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15 Jan 2008 : Column 1148W—continued

Theft: Computers and Bicycles

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what steps the Government have taken to reduce computer theft; [177847]


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(2) what steps the Government have taken to assist the public in protecting their bicycles from thieves. [177848]

Mr. Coaker [holding answer 14 January 2008]: There has been a strong drive from Government to reduce acquisitive crime since 1997, through targets, policy interventions and good practice development. Acquisitive crime has decreased significantly since the mid 1990s with a 34 per cent. reduction in personal acquisitive crime and a 55 per cent. reduction in household acquisitive crime between 1995 and 2006-07. This is equivalent to around 1 million fewer personal acquisitive crimes and almost 5 million fewer household acquisitive crimes.

Where these particular offences are problems in local areas, the police and other partners such as local authorities, will include them in their strategic assessments and priorities. A good example of local activity is Coventry Community Safety Partnership's work with two universities to purchase 1,000 licences which enable laptops to be tracked if stolen.

Regarding bicycle theft, in 2006 the Home Office published a “Steer Clear of Cycle Theft” leaflet providing crime prevention guidance for owners and law enforcement. Details can be found on the Home Office website (http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/crime-victims/how-you-can-prevent-crime/). This advice includes security marking the cycle; keeping a copy of the details including colour and frame number (and taking a photograph); and, registering the details with a central database.

Theft: Metals

Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps she is taking to deal with people who steal expensive metal objects to sell to scrap yards. [178000]

Mr. Coaker: We are aware that thefts of valuable metals have been increasing over recent months and we are working closely with the industries affected and the police to develop a response to tackle these crimes.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has set up a working group, chaired by the British Transport police and with Home Office representation, to assess the scale of such incidents. The aim of the group will be to establish an action plan which will address all aspects of the problem from national co-ordination to local responses to tackle metal thieves, including an examination of the current effectiveness of legislation relating to scrap metal recycling.

Work and Pensions

Child Support Agency

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will take steps to ensure that hon. Members’ constituency cases are not referred to regional Child Support Agency offices without hon. Members’ consent; and if he will make a statement. [166904]


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Mr. Plaskitt: Where parliamentary questions or correspondence from Members of Parliament refers to child support operational matters, the Minister will ask the Child Support Agency to respond on their behalf as the administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the chief executive.

Letter from Stephen Geraghty:

Council Tax Benefit

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the take-up rate of council tax benefit was in the last period for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. [178384]

Mr. Plaskitt: Estimates of the take-up rate of council tax benefit are available in the DWP publication series entitled "Income Related Benefits Estimates of Take-Up in 2005-06". Copies of the latest publication, plus past reports, can be found in the Library.

Credit: Low Incomes

Tony Baldry: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps the Government is taking to encourage initiatives from mainstream lenders to provide affordable credit to those on benefits and others at risk of financial exclusion. [177882]

Angela Eagle: I have been asked to reply.

The Financial Inclusion Task-force has defined the role for banks in respect of affordable credit as supporting the growth of third sector lenders. The Government’s recent action plan for financial inclusion announced a commitment by the banks—building on successful work in partnership with Government to increase take-up of basic bank accounts, and their support for other financial inclusion initiatives—to support third sector affordable credit. This will include action to develop new provision in 25 high priority areas identified by the Financial Inclusion Task-force; the Government will work with the banks to identify areas most suitable for action.


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Fuel Poverty

Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans his Department has to reduce fuel poverty in Scotland; and what account he has taken of the Scottish House Condition Survey in developing such plans. [177114]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have the lead responsibility for the reduction of fuel poverty, although DWP works very closely with them to ensure that as many households as possible receive help. This is a Government priority and we are taking action throughout the UK to maximise benefit take-up and improve joined up working with the energy suppliers and across Government.

We are currently undertaking a fuel poverty partnership pilot with the energy industry. This targets 250,000 pensioners in receipt of pension credit throughout England, Scotland and Wales, which aims to increase the take-up of energy efficiency measures and Warm Front grants. In Scotland, 16,500 recipients of pension credit will be contacted. This is just one of a range of activities designed to tackle fuel poverty as part of the cross government ‘Keep Warm Keep Well’ initiative.

With reference to the Scottish House Condition Survey, the Fifth Annual Progress Report of the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy, published in December 2007 by DBERR and supported by DWP, draws on the data from that report.

Health and Safety Executive: Finance

Paul Rowen: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the effect of future funding plans for the Health and Safety Executive on its ability to perform its role. [173795]

Mrs. McGuire: The Department is currently discussing funding for the 2007 spending review period with the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. As part of this process, Ministers have asked HSC/E to maintain front-line inspector numbers for the next spending period, at least at the March 2008 level. HSC/E has been asked to prepare a business plan for my approval which sets out how they will perform their role. HSC/E’s final spending settlement will be announced in the new year.

Jobcentre Plus: Computer Software

Dr. Pugh: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for what reason the personal benefit advice software provided by Jobcentre Plus is compatible with MS Windows platforms only. [174090]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The personal benefit advice software essentially mirrors that of the Department of Work and Pensions’ own networked better off calculator which is available to staff, primarily within Jobcentre Plus.


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The better off calculator has been developed for use on the Department’s standard operating platform which, along with the personal benefit advice software, is MS Windows.

Jobseeker's Allowance

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether claimants may receive jobseeker's allowance for more than 18 months as a result of single claim; and if he will make a statement. [173900]

Mr. Plaskitt: Yes. Since May 1997, the number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance for 18 months and over has fallen from 292,700 to 29,900 in November 2007.

Pensions: Financial Assistance Scheme

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the written ministerial statement of 17 December 2007, Official Report, columns 100-02WS, on Financial Assistance Scheme, whether the level of compensation in the amended Financial Assistance Scheme will be identical to that offered by the Pension Protection Fund. [175719]

Mr. Mike O'Brien [holding answer 7 January 2008]: The assistance provided by the financial assistance scheme will be broadly comparable in value to that provided by the Pension Protection Fund, though not identical. Because FAS pension schemes started winding up under the regulatory framework and individual pension scheme rules that predate the PPF, and as many FAS schemes will already have bought annuities for members as part of the winding up process, there will inevitably be differences in the structure of assistance provided. In practice, we believe that for the majority of beneficiaries these differences will not be substantial.

Social Security Benefits

Mr. Byers: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much was unclaimed in means-tested benefits in each of the last five years. [179146]

Mr. Plaskitt: Estimates of unclaimed means-tested benefits are available in the DWP publication series entitled “Income Related Benefits Estimates of Take-up”. Copies of the latest publication, plus past reports, can be found in the Library.

Communities and Local Government

Housing: York

13. Hugh Bayley: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if the Minister for Housing will visit York to discuss the city's housing needs. [178397]

Yvette Cooper: Yes.


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Councillors: Diversity

14. Nia Griffith: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what progress has been made in increasing the number of councillors who are women or from ethnic minorities. [178398]

Mr. Dhanda: We set up the Councillors Commission to examine how a wider range of people, especially from under-represented groups like women and ethnic minorities, can be encouraged to become councillors. The Commission has published its findings in December and we will respond to their recommendations this spring.

Young People: Local Authority Decision Making

15. Sarah McCarthy-Fry: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will improve opportunities for the involvement of young people in decision-making by local authorities. [178399]

Hazel Blears: My Department is deeply committed to increasing opportunities for all people, including young people to be involved in decision-making by local authorities. Our ambitions to widen and deepen these opportunities are set out in our Community Empowerment Action Plan published in October 2007, which is jointly owned by the Local Government Association.

Home Information Packs

16. Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what provisions the Government have put in place for the regular review of the effect of home information packs on the housing market. [178400]

Yvette Cooper: An independent report by Europe Economics on the impact of home information packs on the market was published by my Department on 22 November. The Government continue to monitor the impact of home information packs.

Community Land Trusts

17. Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what additional help she plans to make available to encourage the setting up of community land trusts. [178401]

Yvette Cooper: We are supporting 14 pilots for community land trusts through the Housing Corporation by:

Council Housing

18. Ms Keeble: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what steps she plans to take to improve the quality of council housing. [178402]


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Yvette Cooper: In 2001 we introduced the decent homes standard, which for the first time set minimum standard, for all council housing in England, we have already reduced the number of non-decent social sector homes by over one million.

By 2010 over £40 billion will have been invested in improvements to social housing and work will have been completed to over 3.6 million social-sector homes, with improvements for 8 million people in total, including 2.5 million children.

Energy-Efficient Homes

19. Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what recent discussions she has had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on steps to improve domestic energy efficiency. [178403]

Mr. Iain Wright: Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has a wide range of mutually reinforcing policies and programmes in place aimed at improving domestic energy efficiency. Discussions are held at ministerial and official level on a regular basis. Both Departments will be jointly launching a green homes strategy which will include what Government is doing to reduce emissions from the domestic sector.

Local Government Funding

20. Greg Mulholland: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will make a statement on the local government finance settlement for 2008-09. [178404]

John Healey: The provisional local government finance settlement was announced on 6 December 2007. The ensuing consultation on Government's proposals has now closed, and the House will have the opportunity to debate the Government's proposals in due course.


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