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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The UK Broadband Task Force, launched in November, aims to find best practice initiatives and disseminate information on these across the whole of the UK. The task force regional co-ordinator based at the National Assembly for Wales will therefore be in a position to take into consideration the progress of the Broadband Wales programme and subsequently identify where its successes can be appropriately applied to the rest of the country, including England.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The Government's overriding priorities remain to ensure the safety of nuclear generation and security of electricity supplies. The credit facility that the Government have made available to British Energy is to enable it to operate its stations safely, to continue trading and to meet its commercial obligations.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: If the proposed restructuring announced by British Energy on 28 November is successful and the company performs well, its contribution to the new liabilities fund will grow. The annual costs to government after 2012 will depend on the money in the fund. The Government will meet any shortfall to ensure nuclear safety and environmental protection. We will also be looking at how the contracts for historic spent fuel services with BNFL are managed as a part of the creation of the LMA.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: British Energy will meet its future spent fuel liabilities on an ongoing basis. It will also contribute to a new fund which will be used to pay for its nuclear liabilities, including decommissioning costs. British Energy's management accounts to 30 September 2002 show, on a discounted basis, an accrual of approximately £2.1 billion for historic spent fuel liabilities extending to 2086 and provision of £0.7 billion for uncontracted liabilities and £0.6 billion (net of the current nuclear decommissioning fund) for costs of decommissioning. The Government will take on financial responsibility for BE's historic spent fuel liabilities and underwrite the funds if they are insufficient to meet costs when they occur.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): Jobcentre Plus purchases places from Rehab UK as one element of the work preparation programme, and signed a contract with it on 1 October 2002 for the supply of brain injury rehabilitation services from its Tyne and Wear centre. My right honourable friend the Minister for Work has recently received a letter from the chairman of Rehab UK.
Jobcentre Plus must ensure balanced provision from the work preparation programme for disabled people with a range of different needs, and increased funding for those with brain injuries would have a disproportionate impact on its ability to provide support for people with other disabilities. Jobcentre Plus will continue to review expenditure from the work preparation budget throughout this financial year.
Lord Rooker: No, the Government are not satisfied, which is why the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is working with the fire service to achieve a workforce that better reflects the communities it serves; to help the service remove barriers to creating a more diverse workforce and to assist in raising the profile of the service as a career choice within currently under-represented groups.
Research 1 commissioned by the Government found that the image of the fire service as a potential career among women and ethnic minorities is low, influenced by a lack of adequate information. We have begun to address this issue through the publication in November 2001 of new national recruitment literature.
The fire service has also been set targets to increase by 2009 the representation of women in the operational sector to 15 per cent and to increase ethnic minority repesentation to 7 per cent across the uniformed and non-uniformed sectors.
On 5 September the Government established the independent review of the fire service, led by Sir George Bain. The independent review's position paper of 11 November proposed the development of new national recruitment processes to encourage a more divese workforce, which received the endorsement of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality. The independent review's final report is expected shortly.
Lord Rooker: The Audit Commission will announce the outcome of comprehensive performance assessments (CPA) for London boroughs, unitary, metropolitan and county councils on 12 December. These assessments will provide the basis for better local decision-making, inform relations between central and local government and give local people a clear understanding of how well their council is serving them. It is a key stage in one of the most ambitious exercises in performance management ever undertaken by central and local government. But CPA results are not the end of the process; they are the starting point for improvement planning that will demonstrate the Government's public sector reform agenda in action.
The services included in CPA have a significant impact on the quality of all our lives: education, social services, housing, transport, welfare benefits, waste, planning and library and leisure facilities. CPA also delivers a picture of the council as a corporate entity, recognising the importance of councils as community leaders, forging effective partnerships and delivering on national and local priorities. We will build on the connections CPA has made through a collective central government response, applying the measures announced on 26 November to devolve power, increase support where it is needed and work directly with councils to ensure local people receive the quality of services to which they are entitled.
We want to see all councils aiming to be excellent. Our vision is one where local government takes ownership of the improvement agenda, with those who do so successfully encouraged to innovate by the removal of controls. There is a great deal that can be learned from the best performing councils, and it is vital that we build on as well as celebrate their achievements.
We are reducing red tape and unnecessary controls that distract councils from improving services. For the very best councils, we are going further. These are councils with a strong focus on improvement which are delivering high quality services. They come in all shapes and sizes, including councils working in the most challenging circumstances. For high achievers CPA will bring new flexibility to expand or to change the way they deliver services and significant additional freedoms to go much further and trailblaze innovative and new practices.
We are making it clear that getting by will not be enough. There is no room for those in the middle simply to stay there. They will have to raise their game or fall behind. CPA will clearly identify the service priorities for the underperforming and the corporate obstacles to innovation and better services. It will indicate where these councils will have to focus their efforts and where central government should be prioritising support. Government are working with the LGA to identify a range of support and improvement activities in response to CPA. But it is clear that the skills needed to realise continuous improvement will be found primarily within local government. Securing long-term and sustained improvement will be achieved only through building a
Government will work in a spirit of co-operation with those councils which are doing poorly. Wherever possible an authority should be given the opportunity to tackle its own problems and weaknesses. The Government will nevertheless seek to engage directly with poor performers and provide appropriate support. We recognise that even overall poor performers have some good services, and we are determined to build on good practice. CPA will deliver the challenge that some councils have needed to address complacency and take a radical look at the way they currently work. For others it will initiate the process of identifying the measures needed to turn around failing services. In all cases the message will be that we will not tolerate poor performance or failing councils. They let down the people they are elected to represent and serve. They tarnish the reputation of the rest of local government. Where necessary, government will not shirk from taking decisive and tough action.
CPA scores will be the launch-pad for action for central and local government. The overarching aim is to secure the foundation for genuine and long-lasting improvement in council services. Freedoms and flexibilities will enable the highest performers to do more. They will also provide a strong incentive for others to change. Where improvements are needed CPA will be the basis for better focused and more determined improvement planning. Ownership of improvement planning and strong local leadership at member and officer level will be vital, as will delivering against realistic but challenging targets. We expect CPA and the improvement planning process to deliver rapid and tangible benefits to local government and to the people they serve.
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