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Written Statements

Monday 22 July 2013

Agriculture: Agri-tech Strategy

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley): Today the Government has published our strategy on agri-tech.

The UK’s entire agri-food supply chain, from agriculture to final retailing and catering is estimated to contribute £96bn, or 7% of GVA1 and employment for the whole food supply chain for 3.8 million people. This is the first time the UK Government, science base, and food and farming industry have come together to identify and develop the strengths of the UK agri-tech sector as a whole.

This strategy has been developed by BIS in close collaboration with Defra and DFID and under the direction of the Leadership Council. This is an industry-led group, who have agreed a set of actions to deliver our vision that the UK:

• becomes a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability; • exploits opportunities to develop and adopt new and existing technologies, products and services to increase productivity and, • contributes to global food security and international development.

Today the Government pledges £160m of funding to support the development of the agri-tech sector and sets out a number of actions for the Leadership Council, industry, Government and the science base to deliver.

I have placed a copy of the Strategy in the Libraries of each House.

1

Defra food statistics pocketbook 2012 – http://www.defra.gov.uk/statistics/files/defra-stats-foodfarm-food-pocketbook-2012-130104.pdf

Employment: Work Capability Assessments

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): The Department for Work and Pensions is committed to continually reviewing and improving the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process, to ensure that it is as responsive to the needs of claimants as possible. As part of this and to bring down waiting times for claimants, DWP has decided to change its approach to contracting for the WCA, by procuring additional providers on a regional basis. This is in keeping with the Department’s current commercial strategy and will provide increased capacity. These arrangements are likely to be operational from summer 2014.

The WCA process is currently subject to a system of quality assurance and audits by both Atos Healthcare and DWP. A recent DWP audit identified a reduction

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in the quality of written reports which are produced by Atos following assessments and are then used by the Department to form part of the decision making process on benefit entitlement. This is contractually unacceptable. The Department is considering all its options under the contract and will apply all appropriate contractual remedies to ensure quality and value.

Atos has been instructed by the Department to immediately enact a quality improvement plan. Measures include retraining and re-evaluating all Atos healthcare professionals, with those not meeting the required standard of written reporting either remaining subject to 100% audit until compliant or having their approval to carry out assessments revoked by the Department.

The Department has also engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide independent advice in relation to strengthening quality assurance processes across all its health and disability assessments. In addition, and in the longer-term, increased provider capacity will ensure that a greater focus on quality can be achieved alongside enabling the number of assessments the Department requires to be delivered.

Assessment reports, such as those provided by Atos, form only one part of the WCA process, which has a number of checks and balances built in to ensure the right decision is reached for claimants. After the Atos assessment DWP Decision Makers make the final decision on claimants’ benefit entitlement based on all evidence provided during the claim. If the claimant disputes the decision or appeals there is then a reconsideration process where another DWP Decision Maker will reconsider the decision. If the claimant is still unhappy about the decision made, they can appeal. It is important to stress that DWP’s audit activity showed that claimants whose reports did not meet our rigorous quality standard were no more or less likely to have been found fit for work or appeal against the Department’s decision than other claimants.

The Department also remains committed to the ongoing process of annual independent reviews of the WCA. From the three reviews already carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington, over 50 recommendations have been, or are being, implemented to ensure the WCA is as fair and as accurate as possible. For example, we are currently carrying out an evidence-based review of the WCA descriptors with a number of major charities and we are working closely with the First-tier Tribunal to better understand the reasons for upheld appeals.

A further independent review of the WCA is currently being undertaken by Dr Paul Litchfield, a respected Senior Occupational Physician, and we expect Dr Litchfield to make recommendations before the end of the year to further strengthen the WCA. The above measures show our commitment to continually improve the assessment, and to take decisive action when it becomes clear that there are issues which need addressing. We will come back to Parliament in the autumn with a further update.

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EU: Balance of Competences Review

Statement

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): I wish to update the House on the progress of the Balance of Competences Review launched by the Foreign Secretary in July 2012. I am pleased to inform the House that the first set of reports have been published today on the gov.uk website. These reports cover: an overview of the Single Market; Health; Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid; Foreign Policy; Animal Health and Welfare and Food Safety; and Taxation.

Calls for evidence for these reports were published in November 2012, and were open for three months. The level of interest shown was very welcome and the evidence that we received was of high quality. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed. In addition, I would also like to thank the Devolved Administrations for their involvement.

Each report draws on the evidence submitted to provide a wide-ranging and balanced analysis of the EU’s ability to act in a specific area, the impact that EU action has on the UK national interest, and the future challenges that may arise. The reports are designed to broaden and deepen public understanding of the nature of our EU membership but not to pre-judge future policy, and so were not tasked with producing specific recommendations. They will help to ensure that our national debate is grounded in knowledge of facts and will be a vital aid for policy-making in Government.

Reports have undergone rigorous internal challenge to ensure they are balanced, robust and evidence-based. Evidence submitted (subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act) has been published alongside the reports on the gov.uk website to ensure transparency.

Calls for evidence for semester two reports launched in May 2013 and are open for three months. Reports in this semester cover: Free Movement of Goods; Free Movement of Persons; Asylum and Immigration; Trade and Investment; Environment and Climate Change; Transport; Research and Development; Tourism, Culture and Sport; Civil Justice.

The first set of reports and the calls for evidence for semester two reports are available at: https://www.gov.uk/review-of-the-balance-of-competences. Copies of the reports will be made available in the Libraries of both Houses and a set number of hard copies will also be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Housing: Social Housing

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): I am publishing today, for consultation, a draft stock transfer manual which will set out the process for housing stock transfer and the criteria local authorities

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will need to meet where they propose, with the support of their tenants, to transfer their housing stock to a housing association landlord.

Between 1988 and 2012, around 1.3 million council homes were transferred to the ownership of housing associations. Through the introduction of self-financing of council housing from April 2012 we have, for the first time, put the financing of local authority housing on a stable, long-term footing. Self-financing and the need to reduce the substantial deficit we inherited have meant we have had to re-think the case for transfer to ensure that where transfers take place in the future they represent the best possible value for money for the taxpayer.

Publication of a draft transfer manual fulfils our commitment in Laying the Foundations: A Housing Strategy for England1 to bring forward proposals for a programme of transfers. As we said then, the Government wants to support transfers that represent good value for money and lever in additional private investment that delivers growth through more affordable housing, local regeneration and improves the condition of the social housing stock.

Where local authorities come forward with proposals which we are satisfied meet those criteria, financial support will be available from Government to write-off some of the local authority’s housing debt, if that is necessary to enable the transfer to go ahead. We will look closely at individual transfer proposals to ensure they represent the best deal available for the public purse and will deliver real benefits for local communities. We expect transfer proposals brought forward under the terms of this manual to complete by March 2015, but up to £100 million to support transfer will also be available from Government in 2015/16

Transfers may only take place where that is the option favoured by a majority of tenants voting in a ballot. We want also though to give tenants more opportunities to weigh up the benefits of transfer and lead the transfer process themselves.

Alongside the draft stock transfer manual, I am also publishing the Department for Communities and Local Government’s response to our consultation on giving local authority tenants new rights to initiate and take forward the transfer of their homes to a housing association landlord. This confirms our intention to introduce regulations which will place a new duty on local authorities to co-operate with tenant groups which wish to explore transfer and commence the process of transferring ownership where this is the favoured option. We intend to lay the Right to Transfer Regulations before Parliament in the Autumn, at the same time as we publish this final transfer manual following consultation.

Copies of the draft manual and the response to the Right to Transfer consultation have been placed in the Library of the House and are available on the Department’s website.

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HM Government, November 2011

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/7532/2033676.pdf