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Offshore Oil and Gas Facilities

Mr. Nicholas Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what arrangements are in place to enforce the provisions of the EU Social Chapter throughout the supply chain in construction projects for Britain's offshore oil and gas industries; and what the relationship is between these obligations and her Department's licensing regime. [154269]

Mr. Sutcliffe: The statutory employment rights provided by the Directives which the Government have implemented under the Social Chapter since 1997 extend to all those working in the United Kingdom in these industries.

Implementation of Directives under the EU Social Chapter does not impact the administration of the licensing regime under the Petroleum Act 1998.


Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the balance between the supply of (a) high, (b) intermediate and (c) lower level qualifications in the workforce and employers' requirements for qualifications across the UK. [155288]

Ms Hewitt: The evidence gathered to inform the National Skills Strategy highlighted the fact that 56.9 per cent. of the UK workforce have lower level qualifications, 27.7 per cent. intermediate and 15.4 per cent. higher level.

Understanding employers demand for skills and qualifications and encouraging effective deployment of skills in the workplace are key to my Department's agenda. I will continue to work with the Sectors Skills Development Agency and the Skills for Business Network to ensure that employers have the skills they require both now and in the future.

Scientists (Productivity)

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on levels of productivity amongst scientists in the UK. [155258]

Ms Hewitt: A recent international benchmarking study commissioned by my Department confirmed that in addition to the high quality of UK science and UK scientists are highly productive. On widely accepted measures of scientific productivity UK leads the G8 in terms of both papers published and citations acquired per researcher in international scientific journals.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many small and medium- sized enterprises she estimates have started business in each of the last 10 years; and if she will make a statement. [155585]

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Mr. Timms: Value added tax (VAT) registrations are the best official guide to the pattern of business start-ups. These cover businesses of all sizes. Large changes in the level of the VAT threshold mean that data before 1994 is unavailable on a consistent basis with the current series.

The number of businesses registering for VAT in each calendar year from 1994 to 2002 in the UK is as follows:

VAT registrations in the UK


Business Start-ups and Closures: VAT Registrations and De-registrations 1994–2002, Small Business Service

While the number of new VAT registrations peaked in 1997 there were still more registrations in each year from 1997 to 2002 than in any of the three years proceeding this period. The reason why VAT registrations have fallen since 1997 is not clear. Many factors influence the number of new VAT registrations. These include global economic conditions and attractiveness of salaried employment compared with self-employment. A stable economy with low interest rates, coupled with a range of government initiatives to help start-ups, has assisted the net growth of business in the UK—at the start of 2003 there were 117,000 more VAT registered businesses than at the start of 1997.

University Science Funding

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on (a) current and (b) future funding levels for university scientists in the UK. [155261]

Ms Hewitt: The Government has invested heavily in the science and engineering base, of which the research conducted in universities forms the larger part. In the current spending review period the science budget is growing at 10 per cent. year-on-year in real terms, building on the average 7 per cent. growth over the previous spending review period, and reaching just short of £3 billion by 2005–06. The recent announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of his intention to develop a 10-year investment framework for science and investment, to be announced at the time of the next spending review settlement, signals the Government's continuing long-term commitment to science.

Further details of current and future funding levels by Government Departments and Research Councils are set out in 'The Forward Look 2003 Government funded science, engineering and technology', copies of which are available in the Libraries of the House.

Working Time Directive

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the

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potential cost of prohibiting employees from working longer than an average 48 hours per week to (a) small businesses and (b) the UK economy as a whole. [153916]

Mr. Sutcliffe: Employers are likely to respond in a variety of ways if legislation were passed to prevent employees from working longer than 48 hours on average. Firstly employers may absorb the curtailment in working hours either through reducing output or realising productivity gains through changed work arrangements. Alternatively, employers may replace in whole or part the lost hours by recruiting more staff or asking existing staff to work longer hours (while remaining below 48 on average).

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The extent to which employers do not compensate employees for lost hours and reductions in overtime pay would partly offset employers' costs in replacing lost long hours worked. This makes any precise estimate of the cost of prohibiting employees working longer hours difficult.

However, DTI estimate that if one quarter of the hours worked over 48 per week were replaced by employers at extra cost then the value of those hours would be around £3 billion per annum. If three-quarters of long hours worked were replaced at extra cost then the value of these hours is estimated at around £9 billion per annum.

Estimates for small businesses are not available.