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Written Statements

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Broadcasting: Digital Switchover

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting (Lord Carter of Barnes): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In June 2007, my right honourable friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) announced that the Government proposed to ask the BBC to make up to £14 million of licence fee funding available to assist Channel 4 with the capital costs of digital switchover. The announcement made it clear that the assistance was subject to state aid approval from the European Commission and a formal notification seeking that approval was submitted to the Commission in October 2007.

In March this year, the Commission opened a formal investigation procedure in respect of the notification. The Government submitted a response to the Commission, as did two interested third parties.

In the period since the notification was made, the debate on the future of public service broadcasting in the UK has moved on significantly. Furthermore, the structural challenges that traditional commercially funded public service broadcasters face have been exacerbated by current cyclical conditions.

The Government have therefore brought forward its timeline for decisions and are now committed to take a more comprehensive view on the future institutional and financial framework of public service broadcasting, including the future of Channel 4, early in 2009 within the framework of the Digital Britain project. The Digital Britain project was launched in October to look at innovation, investment and quality in the digital and communications sectors. The Digital Britain report will be a comprehensive analysis of the United Kingdom’s digital economy and will bring forward proposals to support the development of these sectors.

The emerging proposals are likely to be more wide-ranging than a proposition relating specifically to Channel 4’s switchover costs. The Government will of course ensure that any new proposals for potential state aid arising from this wider consideration process are properly notified to the Commission in advance of implementation.

Against this background, the Government have decided against proceeding with the notified proposals to provide assistance for Channel 4 in respect of its switchover costs. The Government has accordingly informed the Commission that it wishes to withdraw the current state aid notification.

Civil Aviation Authority

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Geoff Hoon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

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Sir Joseph Pilling’s report of his independent strategic review of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was published by the then Secretary of State, my right honourable friend the Member for Bolton West, on 17 July. My right honourable friend accepted Sir Joseph’s recommendations in relation to the CAA’s corporate governance and promised a further Statement in the autumn. I should like to add my thanks to Sir Joseph for his important contribution to ensuring that the CAA will be as effective a regulator in the future as it has been in the past.

I accept that the CAA’s current status as a public corporation should be retained. As Sir Joseph recommended, the department will work with the CAA to develop amendments to bring the legislative framework up to date, addressing specific issues identified in the report. As Sir Joseph noted, some of his recommendations were relevant to the separate review of airport economic regulation that my predecessor announced in April and to improving the passenger experience, such as his recommendation for a statutory air transport users council (AUC). He was also right to ask us to consider whether the UK’s aviation regulator should have a general environmental duty and in what context. We are looking sympathetically at these connected issues, which would require legislation and prior consultation, and will make a further announcement in the early part of next year.

Otherwise, I am pleased to be able to announce that I have accepted in broad principle Sir Joseph’s recommendations, as has the CAA board. Implementation of the report’s many recommendations, and corresponding revisions to the sponsorship statement that defines our relationship, are in hand with two exceptions. We are deferring a decision on changing the route of appeal for fitness-of-character decisions until the general regulatory chamber and the supporting first-tier tribunals are fully established. Also, in the financial downturn that has developed since Sir Joseph Pilling reported, I have agreed with the CAA that it is not a priority to recruit additional international staff or rent separate premises for the AUC, although the CAA will endeavour to meet the principle of these recommendations in other ways.

I am also pleased to say that the process of governance change has begun. We are currently seeking a new part-time non-executive chair for the CAA and this will be followed by the recruitment of a chief executive for the CAA, on the basis envisaged by Sir Joseph Pilling.

Crime: Youth Crime Action Plan

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Mr Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce, together with my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Justice and for the Home Office, our intention to provide a £22 million funding package to 83 local authorities

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over 2009-10 and 2010-11 to implement family intervention projects and the “Think Family” reforms as set out in the youth crime action plan. This will improve services for families at risk to help prevent children and young people offending and experiencing other poor outcomes.

I am placing the list of 83 local authorities and their funding allocations in the House Libraries. We will write to the 83 local authorities by 19 December setting out the process for agreeing the use of these funds.

Driving: Motorcycling Test

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today published a consultation paper seeking views on a proposal to introduce a new practical motorcycling test and associated fees. It is proposed to split the practical motorcycling test into two modules—

module 1: a specified manoeuvres test; andmodule 2: a road riding test—

and to increase the practical motorcycling test fees from 5 October 2009.

Copies of the consultation paper and initial impact assessments have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The documents are also available from the DSA website ( or by telephone on 0115 936 6092. Those wishing to comment on the proposals have until 9 January 2009 to do so.

Education Maintenance Allowance

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I should like to update the House on the figures that have previously been quoted in regard to the delivery of education maintenance allowances (EMA).

In my Statement of 19 November about delivery of learner support schemes, I indicated that, as of the day before, there were 12,016 applications for EMA in the process of being finalised. This information was drawn from statistics provided to the LSC by Liberata.

Since then, in response to emerging concerns about the methodology being used by Liberata to calculate the work-in-progress statistics and to ensure that the figures were accurate in advance of the transfer of the contract to Capita, the LSC commissioned a full count of the outstanding applications. This analysis was made possible by the relatively small number of applications still remaining.

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Liberata’s physical count on 21 November recorded that there were around 26,000 applications in the process of being finalised. The LSC advises me that the new figure represents a more accurate reflection of the outstanding number of applications. However, once the contract has transferred, Capita will review these figures in more detail.

Clearly this is unsatisfactory. I have therefore today written to Mark Haysom, chief executive of the LSC, asking for a full explanation as to why the issue with the methodology for calculating the statistics had not been revealed sooner.

I have written to the chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee to update him on this matter. I am placing a copy of this letter in the House Library along with a copy of my letter to Mark Haysom.

Elections: Candidates' Addresses

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Minister of State (Michael Wills) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are today publishing a consultation paper which seeks views on whether candidates’ addresses should continue to be disclosed automatically during UK parliamentary elections.

The proposal has been made following the removal of MPs and Peers from certain provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. It is argued that such public figures and their families face more than ordinary risks to their safety, security and peace of mind, and that special considerations therefore apply to them.

Others argue that the electoral process should be open and transparent, and that those putting themselves forward for public office in this way should be prepared to face those risks in the interests of accountability and the free expression of democracy.

This paper seeks to examine those arguments in more depth, as well as the practical issues which may arise from any proposed change and the implications for the electorate, for the electoral process, for candidates, and for administrators.

The Government have an open mind on this issue and the purpose of this consultation is to seek views on the proposal that the full home addresses of candidates should no longer appear on ballot papers, nomination papers and other electoral documents open to public inspection at UK parliamentary elections.

Copies of the consultation paper will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

EU: Energy Council

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Ed Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

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I am pleased to outline the agenda items for the forthcoming Energy Council in Brussels on 8 December where I plan to represent the UK.

The first item on the agenda is the EU climate and energy package (a directive on the improvement and extension of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme; a directive covering greenhouse gas emissions from sectors not covered by the EU ETS; a directive on regulatory storage of carbon dioxide; and a directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources). We expect the presidency to provide information on progress.

The presidency will report on progress in implementation of the current energy labelling and eco-design for energy-using products directive and we expect a debate on the proposal for a directive establishing a framework for the setting of eco-design requirements for energy-related products.

Ministers will discuss the second strategic energy review (SEER2) on the basis of questions from the presidency. Member states are likely to welcome its publication and to express initial views on priorities. There will be further discussion at February’s Energy Council, with a view to adopting an action plan at the March 2009 spring council.

Finally, the presidency and Commission will report on the EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council and the Ministerial Council of the Energy Community.

Fire and Rescue Service: FiReControl

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

I wish to inform the House about the progress of the FiReControl project, which will establish a linked network of highly resilient fire control rooms across England to replace the current stand-alone facilities.

Major emergencies in recent years have shown us the very real challenges we face in today’s world. The fire and rescue service is central to our ability to be able to respond to these and the Government are determined to support it by investing around £1 billion to ensure that it has the necessary capabilities and resilience. The FiReControl project is an important part of this investment.

FiReControl will give all fire and rescue services access to systems and technology that only a few currently benefit from. It will result in greater resilience and collaboration, better information and incident support for firefighters, and a better service to the public—both day to day and during major incidents.

The Government are investing £380 million in FiReControl and remain strongly committed to it. Good progress has been made on a number of fronts, including the completion of eight new highly resilient regional control centre buildings, the establishment of eight local authority-controlled companies, which bring together all relevant local partners, and the development of a strong network of regional project teams working to ensure that the project is a success in their areas.

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However, FiReControl is a complex and demanding project and as such is subject to rigorous ongoing review. Since I took up my post as Fire Minister, a thorough review of all aspects of the FiReControl project has been completed and a number of difficulties with the ICT and other dimensions of the project were identified. These issues will result in some delay and the FRS rightly expects us to address these in full.

As a result, I can announce today that the project is now aiming to achieve cut-over to the first three regional control centres in the north-east, east Midlands and south-west in summer 2010, nine months later than previously expected, with the full system expected to be in place by spring 2012, five months later than originally planned. I want to emphasise, however, that, as with any project of this nature, we will have certainty about the timing of these later stages of the project only once earlier stages have been completed successfully.

Our updated plans are being delivered in close partnership with the fire and rescue service, fire and rescue authorities and our suppliers, EADS Defence and Security Systems Ltd. Shorter-term milestones will be monitored very carefully and progress shared with our partners. Longer-term milestones will be reviewed as the project progresses. Members of the fire and rescue service are being given more opportunities to contribute to the development of the project so that they can have full confidence in the new systems being developed, with staff embedded in national and local project teams and playing a full part in joint working groups.

I am also committed to ensuring transparency around the project wherever practical. So I am today publishing Part 2 of the FiReControl Business Case and seeking views during a period of consultation. Part 1 of the business case was published on 8 July 2008 and was placed in the Library of the House. Part 2 will be placed in the Library of the House later today.

Housing: Supporting People Programme

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

The Government are today announcing that the Supporting People programme funding of £1.66 billion will be paid as a named unring-fenced grant to administering authorities for 2009-10 and will be included in area-based grant from 2010-11. This is the largest single grant to authorities to help millions of people live independently in their homes and this means that authorities will have the flexibility to spend this money as they see fit to help some of the most vulnerable people in their communities.

This year government has been working with 15 administering authorities, providers, service users, and stakeholders to gather views and evidence about the potential impact of removing the ring-fence for Supporting People. During this period, there have not been any serious concerns raised and the feedback from the

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15 administering authorities has shown that the kind of innovation they are delivering has been positive and is enabling the delivery of jointly commissioned services which provide better outcomes for service users.

The transition to a non-ring-fenced funding stream needs to be managed carefully and government will continue to work with the sector and build on the success of the programme. Today the Government are also announcing a number of measures to support the transition of delivery through an unring-fenced grant which will include:

a commitment to deliver a new financial modelling tool which will provide evidence at a local level on the financial benefits of investment in housing support in terms of crisis prevention and the reduced need for more intensive and costly interventions, leading to better outcomes for the citizen and savings to the public purse. The department will be seeking tenders for this work before Christmas;the announcement of two national conferences jointly hosted by CLG, the DH, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in January 2009 to help authorities and their commissioning partners learn from the pathfinder project and consider how their own localities will respond to the changing agenda;a commitment that CLG will continue to work with member groups in the sector to support providers in responding to the new commissioning and procurement environment. This will include 18 regional round-table events in early 2009 to bring commissioners and providers together to discuss planning for the future; Communities and Local Government is committed to working with the Office of the Third Sector on promoting better commissioning practice, with a special focus on small third-sector groups;the publication today of guidance on understanding regional need for housing-related support. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House; andongoing support from the Communities and Local Government regional resource teams to support local performance improvement on the commissioning and delivery of services (taking into account the work being undertaken by government offices and the regional improvement and efficiency partnerships).

Local Government: Unitary Councils

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

Earlier this year, Parliament debated and approved structural change orders to create from 1 April 2009 nine new unitary councils: Bedford Borough Council, Cheshire East Council, Cheshire West and Chester Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Cornwall Council, County Durham Council, Northumberland Council, Shropshire Council and Wiltshire Council.

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We are working closely with those responsible locally for implementing these new unitary councils to complete the legislative framework needed to support the transition to these new councils. We have already made and laid before Parliament staffing regulations (June 2008), transfer of functions regulations (August 2008) and two sets of transitional regulations (August and November 2008).

Today, I have laid before the House the Local Government (Structural Changes) (Finance) Regulations 2008, which represent a further significant milestone towards the completion of the legislative framework.

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