Select Committee on Liaison First Report


APPENDIX O

SCOTTISH AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

Memorandum to the Liaison Committee

1.  From November 2000 until the dissolution of Parliament in May 2001, the Scottish Affairs Committee concentrated on a broad, wide-ranging inquiry into the Drinks Industry in Scotland. The inquiry encompassed all of the sectors of the drinks industry, including, spirits, beer, bottled water and soft drinks.

2.  During this period, six oral evidence sessions were held at the House, involving a comprehensive series of witnesses. In line with its usual practice our predecessor also embarked on a number of visits connected with the inquiry in order that it might speak informally and at first hand to those most directly involved in the day to day operation of the drinks industry or areas affecting it.

3.  When the General Election was anticipated, it became apparent that the Committee would not have sufficient time properly to complete its work. It therefore issued a short interim report, entitled: The Drinks Industry in Scotland: Issues and Concerns.[149] As well as outlining what it perceived as the most significant points that had arisen during the inquiry, the report also asked any successor committee to take up the tools and finish the work. We complied with this request.

4.  We considered that the previous Committee had covered an impressive amount of ground during its endeavours. Consequently, we felt that it was incumbent upon us to bring matters to a conclusion as soon as possible. As a result we arranged one further oral evidence session. On a 31 October, in a display of cross-department and UK Government/Scottish Executive co-operation, two UK Government ministers gave evidence alongside a Scottish Executive Deputy Minister.

5.   Baroness Symons, Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Department of Trade and Industry and Mr Paul Boateng, MP, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury, were joined by Ms Rhona Brankin, the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development of the Scottish Executive to answer questions on excise duty, EU minimum rates, the Climate Change Levy, trade and competition and the Water Framework Directive.

6.  A fortnight later we considered the Chairman's draft report and agreed it unanimously. We published out First Report of the Session on The Drinks Industry in Scotland[150] on Wednesday 28 November. We look forward to the Government's response.

7.  A further inhibition to our predecessors programme caused by the advent of the General Election concerned its annual evidence session on the Scotland Office Departmental Report. We thought it would be worthwhile for us to accomplish this exercise as soon as possible, not least because it would provide the opportunity for us formally to meet the Secretary of State for Scotland and her ministerial team at an early stage in our work. The occasion also allowed us to raise pertinent matters arising from the Departmental Report and to seek detailed answers on the method of funding the Scottish Parliament, particularly the effect of resource account budgeting, and the transparency and availability of statistics.

8.  For our own self-generated inquiries we decided first to undertake a brief investigation of the job creation potential of the modernised Forth, Clyde and Union Canal. In addition to formal evidence, heard at Kirkintilloch in East Dunbartonshire, the inquiry encompassed a series of informal meetings during a two day visit along the entire stretch of this project, running from West Dunbartonshire to Edinburgh. We agreed our report the week following the visit and evidence session.[151] Our next inquiry, which we plan to start early in the New Year, will be a review of post- devolution news and current affairs broadcasting in Scotland.

9.  We have allotted high priority to that part of our remit which requires us to consider relations with the Scottish Parliament. As a result, we sought to arrange at the earliest opportunity a meeting in Edinburgh with the Conveners' Liaison Group of the Scottish Parliament. The Conveners' Liaison Group is the Scottish Parliament's not quite equivalent of the Liaison Committee. The Group responded immediately and positively to our overture, and a date was set for 13 December. Regrettably, Business of the House interrupted our plans and the meeting had to be postponed at a late stage. We anticipate that it will now take place early in the New Year.

10.  We plan during this Parliament to attempt to broaden the range of inquiries undertaken by the Scottish Affairs Committee. We wish to respond quickly to topical matters, when our terms of reference allow, and hope to concentrate on short, sharp inquiries. We will meet again in January 2002 to consider our future programme and decide new areas of activity.

11.  Annexed to this memorandum are separate notes from the Scotland Office and the Scottish Executive which respond to outstanding issues arising from our predecessor Committee's report on Poverty in Scotland.[152] We thank the Scottish Executive for its constructive participation in this exercise.

12 December 2001

SCOTTISH AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

REPORT ON POVERTY IN SCOTLAND

FOLLOW UP TO GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

1.  The former DSS and the Scottish Executive were in the process of preparing a working-level agreement to improve the collection and exchange of data (response to recommendations (a) and (b), page iv, para 2). Has there been any progress on this development? In particular have there been any innovations to improve the distinction between statistical information from urban and from rural areas?

The Scottish Executive had not finalised the draft Service Level Agreement with DSS before DSS was re-structured to become the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Discussions have now been re-started, and the development of a Service Level Agreement between the Scottish Executive and DWP is progressing.

The Scottish Executive has been successful in securing funding from the Treasury's Evidence-Based Policy Fund to carry out a project to investigate the possibility of combining several different data sources together. If successful, this should enable a distinction to be made between rural and urban.

2.  In December last year when the Government Reply was published, the DSS were in the process of completing tables for the 1999 ward level data for Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Family Credit, Disability Working Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Child Benefit. Mid-2000 ward level claimant data was also expected by the end of March 2001 (page v, para 7). Please may we have a copy of this updated information?

The mid 1999 ward level benefits data was released by DWP on 29 June 2001. The release covered Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Family Credit. Disability Working Allowance was not released due to the low numbers involved (almost all wards had nil or negligible numbers) and Child Benefit has not yet been released. The mid 2000 ward level data should be released before the end of 2001.

As the data is very large - over 10,000 wards are tabled for each benefit - it is only released via the Neighbourhood Statistics website, www.statistics.gov.uk/neighbourhood/home.asp in electronic format and no hard copy publication is produced. If it would be helpful, we can send the Committee a CD with the 1999 data on seven spreadsheets.

 3.  The Committee were interested in the new Neighbourhood Statistics Database introduced by the Office for National Statistics (page v, para 9). Have there been any developments to improve the provision of neighbourhood level information in Scotland?

The Scottish Executive are leading in this area. Their comments are in the attached Annex.

4.  The Department of Trade and Industry led an inter-departmental Ministerial Group on Fuel Poverty (response to recommendation (j), page vi, para 18). We would like an update on any progress towards the development of a strategy to tackle fuel poverty.

The consultation document "The UK Fuel Poverty Strategy" was published on 23 February 2001. In Scotland, the consultation was launched jointly by the Minister of State for Scotland, George Foulkes, and the Minister for Communities, Jackie Baillie.

Twenty copies of the consultation paper are enclosed. It describes how fuel poverty will be addressed by policies which apply across the UK with the common aim of ending fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010. It also sets out the policies which will be implemented by the devolved administrations. Chapter 7 sets out the specific position in Scotland. Comments on the Strategy were required by 31 May 2001. The Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Fuel Poverty is currently considering the responses made and a final version of the Strategy is scheduled for publication later in the autumn.

Additional comments by the Scottish Executive are attached in the Annex.

5.  The Government was in the process of reviewing how best to deliver help from the Social Fund following the restructuring of benefit delivery (response to recommendation (p), page viii, para 27). Has the review drawn any conclusions?

The introduction of Jobcentre Plus and the Pensions Service provides an opportunity to improve the service available to Social Fund customers. The Social Fund will be administered by Jobcentre Plus and officials are considering options for delivering the different elements of the Social Fund. The Pensions Service will provide a gateway into the Social Fund for people of pension age.

The Government is determined to build upon the improvements already made and will continue to keep all the elements of the Social Fund under review to see what further improvements can be made to its operation and to ensure that the Fund plays its part in reducing poverty in general.

6.  The Government Reply cited two studies on how the job prospects of ex-offenders may be improved. In one, a Home Office team examined employment and housing barriers faced by offenders. The second was a study by the Social Exclusion Unit, which was to include information on Employment, Training and Education for short-term prisoners (page xvi, para 79). The Government reply suggests that these reports may offer useful suggestions to improve prospects of employment for ex-offenders in Scotland. The Committee would be grateful to receive a copy of these Reports, along with any comments the Department may wish to provide.

The Home Office study on the continuing barriers faced by offenders seeking access to employment and housing was an internal inter-Department report to Ministers in England and Wales. However, many of the findings are being taken forward as part of the Social Exclusion Unit's current study into re-offending by ex-prisoners and as part of the Prison Service's custody to work initiative. In Autumn 2000, the Home Secretary set the Prison Service south of the border the target of doubling the proportion of prisoners going into jobs on release over the next three years. The new Custody to Work Unit is charged with taking this forward in collaboration with other departments and agencies including the Employment Service, the National Probation Directorate and the voluntary sector.

The Report by the Social Exclusion Unit is still being prepared. An interim report is planned for November. Copies of this interim Report will be sent to the Committee as soon as it is available.

The Government's response referred to the Scottish Framework Document, launched in May last year. This is a local agreement between the Employment Service, Benefits Agency, the Scottish Prison Service, local authorities and Local Enterprise Companies. A Document has been signed in each Employment Service District.

Several local Employment Service initiatives have been implemented in line with the Framework Document, to prepare offenders for their release by delivering information sessions offering advice on application processes, interview skills, CV completion, careers advice and jobsearch skills. This increases employability and allows ex-offenders to compete in the Labour Market upon release.

New Deal Personal Advisers visit a number of prisons to meet prisoners to advise on any early entry into Employment Service programmes, particularly New Deal. The Employment Service works closely with APEX Scotland to ensure ex-offenders have the necessary specialist advice available on release. In addition, APEX also provide a pre-release course in an attempt to help people into a job and avoid opportunities for re-offending.

7.  The Committee recommended that a representative from the Scotland Office be a representative on the Anti-Poverty Strategy Team (response to recommendation (kk), page xix, para 103). Are there any plans within the new Department of Work and Pensions for a secondment from the Scotland Office to participate in such a team?

There are no such plans at the moment. The Poverty and Social Exclusion team in the Department for Work and Pensions continues to liaise with other Government Departments, including the Scotland Office, and with the devolved administrations, on the drafting of annual reports. Staffing levels in the Poverty and Social Exclusion Team will be reviewed in the autumn as part of the preliminary preparations for the production of the fourth "Opportunity for All" report.

8.  The Committee requested that the Procedure Committee re-examine the possibility that formal meetings may be permitted between committees of the House of Commons and committees of the devolved assemblies (response to recommendation (ll), page xx, para 105). The Department replied that this is a matter for the House authorities to resolve. The Committee did, however, point out in last year's Annual Report to the Liaison Committee, that permission for joint meetings would require a motion on the Order Paper, which would originate from a Government Minister. The Committee would like to know if there has been any movement towards amending Standing Orders to allow formal joint meetings between committees of the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

The Government do not wish to see any unnecessary barriers in the way of meetings between Committees of the United Kingdom Parliament and their Scottish counterparts, and would welcome such meetings. They will consider anything to facilitate such meetings. However, it is for the two Parliaments to take the lead in this. As the Committee is aware, unlike informal meetings, formal joint meetings between Committees of the UK and the Scottish Parliament would raise considerable problems of parliamentary privilege, which were discussed in the Procedure Committee's report on the Procedural Consequences of Devolution and the Government's response to that report. The Procedure Committee also noted that it was possible that informal meetings might differ from formal ones only in the powers of the Committee concerned, and suggested that ways could be found to fund such meetings.

In its response to the Procedure Committee, the Government agreed to the principle that "there should be as few procedural barriers as possible to co-operation between Members of Parliament and Members of other legislatures, where such cooperation is desired." It also supported the Procedure Committee's announced intention of "a full review of the procedural consequences of devolution in due course". The Government is aware that the Scottish Affairs Committee has asked the Procedure Committee to revisit this question and looks forward to that Committee's recommendations. The Procedure Committee also indicated that the Scottish Parliament or its Committees might also need to consider the desirability of joint meetings, and the legal framework within which such meetings took place. The Committee might wish to urge its counterparts in that Parliament to ensure there were no obstacles to their participation in such a meeting.

9.  The Scottish Executive commissioned Deloitte and Touche to examine the case for establishing a Highlands and Islands Transport Authority (response by the Scottish Executive to recommendation (e), page xxii). The Committee would be grateful to receive a copy of this report.

This is a matter for the Scottish Executive: please see the attached Annex.

10.  Last year the Scottish Executive reviewed the level and distribution of Special Islands Needs Allowance (response to recommendation (f), page xxiii). The Committee would be grateful to receive a copy of this review, along with any comments the Scottish Executive might like to make.

This is a matter for the Scottish Executive: please see the attached Annex.

11.  Last year the Scottish Executive was in the process of commissioning a study to assess the health impact of the Warm Deal. The Committee would be grateful to receive the results of this study when it is completed, and any interim comments on the progress of this research.

This is a matter for the Scottish Executive: please see the attached Annex.

12.  The Scottish Executive has been working on plans for a pilot national debtline for Scotland (response to recommendation (m), page xxv) and a national development strategy for credit unions (response to recommendation (o), page xxv). I should be grateful for an update on the progress of these initiatives.

The Scottish Executive have been leading on the debtline and the development strategy for credit unions in Scotland is a matter for the Executive: please see the attached Annex.

Scotland Office

October 2001

ANNEX: COMMENTS FROM THE SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE


3.  The Committee were interested in the new Neighbourhood Statistics Database introduced by the Office for National Statistics (page v, para 9). Have there been any developments to improve the provision of neighbourhood level information in Scotland?

Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics is a major project to transform the data for local areas. It runs for 3 years from 1 April 2001 and has a budget of £7 million.

It will

  •   make a major contribution to the social justice and area regeneration programmes
  •   include information on health, education, poverty, unemployment, housing, population, equalities and social/community issues.
  •   collect information, wherever possible, on a unit postcode basis
  •   make information available for the smallest areas possible (subject to confidentiality constraints)
  •   make information accessible to a wide range of users, through the Web and in other ways, and
  •   provide tools to help users to analyse the information.

The Scottish Executive will be working with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the other devolved administrations to create a coherent neighbourhood statistics service across the UK. However, in Scotland we also need to take account of different Scottish priorities.

The Scottish Executive will be building partnerships with other information providers and users. These include local authorities, health boards and the voluntary sector. The Executive have set up a group to bring the partners together. It will be meeting every 3 months or so for the first year of the Project.

4.  The Department of Trade and Industry led an inter-departmental Ministerial Group on Fuel Poverty (response to recommendation (j), page vi, para 18). We would like an update on any progress towards the development of a strategy to tackle fuel poverty.

In Scotland, the Central Heating Programme, the Warm Deal, New Housing Partnerships and substantial investment in social rented housing will all play a part in meeting the common aim of ending fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010. They will also help meet the Executive's interim target of ensuring that, by 2006, all pensioner households and tenants in the social rented sector in Scotland live in a centrally heated and well insulated home.

The Committee may also be aware that the Executive recently brought in legislative provisions through the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 on fuel poverty which are similar to those provided for in England by the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. The Act requires that, within 12 months of the provisions coming into force, the Executive must prepare and publish a statement setting out the measures which it and local authorities are taking to ensure that, as far as reasonably practical, people do not live in fuel poverty.

The statement must specify a target date for taking people out of fuel poverty and it must be within 15 years. The statement must also set interim objectives to be met along the road towards the target. The Executive will consult with the fuel poverty lobby and others when preparing the statement. The Act requires that the Executive report on progress, roughly every 4 years.

9.  The Scottish Executive commissioned Deloitte and Touche to examine the case for establishing a Highlands and Islands Transport Authority (response by the Scottish Executive to recommendation (e), page xxii). The Committee would be grateful to receive a copy of this report.

20 copies of the Report have already been sent to the Committee.

10.  Last year the Scottish Executive reviewed the level and distribution of Special Islands Needs Allowance (response to recommendation (f), page xxiii). The Committee would be grateful to receive a copy of this review, along with any comments the Scottish Executive might like to make.

The review of Special Islands Needs Allowance (SINA) was conducted by the joint Committee on Distribution of the Working Party on Local Government Finance (in Scotland). This Committee comprises representatives of the Scottish Executive and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, drawing on the advice of a panel of independent experts. The Committee's work, on this and other reviews, forms the basis of advice to Ministers on an appropriate distribution of resources to local authorities. As such, it is not published, and we are therefore unable to supply you with a copy of the report on SINA. However, we hope that the following information will be helpful.

The review confirmed that councils did incur additional expenditure in providing services across water and in transporting goods and staff to and from the mainland, though the evidence suggested that these costs did not merit the current level of SINA payments. Acknowledging that any reduction in payments to the current recipient authorities would destabilise their grant levels, the Scottish Executive has therefore held these payments constant for the coming 3-year settlement period, while making additional payments totalling £2.1 million a year to those other authorities - Argyll & Bute Council, Highland Council and North Ayrshire Council- that have island populations but have not received SINA until now.

11.  Last year the Scottish Executive was in the process of commissioning a study to assess the health impact of the Warm Deal. The Committee would be grateful to receive the results of this study when it is completed, and any interim comments on the progress of this research.

The aim of this study, commissioned in October 2000, was to explore the feasibility of conducting a full scale longitudinal study of the health impacts of the Warm Deal, focusing on methodological issues including sampling and fieldwork logistics and the range of likely health impacts. The initial study has identified an appropriate methodology for conducting the main study, which will now include the Central Heating Programme. It is hoped to commission this main study, which will run for 3 years, later this year. The initial study has not yet been published but we will provide copies of the Executive Summary shortly.

12.  The Scottish Executive has been working on plans for a pilot national debtline for Scotland (response to recommendation (m), page xxv) and a national development strategy for credit unions (response to recommendation (o), page xxv). I should be grateful for an update on the progress of these initiatives

Debtline

The funding for the telephone debtline pilot was agreed by Treasury in March. There will be £1m from the Treasury Invest to Save Budget, matched with £900,000 from the private sector. The Scottish Executive, DTI and Lord Chancellor's Department are each contributing £50,000. The project is being managed by Money Advice Trust. There will be three pilots in Great Britain: the one in Scotland will run in Fife. The identification of premises and recruitment of staff is currently underway. The tendering process for the technological solution is almost complete and a launch is expected in the New Year. The intention is to roll out the debtline across the country, if the pilots prove successful.

Credit Union Development Strategy

The Action Plan for the development of the movement in Scotland was launched by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Helen Liddell, and the Minister for Communities, Jackie Baillie, on 13th March. It was followed by a debate in the Scottish Parliament during which the Action Plan received all party support. The Plan is backed by new resources of £1.5m from the Scottish Executive.

The first year's monies will be disbursed through a one off non competitive fund - the Kick Start Fund. As its name suggests, the purpose of this Fund is to kick start implementation by providing every credit union in Scotland with £4,000 to undertake activity that will contribute to its long term sustainability. The closing dates for applications was 28th September and funds will be released towards the end of October.

Work is beginning on how subsequent years' funding will be used. The expectation is that the Scottish Credit Union Partnership established to oversee the implementation of the Action Plan will develop a more strategic approach.

£100,000 has also been allocated from the Scottish Executive's Active Communities Initiative to develop volunteering initiatives for credit union volunteers. Work is currently underway to develop these initiatives, which are focusing on training, promotion and networking

We are enclosing 20 copies of a summary leaflet together with 20 copies of the Action Plan itself. The summary leaflet provides more detail on the Kick Start Fund.


Scottish Executive

October 2001


149   First Report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, Session 2000-2001, HC 114. Back

150   HC 324. Back

151   The Job Creation Potential of the Modernised Forth, Clyde and Union Canal, Second Report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, Session 2001-2002, HC 424. Back

152   First Report, Session 1999-2000, HC 59. Back


 
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