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29 Jan 2009 : Column 782W—continued

29 Jan 2009 : Column 783W


Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with reference to the answer to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) of 6 October 2008, Official Report, column 353W, on Optimisa, if she will place in the Library a copy of the reports by Andrew Irving Associates and its parent company Optimisa on (a) eco-towns public attitudes, (b) local government petitions and (c) sustainable homes telephone survey. [252174]

Mr. Khan: With regards to part (a) eco-towns public attitudes, I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) on 8 October 2008, Official R eport, column 642W.

The following reports will be placed in the Library:

Parking: Fees and Charges

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what plans the Government office for the East Midlands has to make budgetary provision for payment of the workplace parking charge proposed by Nottingham city council. [252471]

Mr. Khan: No decision has been taken by Transport Ministers on whether to confirm Nottingham city council's workplace parking levy scheme order, and it would not be appropriate to speculate on the implications for the Government office.

Public Bodies: Inspections

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government which public bodies she expects to (a) inspect and (b) audit local authorities in 2009-10. [251861]

Mr. Khan: From 1 April 2009 a new system of assessment and inspection will be introduced, the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA). CAA will cover priority outcomes in local areas delivered by local authorities, either by themselves or with other service providers. As part of CAA there will continue to be a scheduled programme of inspections for services for vulnerable children (looked-after children and safeguarding) and for youth offending, led by the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation respectively.

Other inspections under CAA will be primarily triggered by risk, and carried out by the relevant independent local services inspectorates, either individually or jointly. The inspectorates involved in carrying out CAA and associated inspections will be the Audit Commission, the new Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation, and Ofsted.

The inspectorates are aiming to publish the final framework for the operation of CAA shortly.

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All audits of local authorities will continue to be carried out by external auditors appointed by the Audit Commission.

Tenant Services Authority: Publicity

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much the Tenant Services Authority has spent on (a) branding, (b) external public affairs consultancies and (c) external public relations. [251735]

Mr. Iain Wright: The Tenant Services Authority (TSA) has spent £90,066 on research, planning and delivery work to develop the TSA brand.

The TSA has spent £56,133.14 to date on engaging with its stakeholders, further to its statutory objective to deliver effective, tenant-focused regulation.

The TSA has spent £17,019.79 on external public relations.

Travelling People: Caravan Sites

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what methodology her Department uses to determine whether an unauthorised Travellers' camp is (a) tolerated and (b) not tolerated in circumstances where the camp is on (i) the Travellers' own land and (ii) land not owned by the Travellers and has been established without planning permission; what definition her Department uses of (A) tolerated and (B) not tolerated unauthorised Travellers' camps; and who is responsible for determining whether such camps are tolerated. [251776]

Mr. Iain Wright: It is for the local authority or landowner to decide whether to tolerate an unauthorised site.

For the purposes of the bi-annual count of Gypsy and Traveller caravans, we ask that local authorities count caravans:

Advice on toleration is set out in DOE circular 18/94 ‘Gypsy Sites Policy and Unauthorised Camping’, as amended, and ‘Guidance on Managing Unauthorised Camping’.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

Higher Education

17. Richard Ottaway: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what progress has been made towards the target of having half of all young people experience higher education. [252531]

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Mr. Lammy: Over half of young people from all social backgrounds aspire to go to university and we are helping them to fulfil that aspiration. The latest UCAS figures show that acceptances from England are up by 7.4 per cent. (22,764) on the same point last year, and this year's figures are the highest ever. Increasing initial participation in higher education towards 50 per cent. of those aged 18-30 is challenging but an essential investment in our future prosperity.

19. Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills when he plans to announce a timetable for the proposed review of higher education. [252533]

Mr. Lammy: My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, told the House on 8 January 2004 that there would be an independent review of tuition fees, reporting to the House, once we had evidence on the first three years of the variable fee regime. The first three years of operation will not be concluded until autumn next year.

Laura Moffatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what progress is being made on his Department’s University Challenge programme. [252536]

Mr. Lammy: At the end of the new ‘University Challenge’ consultation we were delighted to receive 27 initial expressions of interest from across the country. These demonstrated a widespread recognition of the value of university centres to education, economic development, regeneration, and the cultural life of rural areas, towns and cities. HEFCE are currently preparing a policy document to guide formal applications. We expect to fund 20 new local higher education centres over the next six years.

Martin Linton: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what recent progress has been made in the higher education debate; and if he will make a statement. [252519]

Mr. Denham: We have a world-class higher education system in this country with rising student numbers and an increasing world share of citations and high impact research papers. Total Government investment in HE will rise by 30 per cent. in real terms by the end of this CSR period compared to 1997. This is in sharp contrast to the 36 per cent. fall in funding per student between 1989 and 1997. We have also doubled investment in research.

I want to ensure our university system will still be world class in the future. That is why we are currently consulting on the framework for higher education for the next 10 to 15 years.

The debate is progressing well, and I am delighted by the healthy level of engagement and discussion it has provoked. As well as the contributions we published last year, we have received a number of submissions from businesses and others who depend on universities for their success. We will publish these shortly.

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Skills Levels

12. Fiona Mactaggart: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what support his Department provides to businesses, community leaders and training providers for them to work together to raise skills levels in their local communities. [252526]

Mr. Simon: The Learning and Skills Council is working closely with businesses, colleges, community leaders and training providers to raise skill levels in local communities. Further education colleges are playing a crucial role in bringing communities together. This includes providing English for speakers of other languages courses, which underpin broader efforts to ensure community cohesion. The LSC is also working closely with local authorities through local area agreements and multi area agreements to ensure that skills provision is better aligned to local need. This local focus will be carried through to the Skills Funding Agency where local colleges and providers will work with the SFA and other key partners to respond quickly to the needs of local communities.

Further Education Colleges

13. Mr. Illsley: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of capital funding for further education colleges; and if he will make a statement. [252527]

Mr. Simon: It is thanks to this Government's commitment to colleges that investment in capital projects will amount to £2.3 billion between 2007 and 2010. In total, since the programme began under this Government, nearly 700 projects, at 330 colleges have been agreed. Only 42 colleges have not yet benefited from investment. The programme has therefore been a huge success.

In 1997 not a single penny was spent on FE colleges, with a National Audit Offce report saying FE buildings were not fit to learn in. The Opposition have committed to cutting £610 million from the skills and universities budget; and have repeatedly refused to say whether they would continue our capital programme. Until they come clean about where their cuts would fall, every college should be worried.

I want to make it clear today that there is no freeze in the capital programme. There is no question the £110 million brought forward for this year, and the £100 million for next year will be spent.

Research Funding: Universities

14. Julie Morgan: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what plans he has for research funding for universities in the next three years. [252528]

Mr. Lammy: Altogether public investment in science and research will reach over £6 billion by 2010-11, taking Government support for the UK's research base to its highest level ever.

This investment is essential in these economically challenging times. It is crucial we continue to invest in research and higher level skills, as this will underpin our recovery and be key to our future prosperity.

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Economic Downturn

15. Mrs. Hodgson: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what discussions he has had with higher education institutions and universities on assistance they can provide to people and businesses during the economic downturn; and if he will make a statement. [252529]

Mr. Denham: I have met with university vice-chancellors, representatives of university careers services and graduate recruiters to discuss the response of universities to the economic downturn. The recent publication “Standing Together” provides impressive evidence of universities helping business.

I am particularly pleased that HEFCE is supporting universities to help individuals through the announcement of the £50 million Economic Challenge Investment Fund announced earlier this week. We are also helping graduates re-train by trebling the number of professional and career development loans and working with major employers and the third sector to encourage internships and volunteering, both of which provide valuable employability skills for young graduates.

Further Education: Capital Projects

16. Mr. Syms: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what plans his Department has for funding capital projects in further education. [252530]

Mr. Simon: Since 1997, this Government have invested £2.4 billion modernising further education colleges, and plan to invest a further £2.3 billion in the next three years.

However, the pace of demand for capital funding has increased. In addition there are signs that the ability of colleges to raise their own funds for projects is being affected by the downturn.

The Learning and Skills Council will therefore examine the position of individual projects by early March before making further funding decisions.

University Places

18. Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills how many university places were available at the start of the academic year (a) 2007-08 and (b) 2008-09. [252532]

Mr. Lammy: There continues to be strong growth in student numbers. There were 1,505,000 students enrolled at higher education institutions at the beginning of 2007/08. UCAS suggests an increase of around 7.4 per cent. in English-domiciled applicants who have been accepted on to full-time undergraduate courses for 2008/09. We are providing full funding for 30,000 more places in 2009-10 than we did in 2007-08.


20. Andrew Gwynne: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what steps he is taking to increase the number of people taking up apprenticeships. [252534]

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Mr. Simon: As set out in the recent response to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) we are taking a wide range of steps. Most notably we recently launched the National Apprenticeships Vacancy Matching Service and announced a further £140 million to provide 35,000 extra places this year. From April 2009 we will be extending group training associations and creating apprenticeship training associations to help deliver the anticipated increases in the number of people taking up apprenticeships.

Further Education

21.Tony Baldry: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what work his Department is undertaking with the further education sector to provide training or retraining for those who become unemployed. [252535]

Mr. Simon: We are doing everything we can to help people through this tough time. Further education is at the heart of our response. We are investing £4.5 billion to give employers and individuals the skills they need to improve their competitiveness now and in the future. We have recently announced:

‘FE Works’, a good practice guide recently published by the Association of Colleges, provides further examples of ways the sector is responding to the economic downturn.

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