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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 30 January 2003


Rural Bus Challenge

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): I am pleased to announce today approval of the 46 projects listed below which were submitted as bids by local authorities in this competition. This follows careful consideration of the 105 bids totalling almost 3 times the funding available submitted by authorities


AuthorityProjectTotal Award
Bath and NE SomersetChew Valley Explorer396,000
BedfordshireNorth East Beds Dart751,261
Buckinghamshire On Call350,000
CheshireTaxi Rider TRACS300,000 320,000
CornwallPenwith Corlink Transport Services455,000
Cumbria"35 Furness Express Enhancement805,573
DerbyshireDerbyshire Integrated Rural Transport Buxton & District Accessible Transport954,000 320,960
DevonThe Jurassic Coast Line665,000
DurhamCounty Durham—A Healthy Response 743,000
East RidingMy Bus358,000
EssexViking Community Transport HEART scheme193,600
Epping Forest Community Transport Brokerage 99,900
GloucestershireGloucestershire Village Link631,750
Greater ManchesterHattersly Uppermill and Mossley Partington and Cadishead329,500 234,000 44,000
HampshireHampshire Cango Further735,732
HerefordshireCompleting the Jigsaw794,000
HertfordshireHealth and Accessible Rural Transport265,900
Isle of WightThe East Wight Villager426,530
KentSwale Unified Network Phase 2215,000
Lancashire Garstang Super 8476,873
LincolnshireInterconnect Building a Flexible Future870,400
MedwayTackling Social Exclusion & Isolation336,435
Merseyside Billinge Whiston Hospital Service 24,000
NorfolkBroadshopper Fenland Connections473,580 393,570
North East LincolnshireDemand Responsive Community Transport344,512
North YorkshireHawes-Garsdale Stationlink Increase Rural Dial-a-ride Information Centre for Community Transport261,000 280,500 90,000
NottinghamshireDemand Responsive Transport between Newark and Bingham479,000
ShropshireWem Minibus Links355,694
South YorkshireSouthern Communities768,000
SomersetSomerset Inclusion Bus Buddy 94,500
Stockton-on-TeesThe Village Bus360,000
StaffordshireStaffordshire Border Car Weaver Ward Access Bus178,500 60,000
SuffolkGrass Routes190,720
Tyne & WearWestern Links Stage 2721,216
West SussexSouth Downs Route833,000
West YorkshirePennine Taxibus872,020
WiltshireWiltshire Taxi Link169,440
WorcestershireMalvern Matters992,000

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SRA Strategic Plan

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Strategic Rail Authority has today published its second Strategic Plan. I have placed copies in the Libraries of the House and it is also available on the SRA website.


Benefit Fraud (Dover)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on Dover District Council was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library. This report finds that Dover District Council has some commendable performance while some areas are very poor.

The report identifies the positive aspects as a benefits claim form that complies with the BFI model claim form, achievement of good results from a customer survey, and Verification Framework compliance in most areas. Dover needs to: run benefit take-up campaigns; verify residency more vigorously and income in renewal claims; carry out visits to Verification Framework requirements; apply benefit periods in accordance with risk and apply the fit and proper person test before making payments to landlords.

Speed of processing is a distinct weakness, with only 25 per cent of claims sampled being processed within targets. Breaks in payments were found in 23 per cent of renewals sampled.

There were significant problems with all aspects of the overpayments regime. The council is undertaking a fundamental review of the overpayments service, which is to be completed and implemented by March 2003.

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The report finds that the counter-fraud area gave the greatest concern. The council's investigators were poorly trained, and were overloaded with referrals, many of which were of spurious value. Sanctions were inadequate. The report also finds evidence of failure to comply with the laws governing investigation techniques.

In 2000–01, Dover District Council administered approximately £27 million in housing benefits. This is approximately 40 per cent. of its total gross revenue expenditure.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address the remaining weaknesses and to further improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as counter-fraud activities.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.


Export Control Act 2002

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses a Consultation Paper on a draft Order relating to the export of objects of cultural interest to be made under the Export Control Act 2002. The text is also available on the DCMS Departmental website at http://www.culture.gov.uk/heritage/export_controls.html.


Legal Services Ombudsman

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): My right hon. and noble Friend, The Lord Chancellor has appointed Dr. Zahida Manzoor as Legal Services Ombudsman.

The appointment is for a 3 year fixed term in the first instance and Dr. Manzoor is expected to take up post on 3 March 2003.

Dr. Manzoor is co-founder and marketing director of her own company. She was formerly a member of the NHS Policy Board, Regional Chair of the NHS Executive, Northern and Yorkshire Regions, Commissioner and Deputy Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and Chair of the Bradford Health Authority.


Farm Incomes

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Revised estimates of farm income, output and productivity of agriculture during 2002 were published on 30 January. These confirm the increase in farm incomes forecast last November, and indicate a rise of 15 per cent. (14 in real terms) compared to 2001.

Details have been placed in the Library of the House.

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Police Complaints Authority (Shootings)

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I am pleased to be able to place in the Library a copy of the Police Complaints Authority's (PCA) Review of Shootings by Police in England and Wales between 1998 and 2001.

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I commissioned this Review under Section 79(1) of the Police Act 1996 which allows the Home Secretary to call for a report from the PCA on issues of concern. I announced the terms of reference to Parliament on 20 November 2001. They were:

I am very grateful to the PCA, and, in particular, Mr. Alan Bailey, Dr. David Best and the two Deputy Chairs for the hard work and expertise they have brought to this report.

I welcome the report and its positive findings. It covers a very difficult and demanding area of police work where great professionalism is needed. Rightly, it gives credit to police forces for the small number of shots discharged by police officers in armed responses and praises much policing practice. The overall picture is very positive and it gives clear guidance on how best to manage firearms operations to minimise threat to life.

I commissioned the report in order to make sure that the lessons from each individual incident could be learned and shared by all forces. While there is always understandable public concern when someone who is shot turns out to be unarmed, we must recognise that armed police face enormously difficult decisions. Sometimes these decisions have tragic consequences, and it is nonetheless essential to ensure that operational procedures, training and support to officers minimises the number of avoidable deaths and injuries.

Our police officers are not routinely armed. The use of firearms is a rare last resort, considered only where there is a serious risk to public or police safety. When it is necessary for police officers to deploy firearms, it is vital that they are properly equipped and expertly trained, to respond effectively to the serious situations they have to face. Police use of firearms is subject to stringent guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which govern training, control and the conduct of operations. This is reflected in their excellent record against international standards.

The PCA report makes a number of recommendations to further improve the management of firearms incidents. Many of these are already underway, and I have published an action plan today, which I will also place in the Library, which sets out how we will work with the police service and other agencies

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to build on existing good work, and take forward the recommendations in the report. We are determined to build on the good practice already in place by working closely with the police and others—including mental health professionals.

It is essential that our police have effective less lethal alternatives available to them. The search for suitable less lethal options is complex and requires in-depth consideration of a range of issues. After rigorous medical and operational trials, and at ACPO's request, we have agreed that pilots on taser use will go ahead. If any less lethal options are ultimately recommended to police these must provide real tactical solutions to disorder and violence.

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