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Written Statements

Volume 685: debated on Monday 30 November 2020

Written Statements

Monday 30 November 2020

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Telecoms: 5G Diversification Strategy

I wish to inform the House that the Government have today published their 5G diversification strategy, which sets out the Government’s approach to building a resilient, open and sustainable 5G supply chain.

Digital connectivity is now a core part of the everyday lives of millions of people across the UK. It is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and spend time together.

Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, connectivity has allowed us to stay in touch with family and friends, and to stay plugged in while working remotely and access the content and services we need.

With more and more activity happening online, ensuring security in the networks which provide our connectivity is of paramount importance to this Government.

Looking forward, we are now developing world-class next generation technologies, such as 5G and full fibre, which will promote greater connection, drive growth and provide us with the services of the future. But to fully realise the benefits of these technological advances, we need to have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which they are built.

That is why we conducted the telecoms supply chain review to look at the long-term security of our 5G and full fibre networks. It is why in January we announced our decision to exclude high-risk vendors from the core of the network, exclude high-risk vendors from sensitive sites, and limit their overall presence in the access network to 35%. It is also why we took the decision in July to set out a clear path to the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G network.

Through the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, we have introduced legislation that will place these decisions on a statutory footing and set out a new, robust security framework for the UK telecoms sector. This will establish the UK as one of the toughest regimes in the world for telecoms security and resilience.

But looking to the future, there is more that we can do. The findings of the telecoms supply chain review highlighted the need for the Government to intervene in the market to create a more diverse and competitive supply chain in the longer term.

The review underscored the fact that a pronounced lack of supplier diversity has developed in the access network supply chain. This lack of competition has restricted choice in the sector and will continue to pose a risk to the security and resilience of our networks if not addressed.

These findings have made it clear that our current market structure is no longer fit for purpose and that without Government intervention, it is highly likely that the current market structure will persist.

Therefore, it is essential that we take action to address this issue. Today’s strategy will deliver lasting and meaningful change in the 5G supply chain and pave the way for a vibrant and dynamic market. A market where competition and innovation bring forward new, open deployment models; where our networks are flexible, made up of an array of suppliers; and where all operators and suppliers adopt the security standards that will ensure that our networks are robust and resilient.

To realise this ambition, we need to strike a balance between fundamentally shifting the market structure towards our long-term vision and ensuring that we can also guarantee the reliability of supply to our networks in the near term.

We have therefore set out a balanced approach to diversification which will see targeted measures introduced across three separate strands of activity;

Supporting incumbent suppliers;

Attracting new suppliers into the UK market; and

Accelerating open-interface solutions and deployment

The decision to commit to the removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks was the right decision for the UK’s telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy—both now and in the long term. However, it brings with it a resilience risk as we become more dependent on the remaining suppliers for our telecoms networks. This strategy means that we can mitigate that resilience risk as we approach the complete removal of Huawei from our 5G networks in 2027.

However, this strategy is about more than that. It is about implementing measures across these strands to facilitate a competitive, diverse and open supply market, which will support economic growth and innovation as the UK adopts next-generation technologies.

We recognise that there is a sharp need to work at pace to make early progress on diversification. As a first step towards delivering our long-term vision, the Government have committed an initial investment of up to £250 million, to kick off work to deliver our key priorities.

This will allow us to take forward specific measures as an absolute priority, such as the establishment of a world-class national telecoms lab, increasing UK influence in telecoms standards setting and beginning to dismantle the key barriers to diversification.

These measures will be partnered by immediate steps we are taking to accelerate the development of open-interface solutions. The Government will be funding the NEC NeutORAN project as part of the wider 5G testbeds and trials programme, which will showcase the latest innovations in the radio access network space. We are also partnering with Ofcom and Digital Catapult to fund the SmartRAN Open Network Innovation Centre (SONIC), an industry-facing testing facility for interoperable solutions.

Alongside this, the Government recognise that this is a global issue which affects many of our international allies. As such, we will be seeking to lead a global coalition like-minded partners to mount a co-ordinated international approach to diversification.

These next phases of work will be led by the recently established Telecoms Diversification Taskforce, an expert panel chaired by Lord Ian Livingston. The taskforce will be advising Government as we design and develop targeted measures across the three strands of our strategy. It will also support us in our work to look beyond 5G and address diversity in the full fibre and wider telecoms supply chain going forward.

As the taskforce does so, the Government will be working closely with players across the telecoms industry to explore opportunities to establish homegrown capability within the wider UK tech industry through R&D investment and fostering key skills.

This strategy presents a significant opportunity to position the UK as a growing power in telecoms and set the UK’s telecoms industry apart, by securing a position at the forefront of new, cutting-edge mobile technologies. By acting now, we are in a position to lead the global telecoms industry towards a more open, competitive and innovative standard—with UK companies setting an example across the sector.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament. uk/business/publications/written-questionsanswers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-11-30/HCWS610/ .

[HCWS610]

Education

Covid-19 Contingency Framework and Workforce Fund

The Prime Minister has announced the exit from national restrictions on 2 December and set out our return to a regional tiered approach. The strengthened tiering approach takes into account advice from Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and should prevent the need to introduce stricter national measures and allow for education and childcare settings to remain open across all tiers.

On 13 November, SAGE published papers relating to the latest evidence of incidence and transmission of coronavirus—covid-19—in schools. The science is clear that children and young people are typically at very low risk from coronavirus—covid-19. The disease is much less severe for children, even if they do catch coronavirus—covid-19.

The SAGE papers provide clear evidence regarding the risks from pupils not being in school. The documents are clear that school closures put educational outcomes at risk, especially for disadvantaged students. Transmission to and from children and young people can occur in household, community and educational settings. SAGE also noted that that there are significant educational, developmental and mental health harms from schools being closed, particularly for younger children, and vulnerable children where learning at home is likely to reinforce inequalities—with high confidence. This impact can affect both current levels of education and children’s future ability to learn.

Therefore, this issue requires balancing of risk and harms, including the health risks to children and staff from covid-19; impacts on community transmission; and the direct risks to children’s mental health, wellbeing, development and attainment from missing education. The chief medical officer has reinforced recently that the balance of risks is firmly in favour of keeping schools open. For the vast majority of children, the benefits of attending school far outweigh the low risk from coronavirus—covid-19— and schools can take action to reduce risks further through the system of controls set out in our guidance.

Covid-19 contingency framework for education and childcare settings

The education and childcare settings tiers and the use of rotas in schools was removed from the contain framework and has been replaced by a stronger contingency plan which continues to prioritise vulnerable children and young people, children of critical workers, students in exam cohorts and children in childcare or primary schools.

This framework is not directly linked to policy on local tiers of restriction. This framework is designed to set out how restrictions should be implemented in education and childcare settings as a containment measure for the rare circumstances in which they are required to address community transmission in any area.

This guidance for local authorities, childcare and education settings—excluding higher education—was published on 27 November and covers contingency plans for: early years and primary schools; secondary schools; further education colleges, alternative provision and special schools.

As part of their contingency planning, settings should consider how they would operate in the event that these restrictions become necessary in their local area, including how they would ensure that every child, pupil or student receives the quantity and quality of education and care to which they are normally entitled.

Any restrictions on education should only be as a last resort and should only be instituted on the recommendation of central Government. The Government will do everything possible to avoid triggering those contingency measures at any stage.

An educational or childcare setting should not move to implement restrictive measures of the kind set out in the contingency framework without the explicit agreement of the DfE. DfE will work with other Government Departments, the chief medical officer, the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), Public Health England (PHE) and relevant local authorities to ensure the decision is informed by the available evidence and viewed in conjunction with the wider local interventions in place and under consideration.

Covid-19 workforce fund

Keeping education settings open remains a national priority. We recognise that schools and colleges have faced significant challenges during the pandemic as they have sought to maintain high-quality education for their pupils and students. To support schools and colleges with these ongoing challenges, we have announced a new covid-19 workforce fund targeted at those with the highest staff absences that are also facing significant financial pressures. This will help schools and colleges to meet the cost of absences experienced during the period from the beginning of November until the end of this term, where they meet specific criteria relating to their absence rates and finances:

Mainstream schools and colleges must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 20%, and or a lower long-term—15 days or more—teacher absence rate at or above 10%—costs can only be claimed for the costs incurred above this rate.

Special schools and alternative provision schools must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 15%, and or a lower long-term—15 days or more— teacher absence rate at or above 10%, to be eligible—costs can only be claimed for the costs incurred above this rate.

Claims for support staff absences will be on an exceptional only basis, where necessary in keeping schools and colleges open. In special schools and alternative provision, there will be greater flexibility for claims for these staff.

Before claiming support, schools will first need to use any existing financial reserves, as we would typically expect when facing unforeseen costs. They will be eligible for this additional funding once they have used these reserves down to a level at 4% of their annual income. For colleges, eligibility will be based on their cash position set out in the November financial return.

This fund comes on top of our funding for schools facing exceptional costs during the summer months, the £1 billion covid-19 catch up fund to help all children make up for lost education, as well as the core funding that all schools and colleges continue to receive, and the core school funding that is seeing the biggest increase in a decade. The Department for Education will publish detailed guidance, including conditions for eligibility, shortly.

[HCWS611]

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Retail Opening Hours: Christmas and Covid-19

I wish to update the House on relaxing local restrictions to enable retail opening hours to be extended in England for Christmas.

On Monday 23 November, the Government published their covid-19 winter plan which will see the return to a regional tier approach to restrictions in England from 2 December. In all tiers, shops will be allowed to reopen, giving people the opportunity to shop for gifts for family and friends in the run up to Christmas. The Government recognise the efforts and investment that retailers have made to ensure their premises are covid-secure; this has been reflected by the fact that the best available Public Health England and NHS Track and Trace data shows there is at present no evidence of significant increased risk of virus transmission in retail premises. Government asked non-essential retailers to close as part of wider restrictions to limit social mixing in November, once those restrictions have been lifted consumers and retail staff can have confidence to return to our high streets.

We have been working closely with senior representatives from the retail sector, local authorities, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Public Health England to plan for a safe and successful reopening of non-essential retail on 2 December. To ensure the reopening of shops is safe and in line with social distancing rules given the high volume of shoppers expected before Christmas and the subsequent sales in January, the Government want to see retailers given the option to extend their daily opening hours from Monday to Saturday. This will help to spread footfall, ease transport pressures and make shopping in a socially distanced way easier by giving shoppers greater flexibility to choose when they shop and avoid peak times.

Restrictions on shop opening hours on weekday and Saturdays were removed by section 23 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. However, many retailers are subject to local controls through planning conditions which restrict opening times, particularly in the early morning, evening and at night, to make the development acceptable to local residents who might otherwise suffer from noise and other local amenity issues.

Given the exceptional circumstances as a result of the coronavirus, the purpose of this written ministerial statement, which comes into effect from 2 December, is to make clear that, as a matter of urgency, local planning authorities should take a positive approach to their engagement with retailers to ensure planning controls are not a barrier to the temporary extension of retail opening times in December and January.

In particular, local planning authorities, having regard to their legal obligations, should not seek to undertake planning enforcement action which would result in the unnecessary restriction of retail hours during this period. The national planning policy framework already emphasises that planning enforcement is a discretionary activity, and local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control.

Where appropriate, local planning authorities should also highlight this temporary relaxation to retailers in their area so that they can take advantage of longer opening hours if they wish to do so.

The Government recognise that longer retail opening hours could have a temporary impact on local residents, but this needs to be balanced by the significant public interest in ensuring there is a safe retail environment during this busy period; in helping local residents undertake Christmas shopping given many shops have been closed over the last month; and in supporting the commercial viability of local shops in England’s high streets and town centres during this challenging period.

This written ministerial statement also confirms that my previous statement to the House of 13 March 2020 about planning enforcement and the delivery of food and other essential goods to retailers during the coronavirus pandemic will remain in place until 31 March 2021 because continued flexibility is necessary to ensure access to food and essential goods in light of ongoing impacts of coronavirus. The statement made on 13 March 2020 is withdrawn with effect from the beginning of 1 April 2021, unless circumstances justify its further extension, in which case a further statement would be made to the House.

[HCWS609]