Welcome to this week’s PA’s PA in a week in which 2016 lived up to its name as a year in which political norms were turned on their heads. Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem candidate in the Richmond Park by-election, overturned Zac Goldsmith’s 20,000 majority to take the seat for the party and become the Lib Dem’s only female MP. The by-election, called following the resignation of Goldsmith after the Government announced plans to back Heathrow expansion, was quickly turned into a pseudo-referendum on Brexit in a constituency which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Whether this will send the “shock wave” through the Government’s Brexit plans as stated by Olney and her party remains to be seen. What would now seem clear however is that the prospects of a general election anytime soon are greatly diminished.
In this week’s edition:
Ministerial roundtable on publishing
The PA took part in a roundtable with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley MP, and the Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Matt Hancock. This was an opportunity to introduce the publishing industry to the new ministerial team and raise current issues and initiatives. Discussed, amongst other things, were the international reach of the UK publishing industry, the impact of Brexit on trade, copyright and the digital single market reforms, and the work the industry is undertaking to ensure we have an inclusive and diverse workforce. It was a very positive meeting and ministers were very receptive to the points made. There was also a general acceptance that publishing often didn't get the attention from government it deserved and they were keen to work with us to address that.
EU Commission allows ebook Vat to be reduced
The Commission has unveiled a series of measures to improve the Value Added Tax (VAT) environment for e-commerce businesses in the EU. The range of proposals, in particular, will enable Member States to apply the same VAT rate to e-publications as they do for print. Current rules allow Member States to tax printed publications such as books and newspapers at reduced rates or, in some cases, super-reduced or zero rates. The same rules exclude e-publications, meaning that these products must be taxed at the standard rate. Once agreed by all Member States, the new set-up will allow – but not oblige – Member States to align the rates on e-publications to those on printed publications. Other reforms include:
- New rules allowing companies that sell goods online to deal easily with all their EU VAT obligations in one place;
- To simplify VAT rules for startups and micro-businesses selling online, VAT on cross-border sales under €10,000 will be handled domestically. SMEs will benefit from simpler procedures for cross-border sales of up to €100,000 to make life easier;
- Action against VAT fraud from outside the EU, which can distort the market and create unfair competition.
As for all fiscal matters, the Council will have to adopt the proposal unanimously. ECOFIN (economic and finances) Council meets monthly (the next meeting being towards the end of January). The Parliament will be consulting although its opinion is not binding (and the EP has always been supportive of reduced rates of VAT for all types of books). While it is difficult to say exactly when, if there is political will the proposed Directive could be adopted within the next six months.
Digital Economy Bill: Third Reading
The Digital Economy Bill received its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons this week. While no significant amendments were made to the clause to equalise criminal sanctions for online copyright infringement with those available for physical infringement, issues raised via probing amendments during the bill’s committee stage were debated again. These included:
- E-book lending: Kevin Brennan tabled another amendment to extend the payment of PLR (public lending right) to ebooks borrowed remotely (in Committee, the Minister had pointed to the need to wait for the judgment from the CJEU). With this ruling now out (see PA’s PA 11.11.16), Matt Hancock stated “I can confirm today that we intend to legislate to extend the public lending right to include the remote lending of e-books. It is important that we get that right and ensure that any changes are compatible with the copyright directive. We will therefore bring forward legislation as soon as possible.” We understand that if the government intends to use the Digital Economy Bill to do this, then it will be tabled shortly.
- Code of practice for search engines: Comments were made on the work undertaken at the search roundtables (government-led meetings between search engines and rights holders), but it was acknowledged that progress is slow and have failed to reach an agreement. Minister Matt Hancock responded providing an update to the House that another Search Roundtable has since taken place since the Bill was last discussed at the Bill Committee. He stated that the group is making some progress, but also admitted that more needs to be done. He made reference to the revised draft code that will be put to the Search Roundtable by the IPO on 10th January. Whilst he confirmed that the Government is not ruling out legislating in the future, the Minister stated that now is not the right time to do so.
The Bill passed Third Reading without a vote and will now make its way to the House of Lords for second reading on 13th December.
DCMS commits £4m to libraries
The Department for Culture Media and Sport has said it will set up a £4m innovation fund for libraries, as part of as part of a new strategy designed to help libraries improve and thrive in the 21st century. The fund will be administered by Arts Council England and will help finance initiatives for disadvantaged communities, such as literacy, reading and digital access schemes. The new strategy also calls for new models of delivery for libraries, and urges council to consider using libraries when delivering other vital public services, such as employment, health and learning opportunities. Rob Wilson, minister for civil society, said: “If we are going to build a country that works for everyone then we need to recognise that libraries are among our most valuable community assess and they remain hugely popular … But standing still is not an option if libraries are to thrive and work best for communities in the 21st century.” He said for libraries to flourish and prosper will require change and “new thinking about our service”. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (Cilip) said the strategy goes “part way” to securing a positive future for the sector, but urged the government to come up with a “properly funded national strategy” for developing libraries.
The Public Accounts Committee (the Committee chaired by Meg Hillier MP) which scrutinises the value for money - the economy, efficiency and effectiveness - of public spending and generally holds the government and its civil servants to account for the delivery of public services) has released a report on the apprenticeship programme. The report says that Government must broaden the range of measures it will use to evaluate its apprenticeships programme as it is unclear how the Department for Education will monitor success in important areas—among them the programme's ability to meet the needs of employers. It finds that while apprenticeships are considered "a key way of developing skills and improving productivity", the Department's only real measure of success is to facilitate 3 million new apprenticeship starts between 2015 and 2020 and warns it is not clear how the Department will monitor whether the programme is improving opportunities for under-represented groups and "has yet to establish the fairest and most effective way to support people from all backgrounds into apprenticeships". Other points raised include:
- That it unclear how the apprenticeships programme address "emerging industries"
- Concern that new levy "may incentivise some employers to exploit the system". The Committee highlights slow progress in the development of new standards and is concerned the new levy "may incentivise some employers to exploit the system, for example by artificially routing other forms of training into apprenticeships or hiring apprentices as a way to avoid paying the minimum wage".
- The development of new apprenticeship standards is taking longer than expected and some may not meet the needs of certain sectors and employers. There is also potential confusion over large number of new standards.
- It is not clear how the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) will operate and whether it will have the capacity and capability to fulfil its functions.
International education rankings published
East Asian countries have continued their 20 year lead in maths and science, according to the latest Trends in International Science and Mathematics Study (Timss) published this week, as Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Chinese Taipei and Japan remained top of the tables. The results showed that while Year 5 and Year 9 pupils boosted their scores in science and maths since the previous study, England still slipped by one place in the maths rankings, to 10th and 11th place. Meanwhile at primary level England remained in 15th place for science and at secondary level rose one place to come 8th. The results also showed that almost one in ten primary pupils in England are taught by teachers who they have moderate to severe problems with school conditions and resources, and 37% are taught by teachers who say they have minor problems. According to the survey students in England do less homework than other countries, with just 1% of 14-year olds in England spending more than three house a week on maths homework, compared to 15 hours on average.
Lord Nash on academies
Academies minister Lord Nash has predicted that academisation will start to become the only viable approach for the school system in five or six years’ time, when it is no longer possible to run a ‘dual system of academies and local authority schools. But he said he still supports a “mixed economy” of academies and local authority schools for now. Speaking at the education select committee this week, Nash also predicted that in 20 years’ time England could have multi-academy trusts with hundreds of schools in it. He said this was “unlikely” to happen by the 20230s, but he said it “could be done”. His comments come after education publishers heard last week that publishers should look to partner with MATs on developing new products. Andrew Thraves, a trustee of Academies Enterprise Trust, told the Shifting Landscapes PA/BESA conference that MATs are under pressure to show resources are built on proper evidence and will be the new product innovators. He said if publishers do not collaborate, MATs will bypass publishers and “do it themselves”.
This week we have:
Met with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Minister of State for Digital and Culture; attended and spoken at the Moscow Non/Fiction Book Fair where the UK was guest of honour; discussed the upcoming review of the legal deposit regulations with the British Library and DCMS; given a presentation to students at Plymouth University on the career opportunities in publishing; spoken at the IDC International Copyright Law Conference.
Next week we will be:
Travelling to China with the Culture Secretary to take part in a Creative Industries Forum and People to People Dialogue; hosting, with the Booksellers Association, the inaugural Parliamentary Book Awards in the House of Commons; meeting with the Society of Authors; meeting with the Department for Education; meeting with Shadow Deputy Culture Secretary Kevin Brennan MP; attending (as an observer) the RCUK Open Access Practitioners Group.