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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 7 January 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

"Going for Growth: Our Future Prosperity"

The Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr. Pat McFadden): My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills has made the following statement:


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Children, Schools and Families

School Revenue Balances (2008-09)

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The Department for Children, Schools and Families has today published information on the end of financial year revenue balances of all local authority maintained nursery, primary, secondary and special schools for the year 2008-09.

This information is presented alongside information on schools' revenue balances for the financial years 1999-2000 to 2007-08 published on 24 February 2009. The information is taken from local authorities' published section 52 outturn statements for the years in question but presents this in summary form. Copies of the information have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be accessible from the Department for Children, Schools and Families website, at:

Surplus balances totalled £1.92 billion and deficits £139 million at the end of 2008-09, giving net total revenue balances of £1.78 billion. This represents a decrease of £137 million or 7 per cent. compared to the position at the end of 2007-08. At school level, 91 per cent. of schools held a surplus balance, with 33 per cent. holding an excessive balance, defined in guidance from my Department as over 8 per cent. of budget for primary and special schools and over 5 per cent. of budget for secondary schools. Excessive surpluses totalled £495 million.

The Government welcome the fact that balances are coming down, and in particular that excessive balances are reducing, but the level of surplus held by some individual schools is too high. While it is clearly sound financial management for schools to retain a small surplus from year-to-year, we expect revenue funding to be used to support the education and well-being of pupils in school now. It is however important that schools spend their funds wisely while ensuring best value for money. Local authorities have the power to claw back excess, uncommitted surpluses and redistribute the proceeds back to local schools in consultation with schools forums.

Where a school is in deficit, it must agree a recovery plan with the local authority to eliminate the deficit, normally over three years.

As former Schools Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) made clear in his statement to the House on 24 February 2009, Official Report, column 15WS about school revenue balances for 2007-08, we expect schools and local authorities to work to reduce the level of balances by the end of 2010-11. If we do not see a substantial reduction of total revenue balances and in particular the excessive balances held by individual schools, the Government will consider further action from 2011-12 to bring the total down to ensure the funding is being spent on improving outcomes for children and young people.

In the meantime my Department continues to work with its partners to prepare further guidance for local authorities on the control of surplus balances.


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Culture, Media and Sport

Remote Gambling

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): On 30 April 2009, I announced that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Gambling Commission would undertake a review of the current system of remote gambling regulation in Great Britain focusing on consumer protection and ways to ensure that overseas operators contribute towards regulation, problem gambling treatment and the Horserace Betting Levy.

We have examined the way the system currently works, and explored the major regulatory changes taking place in Europe. Based on our findings, I have decided to consult on changing the existing system of remote gambling regulation in Britain so that all operators who want to target British consumers must be licensed by the Commission.

Under an extended remote gambling licensing system, all operators active in the British market would have to adhere to the Act's provisions, its secondary legislation and the Commission's standards and requirements. That would mean obligations to report suspicious betting activity to the Commission and UK sports bodies, as well as compliance with the Commission's software testing, age verification, self-exclusion, technical standards and social responsibility requirements bringing a more consistent level of protection for British consumers.

My proposals would also assist the Commission in effectively advising the Government about the gambling that takes place in Britain and ensure that it is properly funded for the regulatory work it already undertakes, such as test purchase exercises on overseas websites and dealing with public enquiries.

British gamblers form one of the largest customer bases for online gambling in the EU. Yet, for many reasons, increasingly few companies active in the British market are now regulated by the Commission. Though British consumers are not unprotected-most overseas jurisdictions have regulatory systems-standards vary and requirements differ from our own. Therefore, I feel that change is necessary to ensure the protections in the Gambling Act-to keep gambling crime free, to ensure gambling is fair and open, and to ensure that children and vulnerable people are protected from harm-continue to be afforded to British consumers.

These proposals would require legislative change to implement and there remain many complex issues to be considered; for example, how we can actively police an extended licensing system and keep burdens on industry to a minimum. We must also be mindful of wider issues of importance to the industry, such as taxation. But while tax does form part of the overall picture, it is right that we have focused exclusively on regulatory challenges. Taxation policy is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and though close liaison with HM Treasury will be essential in ensuring implications for taxation policy are properly considered, that need not prevent the regulatory proposals I have outlined being published for consultation.

The Department has also explored in some considerable detail the issues surrounding the application of the Horserace Betting Levy to overseas operators. I will be
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continuing this vital work-in conjunction with the levy board-with the intention of ensuring that all operators taking bets on British races pay to support British horseracing.

Defence

Grob Tutor (11-02-09) Service Inquiry

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): I wish to inform the House today of the findings of the Royal Air Force service inquiry into the accident involving two Grob Tutors operated by the RAF in South Wales on 11 February 2009. Tragically this crash resulted in the deaths of two air cadets, 14-year-old Katie-Jo Davies and her cousin 13-year-old Nikkita Walters, a volunteer reserve pilot Flying Officer Hylton Price (Wg Cdr Retd), and Flt Lt Andrew Marsh. Our deepest sympathies remain with their families and friends. I know that the RAF community was deeply saddened and shocked by this terrible accident.

The purpose of a service inquiry is to establish the circumstances of the loss and to learn lessons from it; it does not seek to apportion blame. The service inquiry was convened on the 12 February 2009 and has now presented its findings.

It found that on the morning of 11 February 2009 Grob Tutor G-BYUT and G-BYVN of the University of Wales Air Squadron (UWAS) No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) departed MOD St. Athan to conduct air experience flights (AEF) for the two cadets. Radar trace recordings show the flight path of both aircraft manoeuvring through different turns and heights until 10.46Z when both paths intersected and the crash occurred.

The service inquiry panel concluded that the cause of the accident was the controlled flight of both aircraft into the same airspace at the same time as a result of both aircraft captains being unaware of the position and proximity of the other aircraft. Either the pilots did not see each other, or they did not do so until it was too late. A number of contributory, probable and aggravating factors were identified including technical and procedural factors. The service inquiry panel made a total of 29 recommendations to address these factors. These are being implemented as soon as is practicable.

A redacted version of the inquiry findings will be placed in the Library of the House shortly. It will also be made available on the MOD internet site and can be found by following the link below:

The Ministry of Defence will co-operate fully with the coroner who will hold an inquest in due course.

Defence Training Review Package 1

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): I am announcing today an update to the key project timescales for the Defence Training Review Package 1 project. My predecessor announced on 9 October 2008, Official Report, column 457, that an investment decision was expected in spring 2009, with contract signature following approximately 15 months later. Plans
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have advanced considerably, but the work has exceeded the assumptions made in 2008 and hence the change to when the investment decision will be taken. It is not uncommon for a project of this complexity and size to experience delays, but the project is under constant review to ensure it meets value for money requirements. The benefits the project will deliver are very considerable and include: real savings against existing defence budgets over the next 30 years; enhanced operational effectiveness through the use of modern teaching techniques in a purpose built tri-service defence technical college delivered through a single PFI contract; the release of 1,200 service personnel for duties in the front-line commands, helping reduce pressure on operations; significant capital investment in living accommodation through the provision of 3,240 single accommodation and 483 married quarters; the delivery of further efficiencies through site rationalisation and efficient use of the estate, including the reuse of some accommodation for units returning from Germany.

I can announce today that the project is on track for an investment decision in the summer.

Health

Basildon and Thurrock University NHS Foundation Trust

The Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham): Further to my statement to the House on 30 November 2009, Official Report, column 855, I wish to update the House on the situation at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr. William Moyes, chair of Monitor, the independent regulator of NHS foundation trusts, has written to me about the progress being made at the trust. His letter dated 18 December 2009 has been copied to all local MPs and has already been placed in the Library.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has found and confirmed in its statement of 23 December that the trust has rectified the deficiencies over infection control
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that it had previously identified, and is "now meeting the minimum requirements in this area". CQC will be carrying out further checks on remaining areas of concern, looking particularly at the quality of emergency care, via unannounced inspections. CQC will be "checking closely to ensure everything is put right, and we will not stop until this is done".

Also, Monitor has advised that Dr. Foster has confirmed that the trust had achieved hospital standardised mortality ratios for the first six months of 2009 'within the expected range'.

However, Monitor has advised me that although there is evidence of material improvement, that there is still a lot to do.

The initial evaluation by the task force established by Monitor to support the trust confirms the need to increase the pace of change, and to address co-ordination of plans to improve services and the governance of the trust. Monitor will continue to maintain close contact with the trust, and with CQC, until it is satisfied that the trust has returned to full compliance with its authorisation as a foundation trust.

I will receive regular updates once Monitor's board has reviewed the trust's progress on a monthly basis. I will continue to provide these updates to the House.

Justice

Perpetuities and Accumulations Act 2009

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): The Perpetuities and Accumulations Act 2009 received Royal Assent on 12 December 2009. On 5 January 2010, I made an order on behalf of the Lord Chancellor bringing the remaining provisions of the Perpetuities and Accumulations Act 2009 into effect on 6 April 2010.


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