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26 Jan 2006 : Column 2350W—continued

Mobile Telecommunications (London)

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the capacity of mobile telecommunications in London since the difficulties experienced with the network on 7July 2005. [42581]

Alun Michael: The Government have reviewed with industry the performance of the telecommunications sector and provision of services on 7 July 2005. This shows that there was no failure of the mobile networks but the level of demand was significantly greater than usual and exceeded the extra margin of capacity—about 20 percent. above the average daily peak—that is built into the networks for unseen demand. Consequently, service was either restricted or not available for some customers at periods during the day. The congestion was managed by the operators through the application of network calming measures such as call gapping", which restricted access from the fixed networks onto the mobile networks—but does not affect 999 services—and by squeezing more calls within the available capacity by reducing the quality of voice calls. Restricting customers to text messages only at such times to ease congestion, as has been suggested, is not possible because voice and text services use separately allocated network channels that are not interchangeable.

The measures taken by the operators, together with their advice to customers to keep calls short, succeeded in ensuring there was no collapse of the networks. This enabled a swift return to normal services when the congestion eased.

Nuclear Power (Wales)

Jenny Willott: To ask the Secretary of State for Tradeand Industry how much the Government have spent on the running costs of nuclear power plants in Wales in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. [43326]

Malcolm Wicks: BNFL's records show that running costs of its nuclear power plants in Wales to 31 March 2005 are as follows.
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£ million


Parliamentary Questions

Bill Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he will provide a substantive answer to question 38362. [45876]

Malcolm Wicks: I am sorry for the delay in replying to the hon. Member's question. I expect to reply very shortly.

Post Office Closures

Tim Farron: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many post offices have been closed in (a) Westmorland and Lonsdale and (b) Cumbria in each of the last five years. [45813]

Barry Gardiner: This is an operational matter for Post Office Ltd. and the chief executive has been asked to reply direct to the hon. Member.

Renewable Energy

Mr. David Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what grants have been made by his Department to facilitate the development of (a) wind power and (b) other forms of renewable energy in each of the last five years for which figures are available. [46150]

Malcolm Wicks: I refer the hon. Member to my replies of 25 October 2005, Official Report, columns 296–302W, to the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and North Norfolk (Norman Lamb).

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps the Government are taking to promote renewable forms of energy; and if he will make a statement. [46292]

Malcolm Wicks: The Government's main mechanism for supporting new renewable generating capacity is the renewables obligation (RO). Introduced in April 2002, the RO requires electricity suppliers to source an increasing proportion of their electricity sales from RO eligible sources of renewable energy.

The renewables obligation is also supported with around £500 million of Government investment, between 2002 and 2008, in capital grants and research and development into renewables and other low carbon technologies.


Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many hits there were on the
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SITPRO website in each of the last five years; and how many companies have been assisted by SITPRO in this period. [42377]

Ian Pearson: The total hits on the SITPRO website in each of the last five years were as follows:
Number of hits

(42)Records cover July-December only

It is not possible to estimate accurately how many companies SITPRO has assisted over this period. Since 2004, after SITPRO's helpdesk was relaunched, it has handled over 1,000 inquires a year, mostly from small traders enquiring about import and export documents and procedures on which it is uniquely placed to assist. SITPRO helps many other small and medium sized companies through seminars and workshops. It also engages with companies of all sizes through its policy groups and other stakeholder fora to influence developments in customs and other border regulation, both domestic and international, to promote trade facilitation principles and standards.

Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the level of co-ordination between SITPRO, UK Trade and Investment and the regional development offices in promoting international investment; how many times these organisations met each other in the last five years; how best practice is shared between these organisations; how potential conflicts of interest between the organisations are resolved; and if he will make a statement. [42378]

Ian Pearson: SITPRO, UK Trade and Investment and the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) have distinct roles. SITPRO is the world's leading trade facilitation agency and its expertise lies in the simplification of documents and procedures, e.g. customs, for clearing goods at the border. UKTI's role is to support UK businesses undertaking international trade and in attracting inward investment to the UK. The RDAs work closely with UKTI on both inward investment and trade development activity at regional level. UKTI promotes the whole of the UK as a location for inward investment, working in partnership with the English RDAs and the Development Agencies (DAs) of the Devolved Administrations. In addition to working with UKTI to attract, retain and add value to inward investment, staff in all these agencies have actively participated in the Committee on Overseas Promotion (COP), which brings together inward investment practitioners from throughout the UK to discuss strategic and operational issues, as well as share best practice. In addition to the regular meetings of COP and its sub-groups, there is regular contact with the RDAs and DAs on a daily basis concerning individual investor inquiries.

SITPRO complements the international trade work of UKTI by providing technical advice to traders on customs formalities. It also influences customs and
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other border agency policy and regulation with a view to making trade procedures simpler. SITPRO and UKTI meet at least three times a year. UKTI is the largest source of inquiries referred to SITPRO's helpdesk, reflecting the close co-ordination they have on policy and operational issues affecting the UK international trading community and demonstrating full awareness of the unique way the two organisations work together.

Small Business Research Initiative

Kitty Ussher: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what evaluation he has made of small business innovation research programmes in other countries; and if he will make a statement. [45279]

Alun Michael: The UK's small business research initiative (SBRI) was modelled on the US Government's small business innovation research (SBIR) programme, which remains the most relevant international benchmark for SBRI.

Both the UK and US programmes aim to raise productivity and business innovation by providing research and development contract revenues to technology-based small firms, helping them to commercialise their intellectual property and supplying Government bodies with R&D services.

The Chancellor mandated Departments to take part in SBRI in his Budget on 16 March 2005. Until then participation had been voluntary. We aim to publish the voluntary phase performance figures for 2003–04 and 2004–05 under SBRI shortly.

Since its inception in 1982, the US programme has been subject to periodic evaluations by the US general accounting office and the UK Government keeps a careful eye on these. The reports to date have largely affirmed that SBIR is meeting its twin goals of furthering the economic development of technology-based small firms and delivering quality valuable R&D outputs to federal agencies.

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