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12 Jun 2008 : Column WS53

12 Jun 2008 : Column WS53

Written Statements

Thursday 12 June 2008

Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) General (Amendment) Regulations 2008

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Secretary of State for Transport has today laid a statutory instrument which amends the Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) General Regulations 2007. This action arises out of an anomaly created by the Traffic Management Act 2004 affecting the ability of non-metropolitan district councils to employ civil enforcement officers to enforce in off-street car parks.

The SI will enable parking attendants appointed by a local authority under Section 63A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act to take enforcement action in limited circumstances—mainly off-street car parks—in districts outside London where the councils have the power to enforce parking contraventions.

Department for Work and Pensions: Agency Targets and Business Plans

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

On 27 March 2008, I issued a Written Statement (col. 21 WS) announcing the annual performance targets in 2008-09 for the executive agencies of the Department for Work and Pensions.

One of the targets for the Pension, Disability and Carers Service—“clear new applications and changes of circumstances to pension credit within an average of 15 working days”—was incorrect.

The correct target should have read—“clear new applications to pension credit within an average of 15 working days”.

A further target for the Pension, Disability and Carers Service—“achieve 82 per cent of customers satisfied with the service they receive” requires clarification.

An explanatory footnote is required to explain that the 2008-09 customer satisfaction survey will focus on customers of the former Disability and Carers Service. The target of 82 per cent will relate to the former agency and not all the customers of the Pension, Disability and Carers Service.

For completeness, the full set of targets is set out below.

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Performance Standards

Performance Standards for Pension Customers

To deliver an annualised value of new successful pension credit applications of £767 million and to secure at least 250,000 successful new pension credit applications.

Achieve an accuracy rate of 92 per cent on new claims and changes of circumstances to pension credit

Achieve an accuracy rate of 98 per cent on new claims and changes of circumstances to state pension

Clear new applications to pension credit within an average of 15 working days

Clear at least 95 per cent of new claims to state pension within 60 days

Performance Standards for Disabled People and Carers

The number of disability living allowance/attendance allowance cases referred to the Tribunal Service to be no more than 4.5 per cent

Achieve 82 per cent of customers satisfied with the service they receive***

Clear new claims for disability living allowance within 38 days

Clear new claims for attendance allowance within 16 days

Clear new claims for carer’s allowance within 13.5 days

Reduce the costs of processing benefits to £34.35

Achieve an accuracy rate of 94 per cent on decisions on claims for disability living allowance

Achieve an accuracy rate of 94 per cent on decisions on claims for attendance allowance

Achieve a financial accuracy rate of 98 per cent for carer’s allowance

Joint Performance Standards for the Pension, Disability and Carers Service

To have less than 1 per cent of calls receiving an engaged tone

To have at least 93 per cent of calls answered by an adviser

We aim to reduce staff sickness absence to less than 8.2 average working days lost

We will undertake throughout the year, specified checks and other actions designed to prevent and detect fraud and correcting fraud and error in a minimum of 50,600 cases as a result

EU: Economic and Financial Affairs Council

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Statement.

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 14 May 2008. I attended for the UK. Items on the agenda were as follows:

Quality of Public Finances: Efficiency of Public Expenditure on Social Transfers and Education

Member states adopted council conclusions on the quality of public finances. The conclusions followed a discussion at the Informal ECOFIN in Brdo, Slovenia,

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in April. This builds on conclusions on the quality of public finances agreed under the German and Portuguese presidencies in 2007. ECOFIN will return to this work in early 2009.

Western Balkans Investment Framework

Member states adopted council conclusions on the next steps on the western Balkans investment framework. The UK supports work on the investment framework, which will bring together the donor funding streams for the western Balkans, and is a priority for the Slovenian presidency. The Commission and EIB committed at ECOFIN to continue to support the framework.

Financial services

Financial Stability Arrangements: Supervision, including an Update of the RoadmapsMinisters agreed a unified set of council conclusions on arrangements on financial stability and supervision, building on the EFC draft council conclusions on supervision and an update of the road maps on the review of the Lamfalussy process, the strengthening EU arrangements for financial stability, and on actions taken in response to the financial turmoil. The UK supports this work, which should help ensure that actions taken by the EU complement those taking place at international level. The UK also welcomes the inclusion in the conclusions of the UK proposals for supervisory colleges, intended to improve cross-border supervisory co-operation.Communication on Financial Education—The council agreed to conclusions on financial education, which suggested some initiatives and practical assistance for helping member states to improve the levels of financial education within their countries. The UK recognises the potential value of this work, on which the UK has a strong track record at domestic level.White Paper on Mortgage Credits—Member states agreed to council conclusions on a possible single market for mortgages. The Commission will now continue its consultation on mortgages. The UK supports voluntary initiatives that may improve EU market efficiency rather than harmonising consumer protection rules.Preliminary Draft General Budget 2009

The Commission presented the preliminary draft general budget (PDB) for 2009 to the council. This sets payment appropriations at €116.7 billion, or 0.90 per cent of EU/GNI. Negotiations on the PDB will now be taken forward at the July Budget ECOFIN Council.

Dialogues with Third Countries: Economic and Financial Issues

The council received an oral update from the Commission on the state of play of the dialogues with third countries, and discussed the economic and financial issues of the EU-US summit preparation and the ASEM Finance Ministers Meeting. Ministers also heard a report on the outcomes of the 13 May Trans-Atlantic Council.


Indirect Taxation: Fightagainst Tax Fraud—The Commission gave an oral debrief to the council on the state of play of the consideration of measures

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to combat tax fraud. This followed the request by the December 2007 ECOFIN and discussion at the March ECOFIN. Member states were unable to agree council conclusions on VAT fraud, and will return to the subject at future meetings of ECOFIN. The Commission also committed to bring forward in the autumn new proposals on conventional measures to combat fraud. The UK remains strongly supportive of work that will help in the fight against missing trader intra-community (MTIC) and other VAT fraud, while remaining committed to minimising the burdens on legitimate businesses.Savings Taxation—The Commission provided an informal oral report on the functioning of the savings tax directive in view of recent developments involving Liechtenstein investment vehicles and following the request of the March ECOFIN Council. In recognition of the importance of ongoing work to combat tax evasion, Ministers and the Commission agreed an accelerated timetable for the production of the final report, which the Commission will produce and will then be followed up by specific proposals on extending the directive. The UK strongly supports the Commission's continued dialogue with third countries with a view to bringing them into the savings tax directive.Good Governance in the Tax AreaMember states agreed conclusions containing a specific provision on good governance in the tax area. This will now be added to relevant agreements to be concluded by the Community and its member states with third countries.

Strategy for the Evolution of the Customs Union

The council adopted the conclusions on the strategy for the evolution of the Customs Union on the 40th anniversary of the union's creation. The UK supported the conclusions, which reiterated the main points of the Commission communication endorsing the role of customs with regard to the trade, financial and security interests of the Customs Union and supporting the need for common strategic objectives.

AOB: Discussion of food prices

In advance of the June ECOFIN, the UK requested that the presidency add to the agenda a discussion of the rising cost of food and other commodities in recognition of the severe effect on consumers in the EU and in the developing world.

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 was held on 9 June 2008 in Luxembourg. The UK was represented by my right honourable friend, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (John Hutton) and my honourable

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friend, Pat McFadden, Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. Health and Consumer Affairs issues were taken on 10 June.

Political agreement was achieved on the working time and agency workers directives. A good outcome was achieved for the UK on both these important dossiers. On working time, we secured the continued right for individuals to opt out of the 48 hour week, with no suggestion of end date or phasing out (for which many others have pressed); a work-life balance provision that is in keeping with current UK policy on the right to request flexible working; a secure solution to the problems raised by the SiMAP and Jaegar judgments meaning that inactive on-call time does not have to count as working time; satisfactory safeguards on use of the opt-out, with necessary flexibility for short-term contracts; and a maximum cap of 60- 65 hours, depending on the circumstances.

The agreed text on agency workers will enable us to implement the recent CBI-TUC agreement in full, setting a 12-week qualifying period for equal treatment and addressing a number of subsidiary issues as set out in that agreement.

The council adopted conclusions on enhanced administrative co-operation on the posting of workers for the provisions of services.

Political agreement was reached on a council decision on the 2008-10 Employment Guidelines. The presidency and Commission emphasised the primary importance of their implementation and the chairman of the Employment Committee presented an opinion from the committee on youth unemployment, which he hoped would be helpful to the council as the Lisbon deadlines approach.

A partial general approach was agreed by the council on a chapter covering financial provisions of the implementing regulation for social security co-ordination, Regulation 883/04, and additionally, the council also agreed a general approach on some outstanding annexes for Regulation 883/04.

Council conclusions were adopted on skills for young people. The UK stated our commitment to increasing skills for all, including young people and disadvantaged groups, by 2020. This was essential in the face of globalisation and there is a useful role for collaboration at European level on analysis and policy responses. The European Skills Review would also be invaluable in this respect.

The council also adopted three sets of conclusions as part of the review of implementation of the Beijing platform for action on gender equality. The three areas covered were the elimination of gender stereotypes; women in political decision-making; and indicators on the girl child.

Under any other business, the presidency reported that progress has been made on the worker mobility directive on supplementary pensions, but there were still some outstanding issues to be resolved. They also gave a report on events that had been organised by Slovenia during its presidency.

The chair of the Social Protection Committee gave an update on social services of general interest. The committee would report to the council again in December.

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Several newer member states tabled a declaration on the draft decision establishing a year against poverty and exclusion in 2010. While they were content for agreement to be reached at first reading with the European Parliament, they pressed for a Community financial contribution for projects of greater than 50 per cent to be considered in future programmes; however, the Commission defended the current 50 per cent approach.

Reports were also received from the Commission on the activities of the expert group on demographic issues and on policies and instruments to improve inclusion of Roma across the Union.

France outlined its priorities on employment and social policy for its forthcoming presidency starting in July. The emphasis would be on legislation, including proposals expected before the end of the year on a revision of the 1994 European Works Councils Directive; a new anti—discrimination directive; and a package of measures on work/life balance. France also expects to deal with the European Parliament opinions on the Agency Workers and Working Time Directive. Their main non-legislative priority would be to debate the EU's renewed social agenda, starting at the July informal meeting of Ministers.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Jim Murphy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 16 June in Luxembourg. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (David Miliband) will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 19 and 20 June

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