The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): A meeting of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council was held on 18 and 19 November. The UK was represented by the Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, Andy Lebrecht, for the culture and audiovisual section of the Council. The Minister for Sport and the Olympics represented the UK for the sports section.
The presidency presented a progress report on the Commission proposal for a European heritage label. The presidency updated the Council on the negotiations of the proposal. The majority of the main points of discussion raised during the negotiations have been resolved. The scheme will be open to all member states on a voluntary basis; third countries will be allowed to participate in the scheme only as part of transnational sites; the selection of sites will take place every two years; and sites awarded the label under the current intergovernmental scheme will need to reapply and be subject to the same criteria and procedures as new sites being proposed. Two points, however, remain at issue: where the funds allocated to the action for 2013 are to come from and which institution is to be competent to award, and if necessary withdraw, the label. On the first point, the Commission proposal states that the 2013 budget would come from the margins of the EU budget and the majority of delegations have supported this view.
The Government, however, oppose this view and believe that the 2013 budget should come from existing programmes. On the second point, the Commission proposes that it would be the institution with the authority to decide which sites are to be awarded the label, or if necessary have it withdrawn. Some delegations would prefer the decision to be taken by the Council. The presidency has suggested that the decision to award or withdraw the label be taken by the Commission following an advisory committee procedure to allow member states to have a say before the Commission reaches a decision. These two points will continue to be negotiated under the Hungarian presidency.
The Council designated Mons in Belgium as one of the two European capitals of culture 2015. The second capital for 2015 in the Czech Republic, Pilsen, will be designated at the next Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council in May 2011.
The Council adopted conclusions setting out the EU work plan for culture for the years 2011 to 2014. The plan addresses the following priorities: cultural diversity,
intercultural dialogue and accessible and inclusive culture; cultural and creative industries; skills and mobility; cultural heritage, including mobility of collections; culture in external relations; and culture statistics. These priorities will be implemented through the open method of co-ordination, working groups with member states' experts, and a reinforced dialogue with civil society.
The Council adopted conclusions on the role of culture in combating poverty and social exclusion. The conclusions argue that it is important for a cultural dimension to be incorporated into policies against poverty and social exclusion. Participation in cultural life and arts education can play a significant role in the fight against poverty by encouraging social inclusion of isolated groups and promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue.
The Council adopted conclusions on European film heritage, including on challenges of the digital era. The text addresses two issues: the transition from the analogue to the digital era and the link between film funding policies and film heritage.
The Council adopted conclusions on the opportunities and challenges for European cinema in the digital era. The conclusions underline that the transition to digital cinema is urgent and that it should be supported by public policies. The conclusions also welcome Commission plans to provide funding through the media programme before the end of 2010 to support digitisation. The four sets of conclusions were adopted without further debate.
The Council then discussed the cultural and audiovisual aspects of the digital agenda, the first so-called flagship initiative under the "Europe 2020" strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The digital agenda, endorsed by the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council of 31 May, aims to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits from a digital single market based on fast and ultra-fast internet and interoperable applications. Delegations underscored that the cultural and audiovisual dimensions of the digital agenda are crucial if it is to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits from a digital single market. As priority actions, Ministers singled out the digitisation of cultural heritage and of cinema as well as the development and sustainable financing of Europeana, the European digital library. In addition, delegations stressed the importance of increasing legal access to cultural and creative content online and of intellectual property rights in this respect. Finally, many highlighted that media literacy levels need to be improved so as to enable citizens to fully benefit from a digital single market. All Ministers underlined that the cross-cutting nature of the digital agenda requires an integrated, rather than a compartmentalised approach and horizontal co-ordination between institutions concerned at EU and at national level.
The Council adopted a resolution establishing a high-level structured dialogue with sport stakeholders. Such a dialogue will allow an ongoing exchange of views on priorities, implementation and follow-up to EU co-operation in the field of sport. It will take the form of a regular informal meeting of leading representatives of the EU public authorities and the sports movement to discuss sporting issues in the EU. The first such meeting is scheduled for early December. The UK's views on the importance of ensuring that national sport voices are part of this group were taken into account.
The conclusions reiterate the need to co-ordinate EU and member state positions ahead of meetings of the World Anti-Doping Agency, in particular in relation to the EU acquis, for example on the free movement of athletes and the protection of privacy and personal data. Such EU co-ordination should take place in close co-operation with the Council of Europe.
The Council adopted conclusions on the role of sport as a source of and a driver for active social inclusion. The conclusions identify three common priorities for promoting social inclusion through sport: the accessibility of sport activity for all citizens ("sport for all" principle), better use of the potential of sport as a contribution to community building, social cohesion and growth, and transnational exchanges of strategies and methodologies.
The Council held a policy debate on social inclusion in and through sport. Ministers underlined that sport is an activity that can bring people together and be a powerful tool to strengthen cohesion in European societies, with professional athletes being role models for society. They mentioned that relevant activities in their countries were targeted at youth, elderly, those with disabilities and those from disadvantaged and migrant communities. Delegations specially requested that exchanges of experience and of best practices be among the priorities of EU action in the field of sport. Several delegations advocated that a future EU programme in the area of sports should support volunteering, especially of those with a migrant background, as well as improvements in sports infrastructures. The UK intervened to ask that future work at EU level demonstrates clear value over national responsibilities, specifically building better evidence on how major international sporting events can be translated into lasting participation and further encouragement for professional sports to play their part in boosting participation.
Under any other business, the Hungarian delegation outlined the priorities for their forthcoming presidency. Under culture and audiovisual, priorities would be the adoption of the European Heritage Label, the cultural dimension of the EU2020 strategy, the mobility of artists and creative content online. For sport their presidency focus would be on the framework for EU activity in sport, and also the EU sports programme.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): I am today announcing confirmation of capital funding for youth facilities planned under the myplace programme. I will be looking to projects funded through myplace to make the very most of the resources they are receiving.
I expect projects to use this investment to drive reform of local youth provision and take every opportunity to promote young people's positive and active role in society. I would like to see civil society organisations delivering more local publicly funded services, and once construction is complete I would expect local authority-led
projects to transfer or share ownership and management with the local community and with young people. In line with our plans for the early intervention grant, I will also expect projects to focus strongly on evidence-based early interventions for the most vulnerable young people.
I want to see Government capital investment working harder to leverage ongoing additional investment including from the private sector. I have seen the extent to which the local business community and volunteers have engaged with some projects. I believe that many others could use the opportunity of a new high-quality youth facility to develop strong relationships that mean their long-term viability is rooted far more within their communities, rather than projects relying exclusively on public funds. I have instructed the Big Lottery Fund, who manage the programme on the Department's behalf, to ensure that each project has reviewed its revenue funding plans to assure sustainability, before final approval is given.
The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): The Government have committed to making changes across the immigration system to achieve their overall aim of reducing net migration. The student route accounts for two thirds of migrants entering the UK each year which makes it a key focus for reform.
The UK's education system is world renowned, and we remain the global destination of choice for the many thousands of higher education students who choose to study abroad each year. We want to encourage all those genuine students coming here to study at our world class academic institutions.
At the same time the Government want to ensure that those who enter on a student visa genuinely come here to study. The Government are committed to minimising abuse of the student route by those whose primary motivation is not to study but to work and settle in the UK.
By minimising abuse, we shall also take a further step towards our aim of reducing net migration to the UK to sustainable levels. The majority of non-EU migrants are students. They, and their dependants, accounted for around two thirds of visas issued last year under the points-based system. It is clear that the Government's aim to reduce net migration will not be achieved without careful consideration and action on the non-economic routes including students.
The proposals in our consultation aim to build on recent changes to the points-based system, which we believe offers a transparent and flexible framework but which needs further strengthening. They are grouped under the following broad aims which we expect our reforms to achieve:
raising the level of courses students can study, with only highly trusted sponsors able to offer courses to adult students below degree level;
introducing tougher entry criteria for adult students;
ensuring students return overseas after their course;
limiting the entitlements to work and to sponsor dependants;
simpler procedures for checking low-risk applications; and
stricter accreditation procedures for education providers in the private sector.
We want to hear views on our proposals from a wide range of people. The consultation will run for eight weeks until 31 January. This is shorter than a standard 12-week consultation so that the policy can be announced in advance of the next academic year.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): The Public Guardian Board has provided me with a copy of their annual report on the public guardian for the year 2010. A copy of the report is available in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
Copies of the report are also available on the intranet: http://www.publicguardian.gov.uk/about/statutory-documents.htm.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): This Government are determined to secure a sustainable and efficient railway. The spending review settlement has demonstrated our commitment to rail transport. The sustained financial support we have offered now needs to be matched by a relentless drive for efficiency on the part of the industry.
Sir Roy McNulty's value for money review has reached some important interim conclusions. In his interim report being published today and being made available in the Library of the House he finds that:
the railway is costing more than it used to and more than it ought to. Greater efficiency would realise savings of £600 million-£1,000 million per annum by 2018-19 without cutting services or lowering quality;
the key to securing these efficiencies is a cross-industry focus on reducing costs and improving value for money;
that in turn demands closer working and alignment of incentives between train operators and Network Rail and strong leadership across the industry. Inevitably, such alignment, if it is to be effective, will involve Network Rail working more closely at a local level with train operators.
The most pressing need is to ensure that incentives across the industry are aligned, so that all parties strive to improve the quality of services and to provide value for money for taxpayers and passengers. Train operators are too narrowly focused on franchise specifications (which are often over-detailed). Network Rail has concentrated on network performance and safety targets. These are important objectives. But there is no cross-industry focus on the fundamental purpose of the
railway-moving people and goods efficiently across a network while securing the best long-term value for money for farepayers and taxpayers.
The second phase of the value for money study will focus on identifying opportunities for greater alignment and changes that will secure greater efficiency and better value for money. Sir Roy's final report is due to be published in April 2011. These initial conclusions, however, are so important that it would be wrong to wait until then before starting to respond.
Today, I am announcing the establishment of a high-level group, which I will chair, that will examine the options for getting those responsible for track and train to work together to drive down the cost of the railway for the benefit of passengers and taxpayers, while improving the quality of services. Sir Roy McNulty's final report will inform the group's work.
This group will consider options for structural reform in the industry. My presumption is that, at an operational level, there are some network-wide planning and technical functions which can only be discharged by a single national body, acting as custodian of the network. That should not preclude reforms which allow route or area-based alliances to be established, focused on aligning specific track and train operations where this best serves the needs of customers.
I am clear, however, that no changes should be made that would jeopardise the impressive improvements in safety and punctuality achieved across the industry in recent years. There is a spectrum of options which could contribute to achieving a better alignment of incentives. We expect that the optimal solution will vary for different parts of the network, reflecting the diversity of our railways and differing local needs. A one-size-fits-all model is unlikely to be the right solution. I am also clear that the changes we are proposing must protect the interests of freight operators on the network.
In parallel with the value for money review, my Department has been consulting on possible changes to the franchising system. We have invited views on moving to longer franchises with less detailed specifications and greater incentives for operators to act efficiently and invest in the improvements passengers want. These principles have been widely welcomed and they will form part of our plans for making the railway more efficient and more responsive to passengers' needs.
However, franchising reform needs to be co-ordinated with Network Rail reform: they are two sides of the same coin. We also need to co-ordinate the programme of franchise renewals to take account of major planned railway projects which will inevitably disrupt operations in certain franchises.
A number of franchises will fall due for re-tendering over the next couple of years. Because we intend, typically, to let longer franchises of at least 15 years duration it is important that the reforms we wish to make following the McNulty review, the franchise consultation and the work of the high-level group are incorporated into the terms of these franchises.
I therefore propose to use a short contract, openly competed during 2011, to run and improve services in the Greater Anglia franchise while we carry out this work. I then expect to award a new long-term franchise
for the operation of services in East Anglia to commence in 2013. In 2012, I propose to award a franchise to operate InterCity west coast until the planned opening of HS2 in 2026. Then, in late 2012, I propose to award a franchise of 15 years to operate the east coast main line services.
The rest of the retendering programme for 2012 and 2013 will depend partly on decisions by my Department and existing operators on the termination dates of current franchises. We also need to avoid overloading the industry by inviting too many tenders at the same time. The trans-Pennine express franchise could contractually be extended by up to five years beyond 2012: my Department is discussing a proposal for an extension with the current operator. Alternatively, this
franchise could be retendered for at least 15 years, possibly in 2013 alongside the northern franchise. The Essex Thameside franchise will also be retendered by 2013 for at least 15 years. The Greater Western franchise will be retendered in either 2013 or 2016, again for at least 15 years, upon expiry of the existing franchise agreement in accordance with its terms. In the case of Thameslink and South Eastern it is not currently appropriate to let long-term franchises, since both will be heavily affected by Thameslink work at London Bridge station. So these franchises will be retendered on a short-term interim basis as they fall due. My Department will then let long-term franchises to cover the operation of Thameslink and South Eastern services, once the London Bridge station reconstruction is complete.