Work of the Committee 2008-09 - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

 
 

 
2  The Committee's work in 2008-09

28. The table below shows how our work fitted into the core tasks for select committees set out by the Liaison Committee on behalf of the House. As can be seen, most inquiries cover more than a single objective. Our programme is driven by the need to respond to policy developments, to set the agenda in areas where public policy is not operating as it should, and to make sure we can sustain scrutiny of the Department. The core tasks provide a useful framework to ensure that we do not inadvertently neglect part of our remit.
Subject Departmental policy  Examination of deficiencies Document and decision  Expenditure PSAs Regulation and Agencies  Legislation and initiatives 
Energy Policy 
v
 
v
 
    
v
 
 
Ofcom, pre-appointment hearing        
v
 
 
Regional Development Agencies     
v
 
v
 
v
 
v
 
Hooper Review/Postal Services Bill 
v
 
 
v
 
  
v
 
v
 
Insolvency Service 
v
 
  
v
 
 
v
 
v
 
Pub companies 
v
 
v
 
    
v
 
 
Post Offices- Securing their future 
v
 
     
v
 
v
 
Automotive Assistance Programme 
v
 
v
 
 
v
 
  
v
 
Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme 
v
 
v
 
 
v
 
  
v
 
Strategic Export Control 
v
 
v
 
v
 
  
v
 
 
Higher Value-Added Economy 
v
 
   
v
 
  
Exporting Out of Recession 
v
 
v
 
   
v
 
v
 
v
 
Digital Britain 
v
 
 
v
 
   
v
 
Support for SMEs 
v
 
v
 
 
v
 
v
 
   
Department's response to the recession 
v
 
 
v
 
v
 
v
 
  

Task 1: Scrutiny of policy proposals

29. In our view, an important part of this task is to maintain a "watching brief" over policy development, as well as to look at new proposals. The Committee has continued its policy of monitoring at the European developments; staff monitor the output of the European Scrutiny Committee and we continued our policy of a regular visit to Brussels to discuss developments within the European Union.

30. As explained above, one of the key tasks of the year has been to monitor the Government's reaction to the economic crisis, and the policies drawn up to deal with it. This included taking oral evidence from the Department under the following headings: financial support for SMEs (December 2008);[15] the work of BERR in the current crisis, (May 2009);[16] and the work of the department for Business, Innovation & Skills in the current crisis (June 2009) and (July 2009). [17]

31. We also held an evidence session on so the Digital Britain Interim Report in March 2009.[18] Not only did this enable us to keep abreast of developing policy proposals, it gave valuable background information for our current inquiry into Broadband speed.

Task 2: To identify and examine areas of emerging policy, or where existing policy is deficient, and make proposals

POST OFFICES: SECURING THEIR FUTURE

32. The Committee has been monitoring policy on the Post Office network of many years, and in our Report last year we noted that the Government had asked us to undertake a major inquiry into the future of the Post Office network. We had accepted this invitation, on the condition that we set our own terms of reference and methods of inquiry. We were particularly concerned to explore what the public expected and wanted from the network.

33. Our report[19] looked at the network from first principles. It was clear from our evidence that people expected the state to ensure that information about its services was widely available, and did not consider e-delivery alone was sufficient. People considered the dual role of the Post Office in providing both public services and private amenities, such as shopping facilities, vital for sustaining community life. We concluded that:

By chance rather than design, the Government has ended up supporting local economies and providing information and services to its citizens through the post office network, in which a publicly-owned company works with a variety of private enterprises. It is unlikely that anyone would have invented this system; nonetheless, it exists and it is effective. It is possible that the network can be sustained in a way which generates revenue rather than consumes it. However, any decisions on the company's operations or the services it offers must recognize that the nationwide post office network needs to be sustained, and sustaining it will meet the wider objectives of any government.[20]

34. This conclusion led us to emphasise the need for all government departments to recognise the role the network could play in ensuring their services were accessible to all citizens, and to urge local authorities to make more services available from post offices.

PUB COMPANIES

35. While the focus of the core tasks is, properly, on scrutiny of the Government in a narrow case, it sometimes it is important to take a wider view, looking at the way the legal and regulatory framework within which markets operate. Last year's Annual Report drew attention to the relationship between pub companies and their tenants as an area where "there is little existing policy and the question is whether policy intervention is needed."[21] Our follow-up to the Trade and Industry Committee's inquiry[22] revealed that the problems identified by our predecessors remained. There was inequality of bargaining power between pub companies and their lessees; the way in which rents were calculated was opaque, and made tied tenants worse off than those free of tie; there was no low-cost mediation in case of rent disputes. In addition to normal evidence gathering methods, we commissioned a survey which gave objective evidence of the poor rewards available to tied tenants, the low levels of satisfaction with the tie and high levels of tenant traction with their pub company. We recommended that the Government should intervene, and that there should be an urgent inquiry by the Competition Commission.

REFERENCE TO THE OFT

36. On 24 July 2009 CAMRA made a super complaint to the OFT about the operation of the beer tie. The OFT has since found no evidence of market abuse. We are unsurprised by the finding (which is why we felt a broader Competition Commission inquiry was desirable). We continue to believe that reform is necessary.[23]

Task 3: Scrutiny of bills

37. The Committee continued to engage with legislation directly. Last Session we noted that the Committee's programme had been arranged so that we could report on the RDA aspects of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, if we decided it was necessary to do so. We did indeed produce a report,[24] setting out the ways in which policy had evolved between the first publication of the Government's Review of sub national economic development and regeneration and the proposals in the Bill.

38. Our major work on legislation related to legislation before the House of Lords, rather than the Commons. The Postal Services Review was published on 16 December, and the Postal Service Bill [Lords], which was built on the Review's findings, was introduced into the Lords on 24 February. We held three evidence sessions on the proposals; from Lord Mandelson when he appeared before the Committee on 14 January; we took evidence from Mr Richard Hooper, the author of the Review, and from the Communication Workers Union (CWU) on 20 January and from the Chairman and Chief Executive of Postcomm and the Chief Executive and the Commercial Director, Letters Business, of Royal Mail on 24 February. This enabled us to agree a Report on the Bill on 23 March.[25] The Report was drawn on extensively in House of Lords Committee proceedings.

Task 4: To examine specific outputs from the Department

39. We hold regular hearings on documents such as The Departmental Annual Report, but also scrutinise other outputs when appropriate. At the end of this Session, we held an evidence session on the 2008-09 Departmental Report. Although the evidence covered a wide range of outputs from the Department, we used this session to explore in detail, the establishment of the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.[26]

40. In addition to scrutiny of draft legislation, the Committees on Arms Export Controls continued to monitor the quarterly reports from the Government.

Task 5: Scrutiny of expenditure plans and outturns

41. Each year the Committee takes evidence from the Permanent Secretary on the Departmental Annual Report and Accounts. Our staff also examine the Estimates and Estimates memoranda submitted by the Department, with the invaluable help of the Scrutiny Unit.

Task 6: Scrutinising Public Service Agreements and targets

42. This task underpins a great deal of our work, and is usually addressed as part of other, broader enquiries, most notably our regular work on expenditure plans and outturns. As we indicated last Session, our work on Regional Development Agencies addressed PSA 7 (Improve the economic performance of all English regions and reduce the gap in economic growth rates between regions) for which BERR had responsibility. BERR's other PSAs - PSA 1 (Raise the productivity of the UK economy ) and PSA 6 (Deliver the conditions for business success in the UK) underpinned our work on the Higher Value-Added Economy. Our scrutiny of the Government's actions in response to the financial crisis. It was important in other inquiries, such as current work on the motor sport and aerospace industries. The inquiry into the Higher Value-Added economy also addressed DIUS's two PSAs: PSA 2 (Improve the skills of the population on the way to ensuring a world-class skills base by 2020) and PSA 4 (Promote world-class science and innovation in the UK).

Task 7: Monitoring the work of agencies and other public bodies

43. Like all departmental select committees, we monitor the agencies in the non-departmental bodies associated with the Department we scrutinise. BERR is also responsible for Royal Mail Group (and its subsidiary, Post Office Ltd), which is wholly owned by the Government - we have already described our work on the post office network and on the Postal Services Bill [Lords] in earlier paragraphs.

44. We have a policy of taking evidence from at least one Agency a year. This year we looked at the Insolvency Service. In addition, we monitor the work of regulators. This often takes place in the context of other inquiries—so, for example, we looked at Postcomm as part of our work on the Postal Services Bill [Lords]—but we normally hold an annual hearing on Ofcom's Annual Report and Accounts, jointly with colleagues on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. That did not take place this Session, since we had held sessions with the new Chairman, and with the Minister on Digital Britain, However, on 28 June we announced an inquiry into Broadband speed, a key proposal contained within the Digital Britain Report, and took evidence from internet providers and consumer organisations on 2 November.[27]

Task 8: Scrutiny of major appointments

The Committee held one pre-appointment hearing during the session, with Dr Colette Bowe, the Chairman designate of OFCOM. We held this meeting together with our colleagues on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. During the Session we explored the amount of time that Dr Bowe would give to the post, given her other professional commitments, and received assurances that OFCOM would be her priority. We considered her a suitable candidate.[28]

Task 9: Implementation of legislation and major policy initiatives

45. As we have described in the introduction, much of our work this year has concentrated on monitoring the policy initiatives the Government proposed to deal with the financial crisis. In addition, the inquiry into the Insolvency Service dealt with pre-pack administrations, which have increased in number following the changes to insolvency procedures contained in the Enterprise Act 2002.

Task 10: Debates in Westminster Hall and the Chamber

46. The Committee's work has informed several debates in the Commons, as well as influencing proceedings on the Postal Services Bill in the House of Lords. On the 16 December 2008, the Committee's work on Energy was the subject of an Estimates Day debate. The Committee also secured an Estimates Day debate on 9 March, to discuss the work of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. On 1 June the Report on the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill was tagged to that Bill's Second Reading. Most recently, the Committees on Arms Export Controls, of which our Committee is a constituent part, secured a Westminster Hall debate on 5 November 2009.


15   Session 2008-08, HC 90-i Back

16   Session 2008-09, HC 143-ii Back

17   Session 2008-09, HC 754-i and HC 754-ii Back

18   Session 2008-09, HC 331-i Back

19   Eighth Report of Session 2008-09, Post offices-securing their future, HC 371 Back

20   Ibid., para 32 Back

21   Third Report of Session 2007-08, Work of the Committee in 2007-08, HC175, para 28 Back

22   Second Report of Session 2004-05, Pub Companies, HC 128 Back

23   The Committee took evidence on Pub companies on 8 December. Back

24   Fourth Report of Session 2007-08, Regional development agencies and the Local Democracy, Economic Development and construction Bill, HC 89 Back

25   Fifth Report of Session 2008-09, The Postal Services Bill, HC 172 Back

26   A Report Creation of the new Department and Departmental Report 2009 was published as the First Report of Session 2009-10 (HC 160). Back

27   A further evidence session was held on 24 November. Back

28   Second Report of Session 2008-09, Pre-appointment hearing with the Chairman-elect of Ofcom, Dr Colette Bowe, HC 119 Back


 

 
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