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Today I am publishing the framework document for the new Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), which is being created on 1 April by the merger of two existing executive agencies, Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA), which I announced on 29 June 2010.
The new agency will be an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with the same remit as its predecessor bodies. In addition to its UK role and commercial activities it will help deliver the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy (GB) through regulatory and advisory activities and the provision of excellent science.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): Equality 2025 is a non-departmental public body of publicly appointed disabled people, which was established in December 2006.
The group offers strategic confidential advice to government on issues that affect disabled people. This advice can include participation in the very early stages of policy development, or in-depth examination of existing policy. The group works with Ministers and senior officials across government.
The recruitment exercise was carried out in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments' Code of Practice. The quality of applicants for the post was exceptionally high. I am pleased to announce that the successful candidate and new chair of Equality 2025 from 1 April 2011 is Dr Rachel Perkins.
The extraordinary Energy Council began with a report by the Energy Commissioner of the impact of events in north Africa and Japan on the EU's energy market. Although there had been no significant impact on supplies as a result of events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, there had been an impact on prices. The EU had 120 days of oil supply. Saudi Arabia and Russia had undertaken to cover any shortfalls in gas and oil supplies. There was general agreement that oil and gas markets were functioning well and that it was important to take a calm approach to reassure the market. The council concluded that although there was no immediate problem with energy supply, the EU should take measures to increase its ability to deal with problems in the future, in line with the priorities agreed at the European Energy Council on 4 February.
The Commissioner then reported on the situation in Japan; and on the role of nuclear in the energy mix of the EU. He noted the right of member states to decide upon their own energy mix and that nuclear would continue to play a large role in the EU for the foreseeable future. He proposed that member states should work together to develop and approve an EU safety check for nuclear power plants. The UK agreed on the importance of a measured response based on the evidence and on lessons learnt from the events in Japan. Most member states supported this position.
The council concluded that the EU response to the situation in Japan should involve comprehensive risk and safety assessments (stress tests) of nuclear power plants in Europe with full involvement of member states in determining how this should be done. EU neighbouring countries should also be involved in the assessment, as well as international bodies such as the G20 and the IAEA. The EU should maintain high standards of nuclear safety, with a continual process of improvement. The council agreed that communication with the public on these issues should be open and transparent.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): The Government announced in last October's comprehensive spending review that they would extend the housing benefit shared accommodation rate to people under the age of 35 from 2012. This rate currently applies to people under the age of 25 and reflects the costs of renting non self-contained accommodation in the private sector where the tenant has exclusive use of a bedroom but shares other facilities such as a bathroom.
The local housing allowance reforms, to be introduced from this April, cap the level of payments to a maximum of a four-bedroom rate and reduce local housing allowance rates so that they are based on the 30th percentile of rents rather than the median. They also introduce overall caps on the rate of local housing allowance for one, two, three and four-bedroom accommodation. Existing customers will be given up to nine months' transitional protection from these reforms starting from the anniversary date of their claim.
By introducing the shared accommodation rate changes slightly earlier, this will bring the timing of the shared accommodation rate change more closely into line with the local housing allowance reforms for existing customers. It will ensure that single people aged 25 to 34 reaching the end of their transitional protection period will experience at that point a single reduction in their housing benefit, rather than two separate reductions.
That is why we have decided to bring forward the shared accommodation rate changes. We will publicise these proposed changes through appropriate channels to make sure that those affected are aware of them in advance.
I am today publishing a report on departments' and agencies' performance on handling Members' and Peers' correspondence during the calendar year 2010. Details are set out in the attached table. Correspondence statistics for 2009 can be found in the Official Report, 16 March 2010, WS59-64.
|Correspondence from MPs / Peers to Ministers and Agency Chief Executives in 2010|
|Correspondence from MPs / Peers to Ministers and Agency Chief Executives1||2010|
|Department or Agency||Target set for reply (working days)||Number of letters received||per cent of replies within target|
1 Departments and Agencies that received 10 MPs/Peers letters or fewer are not shown in this table. Holding or interim replies are not included unless otherwise indicated. The report does not include correspondence considered as freedom of information requests. Includes correspondence received from prospective parliamentary candidates.
2 Performance has been affected by a 111 per cent rise in correspondence following the formation of the new Government and machinery of government changes. Measures have been put in place to improve performance in 2011.
6 DfE received an increase of 20 per cent in correspondence received compared to the previous year (35 per cent increase for May to December compared to the same period in the previous year) contributing to a downturn in performance. The department is investing in new processes and resources to ensure improvement in 2011. Includes correspondence sent to the former DCSF.
10 Includes correspondence received by OGC, NS&I and the Valuation Office. Performance increased in the first six months of the year to average 64 per cent. The Election, Emergency Budget, Autumn Statement and the spending review public consultation exercise increased correspondence levels, resulting in a temporary drop in performance. Correspondence levels are expected to remain high but with a departmental focus on improving performance taking place.
In line with my 20 October 2010 letter to the mayor spending review 2010: TfL funding agreement, £861 million of this grant is designated an investment grant to support delivery of the schemes and milestones, notably upgrade of the Tube, set out in Annexe B of my 20 October letter, and the remaining £1,943 million is a general grant for the purposes of TfL.
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