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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): In 1992, the then Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Sir Ronald Oxburgh, conducted a review of the safety of nuclear weapons. It was reported to Parliament House of Commons, 13 July 1992, Official Report, column 520, that he had recommended the inauguration of a safety "champion". A position entitled Nuclear Weapon Safety Adviser was subsequently created, and this has had two incumbents. More recently, further work has been done on safety management arrangements in the Department in general, and in the nuclear programmes in particular, to reflect policy and organisational developments. As a result, we have appointed a Nuclear Weapon Regulator to provide assurance about safety in the nuclear weapons programme. In so doing, it was recognised that the tasks of this official would be very similar to those of
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): Debut Services (South-West) Limited, a joint venture between Babcock International Group and Bovis Lend Lease, has been awarded the regional prime contract for the Ministry of Defence's estate in the south-west. This follows successful completion of the clarification phase.
The seven-year contract, worth in the order of £480 million, is the second in a series of five such arrangements covering the estate and will provide for capital works, property maintenance and facilities management services, throughout the south-west of England.
The MOD has undertaken to make significant improvements in the overall condition of its estate by changing its organisational structures and introducing prime contracting methods. Encouraging innovation and efficiency, Regional Prime Contracting is a key initiative that aims to provide a better quality of service and greater value for money through suitably incentivised contracts conforming to the principles of "Smart Acquisition".
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond): I am today announcing that contracts have been signed with four private sector companies to provide debt collection services to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The contractors are Commercial Collections Services, Eversheds, Legal and Trade Collections and the Lewis Group.
The contractors will provide support with two categories of debt: benefit debt and commercial debt. They will act as recovery agents, earning commission on amounts recovered and passed to DWP. The ownership of the debt will remain with DWP at all times.
The contracts will offer support to our existing debt management operations rather than replacing or outsourcing them. There will be no job reductions in DWP as a result of this announcement. So DWP will continue to handle negotiation and civil enforcement of debts in-house. The cases transferred will be those where DWP has been unsuccessful.
The contractors will adhere to strict contractual controls on their behaviour and DWP will put robust contract management processes in place to ensure compliance. Contractors will also have to adhere to the codes of conduct of their own supervising bodies (e.g. the Credit Services Association or the Law Society) and also the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
Benefit debt includes overpaid benefits, where the overpayment is caused by customer error, and outstanding social fund loans. The debts transferred will be those where the debtor is not currently in receipt of a
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DWP benefit, they have refused to repay voluntarily and DWP has been unable to obtain full recovery. Each debtor will be given the opportunity to make an arrangement to repay their debt before their case is transferred to one of the contractors.
The contract will be for an initial two-year period to March 2006, with the possibility of extension. First cases will be transferred towards the end of April 2004 with each Contractor receiving an initial tranche of 50,000 cases. After this initial allocation there is no guarantee of additional cases being referred.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith): I am today able to announce the 200405 annual performance targets for three of the executive agencies of the Department for Work and Pensions: Jobcentre Plus, Child Support Agency and Appeals Service. The targets I have agreed are set out below.
Performance targets for The Pension Service, Disability and Carers Service and The Rent Service, responsibility for which transfers to my Department from 1 April 2004, will be announced in due course.
In line with the Department's Public Service Agreement, I will also be publishing unit cost targets that will be set to ensure that Jobcentre Plus, Child Support Agency and The Pension Service continue to deliver business efficiently.
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