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Volume 724: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to promote the role of design in social and economic renewal.

My Lords, the Government believe that design is an important tool for innovation and economic growth. The strategic use of design can be transformative for companies, for the commercialisation of science and for the delivery of public services. The Government will promote design through their continued support and funding for the Design Council and the delivery of its mission to place design at the heart of social and economic renewal in the UK.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that positive answer. Does she agree that there have been seminal reports from Sir James Dyson and Martin Temple explaining the importance of design to economic success, contributing, as it does, about £15 billion to GDP directly, quite apart from its wider impact? If she does agree, will she be a little more specific as to what the Government will do to ensure that the widest national expertise is brought to bear on giving design its proper place in strategies on innovation and growth?

My Lords, the Government have welcomed the reports of both Sir James Dyson and Martin Temple, to which the noble Baroness referred, and the insight that they have given on the role of design in social and economic renewal. The Government are committed to continued funding and support for a restructured Design Council and we are working together to implement the recommendations of the Temple review. One of the recommendations was that the council should restructure to incorporate a broader cross-section of industry and society, with representation at both national and local level. This will ensure that the widest national design expertise can be utilised to contribute to our strategies for innovation and growth and to help to return the United Kingdom economy to strong, sustainable growth.

The Minister will know that the Design Council has done good work and produced good results in the National Health Service in controlling infection and other improvements. Will she do her best to ensure that the council is not overlooked and that it will make a contribution to our reorganisation of the NHS?

I am delighted to answer that question from my noble friend. The Design Council has done some excellent work with the National Health Service and the Department of Health. The Design Bugs Out project demonstrated how the design of equipment can reduce hospital infections. These are wonderful ways of extending the use of the great talent that we have in this country for innovation in these areas. I am sure that other government departments will start to look at the sort of help that the Design Council could give them in saving money and promoting better practice.

As chairman of the Design Council, perhaps I should declare an interest. Does the Minister agree with me, as I think she might, that design is a powerful driver for economic recovery and for creating better public services at less cost? Will she ensure that her department takes the lead in developing a strategy across government for design? The lack of that at the moment suggests that design is not fully understood and is not given the priority that it deserves in all departments.

My Lords, I am aware that, as chairman of the Design Council, the noble Lord has a particular interest in this subject; if I remember correctly, he made it the centre-point of his maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. The Government recognise the excellent work of the Design Council in promoting the use of design to create more efficient and effective public services. For example, Lewisham Council’s homelessness service now costs £1.2 million less than in 2008 as a result of mentoring through the Design Council’s Public Services by Design programme. There are other excellent public sector examples, such as in the NHS, as we have heard, and the Department of Health’s collaboration with the Design Council. These programmes have helped to raise awareness of the value of design across government. I know that this is an absolute personal crusade for the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and no doubt he will continue to ask me questions in this area until we have fulfilled his every want.

My Lords, the UK’s internationally recognised strength in design was built on 150 years of investment in design education in some of the world’s best colleges. The Government’s HE funding system takes no account of the economic value of any subjects, apart from science, technology, engineering and maths. If design is mission-critical to UK plc, as the Minister suggests, will she say how much will be invested in English design education in the 2011-12 academic year and what policy guidance the Government will provide?

Future funding for all university courses will increasingly flow from graduate contributions. Our universities will be able to secure an equivalent flow of income and, if their course provision remains attractive to students, some may be able to attract more income. Universities must consider, therefore, how to structure and design their courses in ways that make them as attractive as possible to students. The students will be making the choices, so the more attractive the courses, the more students they will attract.

My Lords, the design of accessible housing for our ageing society is vital. Will the Minister say how the Government plan to ensure that it will be provided?

I think that the noble Baroness is referring to the work of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. We recognise that good design of living environments can greatly enhance the quality of life for inhabitants. Following the decision by DCMS to withdraw funding from CABE, we are actively considering future arrangements for delivering its functions. An announcement is imminent.

Does the Minister agree that, in many areas, design and engineering are inseparable? It seems strange to me that they have been separated in terms of university funding. Will she ensure that design plays an integral part in the new technology innovation centres?

Yes, I agree that design plays an integral part in pretty well all aspects of our lives. That is as far as I can go in answering the noble Lord’s question at this time.

Perhaps I can slightly broaden the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. Does the Minister accept that the creative industries, of which design is a significant aspect, will have to play a key part in the growth of the British economy? In the light of the GDP figures yesterday, does she not think that this is the moment for the Government to set out their plans to ensure that the creative industries provide a spur for growth in our economy?

Work on the creative industries is going on all the time, as my noble friend knows. He is right that the UK design sector has a worldwide reputation for creativity and innovation. Research indicates that £15 billion was spent on UK designs in 2009, so there is every reason for us to encourage every aspect of this that we can. I thank my noble friend for his question.