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Written Question
Office for Veterans' Affairs: Finance
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: John Healey (LAB - Wentworth and Dearne)

Question

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, if he will list the budget for the Office for Veterans Affairs for each year from 2019-20 to 2024-25.

Answered by Leo Docherty

The Office for Veterans’ Affairs (OVA) was set up in October 2019 and annual spending has been as follows:

2019/20: £50k (actual spend)

Represents initial set-up costs following the OVA’s establishment in October 2019, part-way through the financial year.

2020/21: £1.6m (actual spend)

Reflects expenditure on building OVA capability and capacity during this period, and the impact of the COVID pandemic on delivery.

2021/22: £4.4m (forecast spend)

In addition to full year expenditure, the OVA is working with the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust to distribute a further £5 million through the Afghanistan Veterans Fund, as announced by the Prime Minister in September 2021.

The budgets for 2022-23 and future years are not yet confirmed and will be set in accordance with the department's annual process of business planning. The OVA will also deliver the £5m Veterans Health Innovation Fund in 2022/23, as announced at the Budget in October 2021.

The budget allocated to the OVA represents only part of the Government's wider support for veterans. The Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan, launched on 19 January 2022, outlines over 60 commitments funded by over £70 million from departments across Government, including initiatives on health and wellbeing, employment opportunities, digitalisation of services, and enhanced research and data. These commitments build on recent progress and support including the National Insurance contribution holiday for employers of Service leavers, and the introduction of the Veterans Railcard.


Written Question
Academies: Finance
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Bridget Phillipson (LAB - Houghton and Sunderland South)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent estimate he has made of the proportion of academy trusts with financial reserves in excess of (a) 10%, (b) 20% and (c) 30% of their annual budget.

Answered by Robin Walker

At the end of 2019/20 academic year, the total cumulative surplus of trusts with positive reserves was £3.17 billion. This compares with the total cumulative surplus of schools with positive reserves in the local authority maintained sector of £2.27 billion at the end of financial year 2020/21. The proportion of academy trusts with financial reserves in excess of (a) 10%, (b) 20% and (c) 30% of their income is as follows:

Proportion of academy trusts in surplus bands

> 10% revenue reserves as a percentage of income

55.9%

> 20% revenue reserves as a percentage of income

21.8%

> 30% revenue reserves as a percentage of income

8.0%

This is derived from the latest published data on the schools financial benchmarking website and represents academy trusts’ financial position at the end of the 2019/20 academic year. This website is available at: https://schools-financial-benchmarking.service.gov.uk/Help/DataSources.

A sound reserves policy is essential for all academy trusts. Unlike local authority maintained schools, academies are subject to company law, and therefore cannot operate while being insolvent, so they often hold reserves to reduce this risk.

The amount of reserves each academy trust should set aside will depend on the type and size of the academy trust, as well as the particular risks that it faces (for instance, if they are part of a Private Finance Initiative contract).

This is in addition to any reserves that academy trustees wish to set aside to accommodate longer-term plans, such as capital developments and financial investment.


Written Question
Big Ben: Repairs and Maintenance
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Alan Brown (SNP - Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Question

To ask the hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the House of Commons Commission, pursuant to the Answer of 11 January 2022 to Question 96953 on Big Ben: Repairs and Maintenance, what the estimated additional cost is for (a) the four-month site closure in 2020, (b) investment in covid-19 secure measures and (c) the reduced productivity on site until November 2020.

Answered by Charles Walker

The total cost to date of covid-19 impacts on the project, including the four-month site closure in 2020, investment in covid-19 secure measures and the reduced productivity on site until November 2020, is £5.7m, including VAT. These costs are met from the approved £9m provision, listed in the answer to Question 96953.

This figure has been scrutinised by independent consultants, who are confident in the financial projections that have been developed by teams in the House Service, recognising the exceptionality of the project and its highly specific requirements.

Parliament’s teams have mitigated against the financial impact of coronavirus, working collaboratively and positively with contractors to reduce the impact to the taxpayer, and ensuring that costs paid by Parliament are proportionate to its contractual obligations. The project’s teams continue to meet the challenges posed by this complex conservation and enjoy the support of the leadership of both Houses in their delivery and approach.


Written Question
Research: Finance
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Matt Western (LAB - Warwick and Leamington)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans his Department has to increase the value of the Strategic Priorities Grant.

Answered by Michelle Donelan

​The Strategic Priorities Grant is funding supplied by the government on an annual basis to support higher education providers’ ongoing teaching and other related activities. In the 2021/22 financial year the Strategic Priorities Grant was worth £1.4 billion and we asked the Office for Students (OfS), which administers the grant, to prioritise funding towards high-cost, high-value subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy, high-cost science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and/or specific labour market needs. As a result, the total funding for high-cost subjects, such as medicine, engineering and other high-cost subjects, is 12% (£81 million) higher in 2021/22 compared to 2020/21. We also increased funding for specialist providers by £10 million.

The department is working to finalise funding for the Strategic Priorities Grant for the 2022/23 financial year and we will issue guidance to the OfS in due course.


Written Question
Chemicals: Regulation
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Barry Sheerman (LAB - Huddersfield)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if she will take steps to strengthen regulations on the import of harmful chemicals and substances of very high concern in in the next five years.

Answered by Jo Churchill

In the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals legislation (UK REACH), we have an effective system for regulating harmful chemicals. It regulates not only the import but also the manufacture and use of potentially harmful chemicals. The system is founded on expert scientific advice, and its future trajectory will evolve alongside this expert advice and our understanding of these substances.


Written Question
Housing: Construction
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Helen Morgan (LDEM - North Shropshire)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, what his Department's policy is on the provision of additional local services after significant development takes place in a community.

Answered by Christopher Pincher

I recognise the importance of ensuring new housing development is supported by the provision of infrastructure and appropriate services. Local authorities have responsibilities for planning for local development and the infrastructure to support it. The resources available include grant funding, loan finance, developer contributions and council tax.

At the 2021 Spending Review, the Government announced a £1.8 billion package of investment to regenerate communities and level up the country, unlocking up to 160,000 new homes in total. This includes £1.5 billion to regenerate underused land and deliver transport links and community facilities.

Contributions from developers also play an important role in delivering the infrastructure to support communities and local economies. The Government is exploring the creation of a new ‘Infrastructure Levy’ to replace the existing system of developer contributions. This would deliver more of the infrastructure these communities require by capturing a greater share of the uplift in land value that comes with development.

New development will increase the council tax base for local authorities, supporting the delivery of services. Other Government Departments may also provide funding, to support the expansion and ongoing delivery of services, in line with their wider approach to capital and resource spending.

The provisional Local Government Settlement for 2022-23 makes available an additional £3.5 billion to councils. This is an increase in local authority funding for 2022-23 of over 4% in real terms, which will ensure councils across the country have the resources they need to deliver key services.


Written Question
Night-time Economy
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Colleen Fletcher (LAB - Coventry North East)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps his Department is taking to support businesses in the night-time economy in (a) Coventry, (b) the West Midlands and (c) England.

Answered by Paul Scully

The Government’s response to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 enabled businesses across the night-time economy, including nightclubs, to remain open over the holiday period as Plan B measures were introduced in England.

Recognising the impact of Omicron, the Chancellor announced a further £1 billion of support including one-off grants for hospitality, accommodation and leisure businesses and over £100 million discretionary funding for Local Authorities to support other businesses. Eligible businesses can also access an additional £30 million available through the Culture Recovery Fund Over the course of the pandemic, the Government has provided £400 billion of businesses support

The success of our vaccine and booster programme is now allowing us to revert to Plan A. As a result, the Government is no longer asking people to work from home and, as of 27 January, nightclubs and events venues are no longer required by law to check visitors’ NHS COVID Pass. They can still choose to use the NHS COVID Pass on a voluntary basis.


Written Question
Holiday Accommodation
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Rachael Maskell (LAB - York Central)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, whether his Department provides powers for local authorities to prevent new properties from being used for the sole purpose of (a) airbnb and (b) other short-term holiday lets.

Answered by Christopher Pincher

This Government recognises that holiday homes can bring benefits to local economies, including the tourism sector, and we do not wish to restrict people’s freedom to live and holiday where they choose. We also recognise, however, that large numbers of holiday homes and lets concentrated in a single area can have a negative effect on local communities.

The planning system has tools to manage the number of new holiday homes in local areas by restricting the sale of new homes to principal residences. This can be done both via a local authority’s local planning policies and through neighbourhood planning. Policies that restrict or prohibit the sale of a new home as holiday home must be supported by appropriate local evidence.


Written Question
Building Safety Fund
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Rupa Huq (LAB - Ealing Central and Acton)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, what steps he is taking to speed up the processing of Building Safety Fund applications in response to reports that some housing associations have been waiting more than six months for the outcome of their Building Safety Fund application.

Answered by Christopher Pincher

Government is continuing to deliver the Building Safety Fund. £976 million has already been allocated from the non-ACM Building Safety Fund so far, with 108 social sector registrations to the Fund (covering an estimated 119 buildings) proceeding with a full application.  It remains the responsibility of applicants to submit information and plan their projects promptly so the Department can process their application as quickly as possible.


Written Question
Building Safety Fund: Ealing Central and Acton
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Rupa Huq (LAB - Ealing Central and Acton)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, what estimate he has made of the number of applications to the Building Safety Fund that remain outstanding in Ealing Central and Acton constituency (a) six months and (b) more than six months since they were submitted.

Answered by Christopher Pincher

As of 31 December 2021, there are 13 outstanding applications in Ealing Central and Action. Outstanding applications are defined as registrations where eligibility is yet to be determined. Applicants should provide any information requested by the Department promptly to make sure that their registration is processed without delay.


Written Question
Social Media: Safety
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Colleen Fletcher (LAB - Coventry North East)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps her Department is taking to ensure social media platforms take a proactive approach to tackling online harm.

Answered by Chris Philp

The Online Safety Bill will usher in a new age of accountability for tech companies and for the first time they will be accountable to an independent regulator to keep their users, particularly children, safe from online harms.

The new regulatory regime will give them clear legal responsibilities to understand the risk of harm to users and put in place proactive systems and processes to improve user safety. In scope companies must take action to prevent the proliferation of illegal content and activity online and ensure that children who use their services are not exposed to harmful or inappropriate content. The biggest tech companies must also take action on legal content that may harm adults. We expect companies to take steps now to improve safety, and not wait for the legislation.

We are also taking action to protect users now. For example, DCMS has published safety by design guidance and a ‘one-stop shop’ for companies on protecting children online.


Written Question
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Space Technology
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Owen Thompson (SNP - Midlothian)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which aspects of the National Space Strategy his department is responsible for.

Answered by George Freeman

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is the Department responsible for co-ordinating civil space policy and strategy across government and co-authored the National Space Strategy with the Ministry of Defence. It is also the sponsoring department of the UK Space Agency and UK Research and Innovation, which are key agencies for the delivery of the National Space Strategy.

BEIS jointly co-chairs the newly established Director-level National Space Board with the Ministry of Defence to oversee and drive delivery of the National Space Strategy’s ambitions and commitments across government. The strategy will be delivered jointly by several government departments and with the support of our thriving space sector: businesses, innovators, entrepreneurs, and space scientists.


Written Question
Transport: Public Lavatories
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Vicky Foxcroft (LAB - Lewisham, Deptford)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, with reference to Part One of the National Disability Strategy published on 28 July 2021, how many additional Changing Places toilets have been made available since August 2021.

Answered by Wendy Morton

In October 2020, the government announced that it would provide £2.2 million of funding to 59 motorway service areas to support the installation of more Changing Places toilets on the motorway network in England.

Most of these will be installed through 2022, with all due to be in place by April 2023.

This will see us achieve the ambition set out in the 2018 Inclusive Transport Strategy to have Changing Places toilets at the majority of motorway service areas in England.


Written Question
Blue Badge Scheme
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Vicky Foxcroft (LAB - Lewisham, Deptford)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, with reference to Part One of the National Disability Strategy published 28 July 2021, what recent work his Department has carried out with Blue Badge users and local authorities in England to ensure its suitability for all users.

Answered by Wendy Morton

The Department conducts an ongoing programme to identify ways to improve the Blue Badge scheme application process for all users, including acting on feedback from local authority administrators and citizen users of the scheme. A project to test the application of advanced technological developments to the online application process is expected to report in Spring 2022.


Written Question
Blue Badge Scheme: Applications
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Vicky Foxcroft (LAB - Lewisham, Deptford)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, with reference to Part One of the National Disability Strategy published 28 July 2021, what progress his Department has made towards improving the online Blue Badge application process.

Answered by Wendy Morton

The Department conducts an ongoing programme to identify ways to improve the Blue Badge scheme application process for all users, including acting on feedback from local authority administrators and citizen users of the scheme. A project to test the application of advanced technological developments to the online application process is expected to report in Spring 2022.