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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 24 February 2003


Business Tenancies Regulatory Reform Order

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Tony McNulty): On 22 July 2002, we laid before Parliament a draft Regulatory Reform Order to reform the workings of Part 2 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. The Act provides a framework for the renewal and termination of business tenancies, and the aim of our reforms was to make the process quicker, easier, fairer and cheaper.

The Order has undergone its first stage of Parliamentary scrutiny, and the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the House of Commons Regulatory Reform Committee published reports shortly before Christmas. I am grateful to the Committees for their thorough examination of our proposed amendments. I welcome their support for the bulk of our proposals to reform this complex and highly technical legislation.

The Committees had some reservations on our proposals to change the way in which landlords and tenants may agree to contract a business lease without the normal statutory rights of security of tenure. The Regulatory Reform Committee made specific recommendations to enhance the protection for tenants. However, the Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform had more fundamental concerns at the lack of evidence about the degree of protection that the courts provide, and hence whether our proposals to abolish the requirement for a joint application to the courts would remove necessary protection from business tenants.

We acknowledge that while there is considerable anecdotal evidence, there is a lack of definitive statistical evidence about the outcome of applications to the court for approval of agreements to exclude security of tenure. We therefore propose to carry out research to indicate the outcome of recent applications to the court for approval to exclude security of tenure. The research will study the proportion of applications rejected and the reasons for rejection. We will also undertake some further consultation of organisations representing small businesses.

We propose to present the research findings and the outcome of the further consultation to the Committees. Subject to the outcome of the research and consultation and the views of the Committees, we would then lay for second stage scrutiny an amended draft Order incorporating the amendments suggested by the Regulatory Reform Committee and slightly modified in certain other detailed respects.

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Supporting People Budget

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Supporting People Programme aims to improve the quality of life of vulnerable people by supporting them to live independently in the community. It begins on 1 April. I am pleased to tell the House today that total provisional annual amounts of Supporting People Grant for England, based on estimates submitted by Authorities on 13, 16, and 17 December and other relevant information, for 2003–4, is 1.4 billion. I shall be writing further to Local Authorities to set out in detail their guidance.

The programme is now providing supported housing in the form of at least five hundred and thirty thousand household units for older people, mainly in sheltered services, forty five thousand household units for people with learning difficulties or mental health problems, four thousand household units to support the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, three thousand household units for women fleeing domestic violence and seventy five thousand household units for people who were homeless or from other vulnerable client groups, as well as a considerable and growing amount of non-accommodation based "floating" support (including community alarms and Home Improvement Agency (HIA) service) (around 410 thousand households in all). This is a major investment in some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society, with the clear objective of helping them to become, or remain, full participants in their local communities. The programme's aim is to prevent crises such as hospitalisation, institutional care or homelessness, by providing early support when it is most effective.

For the last three years the Government has been working with local authorities, providers, and other partners to prepare for this programme. Our overriding priority has been to make sure that people receiving services see no interruption to their services on 1 April. Equally those people receiving transitional housing benefit at the point of transfer must see their services continued during the transitional period on the same basis and cost to themselves as before. This has been done by work to accurately capture the current cost and nature of services in order to transfer these to new interim contracts on 1 April

The new Supporting People programme will be delivered under the Local Government Act 2000 section 93. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will therefore administer the programme under the normal arrangement of a cash limited budget using, in the future, an allocation formula on which there has been recent consultation.

Initial grant allocations are for six months since there remains work to be done to ensure that the estimates provided in December are accurate and fully evidenced. Final, fully verified, figures as at 31 March are required from local authorities by 30 September to confirm grant amounts. At that point any over or underestimates will be adjusted for.

We are also conscious that there are services in the pipeline, which are currently incurring capital spend, and which will require revenue finding once the

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buildings are completed. We have therefore made a provisional allocation for some of these, subject to confirmation of progress. We have made an allowance for expected savings due to declining obligations in respect of transitionally protected clients and the impact of early reviews. We are aware that authorities are entering into interim contracts in order to manage the process of transition, and are about to conduct reviews with a view to longer-term contracts. We will ensure that the allocations meet the validated contractual commitments authorities are obliged to put in place to meet their legal requirements and to manage the Supporting People programme on a stable basis up to Spending Review 2004 (covers 2005–6 onwards). We intend, by 1 April at the latest, to publish both further guidance on this and ground rules on how authorities can commit to longer term contracts, and how this fits with the Spending Review timetable at a national level. At this point, however, in the absence of the detailed figures from the final reconciliation, it would be inappropriate to set out definite figures for years two and three. Grant conditions are also for six months, allowing us to monitor progress of the new programme and make any small adjustment in year should these be necessary to allow the proper management of the programme.

It is now time for local authorities, providers, and their partners in health and probation to take ownership of this programme,. Every service must undergo a review during the first three years of the programme. This review is aimed at improving the quality of service, assessing its strategic relevance, and challenging its value for money.

The review process at the local level must be rigorous and disciplined to ensure that the services purchased through Supporting People are necessary, give good value for money, and are on a stable and appropriate contractual basis. Local authorities who do not carry out proper reviews or who provide insubstantial evidence of the benefits and strategic relevance of services cannot expect to receive continued levels of funding in future. We will also be looking carefully at the impact of the draft allocations formula, about which we are consulting at present.

This programme offers an exciting new opportunity to local authorities and their partners to develop local partnerships to meet effectively the needs of their local people, using innovative new models of preventive services. We look forward to the development and sharing of positive practice in achieving the targets of social inclusion of vulnerable groups in their local communities.

Regional Assemblies

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): In the White Paper Your Region, Your Choice: Revitalising the English Regions (Cm 5511) the Government invited views by the end of August 2002 on the question of how prescriptive we should be about the involvement of stakeholders in elected regional assemblies in England. In particular, the White Paper asked whether any requirements or principles should be specified and, if so, whether this should be done through legislation, guidance, or some other means.

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By November 2002, 207 responses had been received on the involvement of stakeholders, of which most expressed views ranging more widely than these questions. The Government has today published an analysis of the responses received on my Office's website at http://www.odpm.gov.uk/, and I am placing a copy of this document in the House Library.

As we stated in the White Paper (paragraph 7.8), the Government is very keen that key regional stakeholders and their representatives should be involved within the structure of an elected assembly. I am therefore pleased to be able to announce today our proposed policy framework for the involvement of stakeholders in the work of elected regional assemblies. This framework will form the basis of the statutory provisions on stakeholder involvement in the legislation we intend to bring forward to establish elected regional assemblies when Parliamentary time allows and after at least one region has voted for an elected assembly in a referendum.

The Government wants to strike a balance between safeguarding the meaningful involvement of stakeholders in all relevant aspects of an elected assembly's work and allowing for regional flexibility to reflect regional priorities and build on existing working relationships. We also want to ensure that a wide diversity of regional stakeholders can be engaged. We therefore intend to make the following requirements and restrictions clear in the legislation:

In order to enable assemblies to fulfil these requirements, the Government intends to provide in the legislation for a non-prescriptive approach to additional forms of stakeholder involvement which assemblies may wish to adopt. This would give assemblies discretion to:

establish consultative groups with specific sectors or on specific issues to facilitate consultation and/or the provision of advice; and

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We envisage that this legislative framework would need to be supplemented by statutory guidance in order to safeguard the effective involvement of stakeholders while avoiding over-prescription. The Government will ensure that a draft of any such guidance is provided for consultation at the appropriate stage.

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