Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


25 OCTOBER 2007

  Q1 Chairman: Good morning everybody. May I welcome James Purnell to the Committee? James is a regular before this Committee, but this is the first time he has appeared before us as Secretary of State. May I also welcome the Permanent Secretary of DCMS, Jonathan Stephens? Perhaps I could begin. There was a great deal of speculation in the run-up to the reshuffle about responsibilities within Government and that DCMS might not survive at all or indeed that, if it did, it might look very different. In actual fact it does not look very different to the Department which existed before. Was all that speculation completely out of place or was there in fact a debate and did you have to fight for your survival as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport?

  James Purnell: That is a slightly hard question to answer because I was not there at the time so I do not know. What I do know is that the split of responsibilities that we have now, with Tessa Jowell doing the Olympics as a full-time job and the DCMS doing the sporting part of the Olympic legacy as well as all of our existing responsibilities, is the right one. I would also say that there was much discussion in 1997 about whether having a Department for Culture, Media and Sport was the right approach. I think the last ten years have shown that it is. The sectors fit well together and if you look, for example, at the way that culture has thrived over the past ten years, the consensus is that the culture in this country is world class and having the Department for Culture, Media and Sport certainly has not got in the way of that.

  Q2  Chairman: In the debates which have taken place in this Committee in a number of different areas when we have had inquiries, looking at heritage, looking at tourism, looking at creative industry, each time we have had quite a long discussion about whether or not it was appropriate that that particular industry should be within the DCMS or whether it might not do better in DTI as was, or maybe in Education. Do you think those debates are now behind us, that this is now settled and the DCMS goes on?

  James Purnell: It is always for the Prime Minister to make those decisions and indeed there have been some changes at the margins. For example, in the last reshuffle NESTA became a shared responsibility. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills lead on that but we have a dual lock arrangement with them on that. In 2005 DCMS gained some responsibilities around the creative industries. Changes can always be made at the margin, but the broad outline we have is the right one and we can continue to have debates around whether they need to change at the margins.

  Q3  Chairman: Particularly regarding the creative industries, a huge amount of the issues surrounding the creative industries concerns copyright. Copyright has now gone off into the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. How is that going to work between the two of you?

  James Purnell: It works very well and we have very productive relationships with them over that. Having a Department for Innovation which is looking at copyright in the context of innovation, which is after all the fundamental reason for having a copyright regime, is a very sensible arrangement.

  Q4  Mr Sanders: The previous Prime Minister set out priorities for each Secretary of State. Unfortunately in his letter to your predecessor he did not mention the word "tourism". Are you still working to these priorities, given the cuts to VisitBritain which were announced this week?

  James Purnell: Yes, we think tourism is a vital part of the economy. It may just be worth me saying a little bit about that in terms of introduction. We have reduced the VisitBritain budget and the reason that we are doing that is that we believe there are efficiencies which can be achieved. We have asked VisitBritain to lead on a strategic review of how we achieve those objectives. That is in the context of £350 million being spent by Government on supporting tourism. The amount provided by central government has doubled since the mid-1990s. If you look at the amount the RDAs spend, for example they are spending over £40 million, in the mid-1990s they did not exist and that money was not being spent. We believe that a strategic review can lead to a more effective way of achieving the outcomes which we prioritise in tourism.

  Q5  Mr Sanders: But are the priorities which the Prime Minister set out in his letter to your predecessor, which did not mention tourism, still the priorities of your administration?

  James Purnell: The priorities which I have are set out very clearly in the CSR White Paper and in the objectives we all have and tourism is one of those four objectives.

  Q6  Mr Sanders: But tourism was not mentioned then, so is tourism now a priority even though the Prime Minister did not set it out?

  James Purnell: The document which I am operating to is the CSR White Paper which set out very clearly that economic impact was one of our four key goals and tourism is a very important part of that. Tourism is a key responsibility and a key priority for the Department.

  Q7  Mr Sanders: In terms of tourism as an industry, which has a variable performance, as we have been discovering in the inquiry which we have just opened into it, there are aspects of traditional tourism areas which are having a very hard time. The Prime Minister, in a reply to a question I asked the other week, said that he agreed there were some problems and something needed to be done. Are you looking at things which could be done to help coastal resort economies which are dependent on tourism?

  James Purnell: Yes, we are looking at that and we should be very happy, if the Committee wanted to submit some early ideas on that, to look at those. Seaside towns clearly face particular challenges and we are working very closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government to see what we can do in that area. That is why the Prime Minister gave you the response he gave you and we shall be making announcements on that shortly.

  Q8  Mr Sanders: You will only be making announcements. Will that be your Department or Communities and Local Government?

  James Purnell: Clearly the area of regeneration of coastal towns goes much wider than simply tourism, heritage or culture. We are looking at what we can do within our departmental responsibilities, but there are obviously wider issues which are for the whole Government to consider. We should be very happy if, as part of your initial views from your tourism inquiry, you had things you wanted us to consider for seaside towns, to look at that.

  Q9  Philip Davies: May I just press you on this funding for VisitBritain? I think you basically said that you were cutting the funding because efficiencies can be made. It strikes me that that can apply to every government department there is and you are part of a Government which makes it a virility test to spend as much money on departments as possible and to say things are getting better because you are spending X amount of money on it. When your Government are challenged on anything their answer is that they are spending X amount of money on it as though that will make things better. Why is it that in every other government department spending more money indicates that it is a priority, whereas in your answer it is simply efficiency savings?

  James Purnell: I clearly do not accept your premise but in any case, if you are saying that as a way of saying the Government should be concentrating on finding efficiencies where they can, then presumably you welcome us looking for that and you welcome the idea of a strategic review to see whether outcomes can be achieved in a more efficient way.

  Q10  Philip Davies: I would certainly welcome your Government looking for efficiency savings in every department. What I am curious about is why these efficiency savings only seem to apply to your Department and none of the other government departments.

  James Purnell: That is clearly not true. The Government overall are pursuing 3% efficiency savings across the range of what they are doing and in this area, because the £350 million is being spent overall, because the amount of money from central government has doubled since the late 1990s, we believe that a strategic review can find efficiencies and that is why we set them what we recognise is a challenging target.

  Q11  Philip Davies: What are the efficiency savings they are going to make?

  James Purnell: It would not be for us to start to tell people how to manage their budget. That is why we have precisely asked VisitBritain to conduct that. VisitBritain is an extremely successful NDPB. They have a great record in terms of delivering efficiencies, modernising their operation, going to look at internet marketing, for example, and we are therefore giving them the responsibility to be able to advise them on how to do that.

  Q12  Philip Davies: You have said that you have identified efficiency savings which can be made. You cannot say you have identified efficiency savings and then say you do not know what they are. What are the efficiency savings which you have identified they can make?

  James Purnell: We have identified the budget we think they can work within. We have asked them to lead the review on how to achieve them.

  Q13  Mr Evans: Looking at the budget, would it not be kinder to VisitBritain if you wound it up?

  James Purnell: No, we have doubled the amount of money overall going from central government to promoting tourism. A significant amount of money is being spent by VisitBritain under this revised budget and we think that by looking at how that money is spent and organising it efficiently we can achieve those outcomes but at a reduced cost. I would have thought you would support that.

  Q14  Mr Evans: I am sorry but you have gone from 2006-07 with a budget of £50 million down to £40 million in 2010-11. That is £10 million less plus inflation, which will no doubt eat into that figure as well. From what I can estimate, the savings which will be made will be on frontline services that VisitBritain are there to do. They are there to do a specific job which is to attract internal tourism to the United Kingdom. They will not be able to do that to the same effect with £40 million.

  James Purnell: I do not agree with that. If you look at the amount the RDAs are spending, if you look at the wider support, the £350 million, there is scope there for very good support for tourism in the UK and we believe that through the strategic review we can do that in a more efficient way. As part of our spending review we have also been able to increase spending for the arts, for museums, for the heritage and when you look at what people say are the reasons why they are visiting this country, those are many of the top reasons why they want to come here. Therefore, by providing proper funding for those institutions and those events we will ensure that they are able to continue to track visitors from around the country and also from around the world.

  Q15  Mr Evans: Yes, but you have to tell people about what we have got. After all, one of the biggest spenders on advertising of any organisation in the United Kingdom is Her Majesty's Government. I look forward to Her Majesty's Government slashing by millions of pounds the amount of money they spend on advertising themselves. You clearly think advertising is effective in one regard but not in another.

  James Purnell: No, I disagree with your premise. The point is that we believe the outcomes can be achieved in a more efficient way. As I have set out, a significant amount of money has been spent in this area. We also believe that it is important to make sure that there are good attractions in the country for people to come to see and that is why we have been able to find money for the arts, museums and heritage. We believe in this particular respect it can be done in a more efficient way and that is why we set them that goal. Coming from where you come in the Conservative Party, I should have thought you would have welcomed that.

  Q16  Mr Evans: I believe in efficient spending and I should like to see it start with Government. The fact is that we had the local authorities before us this week and they are strapped for cash and cutting back on how much money as a percentage they can spend on advertising their local attractions. VisitBritain is the one key area which actually joins the whole of the United Kingdom up, selling it to people within the UK and of course abroad as well. We are in a very competitive field here. Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and the Government have just decided to slit one of their wrists.

  James Purnell: The responsibility of being in Government is to make decisions about where money can be spent efficiently and where it cannot. As you know, you are strongly committed to trying to reduce the size of Government. It is slightly ironic that whenever the Government try to do that in an efficient way, you denounce it as an abandoning of the goal. It is not abandoning the goal: it is an attempt to achieve the goal in a more efficient way and I should have thought you would welcome that.

  Q17  Mr Evans: I welcome obesity being tackled at government level in the fat which exists around Whitehall, but organisations which have been proven to be effective, in that every pound they spend actually works and brings a lot of money into a number of smaller businesses in the United Kingdom, are now going to be damaged.

  James Purnell: We have asked them to conduct a strategic review. We will look at the proposals they come up with. We believe that the goals can be achieved in a more efficient way and that is just part of what being in Government is about. You have to make decisions about where money can be spent efficiently and that is exactly what we have done.

  Q18  Janet Anderson: May I just say how very much we welcome the priority you have given to seaside towns. It was of course a Labour Government in 1997, or very soon afterwards, which gave assisted area status to seaside towns, recognising the particular problems they face. I just wonder whether you could set out for us how you see the future of those seaside towns and what you will be doing to help.

  James Purnell: We are still developing our plans and we would be happy to hear from the Committee about that. Some very interesting work has been done by English Heritage, for example, looking at the role of heritage in regeneration. We want to look at the role of culture in regeneration. That is only one part of the story, but we are interested in what can be done in this area and it is an area we are actively thinking about.

  Q19  Chairman: May I just come back to VisitBritain? A few weeks ago you published the tourism strategy for 2012 and beyond and it has your introduction in it. It has always been plain that one of the greatest opportunities that 2012 offers us is a lasting boost to tourism in this country; that has clearly been one of the things the Government have set as a strategic goal. In your document you say that central to maximising the opportunities for domestic and international tourism afforded by the Games are our national and London tourist authorities, VisitBritain and Visit London. You have now announced that in the years between now and the Games VisitBritain's funding is going to go down in cash terms every single year. UKinbound, who represent all the industries which benefit from visitors to this country, say they are shocked and horrified. They say that this announcement confirms that DCMS has completely lost the plot. How do you respond? How are you going to deliver that strategic objective if you are cutting the budget to the body which is tasked with delivering it?

  James Purnell: I am going to start sounding like a broken record. There is £350 million being spent overall, the amount of money has doubled, we believe that the same goal can be achieved in a more efficient way through a strategic review and that is the goal we have set them.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 6 February 2008