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Royal Mail

14. Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): If he will take steps to increase the use of Royal Mail by public sector bodies. [000780]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): It is for individual Government Departments and public bodies to decide which mail carrier to use, having regard for the most efficient and cost-effective ways of sending their mail. Given the public sector deficit that the Government inherited, that must be the right way forward.

Mr Sanders: Several Departments do not use Royal Mail, but outsource to firms such as DX Group, which, of course, means that the public purse is not recompensed. Surely if we are to safeguard Royal Mail and the Post Office, we ought to do more to help them.

Mr Davey: I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but it is very important that we use the competitive mail market to get the best value for the taxpayer. It is crucial that we abide by public procurement rules, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will not tell other Departments and public bodies how to procure their mail services.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I received 12 mailings from one organisation that has had a lot of state money in recent years, and some of my constituents received up to 30 mailings. Will the Minister have a word with some of his colleagues, because they all love to talk about how they support the Post Office, but when the Tory party and Lord Ashcroft funded those direct mailings, none was delivered through the Royal Mail? Will he have a word with those hypocrites, and every time they talk about the Post Office, remind them of that?

Mr Davey rose-

Mr Speaker: Order. Just before the hon. Gentleman replies from the Dispatch Box, I should say that I know he will want to keep his answer within order, and that as far as I am aware, the Conservative party is not a public sector body.

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Mr Davey: Thank you for that helpful advice, Mr Speaker.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) has always been known in the House for his modest use of language and his cross-party spirit, and I am sure he will want to ensure that all trade unions that fund mailings use Royal Mail.

Video Games Industry (Scotland)

16. Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the future prospects of the video games industry in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [000783]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Vaizey): No formal assessment has yet been made since we came into office, only about three weeks ago. However, I can say that the prospects for the Scottish video games industry are excellent, particularly with the centre of excellence for games at the university of Abertay in Dundee.

Ann McKechin: As the Minister will be aware, the video games industry is increasingly successful in the UK and particularly in Scotland. The Labour Government indicated that they would give a specific tax relief to the industry, which faces huge competition internationally, particularly from the USA and Canada. Will he provide reassurance that that tax relief plan will continue under his Administration?

Mr Vaizey: As the hon. Lady knows, we are currently in Budget purdah, but in opposition, I was on the record as supporting a video games tax break long before the Labour party converted to that. Indeed, for most of the last 13 years, the only time the Labour party ever talked about video games was when the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) condemned them for all sorts of misdemeanours.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): I am glad the Minister mentioned Abertay in Dundee, as the video games sector is hugely important there. Although it was disappointing that the last Labour Budget contained nothing on tax breaks for the games industry in this financial year, and although he is in Budget purdah, will he and his colleagues take excellent representations from TIGA, the games trade body, to understand precisely why tax breaks are required to fend off the competition from jurisdictions where tax breaks are already in place?

Mr Vaizey: When I was the Opposition spokesman, I had a close relationship with TIGA, which is an excellent trade body representing the video games industry-it put together an excellent submission on games tax relief and many other video games sector issues-and I am very happy to continue to meet TIGA representatives to discuss this important matter.

Train to Gain

17. Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): How many employers used the Train to Gain programme in 2009-10; and how many people were trained under that programme. [000784]

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The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr John Hayes): By July 2009, around 200,000 employers had staff involved in training through the programme. In the 2008-09 academic year, learners started 817,400 Train to Gain courses.

Mr Bailey: I thank the Minister for his reply and welcome him to his portfolio. The figures he gave demonstrate that the programme is very successful. Local manufacturers in the west midlands have recognised and welcomed it in the past. Can he give assurances that the programme will be continued, particularly as it was used effectively during the global recession, for companies on short-time working? In the event that we relaxed back into a double-dip recession, it could be there for them to use again.

Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman will know that the problem with Train to Gain is its deadweight cost-a fact that the last Administration were unwilling to face up to. The evaluations of Train to Gain suggest that it is used to support all kinds of training that employers would have funded anyway and to accredit skills that already exist-

Mr Bailey indicated dissent.

Mr Hayes: Well, that is not just my view; it was the view of the National Audit Office, which looked at the scheme and said that it has not provided good value for money.


18. Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): What steps his Department plans to take to support businesses seeking to offer apprenticeships. [000785]

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr John Hayes): I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a short time ago.

Mr Buckland: What steps will be taken to ensure that the new system of apprenticeships reaches out to the very smallest businesses in my constituency and elsewhere? All too often in the past the very smallest businesses have had great difficulty in getting the information that they need to engage apprentices.

Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend is right. The apprenticeships system needs to be built from the bottom up, which is why the Government are determined, as the Secretary of State said earlier, that small and medium enterprises should be supported in securing apprenticeships. We intend to introduce an apprenticeship bonus, which will help those small businesses to participate. We want to look at supply-side barriers and at root training organisations that will help small businesses to take on more apprenticeships. We are committed to apprenticeships in a way that has not been seen for years, perhaps not ever.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): That is breathtaking. How can businesses in the supply chain in my area be expected to take on apprenticeships while there is so much uncertainty surrounding the reviews being undertaken on Vauxhall Motors and Airbus?

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Mr Hayes: There is no uncertainty. Let me be clear about this Government's commitment to apprenticeships. Even in the short time that we have been in office, we have transferred money into the apprenticeship programme that will allow the creation of 50,000 more apprenticeships. That is just the start. My ambition is no less than to build a system that facilitates more apprenticeships in Britain than we have ever seen before.

Topical Questions

T1. [000791] Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): My Department's responsibilities include helping to drive growth, including rebalancing the economy; building on the strengths of manufacturing, the knowledge industries and the science and research base; helping businesses grow by getting rid of excessive regulation and ensuring that they can access credit; being open to trade and foreign investment; and encouraging the development of a skilled and educated labour force.

Bob Russell: I trust that, within that roll-call, the Secretary of State can persuade his Department or other relevant bodies to look into the debacle of Vergo Retail Ltd, now in administration, and its acquisition-less than a year ago-of the non-food outlets of the East of England Co-operative Society, with the pending loss of up to 300 jobs, given up by the caring, sharing Co-op across the east of England.

Vince Cable: I very much welcome back my colleague, the voice of Colchester, and I know that he will continue to fight assiduously for his constituency. I do not know the facts of this takeover and closure, but I will be happy to investigate if he writes to me or meets me to discuss it.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that cutting the higher education budget will place pressure on Lord Browne to conclude that student fees need to rise? Is it not the ultimate cop-out for the Secretary of State to cut the higher education budget and then abstain on student fees legislation?

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): Of course, Lord Browne's report was commissioned by the previous Government, on a cross-party basis, so those on both sides of the House will agree that it is right to wait for his report. As I explained to the House earlier, compared with the plans announced in December 2009, we have increased our contribution to student teaching so that we can deliver our pledge of extra student places.

T2. [000792] David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Does the Secretary of State have any plans for departmental reorganisation? Does he recall that his predecessor, Lord Mandelson, went on an empire-building spree as a price for supporting the former Prime Minister, and will he be moving back innovation and skills to the Department for Education?

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Vince Cable: There are no plans to reorganise the Department, and in any event, it is a matter for the Prime Minister. Actually, one of the strengths of the new Government is that we have maintained continuity and are concentrating on policy and economic recovery, not on moving around the furniture in Whitehall.

T3. [000793] Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Nissan is investing £400 million in its Sunderland plant, and the previous Government awarded it a £20 million grant for that, to help to secure thousands of jobs in the supply chain. Can the Secretary of State tell me whether that grant is still secure, considering that, if he answers no, thousands of jobs will be put at risk?

Vince Cable: No, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman now, because as I explained earlier, all these projects are being reviewed. I know perfectly well that there is a strong case in this instance, but we have to review value for money and affordability in every case.

T5. [000795] Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Will the Government's apprenticeship initiative provide scope for the training of blacksmiths and other heritage crafts, bearing in mind the concerns of blacksmiths in my constituency that the new entrants training scheme for blacksmith training seems to have been closed down following the decisions of the previous Government?

Mr Willetts: I know that my right hon. Friend has a strong interest in this subject, and I assure him that the Department is committed to improving the apprenticeship regime for craft skills. I have also already had a meeting on how we can improve the qualification regime so that specific qualifications in craft skills are properly recognised and funded-something that disappeared under the previous Government.

T4. [000794] Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Why is this new Front-Bench team so reluctant to talk about manufacturing? Can we not start to tie up the start-up of new businesses that make things with our university sector? Is it not about time that there was yet another inquiry into doing something about expanding our manufacturing exports?

Vince Cable: This Government are very fixed on the issue of rebalancing the economy. Manufacturing has declined continually over the past few decades, particularly in the past decade. It now has the advantage of a more competitive exchange rate, and it will be given support from the Government, particularly through the development of apprenticeships, as I indicated earlier.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): After vigorous lobbying, including by the all-party "Save the pub" group, the last Government confirmed plans to relax the beer tie and to set a timetable to act if the industry did not reform itself. Can we get an assurance from the Minister that this Government will stick to that plan and timetable?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): Yes.

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T6. [000796] Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): I note that this week the Secretary of State visited Glasgow university in my constituency, according to The Scotsman, although unfortunately I did not receive prior notice of his visit. He will be aware of the significant spin-off industries in life science from Glasgow university and other universities in Scotland. Does he agree that a patent box, which the previous Labour Government talked about, is essential if we are to grow and increase the life science industry in this country?

Vince Cable: I apologise to the hon. Lady if she did not get advance notice of my visit, but it was a very successful one. There is an outstanding project based on grants from the Medical Research Council, among others, with very good commercial spin-off. That is exactly what the Government want to encourage.

Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): Can the Secretary of State reassure us that any changes to the capital gains tax regime will not reduce investment in business, particularly in new start-up businesses, and will not undermine schemes of employee share ownership?

Vince Cable: As the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, the coalition agreement envisages the reform of capital gains tax as a way of making the tax system fairer and, among other things, creating revenue to help lift the tax threshold and lift very large numbers of low earners out of tax. We are conscious of the impact of capital gains tax on business, and we want to make it clear that any reforms will acknowledge the role of entrepreneurship, and not damage it.

T7. [000798] Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that I have already been in contact with his office about Trench UK and Siemens' proposals to close this very profitable plant and transfer production to France and Germany. Will he give an undertaking to meet Siemens at the highest possible level to avert this closure, and will he also meet a delegation from the plant so that we can discuss how we can save this jewel of British manufacturing?

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in his local businesses and jobs, and I am concerned about the issue that he has raised. I am aware that Siemens is about to commence a 30-day consultation period for employees. Clearly that is a commercial matter for the company, but in response to his inquiry, I would be happy to receive further representations if he would like to contact my office.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), confirmed in response to a question of mine that the Government are committed to introducing

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