 2003, representing over 5.5 TWh of renewables electricity eligible under the obligation.

National Probation Service: Staffing

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they are taking to correct the shortage of staff in the Probation Service.[HL4748]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The National Probation Service (NPS) consists of 42 local probation boards which experience a range of staff vacancies. Typically for the last period of available figures (1 April 2003 to 30 June 2003), vacancies for the National Probation Service as a whole were 5.9 per cent, but rising to 9.9 per cent in the south-east of England. The leaving rate for the same period is 11.6 per cent.

The National Probation Directorate (NPD) and the NPS, as part of the delivery plan for the service's people management strategy, are working on a wide range of initiatives to aid recruitment and retention of staff in the service.

These include:

    Introduction of a new system of pay and conditions of service for NPS staff at all levels. Key elements of this modernised system are proposals to improve the package of pay and related benefits both to attract recruits and to

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    improve retention. Measures such as high cost area allowances are being considered.

    Policies on flexible working, job-sharing and alternative types of leave.

    Examination of the effect of housing costs on recruitment and retention, and working alongside the National Health Service in identifying sources of affordable housing.

The service also has an active qualifying training programme for new officers. This year's intake was just over 1,000 new trainee probation officers and in two years they will provide a substantial group of newly qualified probation officers.

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