WITNESSES AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
16. Our main way of gathering evidence is to call
for written evidence, which is almost always published either
in hardcopy or on the web,
and to take oral evidence in public. This has many advantages:
it means that the Committee's conclusions are based on evidence
from a very wide range of people and organisations. Moreover,
the oral evidence process enables the Committee to hear directly
from witnesses, and test the propositions they put forward. There
is a permanent record of this evidence, and it is quickly available
on the website, and sometimes in broadcast form.
17. However, the Committee is not simply about engaging
with "the usual suspects" in and around Westminster
in such a formal manner. We need to consult experts, but the
issues we address can affect everyone, and we also often need
input from members of the public, and from individuals and organisations
across the country. Sometimes, it is a matter of undertaking visits
to increase the range of people we talk to, and to gain understanding
of complex issues, which cannot simply be explored in a formal
evidence session. For example, as part of our inquiry into creating
a higher value-added economy, the Committee visited Cambridge,
Glasgow, Edinburgh and the West Midlands, and talked to individual
entrepreneurs, academics, representatives of the RDAs, and business
18. Sometimes, we want to have the broadest possible
input from the public, and here engagement with the media is invaluable.
Wide reporting of our work helps to set the political agenda,
as happened with our work on energy prices and the Post Office.
Just as importantly, effective engagement with the media helps
us reach people outside Parliament, and they in turn influence
our work. To give a recent example, the Chairman received a flood
of responses when he raised the issue of energy companies and
their direct debit procedures. As a result the Chief Executive
of Ofgem was asked about it at an evidence session a few days
later and he undertook to investigate. Earlier in the year, the
Radio Four programme You and Yours helped us raise the
profile of our Post Office inquiries; much of our most valuable
evidence came from private individuals and community groups who
wrote to us as a result.
19. Many individuals and groups contact us about
issues which are not necessarily the subject of an inquiry, but
concern them greatly. Sometimes this is done formally, as in
the 93 petitions on Post Office matters which were referred to
us after being presented to the House. Sometimes, concerns are
expressed by e-mail or letter, or raised directly with the Chairman
or members of the Committee. We cannot take up individual cases,
and we do not have the time to look at every interesting subject
that is raised. Nonetheless, we are extremely grateful to all
those who contact us in this way. It keeps us in touch with the
concerns of business and of the public as a whole. Sometimes
contacts like this can trigger new inquiries; very often, as in
the case of the direct debits cited above, they provoke particular
lines of questioning within existing inquiries.
20. Overseas visits are an important part of our
work, even though they take a relatively small part of our time.
The Committee has maintained its links with the European Commission,
both by taking evidence via video-link as part of its inquiry
into energy prices and through its annual visit in February 2008.
These annual visits allow us to explore important EU policy areas
in depth, and inform many of the inquiries we subsequently undertake.
We are extremely grateful to all the officials who met the Committee
and briefed us so thoroughly.
21. An international perspective is often essential,
even when looking at domestic issues, such as how to ensure that
British manufacturing and services sectors maintain their competitiveness
by truly adding value. In the last session we undertook two visits
outside Europe. The first was to Turkey, in connection with our
inquiry into the economic consequences for the UK of Turkey joining
the European Union. The UK is a committed supporter of Turkey's
EU candidature, but there remain significant obstacles to accessionon
both sides. Our visit to Istanbul and Ankara enabled us not only
to assess the depth and consequences of the UK Government's support
for Turkish accession but also to discuss wider trade issues.
Our conclusion that "Turkish accession is ultimately politically
and economically right for the UK, and for Europe" was based
on first hand experience.
Similarly, our visit to the USA to look at ways in which the USA
supported innovation at federal and at state level will be invaluable
in preparing our report on the higher added value economy.
22. As this account shows, the Committee's success
depends on many people. Perhaps most importantly, we thank all
those who have provided evidence, both written and oral, in the
past year, and those who have taken the trouble to write into
the Committee on matters which concern them. We have already mentioned
the NAO and the Library, who work with our staff, and other House
of Commons staff who have assisted us in the past year. Mr Julian
Maitland-Walker has acted as our adviser on the Pub Company inquiry.
BERR's parliamentary branch makes great efforts to ensure good
communication between the Department and the Committee. Many people
worked to make our visits successful, both in the United Kingdom
and overseas. We are extremely grateful to all of them. Finally,
we record our appreciation of the contribution made by Mark Hunter,
who left the Committee in April 2008.
1 In March 2008, the Committee's name was shortened
to the Business and Enterprise Committee, primarily to avoid confusion
with the Regulatory Reform Committee. Back
Excluding the three occasions on which the Committees on Arms
Export Control took evidence. Back
On 19 January 2009 Mr Mike Weir was discharged from the Committee
and Lembit Öpik added. Back
Eleventh Report of Session 2006-07, Europe Moves East: The
impact of the new EU Member States on UK Business, HC 592 Back
Unprinted evidence is placed in the House of Commons library and
the Public Records Office. Back
Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Keeping the door wide open:
Turkey & EU accession, HC 367, paragraph 107 Back