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House of Lords Hansard
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17 October 2016
Volume 774

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that the United Kingdom becomes a global centre for innovation and growth in the sharing economy.

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The Government commissioned an independent review on how to unblock the value of the sharing economy. Debbie Wosskow reported in 2014 and we have implemented many of her recommendations. The Government will consider whether further steps can be taken to support innovation in this area in their industrial strategy.

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My Lords, growth in key areas of the sharing economy, not least transport and housing, is to rise from 5% in 2014 to over 50% in 2025. Could my noble friend write to all relevant departments to ask what plans they have to make sure that we capture all the benefits of the sharing economy? In addition, how are things going with the two proposed hubs in this area which were announced in the 2015 Budget?

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Part of the process of developing the industrial strategy is of course to bring in information from other departments on how major changes in the economy are affecting them. One of the things that we ensure when consulting business is that we always include the sharing economy element in those discussions. I will write to my noble friend about the hubs.

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My Lords, it is 60 years ago today that Britain became a world pioneer when Her Majesty the Queen opened the nuclear power station at Calder Hall. Nuclear power has plugged our energy gap for the past 60 years. When will the Government try to have some extra innovation and look at wave power so that we can plug the gap in the energy demands of the future?

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As the new Energy Minister, I have been struck by the range of opportunities in energy. On nuclear, we have made the decision to go ahead with Hinkley and a potential whole new generation of nuclear power stations. We are looking at all these other areas and we have innovation expenditure. We will be sharing our thoughts further in due course—for example, in the context of the contract for difference decisions that are due in the coming weeks.

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In her Answer, the Minister claimed that the Government are protecting our global position as a world leader in innovation and growth. Could she then explain why, in the race for Brexit, they are shutting the door on the very global talent that we need—particularly for tech start-ups—to come to this country from Europe and the rest of the world?

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The noble Baroness is right that skills—especially digital skills—are important to our economy. We are extremely aware of that, including in the context of the Brexit discussions. I am sure she knows about all that we have done to ensure that we can get diverse digital skills from abroad, where that is appropriate, and to develop digital skills here in the UK, both through lifelong learning education and, more importantly, in schools, with computing now being part of the curriculum from five to 16.

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My Lords, in the last Administration the noble Baroness was a Minister not just in BIS but in DCMS—a post that she has now had to give up, although I in no sense cast any aspersions on her very successful successor. Since that Administration, the creative economy has been moved back to DCMS and higher education has been carved out and sent back to DfE. Given that she talked about the industrial strategy that is coming, and that we are all looking forward to, what arrangements are going to be made to ensure that the work on that will not be restricted to BIS?

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I can give the noble Lord that assurance. Obviously an industrial strategy has to be wide-ranging and, as I have said, key things such as the development of the digital economy and skills have to be at the heart of that. There is a Cabinet committee under the Prime Minister looking at the development of the industrial strategy, and that is bringing together the strands of work across Whitehall. There have been departmental changes; we have gathered energy—a major and important area—and I am trying to get to grips with its important challenges.

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My Lords, on the subject of the industrial strategy, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the situation in Yeovil, which is the last integrated site capable of designing, manufacturing and assembling helicopters. As a result of the Government’s short-sighted decision to grant the order for the Apache to the United States without any tendering whatever, the Italian owner, Leonardo, has now concluded that we do not seem interested in producing helicopters on a stand-alone site and is now shipping all the work on assembly back to Italy. What is needed now is the Government’s clear statement that they wish to see helicopters made in Britain, of British manufacture, for our Armed Forces, as they have been for nearly 50 years now. Does the Minister realise what will happen if that should vanish or be in doubt as the Government’s intention?

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Helicopters are some way from the sharing economy, which is the subject of this Question. We are looking at the procurement rules on the sharing economy and in other areas to make sure that we get the best deal for Britain. We will be looking at all the issues regarding the industrial strategy. Coming from the West Country, I look forward to talking to the noble Lord further on the subject of Yeovil.

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My Lords, reverting to the subject of wave power, I opened my account in your Lordships’ House 40 years ago on the subject of marine power. Will my noble friend concentrate rather more on tidal power than wave power, because I do not think any manufacturer has yet produced a machine that could withstand the forces of waves—but tidal power is another story altogether?

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My noble friend is right: some innovative demonstration work is going on in Scotland and we are awaiting a report from Mr Hendry on a possible tidal lagoon in Swansea—and elsewhere.

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As the Minister knows, much of the investment and work in the sharing economy is intangible. What progress are the Government making on measuring that work, as recommended in the Bean report?

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I think that the noble Lord is talking about the work by the ONS on a subject we have talked about before: how you measure the sharing economy. He will be glad to know that on 12 October the ONS produced a progress report on how we advance measurement, how we sample and how we collect data. It is difficult because a lot of sharing economy transactions are non-financial and do not always involve business. The answer is that the good questions that he has previously asked have now been reflected in the work of the ONS. I look forward to seeing the results—I hope in higher growth figures for the UK economy.