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Written Statements

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Economic Regeneration: Blackpool

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the publication of the Government’s response to the Blackpool task force report An Action Plan for Sustainable Growth. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on my department’s website.

In March last year the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport invited a task force to review the totality of economic, social and environmental development plans in the Blackpool area. The Blackpool task force comprised senior representation from Blackpool Council, ReBlackpool, English Partnerships, the Northwest Regional Development Agency and Government Office North West.

The task force reported in July 2007 and made a number of observations and recommendations. Since that date, the Government have been actively engaged in discussions with Blackpool, national and regional agencies about how best to take forward the recommendations. On 1 February, the Secretary of State for Transport announced a centrepiece of the Government’s response to the task force, confirming a £85 million investment of public funds to renew Blackpool’s trams. This and other announcements are contained in the response I am publishing today, which includes:

Education and skills

Over £100 million will be spent on a complete overhaul of Blackpool’s education facilities, including new schools, a new town centre further education campus, a new higher education facility and major investment in skills training. This investment is vital to produce the highly skilled and qualified workforce that Blackpool needs to diversify from its traditional but declining employment base.


A £100 million boost to local transport is underway, with an announcement earlier this month for a modernised tram system, together with investments to improve the airport and important studies to take forward rail and road improvements. Improved connectivity is vital to bring not just visitors but also new investors and jobs to Blackpool and its Fylde Coast neighbours.


£82 million already committed to improve the beach and resort offer, with improved seafront defences, investment in events and a promise to respond constructively to bids from Blackpool for investment in the illuminations and further beachfront improvements.

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The NWDA is investing, with ReBlackpool, to take forward major town centre regeneration including Talbot Gateway. This initiative, together with environmental improvements, will help restore Blackpool’s position as a major shopping and sub-regional centre.

Housing and accommodation

English Partnerships will be investing an initial £35 million in the South Beach and North Beach areas to help improve the housing mix and create more mixed communities. Housing investment will help to reduce the surplus of unsuitable houses of multiple occupation and stimulate private sector investment in improved hotels and housing.

Working across administrative boundaries

The Government applaud the co-operation between Blackpool and its Fylde Coast neighbours on a multi-area agreement, and the recognition that economic regeneration needs joined-up work both within the town and with neighbouring authorities.

Other recommendations in the report will be the subject of feasibility studies and funding bids, and I am pleased to note the co-operation between the NWDA, English Partnerships, HEFCE, Government Office North West and Blackpool in developing future plans.

The regional director, Government Office North West, will report to me on progress on a quarterly basis for the next year, and I intend to visit Blackpool within a year to discuss progress on regeneration.

EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 29 February in Brussels. There are no health or consumer affairs issues. I shall be representing the UK.

The first and main item is the preparation for the spring European Council which will be held on 13 and 14 March 2008. The key messages paper, prepared by the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee, identifies the key messages emerging from the various other reports for adoption and endorsement at the March Council. The key messages paper will be adopted following a policy debate on strengthening skills, the social dimension and the role of stakeholders.

The second item is an exchange of views in preparation for the tripartite social summit. This will be held on 13 March in advance of the spring European Council to allow the European social partners time to feed in their views to the spring Council. The social summit will be attended by the current presidency, the two subsequent presidencies (France and the Czech Republic), the Commission and the social partners. It meets at least once a year, including before each annual spring Council.

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The council will also endorse an opinion by the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee on the single market review, which highlights that the single market makes an important contribution to jobs, growth and social cohesion under the Lisbon agenda. The UK supports this opinion.

The council will also seek political agreement on the draft council resolution on the situation of disabled people in the European Union: the European Action Plan 2008-09, promoting human rights and the mainstreaming of disability issues. The UK supports the agreement of the resolution.

Under any other business, there will be a Commission presentation on the mission for flexicurity. Its objective will be to explain flexicurity and assist those member states that wish help with developing their own reforms, before reporting back to the council during the French presidency.

In addition, the chairs of the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee will give an oral presentation to provide information on their 2008 work programmes.

Gambling: Casinos

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the publication of a review of the Alternative Approaches to Regional Casino-led Regeneration prepared by my officials. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

In July last year the Prime Minister asked me to undertake this review, in recognition of the lack of consensus in Parliament about regional casinos in light of the potential of a regional casino to increase problem gambling within the regional catchment area. The then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in announcing the review on 16 July 2007 said “it would be prudent to examine afresh whether deprived areas can be equally well served by other forms of regeneration”.

The aim of the review has been to examine the evidence of whether regional casinos are the best way to regenerate specific deprived areas. It has drawn heavily on evidence within the various documents submitted to the Casino Advisory Panel for the licensing of a regional casino, published literature on casinos specifically and the benefits of regeneration more generally. A list of these points of reference is included in the document.

Specifically the review examined:

what is the regeneration need which casinos are thought to meet and what is the nature of the market failures involved;what are the economic benefits of casino-led regeneration;what are the economic and social costs of casino-led regeneration; and what are the alternatives to casino-led regeneration could be considered.

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The review highlights the difficulty in establishing the evidence base for the generic benefits of casinos because the source material is strongly influenced by specific location factors, and by the underpinning purpose of individual pieces of research. In particular, there are uncertainties about the scale of the benefits of a regional casino for job creation; about the wider benefits to an area from multiplier effects; or about the degree of additionality a casino would bring to existing activities. Moreover, the leakage effects—where new jobs are filled by commuters not locals limiting the benefits to the immediate area of the casino—is potentially higher than other forms of regeneration because pay within casinos is relatively high and training opportunities make it attractive to people already in employment. Finally, the review concludes that, as with most regeneration projects, there are economic and social costs associated with casino-led regeneration. In the case of a regional casino there are potentially significant costs that would arise as a result of an increase in compulsive gambling.

The review does recognise that the unique nature of a regional casino, especially in terms of inward investment, would make it challenging for any one of the alternatives the review examines in isolation to achieve the scale of benefits that could be secured through a regional casino. However, when the potential economic and social costs are factored in alongside the uncertainties around the extent to which the benefits of a regional casino are truly additional then the difference could be much reduced or even eliminated if a number of alternative options are packaged together.

Nuclear Industry: Post Mortems

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office & Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Jones of Birmingham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (John Hutton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Further to the Written Ministerial Statement by my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on Thursday 26 April 2007 (Official Report, col. 28WS), I wish to announce today slightly revised terms of reference for the inquiry currently being carried out by Michael Redfern QC. The revised terms of reference are as follows:

having regard to the provisions of the Human Tissue Act 1961, the Coroners’ Rules 1984, the Coroners’ Act 1988 and predecessor legislation, to inquire into the circumstances in which, from 1955, organs/tissue were removed from individuals at NHS or other facilities, and sent to and analysed at nuclear laboratory facilities;

in particular, to establish so far as practicable:

when, where, by whom and by what means the taking of organs/tissue was requested and authorised;

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whether the taking of organs/tissue was based on informed consent by the family and/or surviving relatives;the purpose to be achieved by the retention and analysis of the organs/tissue removed; the generic results of analysis; and the identity of all publications in which the results were presented and commented upon;whether the families or surviving relatives were informed of the results of the analysis, or the identity of the relevant publications;when, where and by whom the retention, storage, transportation, analysis, reporting and disposal of the organs/tissue was authorised;the circumstances in which the organs/tissue were retained, stored, transported, analysed, reported upon and disposed;the general purpose to be served by such retention, storage, analysis and publication of results; andwhen this activity ceased, and the circumstances in which it ceased.

to consider such other issues in connection with the above matters as the Secretary of State may direct;

to report to the Secretary of State as soon as possible; and

to make recommendations.

Michael Redfern QC has requested these revised terms of reference in the light of the work that he and his inquiry team have undertaken so far.

Railways: First Great Western

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The performance of First Great Western has persistently fallen short of its customers' expectations and has been unacceptable to both passengers and Government.

I can inform the House today that First Great Western has breached its franchise agreement by exceeding the limits on cancellations, and also by misreporting those cancellations.

I can now outline the measures I have taken, and the actions I have agreed with First Great Western, which were reported in an announcement by First plc to the Stock Exchange before the markets opened this morning.

First, I am today issuing First Great Western with a remedial plan notice for exceeding the threshold on cancellations which resulted in a breach of its franchise agreement. In response to this notice, First Great Western will submit a remedial plan for addressing this level of cancellations. Discussions are at an advanced stage on what the plan will contain.

Secondly, I am also today issuing First Great Western with a breach notice for misreporting its cancellations.

Thirdly, and importantly for those using First Great Western services, a substantial package of additional benefits for passengers has been agreed.

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First Great Western’s franchise contains strict limits on delays and cancellations; specifies the circumstances in which the franchise is in breach, and more seriously still, those circumstances which constitute an event of default; and it sets out the remedies for correcting poor performance.

Every four weeks, the company reports the number of cancellations, and may claim adjustments to the headline number in line with the provisions of the franchise. My department tests any such claims, allowing only those we agree with. Typically we reach final agreement on performance within six weeks of the end of the reporting period.

For the period ending in mid-September 2007, there were a substantial number of claimed cancellation adjustments, which were then scrutinised by my department. Early in November 2007, before a conclusion could be reached, First Great Western informed the department that it had discovered that it had been miscalculating the base numbers of train cancellations. Over subsequent weeks it carried out an internal audit of its method of calculating cancellations which uncovered several errors in the methodology, which First Great Western has now corrected.

First Great Western now accepts that it breached the franchise agreement from August to December 2007 in respect of cancellations. I will therefore be issuing later today a remedial plan notice.

This requires First Great Western to submit to me a remedial plan, to bring the standard of services back to acceptable levels, and it will be contractualised as a remedial agreement. Material non-compliance with the remedial agreement would be a default of the franchise agreement, which could lead to the Government terminating First Great Western’s franchise.

In order to prepare an acceptable remedial plan, First Great Western has committed to employ more drivers and other train crew, to deploy extra carriages and to implement a range of other measures to reduce the number of cancellations. First Great Western has already commenced implementation of several of the initiatives.

In addition to the remedial plan, First Great Western has offered a package of passenger benefits amounting to £29 million.

First Great Western has already announced that it has doubled passenger compensation for this year.

But First Great Western has also now committed to the following benefits, as described today to the Stock Exchange:

further improved passenger compensation from 2009 to 2010;

an additional 500,000 cheap off-peak tickets on some of the most popular routes from April of this year;additional carriages on the Cardiff-Portsmouth route from this summer, to provide extra capacity;new, and additional, high quality information equipment to be installed at more stations than already committed in the franchise agreement; and

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refurbishment of Thames Valley commuter trains to a higher standard than committed in the franchise agreement to commence this year and to be completed by 2011.

It is also open to me to impose a monetary penalty on First Great Western for under-reporting its performance last year. Any penalty would be paid to central government. Having considered this carefully, and given that a penalty would not, itself, help passengers, I have opted instead for passengers to receive a better benefits package as described above.

The franchising system has encouraged good performance from operators, with many train companies operating above target performance levels. However, in the light of the errors in self-reporting which First Great Western brought to light, I have asked my officials to audit reported performance on a

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risk basis, in particular for those train operating companies whose performance is close to their franchise benchmarks.

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