Monday 28 October 2013
Business, Innovation and Skills
EU Foreign Affairs Council
My noble Friend the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, has made the following statement:
The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Luxembourg on 18 October 2013.
Sir John Cunliffe (UK Representative to the European Union) and I represented the UK on all the issues discussed at the meeting. A summary of those discussions follows.
Financial Responsibility for Investor State Dispute Settlement
The presidency reported that their compromise text had been adopted by member states during the previous week and would now form the Council position for negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission.
Eastern Partnership Summit
The presidency highlighted the importance of strengthening the EU’s economic links with Eastern Partners. They would therefore include deep and comprehensive free trade agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as part of wider association agreements with those countries and present these at the Eastern Partnership summit in November. Member states agreed that, provided the relevant political obligations were met, the Ukraine agreement could be presented for signature and those with Moldova and Georgia for initialling.
Adoption of the EU/China and EU/ASEAN Negotiations on investment
Council adopted the presidency’s compromise mandates on both the China investment agreement and Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) investment agreement without debate.
Declassification of the EU/US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiating Directives
The presidency reported that there was no consensus in favour of declassification of the TTIP mandate. Therefore the mandate will remain a classified EU document.
State of play on preparations for the IX World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference (Bali, 3-6 December 2013)
The Commission reported accelerated progress in Geneva since September; new WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo was bringing energy to the negotiations. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht underlined that considerable effort would still be required to secure agreement at December’s ministerial conference in Bali. In the debate the UK was joined by other like-minded member states (Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Malta) in urging flexibility in order to secure a deal and in highlighting the economic benefits to the EU.
China anti-dumping measures on wine
The Commission felt the case was politically motivated, providing the Chinese with balance in the face of other high-profile disputes and the upcoming investment agreement negotiations. Progress had been limited since the summer, when China agreed not to introduce duties before the end of the formal investigation period in June 2014. At the EU/China high-level economic and trade dialogue the Commission would insist on starting formal negotiations, and would push hard to reach an early resolution.
Lunch: TTIP and Japan negotiations; Canada
Ministers received an update on both the TTIP and Japan negotiations over a private lunch which otherwise concentrated on the Canada deal which was being simultaneously concluded by President Barosso and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Brussels. This long awaited conclusion was unanimously and warmly welcomed.
“The Future of Apprenticeships in England: Implementation Plan”
Today the Government have published “The Future of Apprenticeships in England: Implementation Plan” and the associated “Guidance for Trailblazers”.
Apprenticeships are at the heart of the Government’s drive to give people of all ages the skills employers need to grow and compete. They already deliver strong returns for the economy, for employers and for apprentices. A record 1.5 million apprenticeships have been started since 2010.
Following the Government’s endorsement of the employer-focused vision in Doug Richard’s independent review of apprenticeships, and our subsequent consultation on his recommendations, the implementation plan sets out policy, process and time scale for reforming apprenticeships in England.
Our reforms will ensure that apprenticeships become more rigorous and more responsive to the needs of employers. We will improve the quality of apprenticeships by introducing higher expectations on English and maths grading to incentivise apprentices to strive to be the best and an increased focus on assessment at the end of an apprenticeship to ensure full competence.
We are putting employers in the driving seat, by giving them responsibility for developing short clear standards and the high-level approach to assessment that will replace long and complex frameworks, to ensure they better meet the skills needs of employers. We also intend to announce our future approach to apprenticeship funding later this year.
Trailblazers will lead the way in implementing these new apprenticeships, ensuring that employers are involved in their design and that we deliver them in a way that works. We will learn from trailblazers lessons for the future delivery of all apprenticeships. The first trailblazers will focus on vital occupations in the following sectors:
Energy and Utilities
Food and Drink Manufacturing
Life Sciences and Industrial Sciences
In total, more than 60 organisations are already involved, including large and small businesses and professional bodies. Together they already had more than 13,000 apprentices start in 2011-12
Copies of the implementation plan and guidance for trailblazers, including a full list of the organisations involved, are being placed in the Libraries.
Communities and Local Government
Later today, the House is considering opening the way for the Government to introduce amendments to the Local Audit and Accountability Bill that will take forward proposals to give the press and public new, stronger rights to film and report council meetings.
Subject to parliamentary approval, the legislation will enshrine in the law the right of residents, bloggers and journalists to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England.
Last year, the coalition Government introduced secondary legislation to open councils’ Executive meetings to greater scrutiny, and I actively encouraged councils to do the same with their meetings of committees and full council. In August, I asked the planning inspectorate to open up their hearings fully to the public. However, many councils have slammed their doors shut rather than opening them up, clinging to old-fashioned Standing Orders or spurious excuses like “health and safety”.
A recent survey from the TaxPayers’ Alliance revealed an alarming number of councils in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire who were still keeping democracy behind closed doors. Some councils had even banned local residents from recording, blogging and tweeting at council meetings. Consequently, the Government are to move amendments to primary legislation to help open up all council meetings.
An independent local press and robust public scrutiny is essential for a healthy local democracy. We are taking action against “town hall pravdas” which are undermining the independent free press, but I want to do more to help the new cadre of hyper-local journalists and bloggers.
It was a Private Member’s Bill by Margaret Thatcher which introduced the substantive right to attend council meetings back in 1960, building on earlier legislation from the Liberal Government of 1908. It is right that we now bring these provisions up to date with the digital age. Councillors should not be shy about the good work that they do.
This measure will help bloggers and tweeters, as well as journalists, unlock the mysteries of local government and make it more transparent for all. My Department is standing up for press freedom.
Government amendments will also seek to improve the archaic rules over parish polls—allowing for example, longer polling hours, postal votes and polling cards—responding to the debate of the Bill in the House of Lords.
The Bill will also abolish the residual parts of the Audit Commission; protect local press from taxpayer-funded town hall propaganda sheets; and ensure that local taxpayers have greater say over council tax levies imposed by bodies with a minimal or no public presence.
Subject to parliamentary approval, these measures will apply to all councils in England.
The coalition Government have abolished top-down inspection like comprehensive area assessment and is scrapping the Audit Commission, and we have given councils more power. But it is essential that local people and local media are able to hold their councils to account. Local accountability and local transparency is essential for localism to thrive.
Following the successful completion of the first wave of city deals in July 2012, with the “Core Cities” the Government committed to work with a further 20 cities and their wider areas to negotiate a second wave of city deals in October 2012.
These cities (the next 14 largest cities and the six cities with the highest population growth) are in the process of negotiating the devolution of specific powers, resources and responsibilities required to deliver locally-determined economic priorities.
Over recent months I have been in negotiation with the Reading, Bracknell Forest, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham local authorities and the Thames Valley Berkshire local enterprise partnership (LEP) and I am pleased to inform the House that a number of proposals will take effect as the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership City Deal.
The Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership City Deal aims to improve the ability of young people in the area to take up the jobs that are being created by local businesses.
The city deal will:
Bring together local and national investment in order to ensure every young person has the opportunity to undertake the right training, improve their skills, find an apprenticeship or get a job.
In addition the LEP will work with local businesses to develop a joint approach to supporting new and growing businesses.
The LEP expects these arrangements to support new opportunities for 4,500 people in the area.