|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 8 October, the Government announced new support to local authorities to enable them to freeze council tax and keep taxpayers' bills down for the third year running. Freezing bills again will really help hard-working families and those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners with their cost of living.
The Government will set aside an extra £450 million to help freeze council tax bills in England. The support for local authorities means that taxpayers living in an average band D home in England could save up to £72 compared to a 5% rise in council tax.
The £450 million will be made available, through a new grant scheme, to local authorities which decide to freeze or reduce their council tax next year. If they do, councils, police and fire authorities in England will stand to receive £225 million of funding in both financial years 2013-14 and 2014-15, equivalent to raising their 2012-13 council tax by 1%. Funding will also be provided to devolved Administrations as a Barnett consequential.
Over the past two years the Government have provided grants of around £2 billion to help freeze council tax. A freeze in council tax in 2013-14 would represent a real terms cut of around 2% and a fall of 9% in real terms over the past three years.
For 2013-14, the Government will propose to lower the local authority tax referendum threshold to 2%, to protect against excessive council tax rises. My department will set out further detail on the excessiveness principles in due course; the final principles are subject to the approval of the House of Commons.
On 21 September, the community right to bid, created by the historic Localism Act, came into force, allowing communities to stop the clock on the sale of valuable local assets, giving them time to put in a takeover bid and preserve assets for the benefit of the community.
This new right gives voluntary and community organisations and parish councils the opportunity to nominate an asset to be included on a list of assets of community value, pausing the sale of a successfully
15 Oct 2012 : Column WS160
On 5 October, my department launched a new community shares unit to help local people claim a stake in, and become part-owners of, treasured local assets and services. The new unit aims to grow the community shares market with the ambition of launching over 200 share issues over the next three years.
On 8 October, my department confirmed that the troubled families programme is on schedule to meet the Prime Minister's pledge to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families by 2015. Over 40,000 claims have been made for upfront attachment fees worth over £100 million as part of the groundbreaking payment-by-results programme, meaning councils are committed to working with one-third of families in the first year of the three-year programme.
Under the deal with local authorities, Government will pay councils up to £4,000 per eligible family if they reduce truancy, youth crime and anti-social behaviour or put parents back into work. The Government's £448 million three-year budget is drawn from across seven departments in a bid to join up local services dealing with these families on the front line.
The proposals will allow councils greater freedom to choose when to use temporary stop notices in relation to caravans which are used as main residences and are in breach of planning control and any person guilty of this offence is liable to a fine of up to £20,000 (or unlimited on conviction on indictment).
Under the current system councils are constrained as to when they can use these powers against caravans which are main residences. A small minority have sought to abuse the planning system; this proposal will assist local councils in taking immediate effective action and enable them to safeguard their local area from the emergence of unauthorised sites. A technical consultation on these proposals will be published in due course.
On 27 September, my department published statistics that show bringing thousands of empty properties back into use has unlocked over £63 million of additional funding that is directly benefiting local communities through the successful new homes bonus scheme.
In total, local authorities have brought nearly 38,000 long-term empty homes back into use over the past two years-helping to tackle the housing shortage and providing a roof over the heads of hard-working families across the country.
On 28 September, my department confirmed nearly £1 billion to 41 councils over the next two years to bring over 86,000 homes up to a decent living standard
15 Oct 2012 : Column WS161
We are determined to help people meet their aspirations for a home of their own and to help first-time buyers take their first step on to the property ladder. The FirstBuy scheme has proved a huge success, with developers reporting more than 8,000 reservations by the end of August this year.
On 11 October, my department announced that £40 million will go to 41 developers to help 2,500 first-time buyers this year. This is the first allocation from a £280 million pot to extend the FirstBuy scheme, which is set to help a total of 27,000 first-time buyers.
Since its designation as a new town in 1967, Milton Keynes has been subject to central government involvement. On 2 October my department announced proposals to transfer planning functions, currently undertaken by the Homes and Communities Agency, back to Milton Keynes council. This will enable the council to plan more strategically in the area and allow local residents to have a greater say in how that land is developed.
The department has made a major contribution to the redevelopment of the Olympic Park and surrounding areas in east London. On 1 October, the London Legacy Development Corporation was given powers to become the local planning authority for this area, with the planning decisions team of the Olympic Delivery Authority and two planning staff from the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation. The London Legacy Development Corporation is now fully equipped to secure the regeneration of its area-its mandate under the Government's Localism Act 2011.
On 4 October, my department announced £12 million to preserve and protect the world heritage site at Ironbridge Gorge. My department will pay a total of £2.2 million during 2012-14 for the stabilisation of Ironbridge Gorge and provide a further fund of up to £9.8 million in 2014-15, subject to approvals.
Each year the Ironbridge Gorge draws in over half a million tourists from near and far to the area and pumps £20 million into the economies of Telford and Wrekin and the wider Shropshire area. Funding will be used to preserve the site which is under threat from landslides and slippage that could damage and even destroy the historic site and tourist industry it supports.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I, on 11 October, the Prime Minister announced that my department, alongside the Department for Education, would invest £5.3 million to give pupils and teachers from every maintained secondary school
15 Oct 2012 : Column WS162
This flagship scheme, part of the centenary education programme, will allow pupils to learn at first hand about the sacrifices made by troops and help ensure that this significant aspect of our history and the impact it had on our nation's culture and heritage is passed on for generations to come. A procurement process will be run to decide on a single tour operator before the visits start in spring 2014, running until spring 2019.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My right honourable friend the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans (Mark Francois) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
HMS "Caroline" is considered to be the second most important ship in the UK National Maritime collection after HMS "Victory"; she is the only surviving veteran afloat of the Battle of Jutland (1916). The ship is a significant example of early 20th century engineering and shipbuilding, constructed of riveted steel plate with three-inch belt armour reducing to one inch at the keel. Laid down on 28 January 1914 at Camel Lairds yard in Birkenhead, she was commissioned into active service on 17 December of that year making her the fastest built major warship to date. She was propelled by two Parson's steam turbine engines which remain onboard as the world's only in situ example of the engines which revolutionised maritime propulsion. HMS "Caroline" has been moored in Belfast since January 1924, just over two years after the state of Northern Ireland was established and she has built a considerable social history as a witness to the Province's story. As a depot ship and Royal Naval Reserve training ship she has benefited from continual occupation and some 85% of the vessel is in its original form.
The contents of the ship known as the Caroline collection were the subject of a separate gift (valued at less than £250,000) made in July 2011. The National Museum has already assumed responsibility for ongoing running costs of the ship. Following the gift, the NMRN intends to apply for Heritage Lottery funding in order to restore the ship as a heritage attraction in Belfast.
The proposed transfer would enable the National Museum of the Royal Navy to access external funding sources in order to restore and preserve this historically significant ship as a heritage attraction in its current
15 Oct 2012 : Column WS163
The detailed arrangements proposed envisage that the National Museum of the Royal Navy would assume responsibility for the restoration and preservation of the ship. I expect the new arrangements to be in place by 1 April 2013.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Immigration (Mark Harper) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Syrians in the UK with valid leave (or leave which has expired within the past 28 days) will be able to apply to extend their stay, or switch into a different category from within the UK (with some restrictions) rather than being required to return home first. Those applying would need to meet the requirements of the relevant visa category, pay the appropriate fee, and adhere to the normal conditions of that category-no access to public funds, for example. If a required document is not accessible due to the civil unrest in Syria UKBA may apply its discretion and the requirement to provide that document may be waived where appropriate.
These concessions will remain in force for five months from today. The Government continue to monitor the situation in Syria closely in order to ensure our response is appropriate and that any emerging risks are addressed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): In the 2010 Spending Review, the Government announced plans to localise council tax benefit and this is being taken forward through the Local Government Finance Bill currently before Parliament. From April 2013, these reforms will localise council tax support and give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people back into work.
These reforms contribute to the Government's deficit reduction programme, delivering savings of £470 million a year of taxpayers' money in Great Britain from 2013-14. Welfare reform is vital to tackle the budget
15 Oct 2012 : Column WS164
Localisation will give local authorities the flexibility to design council tax support schemes for working age claimants in their area. We have been clear that councils have the scope to help manage the impact of the reduction in council tax support funding through securing sensible savings. To help the transition to these changes, my department has already provided £30 million of funding to help councils draw up local support schemes.
There is a real incentive for councils to make savings in the new localised system from cutting fraud and error, where an estimated £200 million was paid out unnecessarily in 2011-12. However, we appreciate that these savings may not be delivered immediately in the first year.
Consequently, to further assist the transition process, my department is today announcing an additional £100 million of funding for councils to help support them in developing well-designed council tax support schemes and maintain positive incentives to work. This is new and additional funding for local government.
As councils draw up their local schemes, it is clear that many are delivering savings using their local flexibilities and discretion, without unfairly increasing the burden on those who are currently on benefits. Equally, there are some councils which are asking for very large additional contributions from those on benefits.
The new £100 million transition grant will seek to encourage best practice. The voluntary grant will be available to councils (billing and major precepting authorities) who choose to design their local schemes so that:those who would be on 100% support under current council tax benefit arrangements pay between zero and no more than 8.5% of their council tax liability; the taper rate does not increase above 25%; andthere is no sharp reduction in support for those entering work-for claimants currently entitled to less than 100% support, the taper will be applied to an amount at least equal to their maximum eligible award.
In allowing flexibility over aspects of the scheme, we would not expect local authorities to impose large additional increases in non-dependant deductions. Councils will rightly want to avoid collecting small payments, and it may consequently be better value for money for councils to avoid designing schemes which seek to do so.
The amount of funding for which councils will be eligible to apply and the timescales and process for making an application will be published shortly. We anticipate that councils will make applications after 31 January 2013, and that funding will be paid in March 2013. The grant will be a simple one, easy to apply for and swiftly paid out, to help those councils who choose to do the right thing.
The Government have a clear goal in tackling the deficit, and reducing spending on benefits. This measured, transitional approach will help deliver an important programme of welfare reform, while still protecting taxpayers' broader interests.
On Wednesday 3 October 2012, I announced the cancellation of the InterCity West Coast franchise procurement following the discovery of significant technical flaws in the way the franchise process was conducted by the Department for Transport.
I immediately ordered two independent investigations to be undertaken urgently. The first, led by Sam Laidlaw, who is the chief executive of Centrica, lead non-executive on procurement across the Government and lead non-executive member of the departmental board, is examining what happened during the west coast procurement and why, with the aim of establishing the lessons to be learnt. The second review, led by Richard Brown, chairman of Eurostar, is focusing on any lessons to be learnt for the upcoming franchising programme.
I also announced, that the ongoing franchising programme should be paused, pending the outcome of the two investigations. This included pausing the live competitions on Essex Thameside, Great Western and Thameslink.
This morning at 7 am, I have made a further announcement to the London Stock Exchange, that the Department for Transport is commencing negotiations with Virgin Rail Group with a view to it remaining as operator of passenger services for the west coast main line for a short period, of around nine to 13 months while we run a competition for an interim franchise agreement. This interim agreement, which would be open to any bidders, will then run until a new long term west coast franchise is ready to commence.
This agreement was negotiated between HM Treasury and Ireland and originally signed on 22 December 2010 following enactment of the Loans to Ireland Act, which received Royal Assent on 21 December 2010.
Parliament will be aware that in July 2011, following the euro area's commitment to lower the interest rate on its loans to Ireland, the Chancellor committed in principle to lower the interest rate on the UK's bilateral loan to Ireland. The Chancellor took the view that the UK had been unable to lower the interest rate on its loan to Ireland before that point without effectively subsidising the higher interest rates applicable to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). Changing
15 Oct 2012 : Column WS166
The UK's loan agreement has now been revised to reflect this change in the interest rate, in which the UK has more than covered its costs of funds. The new rate that will apply to each tranche of the loan represents the UK's cost of funds plus a service fee of 0.18 percentage points per annum. The UK's cost of funding is defined as the weighted average yield on gilt issuance in the six months prior to the disbursement of a tranche.
The new interest rate will apply retrospectively to those tranches of the loan already disbursed, to ensure Ireland receives the full benefit of the lower rate. The rates, which apply to the tranches already disbursed on 14 October 2011, 30 January 2012, 28 March 2012 and 1 August 2012, are 3.373%, 2.559%, 2.546%, and 2.534% respectively.
The revised loan agreement also contains further minor amendments, which include taking account of changes made to Ireland's agreements with other financial support facilities. These amendments maintain the effect of the provisions in clause 7 of the original bilateral loan agreement, on pre-payment and cancellation of the loan.
The majority of Her Majesty's functions in respect of which she receives advice from a Minister of the Crown relate to the making of appointments and the use of the royal prerogative. Her Majesty receives advice from the Secretary of State for Wales in respect of the exercise of her functions in relation to Wales. By convention, the Secretary of State for Wales has taken the advice of the Welsh Ministers in areas which are devolved in Wales before advising Her Majesty.
Following a formal request from the First Minister of Wales, the Secretary of State for Wales and I (as Lord President of the Council) have agreed that the First Minister of Wales will henceforth advise Her Majesty in respect of the exercise of her functions which are within devolved areas of competence.
The First Minister of Wales will advise Her Majesty so long as the officeholder is a member of the Privy Council. The Secretary of State for Wales will continue to advise Her Majesty in respect of her other functions in relation to Wales.
No formal order is required to give effect to the new arrangements. However an amendment to Section 19(6) of the Education Act 2005 will be required to allow the First Minister to advise Her Majesty on the appointment of the Chief Inspector and Inspectors of Education and Training in Wales. The UK Government will work with the Welsh Government to effect this change.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|