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PA's PA 4th September

PA's PA 4th September

Welcome to this week’s PA’s PA in a week in which the refugee crisis has over ridden the more prosaic debates around the UK’s renegotiation of EU membership and the wording of the upcoming referendum.     

Digital Single Market

The Commission rather proved our point for us this week with the release of the latest Eurobaromter figures which contradict the Commission’s main charge in its pursuit of its digital single market strategy – that there is a burning, unmet demand amongst the people of Europe to access content cross-border.  According to the research, only 8% of Europeans have tried to access content across borders with 54% saying they never had and don’t feel they ever will need to.  The Commission’s take on it was unsurprisingly different with their digital single market spokesman believing that the thing to remember is that the figures are higher amongst younger Europeans.  Andrew Orlowski’s rather irreverent take on it can be found here.   

Commission update

This month sees Brit Robert Madelin (finally) move on from his position as chief civil servant in DG Connect.  His replacement as director-general (the equivalent to Permanent Secretary) is Roberto Viola.  Also of interest, given the current anti-trust inquiry into Amazon, is that there is also a new head at DG Competition in the shape of Johannes Laitenberger.  Laitenberger previously spent five years as Head of the Cabinet of former Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.   

Select Committee activity

You can tell the House is almost back by the flurry of notices being issued by the various Select Committees.

  • The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will be holding a one-off oral evidence session next week (Wednesday 9 th September) with the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and  Sue Owen, Permanent Secretary at DCMS.  The Committee will be quizzing him on his priorities for the Department in the new Parliament but the session is expected include questions on broadcasting, communications and broadband , football governance and reform of FIFA.  Worth noting this will be John’s first appearance in front of the Committee he chaired for 10 years!  Should make for interesting viewing.
  • Following their session with the Science Minister ahead of the summer recess as part of their inquiry on The Science Budget, the Science & Technology Select Committee will be taking evidence next week from Innovate UK, the National Physical Laboratory, and representatives of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Research Councils UK (David Sweeney, from Higher Education Funding Council for England, Rick Rylance from Research Councils UK and Philip Nelson, Executive Group Chair-elect of Research Councils UK).  The Committee is looking to examine the current ring-fence budgetary arrangements; the rationale for any adjustment to the trajectory of future Government expenditure on science and innovation; the synergies between government and private sector investment; and the UK's relative position among research competitor states.
  • Finally, the Education Select Committee has announced a call for written evidence ahead of their one-off session on the work of Ofqual with the Chief Regulator, Glenys Stacey, and the Chair of Ofqual, Amanda Spielman, on Wednesday 14 October 2015Short written submissions are invited on the work of Ofqual in regulating examinations, including reform of GCSEs and A levels. 

Apprenticeships

The Government has announced its consultation with industry on a UK-wide apprenticeship levy.  Published sooner than had been expected it comes with a tight deadline for responses – the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills wanting comments by 2 nd October.  This is part of the Government’s wider strategy on apprenticeships which also includes: a pledge to support 3 million apprenticeships by 2020; a requirement to take a company’s apprenticeship offer into account when awarding large government contracts; and publishing new ‘industry standards’ so that apprentices have the skills that companies need. 

This strategy has come in for criticism by the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the main charge being that young people are being encouraged to take part in low-skill, low pay training schemes in order to help the Government meet its 3 million target.  Its research shows that less than 3% of new apprenticeships were at a level equivalent to a foundation degree.  According to The Independent, business groups and academics are warning that this could result in a  devaluing of the apprenticeship brand.   

Higher education

Nick Hillman, head of the Higher Education Policy Institute (and former special adviser to David Willetts) believes the UK should follow Germany’s approach to welcoming overseas student.  According to Hillman, Germany understands the value of international students to the economy, something which he believes is lacking in the UK.  For instance, the report, ‘Keeping Up With the Germans’, points out that Germany includes the post-study income tax contributions from overseas students in assessing their value to the economy. Britain, by contrast, “regards it as a failure that so many are thought to want to stay in the UK”.  Read more here 

This week we have: 

Been in Brazil for the Rio Biennial and participating in a UKTI / Publishing delegation; discussed future research with the Publishing Research Consortium; contributed to an FEP submission on online purchases of digital content. 

Next week we will be: 

Celebrating International Literacy Day (8 th ); meeting with the UK Permanent Representative in Brussels; attending a FEP meeting in Brussels with Maria Martin-Prat, Head of the Commission’s Copyright Unit; attending Future Book Launch 2015; participating in the Westminster Media Forum Seminar on EU copyright reform and the digital single market; speaking at the BIC Future Trends in Publishing 2015 Conference (again on European developments).