Wednesday 23 April 2008
EU: Informal Competitiveness Council
The following Statement provides information on the Informal Competitiveness Council in Brdo, Slovenia on 16 April 2008, at which I represented the UK. The meeting was chaired by Andrej Vizjak, Slovenian Economics Minister.
The theme of the morning session was “From SME Policy to High-growth Innovative Enterprise Policy”, with a discussion on the key challenges SMEs face in their growth phase. This session provided an opportunity for competitiveness Ministers to give their views on the forthcoming EU “Small Business Act” before the Commission's proposal expected in July. The council agreed that the growth potential and flexibility of small and medium-sized enterprises are key forces driving economic growth, productivity and improving competitiveness. There was also a large degree of consensus on the importance of tackling regulatory burdens on small business. I intervened to outline the UK response to the Commission consultation, and our priority areas:
an ambitious package of better regulation measures to bring about a step change in how the EU develops policy and legislation to better address the needs of SMEs, including through specific measures such as exemptions or simplifications in the “think small first” policy, and other specific measures;
increasing access to finance for SMEs through action to address supply and demand-side market failures, underpinned by commercial solutions, focusing on removing barriers to cross-border investment in venture capital and developing a common EU regime for private placement of investment funds;
action to make it easier for SMEs to trade in the single market and beyond; and
the importance of innovation and having a single speedy and low-cost EU patent system.
In the afternoon session, there was a discussion on “The Business of Climate Change—Sustainable Industrial Policy and the Commercial Opportunities of Climate Change Mitigation”. The European Commission intends to publish a communication on this subject in May 2008, including a number of directives related to environmental performance of products. I intervened to encourage a market-based approach, emphasise the opportunities for industry of a shift to a low-carbon economy, and to stress the crucial role of the emissions trading scheme in internalising the price of carbon in the market and the importance of openness to international trade.
Commission Vice-President Verheugen also briefly updated the council on the work of the Transatlantic Economic Council.
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Universities and Skills (Ian Pearson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:
The 11th annual review of the Government Chemist has been received. The review will be laid before the Scottish Parliament and copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House plus those of the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Legal Services Board
My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:
The Legal Services Act received Royal Assent on 30 October 2007. Two of the key elements of the Act are the provision of a Legal Services Board (LSB) and the establishment of an Office for Legal Complaints (OLC). The LSB will be an over-arching regulator and the OLC will deal with all complaints about regulated legal service providers.
I am pleased to announce that, in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, I have appointed David Edmonds to the position of chair of the LSB. Mr Edmonds will take up post from 1 May 2008. The appointment will run for three years.
Mr Edmonds is currently non-executive chairman of NHS Direct and a legal services commissioner. He has previously been Director-General of Telecommunications (Oftel), managing director of group central services at the Natwest Group, and chief executive of the Housing Corporation.
Northern Ireland Prison Service
The Minister of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins) has made the following Ministerial Statement:
I have placed copies of the Northern Ireland Prison Service's corporate and business plan for 2008-11 in the Libraries of both Houses.
The corporate and business plan contains key performance targets that I have set for the service for 2008-09. These are:
no escape for category A prisoners;
no more than three escapes per categories B, C or D prisoners;
the number of staff assaulted by prisoners is less than a ratio of three per 100 prisoners;
the number of prisoners assaulted by prisoners is less than a ratio of four per 100 prisoners;
an average of at least 20 hours constructive activity per week for each sentenced prisoner;
an average of at least 10 hours constructive activity per week for each remand prisoner;
to ensure 87 per cent of prisoners serving six months or more are working to a resettlement plan and that 97 per cent of lifers work to a life sentence plan, including preparation of the plan, within the first six months of sentence;
each member of staff should receive an average of five training days;
reduce the rate of absenteeism to 12 days per head by 2008-09 with an overall reduction to 11 days by 2009-10;
lay the annual report and audited accounts before Parliament prior to the Summer Recess; and
ensure the average cost per prisoner place does not exceed £81,500.
My honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:
OGCbuying.solutions has been set four performance targets for 2008-09. These are as follows:
to facilitate at least £725 million value-for-money improvements for the public sector in 2008-09;
to achieve an overall customer satisfaction level of above 90 per cent;
to make a return on capital employed of 6.5 per cent over a five-year period; and
to reduce by 5 per cent the ratio of internal costs over value-for-money improvements with the outturn for the same ratio in 2006-07 proportionate to cashable savings.
Universities: Research Funding
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (John Denham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:
I have decided on the next steps for the implementation and development of the research excellence framework. We will move towards a single unified funding and assessment framework for all subject areas as originally planned, but within this, the balance of metric indicators, including bibliometrics, and light-touch expert review will vary according to the subject. In order to allow sufficient time to develop this more flexible approach, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will now build an additional 12 months into the timetable for designing the new framework.
The extra time allowed for testing and piloting will give maximum assurance that the new arrangements are workable, without compromising our overall objective of having them fully operational in time for the beginning of academic year 2014-15.
HEFCE has reported to me the outcome of the recent UK-wide consultation exercise on the assessment and funding of higher education research post 2008. The consultation responses indicated broad support for the proposals but highlighted some concerns about the timetable for developing and piloting the proposals as well as about the demarcation between the sciences and all other subjects.