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Written Statements

Friday 24 October 2014

Armed Forces: Housing

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans (Anna Soubry) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government remains committed to ensuring that our Service personnel and their families have access to good quality accommodation at a price that is substantially subsidised compared to civilian options. Our programme of investment in Service Family Accommodation has delivered significant improvements since 2010; last financial year alone, we invested £90 million in upgrading existing stock and £150 million buying over 700 new Service homes. We now plan two key changes to the way in which we deliver and manage Service Family Accommodation which together will ensure that the aspects of greatest importance to our personnel continue to improve through further targeted investment.

The first change is a new contract for maintenance and support services. This will effectively incentivise delivery partners to ensure a step-change in the service provided to our personnel. They will significantly improve the customer experience, with an expanded electronic service establishing a one-stop shop for all accommodation issues. We have also imposed far stricter performance targets, demanding a quicker response to problems and repairs with more on-the-spot investment to resolve them and a “fix first time” culture. This contract will come into effect on 1 November 2014 in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and on 1 December 2014 for the rest of the UK.

The second change is a major reform of the charges paid by personnel for the houses in which they live. This is part of the New Employment Model, which aims to put in place an affordable and sustainable package of employment, remuneration and support that will enable the recruitment and retention of sufficient capable and motivated Service personnel.

The current system for determining accommodation charges is no longer fit for purpose. It uses out-of-date methods that are no longer relevant to modern living. It is also so complex and subjective that it is difficult to achieve consistent and regularly updated assessments. As a result, despite the investment in recent years, assessments of a large number of properties have not been updated or graded accurately. More than half of our properties are not being charged at the appropriate rate, meaning that rents have fallen significantly behind the rising standards of military accommodation. Various reviews, both internally and by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) have strongly recommended reform. This Government will now introduce a modern, objective system that will enable our personnel to see exactly how their charges are calculated and what they get for their money. We will continue to look to the AFPRB for their recommendation on overall accommodation charge rates.

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The new charging system will be introduced for Service Family Accommodation in April 2016. Over the next 18 months, a survey programme will provide underpinning data to allow every property’s accommodation charge to be reassessed against the new criteria and updated accordingly. This will change charges so that they accurately reflect the quality of the home provided. We are not proposing to increase the top charge rate: indeed, far fewer personnel would pay it. Many of those currently paying charges at the lower end of the scale, particularly where they live in upgraded, better quality properties, would see charges gradually increase over a number of years but will rise at a set annual rate that is scaled according to rank and property type (we expect this to be limited to about £20-30 a month for other ranks).

All additional rental receipts will be reinvested into military accommodation. From April 2016, no Service family living anywhere in the UK will be allocated a property that does not meet the Department for Community and Local Government’s Decent Homes Standard. A programme of investment in energy efficiency over the next five years will also mean that every Service family in UK military accommodation should face energy bills significantly lower than the national average.

The new charging system is simpler, fairer and will help to put our Service accommodation on a sound, long-term financial footing that will enable enhanced future investment.

Energy: Shale Oil and Gas

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My hon Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Kris Hopkins) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the start of a consultation on draft regulations to implement 100% local retention of business rates on shale oil and gas sites.

We believe shale oil and gas may hold potential for adding to the UK’s energy sources, helping to improve energy security, create jobs and meet carbon targets. And to ensure shale development is safe there are robust rules in place to ensure on-site safety, prevent water contamination and mitigate seismic activity and minimise air emissions.

We also believe that local councils and communities should share in the economic opportunities and benefits of shale oil and gas. The draft regulations we are publishing today will ensure that local councils that host shale oil or gas sites can benefit from millions of pounds in business rates paid by site operators. The measure could be worth up to £1.7 million for a typical site and will be funded by Central Government.

The draft regulations define the sites on which 100% retention of business rates will apply and set out the arrangements for sharing that revenue between the different tiers of local government. Consultation will allow us to ensure we have correctly defined shale oil and gas sites and that the regulations, once made, will give local government the certainty they need over future business rates income.

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Once we have considered responses to the consultation we will lay the regulations before Parliament with a view to them coming into force by 1 April 2015. I have placed a copy of the consultation document and draft regulations in the Library of the House, and the consultation document is also available at;

www.gov.uk/government/consultations/business-rates-retention-and-shale-oil-and-gas-technical-consultation.

HMS “Victory”

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Michael Fallon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

HMS “Victory”, the flagship of Admiral Sir John Balchin, sank in the English Channel in 1744; the wreck site was found in 2008. In 2010 the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport conducted a joint public consultation on options for the management of the wreck site. A summary of the responses and the Government’s proposed way forward were published on 19 July 2011:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/hms-victory-1744-options-for-the-management-of-the-wreck-site

Following the consultation, the wreck was gifted to the Maritime Heritage Foundation (MHF) in January 2012. Since then the site, which is at risk of damage from fishing vessel activity, natural erosion, and illegal salvage, has been regularly monitored. In parallel, the Government has worked with MHF to develop a phased approach to the management of the site through a Project Design that conforms with the archaeological principles of the Annex to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (“the Annex”), the agreed Key Management Principles, and with the Government’s heritage policies. These are set out in the “Protection and Management of Historic Military Wrecks outside UK Territorial Waters” guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/

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protection-and-management-of-historic-military-wrecks-outside-uk-territorial-waters

We have been assisted in this work by an Advisory Group, consisting of representatives of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, English Heritage, the Receiver of Wreck, and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO); and the Advisory Group has been supported by an Expert Panel of independent specialists from various fields of the marine historic environment and maritime heritage management. The Government is grateful to all those involved.

Following consideration of the detailed information and assurance provided by the MHF I have given consent for MHF to proceed with the next phase of the agreed Project Design. This decision is supported by the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Ed Vaizey). Specifically, MHF has been granted permission to recover at-risk surface items from the wreck site in accordance with the Project Design once the necessary licence has been issued by the MMO.

Consideration of any further phases of work would be made in light of progress reported by MHF.

All artefacts recovered are to be declared to the Receiver of Wreck in accordance with existing legislation to determine ownership. Artefacts transferred under the Deed of Gift that are recovered and accessioned from the wreck and the associated archive, including site plans, drawings and photographs, will form theVictory 1744 Collection”, which will be managed and curated in line with the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics for Museums.

The Government has previously committed to publishing more information about this project, including the set of Key Management Principles that MHF has agreed to. This information and reports documenting the pre-disturbance work completed as part of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Project Design are now available at www.victory1744.org. Additional information will be made available as the project progresses.

The Government is satisfied that the Project will be managed in accordance with best practice and will ensure that important artefacts from this unique part of our maritime history remain together for the future appreciation and education of all.