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Written Statements

Volume 703: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2021

Written Statements

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Film and TV Production Restart Scheme Contingent Liabilities

It is normal practice when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 or for which there is no statutory authority, for the Minister concerned to present a departmental minute to Parliament, giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances.

I am tabling this statement for the benefit of all Members of this House to bring to their attention the departmental minute issued today that provides the House with notice of a contingent liability created by my Department. This is in relation to the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme, for which Parliament approved substantial budget cover at supplementary estimates in 2020-21.

The Film and TV Production Restart Scheme was announced by the Government on 28 July 2020 and supports film and TV productions across the country that are at risk of being halted or delayed due to an inability to obtain covid-19 insurance. HMG has established a discretionary compensation scheme which will provide cover for losses associated with certain covid-19 related delays including civil authority restrictions and cast losses. Cover is available to purchase for an additional premium. The duration of the cover is from July 2020 to 30 June 2022.

The scheme provides cover for up to £500 million in claims with a current maximum contingent liability of £732 million. This figure is based on the abandonment of all productions using the scheme, an extremely unlikely scenario. The amount will increase and decrease as productions come on and off the scheme. While the contingent liability is theoretically unlimited, to retain control of the fiscal risk, the terms of the scheme allow DCMS to close the scheme to new registrations and/or review the value of the scheme limit, if it determines that the aggregate value of estimated claims payable is nearing the scheme limit of £500 million. Our internal central estimate of costs is significantly below this figure.

It is normal that any contingent liabilities should not be incurred until 14 sitting days after Parliament has been notified of the Government’s intention to incur a contingent liability. There is an exception in cases of special urgency. This is one such occasion.

This policy was developed and implemented at great speed in a time of emergency, while the Department was also delivering other innovative support packages. In order to make timely progress, it was necessary that production companies were certain of DCMS’s funding commitment in order to restart immediately, as DCMS worked on implementing the scheme. While Parliament was informed via the significant budget cover secured at supplementary estimates—which would more than cover the likely costs—a procedural oversight which has only recently come to light has meant Parliament was not informed of the theoretically unlimited contingent liability.

I note that DCMS’s work on the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme has contributed to the remarkable bounce back of the film and TV sector, with first half-year spend estimates topping £3 billion, and that the scheme has now supported more than £2.4 billion of production spend and secured over 80,000 jobs on set. Given this success, I hope the House is in agreement with my assessment that to delay signing the aforementioned agreement would have been inappropriate and to the detriment of the beneficiaries of the scheme.

A copy of the departmental minute is being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS397]

Education

Education Staff Wellbeing

We recognise the incredible efforts of schools and colleges to maintain the safety and wellbeing of staff, students and pupils and we are grateful to them for what they are doing.

Supporting the wellbeing and mental health of staff is a crucial element of our commitment to help create a supportive culture in schools and colleges. We have worked in partnership with the education sector and mental health experts to inform and deliver the commitments announced in May 2020 to protect and promote staff mental health and wellbeing.

I am today announcing a new £760,000 mental health support scheme for school leaders to be delivered by the charity Education Support from this autumn until March 2023. The programme will provide one-to-one counselling and peer support to around 2,000 school leaders, helping those at deputy head level and above with their mental wellbeing.

It builds on the pilot involving over 350 school leaders which was launched in response to the challenges brought about by the pandemic. Eligible school leaders will be able to access the programme from today through the Education Support website.

Along with this announcement, this week, we are launching the education staff wellbeing charter for schools to sign up to. The charter sets out commitments from the Government, Ofsted, schools and colleges to promote and protect the mental health of the education workforce.

Through the charter, the Department pledges to work with the sector to drive down unnecessary workload, improve access to wellbeing resources, and champion flexible working, among a range of actions to support staff wellbeing. We are now encouraging all state funded schools and colleges to sign up to the charter to create a united approach to supporting staff wellbeing.

[HCWS398]

Health and Social Care

Personal Protective Equipment Procurement

Today, the Government are publishing further information about their exceptional procurement exercise to secure critical personal protective equipment (PPE) during the early months of the covid-19 pandemic.

We have already published details of all Government PPE contracts in line with our transparency obligations. Today’s publication goes above and beyond those obligations as a measure of our commitment to openness about procurement processes during the pandemic.

Market overview in March 2020

The outbreak of covid-19 in 2020 saw the total disruption of global PPE markets. Demand for PPE skyrocketed, leading to huge price inflation and limited supplies. Normal market dynamics ceased to exist, and with them our NHS procurement procedures. It was essential that Government adapted its approach to sourcing PPE for health and social care frontline workers, moving extremely quickly where necessary and taking carefully considered risks with new suppliers where appropriate, in order to secure vital supplies in the teeth of stiff competition all around the world.

To save lives, we focused our efforts, resources and attention on sourcing PPE. We continue to stand by the efforts we made at the height of the early pandemic to prioritise and protect our staff in the frontline.

Adapting to market volatility

Within the first few months of 2020, covid-19’s dramatic impact on public bodies, and their ability to secure necessary levels of PPE, was becoming clear. Global demand was outstripping supply, while at the same time brand-new manufacturers and suppliers were rushing to fill the gaps in the volatile PPE market.

The Government took decisive action. In order to secure the PPE needed by the NHS, in the quantities and to the timescales required, we adopted an entirely new “open-source” approach to procurement.

Agile and decisive decision making

This was an entirely new approach to Government procurement—we were inviting industry to come to us: opening up fresh sources of supply that we could rapidly vet as being technically, legally and commercially compliant in order to secure product in the rapidly moving global market for PPE. Absolutely central to this new approach was our willingness to work with brand-new suppliers, because this was a brand-new marketplace for PPE.

The response from industry was phenomenal. Over 15,000 businesses came forward with over 24,000 offers within a 14-week period and we are hugely grateful for this support.

Managing and processing offers

To secure product quickly and effectively, we focused efforts on prioritising and processing offers. At the peak, over 400 staff were assigned to work on processing the offers of PPE, which were divided into a number of discrete workstreams.

A “UK Make” workstream, for example, handling offers from UK-related sources, sought to establish a resilient domestic manufacturing base for PPE that would provide security of supply for the future. Other offers were specifically processed through a “China Buy” workstream whose caseworkers could harness the expertise of our embassy in Beijing to identify and secure priority opportunities within China, the market leader in supplying PPE.

A small proportion of offers—approximately 430 of the 24,000—were processed through a “high priority referral” route.

These were all ways of managing the incredible volume of offers, and the breadth of sources, to ensure we could find the product when we needed it most. As of June 2020, when the peak had passed, all these procurement routes were closed down.

The high priority lane

There has been significant interest in the high priority lane. We take our responsibilities around due diligence extremely seriously and, as the National Audit Office has found, Ministers were not involved in procurement decisions.

The high priority mailbox was set up at a time when, with the country and citizens in need of urgent help, many suppliers and individuals were rightly passing on offers of support direct to their local MPs, healthcare professionals and civil servants, because they were keen that the Government procurement effort knew what was available. The mailbox allowed MPs, ministers and senior officials to direct those offers to a dedicated location.

All offers that came to the mailbox were triaged by an official from the high priority appraisals team to be processed and responded to.

The criteria used to assess offers were the same as those used to assess any other offer from across the PPE procurement programme. The suppliers had to undergo the same checks and clearances as all others awarded a contract. End-to-end, the process of assessing an offer and awarding a contract was led by officials on the basis of published specifications and commercial expertise. Being referred to the high priority lane was emphatically not a guarantee of a contract; indeed, nearly 90% of offers referred through this route were unsuccessful. Those to whom contracts were awarded helped enormously, securing more than 5 billion items of life-saving PPE for the frontline.

The suppliers, and indeed those who referred them, were not notified that their offer was processed through the mailbox. This was not a separate channel for suppliers to provide offers to Government; rather, it was an internal process set up for handling such offers.

As the information set out shows, the range of suppliers successfully processed through the high priority route was wide. They came from within Government and outside, via politicians and civil servants, from healthcare professionals and commercial experts. The list also reflects the number of different types of “referral”, ranging from offers that were simply forwarded by staff working in ministerial private offices and personal referrals from MPs, to suppliers passed on by healthcare professionals and offers referred by the NHS’s existing supply chain, Supply Chain Coordination Ltd. Due to incomplete record keeping, in a small number of cases, we have not been able to identify the individual or team who directed the offer to this route.

We publish this account today as an insight into how the Government mobilised the resources of our parliamentarians, our businesses, the civil service and the whole country to meet the challenges of a national emergency. We are proud of the efforts to secure PPE supplies for our frontline workers at a time of incredible need. Above all, we are hugely grateful to all those who responded to the calls to help us protect those who care for the most vulnerable in our society. Our PPE stocks are now resilient. We have a strong UK manufacturing base, and a contingency stockpile should there be further spikes in demand.

A list indicating the range of routes used to identify suppliers can be found at:

https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-11-17/hcws400

[HCWS400]

Social Care Update

On 7 September 2021, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the Government’s new plan for adult social care reform in England. This included a lifetime cap on the amount anyone in England will need to spend on their personal care, alongside a more generous means test for local authority financial support.

Today we are publishing a technical note to complement the announcement, which:

provides further detail of the new charging reform framework and confirms key policy details, including the standard level at which ‘daily living costs’, will initially be set.

marks the start of a period of co-production of the statutory guidance with the sector, with the intention to publish a public consultation in the new year, and lay regulations and publish updated statutory guidance in spring 2022.

The key policy details that the technical note confirm are that:

from October 2023 both new entrants and existing social care users will be able to progress towards the cap.

the increase in the Upper Capital Limit of £100,000 will apply universally, irrespective of an individual’s care setting or circumstances.

between the Upper and Lower Capital limits, if individuals are not able to pay for their care from their income, they will be expected to contribute up to one in every £250 from their chargeable assets towards the cost of their care.

the notional level of ‘daily living costs’, a key concept of the reforms, will be set at £200 per week.

for individuals who receive financial support for their care costs from their local authority, it is the amount that the individual contributes towards these costs that will count towards the cap on care costs.

This last point requires an amendment to section 15 of the Care Act 2014. For this reason, the Government will bring forward an amendment for the purposes of introducing a clause into the current Health and Care Bill. This clause will seek to amend section 15 of the Care Act 2014 such that individual contributions—based on local authority rates—will count toward the cap.

This change will reduce complexity; it will ensure individuals receive the support they need through the means test but are not unfairly reaching the cap at an artificially faster rate than what they contribute.

I have ensured a copy of the technical note will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS399]

International Trade

UK Export Strategy

On our inaugural International Trade Week, we have today launched our export strategy—“Made in the UK, Sold to the World”. This is the first export strategy since the UK became a sovereign trading nation.

Some businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, can face a range of barriers to exporting, with costs, lack of knowledge, constraints in capacity and networks among the most often cited. This Government are committed to working hand in hand with business to help them to succeed in the global marketplace through a first-class export support framework.

As part of the “Race to £1 trillion” we are setting an ambition and a challenge to boost exports—unleashing the potential of businesses across the UK and building our reputation as a global exporting powerhouse.

Research estimates that exports supported 6.5 million jobs across the UK in 2016, 74% of which were outside of London. Separate survey analysis has found that fewer than one in 10 businesses in the UK exported, and these businesses are not evenly distributed across the country. Trade through exports means jobs, and investment into local communities and our public services, including police, the NHS and schools. Evidence also shows exporters are more productive and pay higher wages. Our strategy will set out tangible ways in which we can support businesses to take advantage of existing and new markets, while levelling up the country.

The strategy highlights a range of measures to support businesses including:

Launching the “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” campaign, championing the UK’s priority sectors through an innovative, localised marketing campaign that will promote the best of British goods and services in our towns and cities.

The Export Support Service provides a single point of contact for exporters to Europe. Since launching in October the new export hotline and online service has helped hundreds of businesses to get exporting.

UK Export Academy expansion to offer SMEs in all parts of the UK, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the chance to learn how to navigate the technicalities of exporting and how to find new opportunities in overseas markets.

A new UK Tradeshow Programme will be bigger and better targeted to give UK companies, especially SMEs, a leg-up to exhibit their first-class products at the world’s biggest tradeshows.

UK Export Finance—our world-leading export credit agency—will expand its offer with new products and a wider delivery network that will make it easier for UK exporters to secure business from overseas buyers.

Export Champions, ensuring businesses can build and learn from exporting successes through business-to-business networking and peer-to-peer learning.

Internationalisation Fund, open to SMEs in England, will aim to grow international sales, and has facilitated £4 million of support to SMEs attending trade fairs.

As part of International Trade Week, through our trade hubs and army of expert advisers dotted around the UK, over 2,500 business have signed up to over 100 events and workshops—which will support and encourage businesses to sell globally—from webinars on key global markets (e.g. doing business in Singapore) through to free trade agreement (FTA) workshops, with events being run by both Government and businesses, there is something for every business.

[HCWS396]