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9 Jun 2003 : Column 617W—continued

Partnership Agreements

Angela Eagle: To ask the Minister of State, Department for International Development whether he plans to conclude a partnership agreement with the trade unions representing the staff in his Department. [117453]

Hilary Benn: A partnership agreement was signed between Department for International Development management and representatives of the trade unions (Public and Commercial Services Union and the Association of First Division Civil Servants) on 24 October 2002.

St. Helena

Mr. MacDougall: To ask the Minister of State, Department for International Development if he will make a statement on progress in the construction of an airstrip on St Helena. [117879]

Hilary Benn: As a result of talks held last September in St Helena, an invitation to the private sector seeking innovative proposals for the development of air access was launched by the St Helena Government on 7 April 2003. Details of this invitation can be found at www.giclimited.com. In response, various parties have given notification of intent to submit outline proposals by the invitation deadline of 25 July.

MINISTER FOR WOMEN

Equal Pay

Helen Southworth: To ask the Minister for Women what evaluation she has made of the progress by United Kingdom employers in reducing the pay gap between men and women employees who are carrying out work of equal value; and what further measures she will take to remove the pay gap altogether. [113854]

Ms Hewitt: The Government's gender pay gap figures are based on earnings figures from the New Earnings Survey (NES) published annually by the ONS. The mean full-time pay gap as at April 2002 is 18.9 per cent. When median earnings are used it shows that in fact the full-time pay gap has narrowed over the last year, from 15.4 per cent. in April 2001 to 14.7 per cent. in April 2002—a fall of 0.7 percentage point.

The Government also welcomes voluntary benchmarking initiatives, such as that conducted by Opportunity Now, as they provide additional information on the progress of employers in reducing the pay gap. Opportunity Now Benchmarking 2003 identified that increasing numbers of employers have started work on equal pay reviews: 41 per cent. reported that reviews have just been introduced or that new work is being developed.

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This is similar to the recent EOC survey finding that l/3rd of large companies had conducted pay reviews or were developing new work. Opportunity Now found that the number doing nothing on equal pay has decreased from 31 per cent. last year to 23 per cent.

The Government are working to reduce the gender pay gap in other ways:


Flexible Working

Stephen Hesford: To ask the Minister for Women what steps she is taking to promote flexible working for women. [111037]

Ms Hewitt: The Government's Work-Life Balance Campaign actively encourages businesses to follow best practice and offer flexible working opportunities. The Government recently launched the 5th round of the Work Life Balance Challenge Fund, inviting employers to apply by 31 July 2003 for consultancy support to introduce new working arrangements, including flexible working, within their organisations.

On 6 April 2003 the Government introduced a new flexible working law providing mothers and fathers of children under six or disabled children under 18 with the right to apply for flexible working, and placing a duty on employers to consider such requests seriously.

To promote the new right, the Government launched awareness-raising activity last Autumn. We ran a six-week advertising campaign in the national press prior to the new law coming into force, and we briefed representatives of the consumer and life-style media so that they could include articles in their publications, such as parenting magazines.

We have also produced extensive guidance both on the internet at www.dti.gov.uk/workingparents and in hard copy. This includes a set of forms based on best-practice, case studies and user-friendly "How to . . ." tips. Guidance is also available in an interactive form at www.tiger.gov.uk and helpline support is being provided by AC AS on 08457 474747.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Broadband

Mr. Simmonds: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on (a) money allocated towards and (b) progress made in implementation of broadband in the Boston and Skegness areas. [116867]

Mr. Timms: BT has enabled the Boston exchange for ADSL and Skegness has nearly reached its trigger level of 500 expressions of interest, with 462 registrations to date according to BT's broadband website.

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Lincolnshire County Council is providing matched funding under the 'Lincolnshire Broadband Initiative' to draw down £64 million of European Regional Development Objective 2 funding to help key economic development projects. Broadband and Information Communication Technology (ICT) are identified by the County Council as important drivers for the county's economy.

We provided the East Midlands Regional Development Agency (EMDA) £2.09 million during 2001–03, from the £30 million broadband fund, to further broadband throughout the region. EMDA have contributed from this to the Remote Area Broadband Inclusion Trials (RABBIT) programme, to trial alternative broadband internet access to small businesses in rural areas using wireless and satellite. 43 Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) within Lincolnshire are benefiting, although I do not have a separate figure for those which are in the Boston and Skegness areas.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the estimated (a) number of households and (b) percentage of population is in East Sussex who have access to broadband; and if she will place a map of coverage in the Library. [117358]

Mr. Timms: This information is not currently held centrally.

Officials are talking to the holders of the underlying data to develop a map of broadband coverage and to explore how the data might be made publicly available.

Arms Exports

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what regular contact her Department has with Interpol with regard to the licensing of arms deals. [117015]

Nigel Griffiths: None.

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the basis for her policy on making the US exports controls on transportation, freight forwarding and financing of arms deals effective in the UK. [117016]

Nigel Griffiths: The Government have no plans to make US export controls on transportation, freight forwarding and financing of arms deals effective in the UK. The Government outlined their own proposals, in the consultation document on draft secondary legislation, to control such activities in relation to the trade in controlled goods to embargoed destinations and equipment used in torture or long-range missiles to any destination.

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether her Department makes checks before granting arms export licences with other international export licensing agencies on whether those applying for arms licences have been banned from applying for licences in other jurisdictions. [117017]

Nigel Griffiths: The Government do not comment on their internal procedures relating to the assessment of export licence applications to avoid giving disreputable exporters information which they might exploit.

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Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to her answer of 8 April 2003, Official Report, column 165W, if she will change the provisions for the maximum penalty so that fines are commensurate with a company's market capitalisation. [117066]

Nigel Griffiths: I refer my hon. Friend to my answer on 8 April 2003, Official Report, column 165W.

Call Centres

Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what her assessment is of the economic impact of the loss of jobs within the UK from the transfer of administration of call centre operations from the UK to other countries where employment costs are lower. [117134]

Mr. Timms: No such assessment has been made.

Although the UK market is maturing and, in common with other European markets, growth is slowing, the UK has by far the greatest number of call centre operations within Europe. There are conflicting predictions on future UK growth prospects. Mitial Research Limited predict that employment in call centres will decline from more than 300,000 today to 220,000 by 2005. The industry analysts, Datamonitor, predicts that employment in call centres will continue to grow. Datamonitor 1 estimates that there are currently 5,700 call centres in The UK, containing 384,000 agent positions. By 2007 it predicts that there will be 6,900 call centres in The UK, containing 470,000 agent positions.



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