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17 Nov 2003 : Column 529Wcontinued
Mrs. Brooke: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what discussions he has had with the European Commission on a new reduced rate category of VAT for protective and safety equipment; and what the outcome was. 
John Healey: The Directive covering reduced rates of VAT is currently under discussion by European Ministers, following a proposal from the Commission earlier this year. This proposal challenges a number of the UK's zero rates including those for children's clothing and several reliefs targeted at charities and disabled people. We have made clear in the negotiations that we will not agree to the removal of any of our zero or reduced rate VAT derogations.
The Commission's approach to this review has significantly narrowed the scope to consider the introduction of new reduced rates. However, as well as defending our zero rates, the Government continue to press for our long standing commitments for reduced
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Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will list the contracts for consultancy and other work carried out by Bechtel in each year since 1997 by his Department's predecessors in areas relating to regional government, stating in each case (a) the nature of the work, (b) the value of the contract and (c) the duration of the contract; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Drew: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the regulations that apply to the display of billboards (a) in the open countryside and (b) on telegraph poles on public or private land without planning permission. 
Keith Hill: The display of outdoor advertisements including billboards in the open countryside and on telegraph poles on public and private land is controlled by the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1992. The express consent of the local planning authority is required before these advertisements may be lawfully displayed. The local planning authority must consider amenity and public safety issues. The consent of the owner of the land is also required. Local planning authorities have enforcement powers under sections 224 and 225 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which they may use to remove, or require the removal of, advertisements displayed in contravention of the Regulations.
Dr. Kumar: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what guidance he offers to local authorities on the establishment of (a) business planning zones and (b) business improvement districts, with particular reference to (i) Sunderland and (ii) Redcar and Cleveland. 
Guidance for local planning authorities will be published for public consultation next year. Broad policy will be set out in draft PPS4: Planning for Economic Development, and more detailed guidance on how local planning authorities should establish such zones will be produced in due course.
Draft guidance on Business Improvement Districts is available on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website (www.odpm.gov.uk) Consultation on this guidance has recently completed and the final version will be published when the regulations relating to BIDs legislation are laid before the House in spring 2004.
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The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is not aware of any specific issues in Sunderland or Redcar and Cleveland which would require more specific guidance on Business Planning Zones or Business Improvement Districts.
Ms Oona King: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many Cash Incentive Scheme grants were made by each local authority in London in 200203; and what the total value of these grants was for each local authority. 
|Total number of grants||Total expenditure (£000)|
|Revenue support grant||Redistributed non-domestic rates||Ring-fenced grants inside AEF(20)|
(19) Figures are not directly comparable between years due to changes in function.
(20) Aggregate External Finance.
(21) Budgeted figure.
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Andrew George: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the cost was of operating the local government council tax system in each of the last five years for which records are available, broken down by (a) administration, (b) valuation, (c) appeals, (d) council tax benefit administration and (e) other costs. 
Mr. Raynsford: Local authorities in England reported council tax collection costs and council tax benefit administration costs in the last five years are tabled below. Administration, valuation and appeals costs are not reported separately.
|Council tax collection costs||Council tax benefit administration costs|
(22) Budgeted figures.
(23) In 200304, council tax collection costs may include a small amount of NDR, rate (domestic and non-domestic) and community charge collection costs.
19992000 to 200102 Revenue Summary Returns. 200203 to 200304 Budget Estimate Returns.
Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what role credit unions play in alleviating poverty in communities; and what role they (a) have and (b) will have in the future as part of New Deal for Communities. 
Yvette Cooper: Credit unions have an important role to play in tackling financial exclusion. By bridging the gap between mainstream financial services and those of limited means, credit unions make a real difference to the individuals and communities they serve.
New Deal for Communities (NDC) Partnerships have a broad remit to tackle issues of crime, worklessness, education, health and housing in the physical environment in some of our most deprived neighbourhoods. A number of NDC Partnerships have already done work to develop credit unions or are covered by credit unions that already exist in their areasuch as East Manchester NDC and Knowsley NDCand Partnerships will continue to do this in future where it is relevant to the needs of the neighbourhood. For example, in the Brent area there are currently on-going discussions between Camden Credit Union and South Kilburn NDC on the subject of Camden Credit Union extending their common bond to the NDC area.
Sandra Gidley: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the average time has been between applying for a disabled facilities grant and (a) assessment of needs, (b) provision of finance and (c) the completion of buildings work, broken down by each local authority. 
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Keith Hill: Local authorities are required by statute to respond to a completed application for disabled facilities grant within six months. The Government do not collect information on the average waiting times for these grants.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, jointly with the Department of Health, has issued draft guidance to local authorities setting out best practice in delivering a first class housing adaptations service for disabled people. This includes target times for the complete delivery process including needs assessment, processing of the application and the completion of building works. These target times will depend on the complexity of, and priority attached to, individual cases but the guidance suggests that the maximum target time for the entire process should in any event be no more than 260 working days and only 80 working days in high priority cases. We are currently considering responses to this consultation and hope to issue final guidance to local housing and social service authorities early next year.
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