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Written Statements

Volume 684: debated on Monday 16 November 2020

Written Statements

Monday 16 November 2020

Treasury

Levelling up the Economy: Freeport Bidding Process

On 16 November, the Government launched the bidding process for the allocation of freeports in England by publishing a bidding prospectus. The bidding period will close on 5 February 2021.

Leaving the EU creates new opportunities for the UK to strengthen the union and become a hub for international trade and investment. Revitalising our port regions through an ambitious freeport policy is a key component of realising this vision and unlocking the deep potential of all nations and regions of the UK.

The creation of freeports will be a cornerstone of the Government’s plan to level up opportunity across the country. Freeports will increase trade, create employment and attract investment in order to form innovative business clusters that benefit local areas. This in turn will help rejuvenate left-behind communities across the UK, by attracting new businesses, spreading jobs, investment and opportunity.

The bidding prospectus sets out how ports, businesses, local government and other local partners can come together to bid for freeport status.

At the centre of our new freeports policy is an ambitious new customs model which will improve upon both the UK’s existing customs facilitations and the freeports the UK previously had. Our freeports model also introduces a package of tax incentives for businesses to invest in freeports, and seed funding to develop key infrastructure to help level up some of our most deprived communities. We are introducing new measures to speed up planning processes to accelerate development in and around freeports and new initiatives to encourage innovators to test new ideas to drive additional economic growth and create jobs.

Freeports will be selected according to a fair, transparent and competitive bidding process, and will be expected to collaborate closely with key partners across the public and private sectors.

We want all the nations of the UK to share in the benefits of freeports. As such, we are working constructively and collaboratively with the devolved Administrations to seek to establish at least one freeport in each nation of the UK as soon as possible.

The “Freeports bidding prospectus” CP315 has been laid in Parliament. Copies are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office, and also at: https://www.gov.uk/ government/publications/freeports-bidding-prospectus.

[HCWS579]

Education

University Admissions System

Today I want to update both Houses on policy developments for reform within the university admissions system.

On Friday 13 November, I announced the Department’s intention to explore a post-qualification admissions (PQA) system for higher education, where students would receive and accept offers after they have received their level 3 (A-level or equivalent) grades.

The Government’s manifesto committed us to “improve the application and offer system” and in a way that is “underpinned by a commitment to fairness, quality of learning and teaching, and access”. Evidence shows that the current admissions system falls short of this commitment, which is why we are now exploring how a new system could work. We want to ensure the system works for disadvantaged students and facilitates the levelling up that we all want to see, so that everyone with the qualifications and ability to benefit from higher education can do so, no matter what their background.

If we were starting from scratch today, no one would design the higher education admissions system we have now—a system which, with its reliance on predicted grades, systematically favours the most advantaged. While the higher education provider base has expanded significantly in recent decades, with the emergence of new providers and courses, the admissions system has remained largely unchanged since the 1960s. The current system lacks transparency, and it works against the interests of some students, notably high achieving disadvantaged students. In recent years we have also seen the emergence of undesirable admissions practices, such as the mass use of unconditional offers.

We know, due to the pandemic, that students have experienced considerable disruption to their education this year. We believe that the unique set of circumstances students faced could have been better dealt with by a fairer higher education admissions system.

A broad range of interested parties across the education system, and from across the political spectrum—including the Sutton Trust, Policy Exchange, and the University and College Union—have been calling for a post-qualification admissions system to support social mobility and to remove the complexity and undesirable practices of the current system. According to a recent poll by the Sutton Trust, two thirds of this year’s university entrants (66%) are in favour of removing predicted grades from university admissions and making decisions based on actual results. Universities UK has also confirmed its desire to work with the Government to explore moving to such a system.

The Government will therefore consult universities, colleges, schools, students, and other interested parties to develop a potential model of reform over the coming months. We will work across the sectors to design a more efficient and transparent system that helps all students, especially those who are disadvantaged, access the course and institution that best suits their aspirations and capabilities. This is a set of reforms we would look to deliver during the course of this Parliament, but it will not affect students over the current academic year.

[HCWS580]

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Falkland Islands Demining

On 14 November, the Falkland Islands were declared mine-free under the anti-personnel mine ban convention (the Ottawa convention); a major step forward for the islanders as they look forward to a peaceful future. This project has taken more than 38 years after several thousand land mines were laid during the Falklands conflict. The Government pay tribute to the members of the British armed forces who contributed to mapping, fencing and clearing the mine fields between 1982 and 2009, as well as the civilian deminers who between 2009 and 2020 have destroyed over 10,000 mines and other unexploded ordnance in a project funded by the United Kingdom Government. The project has released 23 million square meters of land, allowing public access to large areas of ground which had been out of bounds for almost four decades, including beauty spots close to Stanley. This means that the people of the Falkland Islands will no longer have to teach their children about the dangers of minefields.

In 1997, the United Kingdom, alongside 121 other nations, signed the anti-personnel mine ban convention, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and commits signatories to removing such mines from territories over which they have jurisdiction or control. The completion of the demining project in the Falkland Islands marks the United Kingdom’s fulfilment of its legal obligation under this convention. Finishing three years ahead of the deadline of 31 March 2024, this achievement underlines the United Kingdom’s commitment to and leadership of global humanitarian mine action.

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