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Learning and Skills Councils

Mr. Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how much local discretionary funding was allocated to each of the Learning and Skills Councils for 2001-02; and what proportion of total funding allocated to each Learning and Skills Council this amount represents. [151667]

Mr. Wicks: There is no single definition of local discretionary funding. After the current transition period, local LSCs will have the decisive role in the allocation to providers of the vast bulk of the LSC's mainstream budgets, including those for further education and work-based training (although prices paid per individual learner will be determined by a national formula).

For a range of other activities which total 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. of LSC overall funds, and for which there will be no national formula, local LSCs will determine both the allocations and the prices paid. One element within that 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. category is the Local Initiatives Fund (LIF), offering maximum flexibility for the local LSC to support local projects which would not otherwise be funded through mainstream programme budgets. The total LIF budget for 2001-02 is

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£90.3 million, of which almost 90 per cent. has so far been allocated. The table shows initial LIF allocations to local LSCs for 2001-02.

Decisions about the allocation of LSC overall funding to each local LSC have yet to be made by the national LSC. When they have been made, I shall write to my hon. Friend.

Local Initiatives Fund: LLSC initial allocation (December 2000)

East Midlands
Lincolnshire and Rutland858,230
London North1,875,419
London West2,279,819
London Central4,257,799
London East4,268,075
London South1,718,457
North East
Tyne and Wear2,387,779
County Durham801,459
Tees Valley1,518,689
North West
Greater Merseyside3,433,319
Greater Manchester4,276,348
Cheshire and Warrington1,161,393
South East
Oxford, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire1,637,128
Bracknell Forest/West Berkshire1,070,636
Hampshire and Isle of Wight2,324,637
Kent and Medway2,163,569
South West
Devon and Cornwall2,151,591
West Midlands
Black Country2,335,377
Birmingham and Solihull2,990,819
Herefordshire and Worcestershire935,019
Coventry and Warwickshire1,246,575
Yorks and the Humber
North Yorkshire929,946
West Yorkshire3,857,355
South Yorkshire2,385,990

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Student Debt

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on the reviews his Department is conducting of (a) tuition fees and (b) student debt; and what the average estimated level of debt per student was in each of the last 10 years. [151831]

Mr. Wicks [holding answer 1 March 2001]: We are not currently conducting any such reviews. The student support arrangements we have introduced are working well and share the costs of higher education fairly between students, parents and the taxpayer and we are monitoring the impact of the new arrangements. From September this year, because we have raised the income contribution thresholds, around 50 per cent. of all English and Welsh higher education students liable for fees under the Education (Student Support) Regulations will not have to make any contribution to their tuition fees. In 2001-02 new additional targeted support, in particular opportunity bursaries and a child care grant based on actual costs, will help students with dependants and those from poorer backgrounds. Annual figures on student finances are not collected. However, the average level of student debt was £840 in 1995-96 and £2,530 in 1998-99 for full-time students in higher education in the UK after their savings had been taken into account, according to data from the Department's periodic Student Income and Expenditure Survey.

Early-years Inspectors (Homeworking)

Helen Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment (1) what discussions he has had with Ofsted on the decision to organise the Early Years Inspectorate on the basis of homeworking by inspectors; what representations he has received on this decision; and if he will make a statement; [151937]

Ms Hodge: The organisation of Ofsted's Early Years Inspectorate is a matter for Ofsted. I have, therefore, asked HM Chief Inspector of Schools, Mike Tomlinson, to write to my hon. Friend and to place a copy of his letter in the Library.


NIRS2 Computer

Mr. Gale: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many claims outstanding resulting from failures in the NIRS2 computer system remain to be processed; and what his estimate is of the time scales within which these will receive attention and payments be made. [151147]

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Mr. Rooker [holding answer 26 February 2001]: As at 31 January 2001, Benefits Agency offices had less than 3 per cent. of the total number of cases they had received from NIRS2 waiting to be reviewed

The outstanding cases will be processed as quickly as possible.

Income Support

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will estimate the number of families with dependent children who have been in receipt of Income Support for one year or more. [152010]

Mr. Bayley: As at November 2000 there were 896,000 families with dependent children who had been receiving Income Support for one year or more.

Benefit Fraud (Liverpool)

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Liverpool city council. [152672]

Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report was published today in respect of Liverpool city council and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report makes recommendations to help the authority address weaknesses and to improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as its counter fraud activities.

Overall, inspectors found a number of weaknesses and poor standards of performance in benefit administration and counter fraud work that needed immediate attention. Inconsistent and ineffective work practices were found and there were substantial backlogs of work affecting over 30,000 benefit claims which had led to lengthy delays in claims processing.

The BFI reports the authority's lack of effective performance standards and targets, inadequate management information, weaknesses in checks and controls, poor management and recovery of benefit overpayments and no formal assessment of the risks of benefit fraud.

The report notes that although there is some good counter fraud work, it is not focused and significant effort is being wasted. Where management checking exists it is largely ineffective and provides little assurance.

The report concludes that BFI has serious concerns about Liverpool's recent performance in managing and delivering a secure benefits service. More positively, however, the report notes that the authority has recognised the significant challenges it faces and is strongly committed to a significant change programme that will involve overhauling its systems, structures and processes.

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While BFI recognises the size of the task and that the necessary changes will be difficult, inspectors are encouraged by the authority's commitment to tackle these issues.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the authority for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

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