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10 July 2008 : Column 1758W

Railways: Luton Airport

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment she has made of the effect on local communities of the decision to discontinue through train services from Tulse Hill and Herne Hill stations to (a) Luton Airport and (b) Bedford. [217148]

Mr. Tom Harris [holding answer 8 July 2008] : Network Rail’s South London Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS), which was published in March 2008, concluded that, when the Thameslink Project is completed in December 2015, it will not be operationally robust for services from the Herne Hill direction to run north of Blackfriars.

However, there is a great deal more to be done by way of assessments of options and modelling work before this conclusion is confirmed.

Railways: Rolling Stock

Mrs. James: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made in the development of a successor to British Rail Class 43 Power Units and associated C3 rolling stock in the last 12 months. [217719]

Mr. Tom Harris: The IEP (Intercity Express Programme) is progressing to schedule, and significant progress has been made over the last 12 months. A notice was placed in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) in March 2007. From the responses, companies were selected as suitable bidders, and an invitation to tender was issued in November 2007. The bids from manufacturers in response to this invitation to tender were received last week. Detailed assessment of these bids will now be undertaken and it is hoped that the successful bidder will be announced in 2009.

Railways: Rural Areas

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what assessment she has made of the effects of reopening rural railway lines on tourism and the wider economy in rural areas; [217829]

(2) what assessment she has made of the effect on levels of carbon dioxide emissions of reopening rural railway lines. [217830]

Mr. Tom Harris: The Government’s priorities for the rail network were set out in the White Paper, “Delivering a Sustainable Railway” in July 2007. This recognised the economic and social benefits of regional and rural lines but did not envisage reopening any lines in the period to 2014. For this reason, the Government have not sponsored work on the benefits of reopening rural rail routes.

The Government are aware of locally sponsored work in a number of areas and would be willing to consider reopenings when they offer good value and can be funded.

In line with Government appraisal requirements, we would expect any work on a reopening to assess the consequent environmental impacts including the effect
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on carbon dioxide emissions and the wider economic impacts including impacts on tourism where appropriate.

Transport: Exhaust Emissions

Lembit Öpik: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how much her Department has allocated to fund the transport advice element of (a) the green homes project and (b) the Act on CO2 advice line for 2008-09. [217244]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Department has allocated £1 million of funding in 2008-09 for the Energy Saving Trust's (EST) transport consumer advice programme (which supports advice taken from the motoring strand of the Government's ACT ON CO2 campaign). This advice is delivered via the EST advice centres and green homes project.

The Department has separately allocated £5 million in 2008-09 for the motoring strands of the ACT ON CO2 marketing campaign, to provide drivers with tips and advice on how to reduce their fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and purchase more fuel efficient new cars. This is primarily delivered via radio and TV advertising, website advice (including car rankings in association with WhatCar?), partnership marketing and, later this month, direct engagement with the public at the British Motorshow.

Work and Pensions

Council Tax

Jenny Willott: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the maximum (a) percentage and (b) cash deduction from a benefit payment for a failure to pay council tax is; and if he will make a statement; [216064]

(2) what the average deduction made from benefits was in respect of claimants who had not paid their council tax in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement. [216065]

Mr. Plaskitt: For income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance and pension credit, the prescribed amount that can be deducted for council tax arrears is 5 per cent. of the personal allowance for a single person aged 25 or over; currently £3.05.

For contribution-based jobseeker's allowance, where if it were not in payment there would be entitlement to income-based jobseeker's allowance of at least the same rate, the prescribed amount is 5 per cent. of the personal allowance for a single person aged 25 or over; currently £3.05. Where there would not be an underlying entitlement to income-based jobseeker's allowance, the prescribed amount is one third of the appropriate age related amount, rounded down to the nearest penny.

The average weekly deduction for council tax is in the following table.


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Average weekly deductions for council tax from benefits as at August each year; in Great Britain
£
Income support Pension credit Jobseeker's allowance

2002

2.69

2.70

2003

2.73

2.75

2004

2.78

2.78

2.79

2005

2.83

2.84

2.85

2006

2.89

2.88

2.90

2007

2.98

2.97

2.99

Notes:
1. Amounts are rounded to the nearest penny.
2. Pension credit replaced income support—minimum income guarantee on 6 October 2003.
Source:
DWP Information Directorate five per cent. sample.

Crisis Loans

Jenny Willott: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the average time was for decisions to be taken on crisis loan applications in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement. [214966]

Mr. Plaskitt: The information requested is in the following table.

Crisis loan applications in Great Britain
Average actual clearance time (working days)

2003-04

1.3

2004-05

1.3

2005-06

1.4

2006-07

1.5

2007-08

1.7

Notes:
1. The clearance time for an individual crisis loan application is measured in whole working days from the date the application is received until the date the decision is taken on whether to make a loan offer, plus, if a loan offer is made, the number of whole working days between receiving the applicant’s reply to the offer and the recording of that reply. The minimum clearance time recorded for an individual crisis loan application is one working day, even if the application is cleared immediately.
2. Numbers are based on applications cleared in each year, not on applications received during that year.
Source:
DWP Social Fund Policy, Budget and Management Information System

Debts

Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department is taking to assist benefit recipients with personal debt management. [217036]

Mr. Plaskitt: DWP advisers provide benefit recipients with impartial information and guidance, signposting customers to free face-to-face money advice (offered by Citizens Advice and other money advice organisations) where this is appropriate.

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) fund the face-to-face debt advice project, employing around 500 debt advisers, that is targeted at geographical areas and/or social groups both characterised by high financial exclusion. This will include benefit recipients.


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Employment

David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment his Department has made of the link between a productive working life and health in the formulation of policy; and what assessment he has made of the effects on public health of a mandatory retirement age. [213606]

Mrs. McGuire: We commissioned an independent evidence review of the links between health and work. Published in 2006, the ‘Is work good for your health and well-being?’ evidence review highlighted the positive links between health and work. This evidence has helped shape the Health Work and Well-being Strategy, a cross-government initiative which includes this Department, the Department of Health, the Health and Safety Executive and the health departments of the devolved administrations, which seeks to help people who have a health condition or disability remain in or quickly return to work. One result of the strategy was the commissioning of Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work, to carry out a review of the health of the working age population. The review, ‘Working for a healthier tomorrow’ was published in March and highlighted the challenges around health and productive working lives. The Government are currently considering Dame Carol's recommendations and will respond formally in the autumn.

There is no national mandatory retirement age. In October 2006, the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations introduced a default retirement age of 65 and gave people the right to request the option of working longer. Employers do not have to use the default age of 65. They can choose a higher age, or remove their retirement age altogether. Some, including this Department, have chosen not to have a compulsory retirement age.

Government policy is to encourage individuals to continue in employment as long as they choose to do so and are capable of meeting the requirements of their employment which will include consideration of any health issues. Research shows that the three main reasons given by older people for working after state pension age are because they enjoy their job/working; they want to improve their finances and they want to keep fit and active. Giving people the choice to work up to and beyond state pension age is critical to ensuring the economic prosperity of our society in terms of health, work and pensions.

Our Age Positive initiative promotes to employers the business benefits of employing older people as part of a mixed age workforce and seeks to change the outmoded ageist views that some employers still have. Research indicates that generally there is no reduction in productivity in most jobs before the age of 70. Individuals are free to choose to retire where they have health concerns.

Financial Assistance Scheme

Jenny Willott: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many and what proportion of those eligible for assistance under the Financial Assistance Scheme have received such assistance; and if he will make a statement. [216552]


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Mr. Mike O'Brien: As at 27 June 2008, 6,350 people are receiving payments from FAS. A further 1,001 have been assessed and will be paid as soon as they confirm their personal details.

Of the 715 schemes currently qualified for FAS, trustees in 511 (71 per cent.) have provided information on eligible members. We continue to work urgently with trustees and administrators to obtain data on any eligible members in the remaining schemes.

We expect that up to 160 additional schemes will became eligible once the regulations currently before Parliament come into force. We are working with trustees in these schemes to progress their qualification as quickly as possible.

Food

Mr. Paice: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how much was spent by his Department on (a) food and (b) food of British origin in each of the last five years; [214877]

(2) from which five countries of origin the greatest amount of food was procured by his Department in the last year for which figures are available; and what the (a) cost and (b) quantity procured was in each case. [214878]

Mrs. McGuire: Details of expenditure by the Department on food, and food of British origin, is only held for the last three complete years and is provided in the following table. The Department's spend on food is solely that required to provide hospitality for meetings and purchased through the Contract with Land Securities Trillium. It does not reflect local expenditure on food as the information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Information for the two years prior to 2005 and in relation to the cost and quantity of food purchased in relation to country of origin is not readily available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

£ million
Total expenditure on food Expenditure on food of British origin

2005

0.86

0.22

2006

0.91

0.26

2007

1.05

0.37


In 2007, DEFRA published a report on the proportion of domestically produced food used by Government Departments for the period 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2007. The report is published on the PSFPI website at:

DEFRA proposes again to publish data by the end of 2008 on the proportion of domestically produced food used by Government Departments. This report will include the value of contracts let for food and catering contracts (including the value of food provided under the catering contracts) which should allow calculations to be made. It will not however identify countries of origin.


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Jobseeker's Allowance: Voluntary Work

Tom Levitt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what advice Jobcentre Plus officers give to jobseeker's allowance claimants on their freedom to undertake in volunteering activities whilst claiming benefits. [215930]

Mr. Plaskitt: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Lesley Strathie, dated 10 July 2008:


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