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Regional Development Agencies

Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how best practice and key incentives are proactively shared between the regional development agencies; what regular meetings are held at board and operational levels; and if he will make a statement. [28918]

Alun Michael: The RDAs proactively share best practice and information on key incentives and initiatives at both senior and operational levels. For example at senior level the chairs of the agencies meet every six weeks to discuss their collective agenda and one of the standing items on the agenda is a best practice slot where two chairs will give presentations on projects from their own RDA. Copies of the presentation are circulated to all RDAs after the meeting, and are available upon request. Chairs also meet with Government Ministers every six weeks and there is a regional showcase item on the agenda. One of the chairs will give a presentation on a key initiative that illustrates the broader theme of the meeting. For example the chair of the East of England development agency recently gave a presentation on higher education provision in the region as part of a wider discussion on the skills agenda.
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The RDA directors meet their peers quarterly to discuss issues of mutual interest and best practice. There are six groups covering the following areas; strategy, finance, communications, enterprise, development (regeneration) and skills.

At operational level there are a number of networks that support the RDA directors, including one, whose purpose is to support best practice in relation to RDA performance management, reporting and evaluation framework.

In addition, at operational level there are a number of networks that support the RDAs in their lead roles. These groups communicate mainly through e-mail, but will meet occasionally to discuss common issues and share best practice. The areas the groups cover include; planning, transport, sustainable development, diversity, and the voluntary and community sector.

The RDAs have established the Office of Project Advice and Training jointly with English Partnerships and the Welsh Development Agency which aims to promote best practice in project appraisal, delivery and evaluation. The office has both a technical and strategic role. The technical role is to develop and share best practice in project appraisal, delivery and evaluation, and to disseminate this advice within the agencies and their partners. The strategic role is to influence and advise both Departments and agencies on the implications of new responsibilities and government initiatives based on their technical knowledge and expertise in project processes and agency procedures. This helps avoid duplication of effort, maximises the use of resources and so achieves value for money.

Following the publication of the Egan report all RDAs have established regional centres of excellence which will help RDA staff and regeneration practitioners share and promote best practice in their work. The regional centres will work closely with the National Centre, which is being established in Leeds.

Best practice is shared among representatives from the RDAs responsible for managing Business Link in the regions at the Business Link Implementation Group. Recommendations from that group are ratified by the Business Link Strategy Board, which is made up of representatives from the RDAs that have a wider responsibility for co-ordinating the delivery of business support in the regions.

Renewable Energy

Mr. Betts: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the average grant awarded for school renewable energy projects was under his Department's Clearskies programme. [32847]

Malcolm Wicks: 71 schools have been offered grant funding totalling £1,152,596, this equates to an average of £16,234 per school.

Skilled Workers

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps the Government are taking to reduce the loss of skilled workers to areas outside the European Union. [23455]

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Alan Johnson: The mobility of skilled people is positive and beneficial for career development and the UK is making significant gains as a result of such international mobility. Recent research shows that almost all highly cited UK academic staff who went abroad subsequently returned and that the UK was one of the most dynamic and highly regarded locations for higher education careers. In fact the UK was a magnet for both young researchers at the beginning of their careers as well as established academics, gaining 40 per cent. more staff than it lost over an eight-year period, from highly cited academics to postdoctoral staff.

In addition, we have introduced several initiatives to encourage foreign national students to stay on after education in the UK by raising PhD stipends, improving professional training in PhDs, improving postdoctoral pay and conditions and developing entrepreneurship.

Small Business Research Initiative

Kitty Ussher: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will place in the Library the guidelines issued to all Government Departments in implementing the mandatory small business research initiative. [35492]

Alun Michael: The guidelines issued to Government Departments regarding the small business research initiative are currently being revised. A copy of the revised guidance will be placed in the Library shortly.

Sunday Trading

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent representations he has received about the extension of Sunday trading hours; and if he will make a statement. [35815]

Mr. Sutcliffe: We have received representations from a range of stakeholders on the issue. My officials are preparing a cost-benefit analysis of the case for further liberalisation of the Sunday trading laws.

Andrew Selous: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans the Government have to extend the six hour limit on Sunday trading by large stores. [36620]

Mr. Sutcliffe: Officials are carrying out a full cost benefit analysis of the scope for further liberalisation of Sunday trading. To assist in this we are inviting independent researchers to carry out a thorough assessment of the effects of liberalising Sunday trading in whole or in part, including the impact on jobs, retailers, the needs of consumers and the impact on economic growth. The Government will then come forward with proposals, after discussions with businesses, consumers, religious groups and employees.

Tourist Industry

Mr. Iain Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent assessment he has made of the (a) state of and (b) future prospects for the tourist industry in (i) Hartlepool constituency, (ii)the Tees Valley sub-region and (iii) the North East Region. [35182]

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Alun Michael: Since 1 April 2003, the English Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) have had strategic responsibility for tourism. This has helped to unlock a whole range of benefits for the industry, including clearer business support and links to wider services and resources.

One NorthEast recently commissioned research by Global Tourism Solutions into the economic impact of tourism in the North East. This showed that in 2004:

North East England Tourism Strategy, published in January 2005, sets out the region's target to increase tourism by 1.3 million domestic visits and 0.7 million visits per annum by 2010 against the baseline year of 2003.

One NorthEast investment in tourism continues through its capital programme, and activities in regional marketing, business development, strategic planning and project development. For example, it is expected that Tees Valley will benefit from:

One NorthEast is also investing £7 million over the next three years in a strategy to improve the image of North East England, a campaign which was awarded the World Travel Award for the world's best regional marketing campaign.

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