The Minister for Trade, Development and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Gareth Thomas): The following statement provides information on the EU Informal Competitiveness Council which took place in Prague on 5 May 2009, at which my official Claire Durkin, director of Europe International Trade and Development at BERR, represented the UK.
The meeting started with the Commission presenting a paper on lessons learned from the 2004 EU enlargement and the future of the EU internal market. The Commission suggested that the priorities for improving the EU single market and responding to the economic crisis were services (implementation of the services directive), intellectual property (agreement on Community patent and a single patent court) and completing the interconnection of the EUs network industries (telecommunications, postal services, energy and transport sectors).
In discussion, member states agreed with these three priorities and that the single market was essential for EU economic recovery and growth. In addition, several member states highlighted the importance of avoiding protectionism and better implementation of single market legislation. All member states agreed that EU enlargement since 2004 had brought positive benefits to the EU. Member states suggested that future EU developments should be an increased focus on skills, innovation, the low-carbon economy, promoting EU standards externally, more cross-border internet sales, boosting consumer and social benefits, or delivering concrete achievements, such as a Community patent.
The UK agreed with the forward looking suggestions by the Commission and other member states. We stressed the need for the EU to be at the high-end of the value chain, noting in particular business opportunities in low-carbon, digital and services. We also pointed out that the UK is the sixth largest manufacturing country in the world and that we wanted the single market to work equally well for the manufacturing sector. In addition, we welcomed the Larosiere report on EU financial supervision and called for an integrated approach to better regulation and enforcement of EU single market rules.
The Commission also presented a paper on the EU better regulation programme and invited member states to share best practice from national programmes. Most member states were supportive of the EU action programme on administrative burden reductions. Several member states wanted the action programme to take account of new and amending regulations. Member states also wanted better impact assessments on Commission administrative burden reduction proposals. The UK
representative stressed the need for co-operation and dialogue between member states on better regulation policies and for stronger EU impact assessments. We also suggested that the EU services directive should be an exemplar for EU legislation and that its implementation by the end of 2009 was important for EUs future competitiveness.
The UK strongly supported the Commissions proposal to allow member states the option to exempt micro-entities (companies with ten or fewer employees and less than €1 million turnover) from the EU accounting directives, which would bring major cost savings for the EUs smallest businesses. Germany, Denmark and Romania also stated their support for the proposal.
The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): In March 2008 the Government asked the Low Pay Commission to produce their next report on the national minimum wage by the end of February 2009. Due to the exceptional economic circumstances the Low Pay Commission asked the Government for more time to produce their report to allow them to take into account more recent economic data when making their recommendations. The Government granted this request and asked the Low Pay Commission to report by 1 May 2009. I would like to thank the Commissioners for all their hard work.
The main recommendations put forward by the Low Pay Commission concern the rates of the minimum wage. The Commission have recommended that the adult hourly rate of the minimum wage should increase from £5.73 to £5.80. The Commission have recommended increasing the development rate, which covers workers aged 18 to 21-year-olds, from £4.77 to £4.83. They have recommended that the rate for 16 to 17-year-olds moves from £3.53 to £3.57. It is recommended that these changes take place in October 2009.
In addition, the Government accept the Commissions recommendations that a policy of naming and shaming be implemented for those employers who show wilful disregard for national minimum wage; accept that 21-year-olds should be moved on to the adult rate of the national minimum wage; accepts that commissioning policies of local authorities in respect of social care reflect the true cost of care provision including national minimum wage; and accepts that consideration should be given to tackling non-payment of minimum wage in the informal economy.
The Government note the Commissions recommendations that they wish to explore a national minimum wage rate for apprentices and that more resource should be dedicated to increase the number of prosecutions.
The Government accept that 21-year-old should be entitled to the adult rate of minimum wage. However, as employment for young people is particularly vulnerable in an economic downturn, this change will be implemented from October 2010.
We recommend that the Government ask the Low Pay Commission, as part of the work for its 2010 report, to consider the detailed arrangements for an apprentice minimum wage under the national minimum wage framework, and to recommend the rate and arrangements that should replace the existing exemptions, together with the timing for its introduction.
We recognise the central role that apprentices play in developing skills in our economy. This is reflected in the Governments target of 250,000 people a year starting an apprenticeship in England by 2020 and our commitment that one in five young people will be on an apprenticeship by 2013.
We recognise the importance of the role that criminal prosecution plays in enforcing the NMW. Prosecutions are focused on cases that will do most to promote compliance with the law by deterring employers who deliberately disregard NMW requirements, and the Employment Act 2008 strengthened HMRCs ability to investigate suspected NMW offences. We will keep our approach to NMW enforcement under review to ensure that we have the most effective balance of civil and criminal enforcement activities.
Although this is not part of the LPCs recommendations, the Government announced last year that we would change the regulations to stop the practice of tips being used to make up the NMW. We intend to proceed with this change in October alongside the LPC recommendations.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): On 26 January, I announced to the House the first steps to deploy the Governments online directoryContactPoint. I can today provide an update on progress in delivering ContactPoint, and outline the next steps.
ContactPoint has been developed in response to a key recommendation of Lord Lamings inquiry into the tragic death of Victoria Climbié and is a vital tool designed to help keep children safe. In order to protect children it is crucial to ensure that the right agencies are involved at the right time and to improve the sharing of information between practitioners. ContactPoint will also help practitioners to improve outcomes for all children. It is a tool for practitioners to support better communication among practitioners working with children and young people across education, health, social care and youth offending services in the statutory and voluntary sectors. It will provide a quick way for those practitioners to find out who else is working with the same child or young person and ensure their best interests are promoted.
Under current arrangements, if a practitioner believes that a child is at risk or may need additional support, for example if they have a disability, they may have no way of knowing whether other services have been, or are already in contact with that child. In addressing these issues, the Government estimate that ContactPoint, when fully operational, can save at least 5 million hours of professionals time, currently spent trying to track down who else, if anyone, is helping the child. Supporting professionals in this way is an important element of the plan of action I announced last week in response to Lord Lamings report on child protection. Lord Laming said in that report: The new ContactPoint system will have particular advantages in reducing the possibility of children for whom there are concerns going unnoticed.
Since January, important progress has been made. Seventeen early adopter local authorities in the north west of England, along with leading national charities, Barnardos and KIDS, now have trained management teams in preparation for practitioners to start to use the system. At the same time, as part of the extensive ContactPoint security arrangements, local authorities have shielded the records of children who are potentially at greater risk if their whereabouts were to become known, to provide an additional layer of security, (for example, if a child is fleeing domestic violence or is under witness protection, or in some cases where children have been adopted). Approximately 52,000 records have now been shielded on ContactPoint.
Building on this work, we will continue to take an incremental and steady approach to delivery. We are now moving ahead with the second phase of delivery. From 18 May, and over a period of several weeks, ContactPoint early adopters will train around 800 practitioners to use ContactPoint. They have been hand-picked to ensure they reflect the broad range of professionals working for childrens services organisations who will use ContactPoint when the directory is fully rolled out. We will carefully monitor the activity of those practitioners considering what further improvements may be required in the light of their experience of using the system.
Throughout this second phase, we will continue to evaluate the experience of early adopters. This will ensure that the deployment of ContactPoint continues to take account of the experience of new users in the next stages of delivery.
ContactPoint continues to be supported by major childrens organisations, such as NSPCC, Barnardos, Action for Children and KIDS, teachers unions including NASUWT, as well as the Association of Chief Police Officers, the British Association of Social Workers, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Childrens Inter-Agency Group whose members include the LGA and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I have today published a Consultation Paper, Park Home Site LicensingImproving the Management of Park Home Sites, that proposes the introduction of an improved park home site licensing system.
Licensing of park home sites is currently governed by the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (the 1960 Act), but the existing site licensing regime does not fully meet the needs of this part of the housing sector. Authorities in general are obliged to grant licences to anyone owning a park home site regardless of their suitability and cannot impose any condition relating to its management. Some sites are therefore run by
unscrupulous or incompetent persons, and residents rights and expectation are often not met, some becoming victims of exploitation and intimidation.
The Government want a thriving and well run sector that provides sites where people want to live. We want a licensing system that raises and maintains standards on sites and ensures they are safe, well planned and properly managed with appropriate facilities and services to meet the needs of residents.
The consultation builds upon decisions about proposals taken following an earlier consultation in 2005 and sets out for further consideration how the new licensing system might look. Persons engaged in the management of park home sites will need to demonstrate they have the relevant competences to manage sites. The new system will give local authorities duties to impose management conditions in licences and a range of enforcement tools to ensure that site licensing conditions are complied with. It will also allow local authorities to recover their costs in connection with their duties under the new provisions by charging appropriate fees. The proposals are intended to drive up the management standards in this sector and, in those parts of it where that is not possible, we intend to give local authorities powers to put alternative management arrangements in place.
I have also today published a paper setting out the Governments response to the May 2008 consultation A new approach for resolving disputes and to proceedings relating to Park Homes under the Mobile Homes Act 1983 (as amended). The paper sets out the Governments intention to transfer the jurisdiction on appeals and applications under the Mobile Homes Act 1983 from county courts to Residential Property Tribunals. The paper also includes a short consultation on additional protections for residents subject to proceedings in relation to the termination of their agreements following on from the previous consultation.
The aim of the transfer of the jurisdiction is to provide residents of mobile homes (including caravans) and the owners of sites on which they are located with a level playing field in the resolution of disputes, by providing access to a dedicated, low-cost specialist (housing) tribunal, which can deal with cases quickly and without the parties needing to be legally represented.
Park home residents and the sector more widely will benefit from the introduction of these proposals and will build upon work already done to assist and support residents and others with an interest in park homes. This also includes the recent publication of four new fact-sheets giving key information and basic guidance about commonly raised issues concerning park home sites.
The consultation on site licensing runs until 4 August 2009, and on the additional protections in relation to termination of agreements until 9 June 2009. Both publications have been placed in the Library of the House.
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