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Written Statements

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Department for Communities and Local Government

Statement

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

I would like to update honourable Members on the main items of business undertaken by my department since the House rose for Christmas Recess on 20 December 2011.

Community budgets

Decentralisation of funding and ensuring greater value for taxpayers' money are key goals for my department. On 21 December, my department announced 14 new community budget areas that will be able to combine resources into a locally co-ordinated funding pot with greater local control that will help improve services for local people.

Four whole-place pilots will create a joint team with local partners to establish devolved budget proposals with decision-making structures for a locally run operation during this year. This will help achieve significant public sector savings, cut red tape and improve policy-making.

Ten neighbourhood level areas have also been selected to develop smaller scale community budgets that will give residents a micro-local level say over the services they want and use. The local community will play a leading role, working with councils and professionals, to shape local services so they work from a customer's perspective.

Council reserves

Reflecting our commitment to greater local government transparency, on 29 December, my department published detailed figures for council budget reserves based on revenue budget forecast returns for 2011-12 provided by local authorities. Overall, English local authorities expect to be holding £10.8 billion in reserves on 31 March 2012. Their forecasts a year ago on 31 March 2011 totalled £11 billion.

Determining the level and use of reserves is a matter for individual local authorities, taking into account local challenges and priorities. However this demonstrates many councils have room for manoeuvre with their finances that can help them deliver more efficient local services in future years.

Local audit arrangements

Following the decision to abolish the Audit Commission, the Government sought views last year on a new, more transparent and accountable local public audit framework that would reduce the cost of public audit and maintain high standards of scrutiny over public money.



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On 4 January, my department published proposals for its next steps for the audit of local public bodies. The new framework will free local bodies to appoint their own independent auditors from an open and competitive market. It will be based on the private sector audit model with transparent regulation overseen by the Financial Reporting Council and the National Audit Office. Separate arrangements will be developed for smaller bodies like parish councils.

The Government intend to bring forward legislation to formally close down the Audit Commission and introduce the new framework as soon as parliamentary time allows. A draft Bill will be published for pre-legislative scrutiny in the spring.

Supporting home ownership

In November 2011, my department published an ambitious housing strategy to tackle the housing shortage, boost the economy, create jobs and give people the opportunity to get on the housing ladder.

The housing strategy included an announcement of our plans to increase the right to buy. Right to buy can promote opportunity and boost social mobility for social housing tenants but restrictions on discounts in recent years have limited the impact of the scheme. To ensure that there is no reduction in the supply of affordable homes any additional home bought under the right to buy will, for the first time, lead directly to the provision of a new affordable home for rent on a one-to-one basis. On 22 December the department published our proposals to increase the discount cap under the right to buy scheme to £50,000, making it easier for social tenants to buy their homes.

Also on 22 December, my department announced further details of the £420 million Get Britain Building fund. The fund will help builders with planning permission get back onto housing sites that have been shut down because of problems accessing development finance. Over the next two years, this £420 million fund is expected to unlock up to 16,000 homes on sites that are currently stalled, and help create up to 30,000 jobs in construction and related industries.

The Government want to see investment and support right across the housing sector to improve the rental market and opportunities for homeownership. On 23 December, my department confirmed that Sir Adrian Montague will lead a review of barriers to investment in rented homes. The review will examine how best to encourage greater investment in rental properties-helping support the rapid growth of the private rented sector by increasing the supply of affordable homes.

Social housing

On 5 January, my department published new allocations guidance for consultation that will release councils and housing associations from the shackles of the current tick-box approach for allocating social homes.

The new freedoms will ensure councils and housing associations can reward achievement and encourage housing mobility-so scarce and precious social homes go to people who genuinely need and deserve them the most, such as hard-working families and ex-service men and women.

At the same time, housing providers will be able to tackle the tenants who are able to work but do not take up opportunities for jobs. For too long there has

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been a sense of unfairness over who gets to live in social housing, with a common belief that tenancies only go to those who know how to play the system.

Several councils have already indicated they want to introduce a new flexible approach to manage allocations-Westminster, Southend and Manchester councils will prioritise those who show responsibility and make an effort to find work, and in Wandsworth those tenants on new flexible contracts who do not make an effort to find work will risk losing their tenancy.

Homelessness

On 21 December, my department announced an additional £20 million to provide single people facing homelessness more housing options to ensure they do not have to spend time on the streets. This funding is in addition to the £400 million Preventing Homelessness Grant.

A new programme will also be introduced to help local authorities improve their homelessness prevention process for single people.

£8 million from the Homelessness Transition Fund, which was set up to help support the national rough sleeping strategy, has been allocated to 19 communities across England to support a national rollout of London flagship No Second Night Out. The initiative works with local communities to help provide the accommodation and support for rough sleepers.

Helping the elderly

On 3 January, the Department of Health announced a one-off additional £150 million will be allocated to primary care trusts in England, for immediate transfer to local authorities for investment in social care services which also benefit the health system. For those needing adaptations to their homes, the Government have confirmed an additional £20 million for disabled facilities grants-bringing the total to £200 million for 2011-12 alone.

We are also providing £51 million towards home improvement agencies, which will provide help and advice including:

housing advice, including help to move to more suitable accommodation if needed;handyperson services, including small home repairs, home safety and security adaptations; energy efficiency advice; andarranging for adaptations and home repairs to be made, including grab rails, stair-lifts and major work such as ground floor extensions.

These agencies also offer hospital discharge services-ensuring older people leaving hospital care are given the support they need to be able to recuperate in the comfort of their own homes.

We are also providing £1.5 million funding for FirstStop, which provides independent advice to older people looking to plan their future housing needs-whether in their own homes, or in care homes. This is in addition to work already under way to look at new and innovative ways in which elderly people can fund their future care needs without having to resort to selling their property.



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Traveller sites

On 7 January 2012, my department announced the successful outcome of bids for £60 million of funding that will provide new authorised pitches and better facilities for Travellers on official sites. The Homes and Communities Agency has completed its assessment of bids and has recommended offers that will deliver over 750 new and improved pitches at a cost of £47 million. The remaining fund will continue to be considered and the agency will help those who did not see their bids approved to resubmit improved offers.

This support for official Traveller pitches goes hand in hand with action against unauthorised Traveller sites. Through the Localism Act, the Government are introducing stronger powers for councils to tackle the abuse of retrospective planning permission. These strengthened powers are helping councils tackle any form of unauthorised development. The new authorised Travellers' sites will provide help to reduce the number of unauthorised sites, which create tensions between Travellers and the settled community.

The last Government's approach was ineffective because Traveller site funding was allocated but often remained unspent. By imposing top-down targets for Traveller sites, local councils were compelled to encroach on to the green belt and open countryside, harming community relations and further leading to an increase in the number of unauthorised sites.

Flag flying regulations

On 6 January, my department set out proposals to allow a much wider range of flags to be flown without the need for planning permission. Under current planning rules, only a select group of flags can be flown without express permission from councils and a fee of up to £335. Under the new rules, people will be able to fly a much wider range of flags including the flags of football and cricket teams or towns and villages. It will also allow communities to show support for our Armed Forces by easing rules on flying local regimental flags.

If people want to celebrate something that is important to them by flying a flag they should be able to do so without having to fill in forms or paying town hall officials for the privilege. This will make it easier for people to celebrate their allegiance to a cause, a county or a local organisation if they choose to do so.

I am placing the press notices and documents associated with these announcements in the Library of the House.

Disabled People: Blue Badge Scheme

Statement

Earl Attlee: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I am today providing an update on implementation of the Blue Badge reform programme that I announced in February 2011.

One of the key reforms to the Blue Badge scheme is the Blue Badge Improvement Service. This service has been developed in close consultation with disabled people and local authorities. It is a major initiative aimed at tackling rising levels of badge fraud and

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abuse, helping to ensure that disabled people receive improved customer service and ensuring that the scheme remains sustainable in the long term for those who rely on it most.

The Blue Badge Improvement Service became operational on 1 January 2012. I am pleased to say that every local authority in England has signed up to use the service and I would like to thank them all for their support in helping to deliver important and necessary changes that are vital for the future sustainable operation of the Blue Badge scheme. The service should also help them to realise efficiency savings of up to £20 million per year.

In an innovative move by the Department for Transport, the capital costs of the service are being met through private sector investment from Northgate Information Solutions which will deliver the secure web-based service, and Payne Security which will print, supply and distribute the newly designed badge.

The service establishes a common store of key information on badges and badge holders that will enable verification checks to be made quickly and easily.

To counter fraud, the design of the Blue Badge was changed in regulations that came into force on 1 December 2011. The old-style cardboard badges have been replaced by new ones made from a fused and bonded hard plastic material and which contain a number of overt and covert security features.

For the first time, people can now apply for a Blue Badge using a national system that is available on Directgov. This should result in a quicker turnaround time for people reapplying for badges whose circumstances are not going to change. Those who use the online application form will only be asked to complete those sections that are relevant to the eligibility under which they are applying. They can also sign up for text and email reminders at reapplication time, track the progress of their application and there will be an eligibility checker for those who want to find out if they are eligible for a badge. From 1 April 2012, badge holders will be able to report lost and stolen badges and update changes to their details online.

There is a new national helpline for general enquiries about Blue Badges that will signpost callers to the relevant local authority. However, local authorities will still be in charge of administering the Blue Badge scheme, making decisions about whether applicants are eligible and issuing badges.

Falklands Islands

Statement

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (William Hague) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I would like to update the House on the British Government's response to statements made in South America regarding the Falkland Islands during the Christmas Recess.



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On 15 December the Government of Uruguay declared that they would deny access to their ports to ships flying the Falklands flag. This was followed five days later by a statement from the summit of the Mercosur group of countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with associate members including Chile) that echoed the Uruguayan announcement.

Our response has been justifiably robust. The Uruguayan Ambassador was formally summoned to the FCO and I spoke twice to the Uruguayan Foreign Minister to underline how seriously we regard this development. Our ambassadors in the region were instructed to call on their host Governments to express our strong objection to the Mercosur statement and to assess the practical implications for vessels operating between the Falklands and South America.

We made clear that the decision to close ports to ships flying the Falklands flag has no legal basis, and that it would be unacceptable and unbecoming for any Latin American democracy to collaborate in Argentina's attempts to economically blockade the Falkland Islands. We reiterated our strong support for the rights of the islanders to determine their political future, and also made clear that any attempts to coerce them through economic or other pressures would be resisted by the British Government. Such actions are inconsistent with the principles of the United Nations Charter and the rights of the Falkland Islands people to trade openly and without hindrance.

While we do not accept that the decision to refuse entry to vessels flying the Falklands flag has any basis in international law, our priority has been to ensure that the trade and commercial links between the Falklands and South America are not compromised by this political declaration. We have had productive and honest discussions with Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. All three countries have said that they have no intention of participating in an economic blockade of the Falkland Islands and that all Falklands-related commercial shipping will continue to enjoy access to their ports, in accordance with domestic and international law, if they are flying the Red Ensign or another national flag when docked.

I hope that others in the region will continue to recognise that differences of opinion over UK sovereignty of the Falkland Islands cannot justify collusion in efforts to intimidate an innocent civilian population through economic pressure. The British Government will always ensure that the Falkland Islanders' right to determine their political future is respected.

More broadly, we will continue to strengthen our engagement of Latin America, as I set out in my Canning House speech in November 2010. The UK has considerable political, economic and security interests in the region, with high potential for future economic growth through partnership with Latin America. I am confident that this important agenda is consistent, and indeed mutually reinforcing, with our desire to ensure that the interests and wishes of the Falkland Islanders are protected.



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Finance Bill 2012

Statement

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (David Gauke) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Finance Bill will be published on Thursday 29 March.

Explanatory Notes on the Bill will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and placed in the Libraries of both Houses on that day. Copies of the Explanatory Notes will be available on the Treasury's website.

Health: Breast Implants

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Andrew Lansley) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Approximately 40,000 women in the UK have had implants manufactured by the French manufacturer Poly Implant Prosthèse (PIP). These implants were made of a non-medical grade silicone gel, which was withdrawn from use across Europe on 30 March 2010 following investigations at the PIP plant in France.

The recommendation of the French Government on 23 December that these should be removed has caused understandable worry for women affected. My primary concern is for the safety and well-being, which is why I asked the NHS Medical Director, Sir Bruce Keogh, to convene an Expert Advisory Group to review the available data on PIP implants.

My department published the interim report of the Expert Advisory Group on Friday 6 January 2012. It also published a letter from the NHS Chief Executive, Sir David Nicholson, to the chief executives of all NHS bodies and from the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, to all general practitioners and other relevant health professionals.

Taken together, these documents provide authoritative advice to women and clinical professionals about the risks associated with PIP implants. The Expert Advisory Group concluded that there is not enough evidence to recommend routine explantation of the implants, although they also recognised that this is a worrying time for women with PIP implants. The documents therefore set out the model of care to be provided to NHS patients, and the expectation that the private sector would follow suit.

These documents have been placed in the Library. Copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office. I will keep the House updated.

Legal Services Board and Office for Legal Complaints

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Jonathan Djanogly) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.



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In March 2011 the Government responded to the Public Accounts Committee report Smaller Government: Shrinking the Quango State setting out the coalition's plans for reforming the public bodies sector. It includes the requirement to undertake triennial reviews of executive and advisory non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).

The Legal Services Act 2007 established the Legal Services Board (LSB) as the oversight regulator for the legal profession and the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) to administer a new, independent and fair ombudsman scheme for service complaints against authorised persons. The LSB and the OLC were established in January 2009 and July 2009 respectively.

To deliver the coalition Government's commitment to transparency and accountability the LSB and the OLC will be subject to individual but linked triennial reviews. The Ministry of Justice, as the sponsoring department, has today launched a consultation which will last for a period of 12 weeks inviting views. In line with Cabinet Office guidance the reviews will consider the following for each body:

the continuing need for the LSB and the OLC-both their functions and their form; and where it is agreed that either or both should remain, to review the control and governance arrangements in place to ensure that the public body is complying with recognised principles of good corporate governance.

In conducting the triennial reviews, officials will be engaging with a broad range of stakeholders and users of both bodies. The reviews will be aligned with guidance published by the Cabinet Office: Guidance on Reviews of Non Departmental Public Bodies. The final reports and findings will be laid in this House.

NHS: Future Forum

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Andrew Lansley) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Department of Health commissioned the independent NHS Future Forum in the summer to conduct a second listening exercise on a series of key issues for health and care. The NHS Future Forum submitted its report to the department on 20 December and it has been published today. The report contains a series of recommendations for Government and for key bodies in the system in the areas of:

integration;

information;

the NHS's role in improving the public's health; and

education and training.

The department is pleased to be able to accept all the forum's recommendations for Government and has today published its response to the report.

Also published today is Liberating the NHS: Developing the Healthcare Workforce, from Design to Delivery, which sets out the Government's policy for a new

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education and training system, and details how the Government are addressing the forum's recommendations on education and training.

All documents published have been placed in the Library. Copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Railways: High Speed Rail

Statement

Earl Attlee: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Justine Greening) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The consultation High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain's Future was one of the largest national consultations ever undertaken by the Department for Transport-54,909 responses were received, from individuals, businesses and organisations across the country. It is clear from the consultation that a national high-speed rail network-High Speed 2-generates strong feelings, both in favour and against the scheme.

Since becoming Secretary of State for Transport I have taken time to consider all aspects of the consultation proposals and the evidence arising from both consultation responses and further work undertaken or commissioned by my department and HS2 Ltd. This Statement summarises my decisions.

I have decided Britain should embark upon the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways by supporting the development and delivery of a new national high-speed rail network. By following in the footsteps of the 19th-century railway pioneers, the Government are signalling their commitment to providing 21st-century infrastructure and connections, laying the groundwork for long-term, sustainable economic growth.

High Speed 2 (HS2) is a scheme to deliver hugely enhanced rail capacity and connectivity between Britain's major conurbations. It is the largest transport infrastructure investment in the UK for a generation, and, with the exception of High Speed 1 (HS1), is the first major new railway line since the Victorian era.

The HS2 Y network will provide direct, high-capacity, high-speed links between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, with intermediate stations in the east Midlands and South Yorkshire. There will also be direct links to Heathrow Airport and to the continent via the HS1 line. It will form a foundation for a potentially wider high-speed network in years to come.

HS2 will be built in two phases to ensure that the benefits of high-speed rail are realised at the earliest possible opportunity. The line from London to the West Midlands and the connection to HS1 are expected to open in 2026, followed, in 2032-33, by the onward legs to Manchester and Leeds and the connection to Heathrow. The capital cost at 2011 prices of building the complete Y network is £32.7 billion. At present values, it will generate benefits of up to £47 billion and fare revenues of up to £34 billion over a 60-year period.



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The benefits of HS2 will extend beyond the network itself. Links to current lines will enable direct trains to run to cities such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh and, with long-distance services transferring to the new network, space will be freed up for new commuter, regional and freight services on other lines, opening up new opportunities for Britain's existing railways. Links to key urban transport networks, such as Crossrail, will help to spread the benefits further still.

HS2 is entirely consistent with the Government's objectives for carbon emissions. Electrified rail is a comparatively low-carbon mode of transport, especially with the continued decarbonisation of the grid. Speed increases power consumption, but also makes HS2 more attractive to those currently flying or driving. The faster journeys on HS2-Edinburgh and Glasgow will be just 3.5 hours from London-could transfer around 4.5 million journeys per year by those who might otherwise have travelled by air and 9 million from the roads. HS2 will also create more rail capacity on existing conventional-speed lines for freight, removing lorries from our busy trunk roads. HS2 is therefore an important part of transport's low-carbon future.

In securing these benefits for our country, I am committed to developing a network with the lowest feasible impacts on local communities and the natural environment. I have been mindful that we must safeguard the natural environment as far as possible, both for the benefit of those enjoying our beautiful countryside today and for future generations.

People living along the line of route highlighted particular concerns and provided constructive and thoughtful comments about the London to West Midlands route proposed at consultation. Following careful study by my engineers I can announce a package of alterations to further reduce the route's impacts. The changes mean that more than half the route will now be mitigated by tunnel or cutting and there will also be a reduction in the impacts on people and communities, ancient woodlands and important heritage sites.

The changes include:

a longer, continuous tunnel from Little Missenden to the M25 through the Chilterns;a new 2.75 mile (4.4 km) bored tunnel along the Northolt corridor to entirely avoid major works to the Chilterns Line and impacts on local communities in the Ruislip area;a longer green tunnel past Chipping Warden and Aston Le Walls, and to curve the route to avoid a cluster of important heritage sites around Edgcote; and,a longer green tunnel to significantly reduce impacts around Wendover, and an extension to the green tunnel at South Heath.

The revised route offers considerable improvements to communities, with the number of dwellings at risk of land take almost halving and the number experiencing increased noise levels reducing by a third. Despite these improvements to limit the negative impacts of the line, HS2 will inevitably affect some homeowners, communities and businesses. To help those affected,

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we will bring in a package of measures, which are over and above what affected homeowners are already entitled to under law. These include:

a streamlined purchase scheme to simplify the statutory blight process for property owners;a sale and rent-back scheme to give homeowners within the safeguarded area more flexibility;a streamlined small claims scheme for construction damage, which will allow individuals and businesses who are entitled to compensation under existing law to claim it more quickly and simply;a package of measures to reinforce confidence in properties above tunnels. Homeowners will be offered before and after surveys, a thorough assessment of the impact of similar tunnels, an explanation of the measures that will be taken to prevent perceptible vibration impacts, financial compensation for the compulsory purchase of subsoil, and a legally binding promise that HS2 will be permanently responsible for resolving any related settlement or subsidence issues; and,a refreshed hardship-based property purchase scheme.

Finally, we will work constructively with local authorities along the line of route to minimise the negative consequences of HS2 and maximise the benefits.

In November I announced the triennial review of HS2 Ltd, and in making my decision I have accepted the finding that HS2 Ltd is the appropriate body to continue undertaking this work.

Today I have presented to Parliament a full account of my decisions titled High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain's Future-Decisions and Next Steps. My department has published a series of supporting documents which set out in further detail the basis on which I have reached my decisions. All of this material is available at www.dft.gov.uk/highspeedrail.

Sport: Young People

Statement

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Jeremy Hunt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I am announcing a new youth sport strategy, designed to create a sporting habit for life among young people.



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This Government are committed to creating a lasting sporting legacy from the Olympic and Paralympic Games and making good on the original promise to use the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to inspire a new generation and create a deep and lasting legacy of sports participation in every community.

However, since 2005 when we won the bid to stage the Games, participation rates in sport in England have fallen, particularly among young people. Our new approach aims to arrest this decline and will have a strong focus on providing the necessary opportunities and infrastructure for young people to develop a sporting habit for life. Over the next five years £1 billion of lottery and Exchequer funding will be invested to ensure that young people are regularly playing sport and continuing their participation in sport into their adult life. This investment has been made available through the Government's lottery reforms that have resulted in more lottery money going to sport.

We are seeking consistent increases in the proportion of people regularly playing sport and, in particular, we want to raise the number of 14 to 25 year-olds who take up sport as a habit for life.

We will do this, in partnership with Sport England, by building a lasting legacy of competitive sport in schools through the School Games; improving links between community sports clubs and schools, further education colleges and universities-with the five biggest sports (football, rugby league, rugby union, cricket and tennis) leading the way; working with the sports national governing bodies (NGBs) and ensuring that they focus their funding on activities that promote sport as a habit for life among young people; putting significant investment into new and upgraded sports facilities, including funding schools to enable them to open up their sports facilities to the public; and working with local authorities, voluntary and community groups and clubs to make the broadest possible sporting offer to young people.

We will institute a new performance management regime, with a strict payment-by-results system. For sports that do not deliver on their ambitions, funding will be withdrawn; those that are delivering well will be able to access more funds in order to expand their good work. Value for money will be a key consideration and NGBs will need to demonstrate how they will have an impact on participation at the local level. NGBs must also meet high standards of governance and financial control. All public funding allocated will be published and meet government transparency guidelines.


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