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I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. He may be aware that I chair the all-party group on libraries, literacy and information management, which is undertaking a review of the strategic leadership
of our public libraries sector. May I ask him to honour his predecessors commitment and come before the group to give us a strategic view on the leadership of that important public service, especially in the light of the anger expressed about closures and the failing services evident in the country?
Mr. Bradshaw: I share my hon. Friends concern for the future of libraries and recognition of their importance. I will be happy to meet her and her all-party group. She may, though, wish to reflect on the fact that I might be able to give her a better strategic view when I have had a little more time to settle into the job.
T5.  Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that participation in local cultural activities, such as the Lyceum theatre and Crewe carnival in my constituency, helps strengthen society and community cohesion and should be supported, wherever possible, across national and local government, as well as our public services?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Barbara Follett): I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman. Such participation increases not only cohesion but well-being, and something that is in rather short supply at presenthappiness.
T6.  David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that any relaxation of media ownership rules should be accompanied by a strengthened public interest test to ensure that in the event of media mergers, the resources devoted to journalism and news gathering are not diluted or weakened?
Mr. Bradshaw: That is certainly something that we shall have to think about carefully as we address the problem of regional news and the merger and acquisitions legislation in the context of the very difficult times that some of our excellent local and regional newspapers are going through. Members in all parts of the House recognise and value the role played by regional and local newspapers not only in informing the public in their local areas, but in holding us and locally elected officials to account. It would be very sad to see the demise of local and regional newspapers.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Now that the appalling system of proportional representation has, predictably, led to the election of two neo-Nazis from the British National party to the European Parliament, does the Secretary of State agree that this raises serious issues for the concept of due impartiality on the part of the BBC and independent television when reporting political matters? What conversations does he propose to have with the broadcasting authorities to ensure that appropriate fairness does not mean a platform to spout racist and other unacceptable views?
Although we agree on many things, the hon. Gentleman and I do not agree on a fairer voting system. I point out to him that in Germany, Italy and a number of other countries that have a more proportional system, that has not resulted in extreme right-wing parties being elected to the Bundestag or the Italian Parliament. I am sure the broadcasters will take their duties under the impartiality rules extremely seriously, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that what happened
yesterday poses a dilemma for them. My own view is that usually, when one gives those people a platform, they condemn themselves out of their own mouths.
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Given his immediate past responsibilities, I am sure the new Secretary of State will be aware of the benefits of audio description for elderly people and people with poor eyesight. Will he take the opportunity to build on the excellent work undertaken by his predecessor in promoting the availability of set-top boxes with one-button click to audio description for elderly people generally, throughout the community?
Mr. Bradshaw: I shall look into the issue that my right hon. Friend raises. As I am sure he is aware, audio description is now a mandatory requirement for the equipment provided as the standard offer under the digital switchover scheme, and blind and partially sighted people are also eligible for help with the scheme. I assure him that I will also look into the particular issue that he raises about the single switch.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his promotion. Will he join me in congratulating the Royal Shakespeare Company on its new production of Julius Caesar at Stratford upon Avona play full of deceit, lies, gossip, intrigue and assassins, but assassins with sharp knives not blunted knives? Will he tell the House what lessons can be drawn from Shakespeare, particularly from plays such as Julius Caesar, for the modern world?
Mr. Bradshaw: What I can say is that, having had to almost give up my cultural life over the past few years, I am looking forward, in this job, to spending a bit more time in the theatre in order to reacquaint myself with the lessons for our modern politics to be found in the great mans works.
T7.  Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Free swimming has been great in the authorities that have introduced it, but it is not much use to someone who cannot swim. Bolton council has introduced free swimming lessons during the school holidays, and that has been terrifically successful, so will my hon. Friend take a lesson from Bolton and introduce free classes throughout the country so that my other grandchildren, Poppy, Gabriel and Thomas, can learn to swim for England?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): We are happy to look after my hon. Friends grandchildren for their cultural and sporting activitiesbut he raises a fair point. It was important to us to ensure that the whole country supported free swimming, and more than 80 per cent. of councils have introduced it for the over 60s, while 60 per cent. have done so for the under-16s. A significant part of that activity is school swimming lessons, and we have been speaking to the sports governing bodies to find better ways to try to ensure that we have enough coaches to teach swimming. That is an important and integral part of what we are trying to achieve. It is one of the successes of this Government, working in conjunction with local authorities, that we have built up free swimming to its current level.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Like the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby), I have grandchildreneight, actually[Hon. Members: Name them.] I could, but it would take a little time. Some of my grandchildren are already swimmers. Following up the hon. Gentlemans question, my question to the appropriate Minister is, does he not think that local authorities should be encouraged to give a substantial discount on the hire of a leisure centre swimming pool to amateur clubs that spend a great deal of time and effort on teaching young people to swimand particularly, to a club in Macclesfield, which provides teaching for people with disabilities? Should we not encourage those clubs by giving them a discount that would enable them to hire the pool more easily without spending so much time raising money?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I hope that we will now see that progression in terms of local authorities working in their communities and with different partners, both public and private, on the provision of swimming. A great opportunity exists, and I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised the subject of people with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, having the opportunity to become involved in sport in the same way as everybody else. I do believe that we should look at ways in which the governing bodies can be creative in supporting clubs through the club structure, which comes under the governing bodies, and in working with local government. That is why the money has gone through the governing body process. I am also pleased that many local authorities now use sport as a performance indicator. I believe that that progression will develop, and I hope that it will develop in Macclesfield as well.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): As a part of the new Secretary of States programme for refreshing his interest in the arts, may I invite him to visit Battersea Arts Centre? It pioneered the first pay what you can scheme, which still runs on Tuesday evenings, and, under the Governments free theatre initiative, has now given away more than 630 tickets to local young people in Wandsworth. My right hon. Friend will be able to see two schemes that have already spun off that initiativeA Night Less Ordinary, which brings together all the London theatres that put on cutting-edge new work, and BACs young critics review, which has engendered huge enthusiasm in young people and now been taken over by Arts Council England.
Mr. Bradshaw: I shall be happy to visit my hon. Friends local arts centre, if I can squeeze that into my diary. I understand that until recently it was under threat of closure by his local Conservative borough council. He may also like to know that although we do not yet have the official figures for the free theatre tickets scheme, the anecdotal evidence is very encouraging: the Royal Shakespeare Company, which has already been referred to, has already allocated almost 1,700 tickets for its summer season in Stratford-on-Avon; the West Yorkshire Playhouse has issued more than 1,000 tickets, 87 per cent. of which have gone to young people who are new bookers, who have not been to the theatre before; the schemes website has received more than 360,000 unique visits; and, there are now 3,500 members of its Facebook groupone of the other Facebook groups that I shall have to join.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to congratulate Burton Latimer library in my constituency on proving to be an increasingly popular local library resource, and on using ever more innovative ways to encourage local community participation?
Barbara Follett: Both the Secretary of State and I would like to congratulate the staff at that library in the hon. Gentlemans constituency. As the Minister for the region, I know what good work is being done in libraries in Kettering.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I am told that the national skills academy for creative and cultural skills, which is to be co-located with the Royal Opera House project in Thurrock, is in jeopardy because of the bureaucracy involved in getting the necessary funding from the Arts Council and the regional development agency. My hon. Friend is the Minister for the East of England as well as being at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Can she assure me from the Dispatch Box today that the inertia will be broken through and that the funding will be obtained? Jobs are in jeopardy and the situation is jeopardising some of the Governments other strategies for the Thames Gateway. Furthermore, we want the investment for cultural and economic reasons. What is the hold-up? Will my hon. Friend please say what she will do about it?
Barbara Follett: My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue. The Royal Opera House is to move its scenery operations and some of its rehearsals base to Thurrock. Its work there and the national skills academys work at the Royal Opera House are vital. We are working to resolve the hold-up involving the money; I am working on the issue both as Minister for the East of England and as a Minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
In January this year the Olympic Delivery Authority announced that an additional 250 apprenticeships would be created on the Olympic park, bringing the total number of apprenticeships there to 350. That will be achieved in a number of ways. Critically, the ODA will mandate that apprentices should make up 3 per cent. of project work forces for the remaining £500 million
worth of contracts that are still to be tendered for; it is worth underlining the fact that that level of apprenticeship investment represents three times the industry average for London and the south-east. It increases the ODAs overall target for trainees, apprentices and work placements to 2,250. That is an important and ambitious target in ensuring that the legacy of the Olympics will be a local population that is more skilled and qualified to stay in work.
Lyn Brown: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for the Governments continuing commitment to providing apprenticeships and training on the Olympic site. However, given that the Olympics are a fairly time-limited project, and that Crossrail and the development along the lower Lea valley is coming up, will she assure me that the apprenticeships and training opportunities currently provided on the Olympic site will be rolled out into those new development and construction opportunities?
Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend. I should like to place on the record my recognition and gratitude to her, and other Members with constituencies in the Olympic borough, for their advocacy for this level of investment in apprenticeships and skills. I give her the assurance that she seeks. The skills academy, which is currently training apprentices for the Olympic park, will continue its work. Londons construction industry is an ageing one. We are recruiting new young apprentices who will be able to transfer to other major infrastructure projects such as the Crossrail programme, on which construction is to start shortly; that is another example of the Olympic legacy.
Tessa Jowell: I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as the Border and Immigration Agency is embedded in the Olympic Delivery Authority, regular checks are undertaken to ensure that not only apprentices but everybody who works in the Olympic park is entitled to do so.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I welcome what the Minister says about apprenticeships. However, the depressing news of the election of two BNP members underlines the importance of targeting apprenticeships, training and employment opportunities on the main Olympic site at local people. Does the Minister regret that there has been a drop in the proportion of local people employed on the Olympic park, can she confirm whether there has been a similar drop in the number of apprentices and trainees from the local area, and what action is she taking to redress that problem?
The hon. Gentleman is correct that the recent figures show a reduction from 23 per cent. to 20 per cent. in the proportion of local people working in the park, but he should also recognise that the actual numbers of local people working there have increased. In fact, when I looked at the apprenticeship figures, I saw that they mirrored that. About 20 per cent. of young apprentices are from local boroughs, but 50 per cent. are from London. The five Olympic boroughs are among the most diverse communities in London. They
are optimistic and committed to the Olympics, and in everything they do as part of the Olympics they are a powerful argument against the hatred and racism of the BNP.
Tessa Jowell: Just over 2,000 businesses registered in Scotland have registered on the CompeteFor network. To date, 13 businesses registered in Scotland have been awarded contracts by the Olympic Delivery Authority, which is 1.4 per cent. of the total number awarded. However, those figures do not include subcontractors, of which Scottish Enterprise, which is doing an extremely good and vigorous job in selling the potential of Olympic contracts, recognises another 15, with more to come. Of those, two contracts were awarded to suppliers registered on the CompeteFor network. In order to continue to press the business opportunities not only at the construction phase but beyond, the ODA has hosted events in Glasgow, Dunfermline and Edinburgh to ensure that all local businesses in those areas, and across Scotland, are aware of the commercial benefits that they can gain from the Olympics.
Mark Lazarowicz: I welcome what my right hon. Friend says. Indeed, I know that businesses in my own constituency have won contracts from the ODA. However, may I invite her to speak to the Scottish Government to urge them to play a more active role in encouraging businesses in Scotland to take opportunities provided by the Olympics in London? I am afraid that their record has not been very good as regards co-operation with the UK Government, and I urge her to speak to them to ensure that they redouble their efforts to try to get businesses in Scotland to take full advantage of the opportunities arising from the Olympics in 2012.
Tessa Jowell: Yes, I am happy to do that. Indeed, I hope that the message goes right round the country that the contracts that will be let are commercial and business opportunities, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Minister has given some rather disappointing figures. I would not wish in any way to take anything away from Londonand neither, I am sure, would she, as a fellow London Member. However, it is important to recognise that these are national games, and we would not wish any part of the United Kingdom to miss out. In the run-up phase beyond the construction phase, which she rightly mentions, can she ensure that we do more to promote the national element of the games? Particularly given the cost and the controversy that has surrounded the London Olympics, nothing would be worse than to give the impression that they are just for the capital city, because they are something of which everyone in the UK should be proud.
Tessa Jowell: The hon. Gentleman should accept that every Member in this House can have a responsibility in that respect. Every day I make the point that these are the UKs games in London. That is why we have been so successful in ensuring that about half the contracts for the construction of the Olympic park go to businesses outside London. The advocacy of Government is one part of delivering this sense of shared opportunity, but the initiative can also be taken by Members of Parliament, local chambers of commerce, small business support services and so forth. All around the country the opportunities are there to be seized. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we must be able to show at every turn that these are the UKs games in London.
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