HL Deb 02 December 2002 vol 641 cc962-5

2.51 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the role of the Department of Trade and Industry's strategy unit; what achievements the unit has to its credit; and what is the total number of its staff and its cost.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, the role of the strategy unit is to measure and assess the country's enterprise and innovation performance, to compare our performance with other countries, to consult our stakeholders and to help develop new policies in areas such as competition policy, enterprise, science and technology, skills and corporate governance. The unit was set up in April by bringing together the department's strategic planning, economic and statistical analysis and communications sections, which consist of 18, 57 and 68 staff respectively. The associated annual staff cost is £5.733 million.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that that Answer does not get us much further. Is he aware that my curiosity drove me to the Civil Service Year Book? To my great surprise I discovered that this gem of a human organisation exists, to drive up UK productivity and competitiveness", and—mark these words—to ensure, that this strategy is clearly communicated". Will the Minister think me rude if I say that his Answer has not contributed to a clear communication on the strategy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, on the contrary. I thought that in 75 words I did extremely well to cover at least five or six different questions. I hope I was clear. I explained exactly the areas where the unit measures performance, the activities that it undertakes in that respect and how it will help to deliver policy in those areas. I thought the Answer extremely clear and that it conveyed exactly what the unit does.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, perhaps I can help the Minister. Does he recollect that Mr Peter Mandelson, missed by some in what was a short-lived appointment as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, originated a report detailing the objectives and the benchmarks against which the Department of Trade and Industry would be measured? Can the Minister say when an up-to-date report will be available detailing achievement against such objectives and benchmarks?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the strategy unit has already published the 2002 update of our productivity and competitiveness indicators. In the spring of next year we shall publish both where the resources are allocated within the DTI and the targets for the different parts of the department against which its performance can be measured.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

My Lords, did the Minister see in The Times today the remarks of Sir Stephen Brown, the chief executive of British Trade International? They appeared under the heading: Trade chief says red tape and costs hurt UK". In the light of the response he has given the House, will the Minister ask the strategy unit to investigate this critical issue which we on this side of the House have been trying to make the Government focus on for some time?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, that is exactly the kind of issue on which it is necessary to have a clear grasp of the facts and figures. The unit can have most impact in exactly that kind of area. On the basis of the extraordinary figures produced in this context by the CBI and the Conservative Party, I would have thought that the strategy unit would be very useful.

Lord Jones

My Lords, does my noble friend know whether the strategy unit ever considers the prospects for Britain's hard-pressed manufacturing industries? Does it ever consider the prospects for the hard-pressed steel industry, particularly in Wales? Is the unit considering any such problems?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we recently introduced a manufacturing strategy document that considers the impact that the policy areas under the control of the DTI have on manufacturing strategy. We have produced policy proposals for that.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has the Minister asked the strategy unit to work out how much innovation could have been purchased for £100 million if that money had been spent on innovation for the Underground instead of on consultants' fees?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the noble Lord will be pleased to hear that we are about to start a major review of innovation policy. No doubt—if he feels that it would be a useful exercise—at the end we shall be able to give him an exact figure of what could be purchased with £100 million and how that could be used in other areas.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, in relation to the Minister's answer to my noble friend Lord Hodgson, I am sure that no one in the House disbelieves the Minister when he says that the strategy unit can do what my noble friend asked. However, the question he was really asking was: will it do that?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, those are the kind of indicators that we want to measure. I am sure that keeping an eye on and analysing those figures will be the kind of task that the unit will undertake.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the statue of my late noble kinsman Lord Alanbrooke on the foregreen of the Ministry of Defence, whose plinth states that he was a master of strategy, belies that title as he looks up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square and not down Whitehall towards the Treasury on which he should sensibly keep an eye?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, that is a very interesting observation. I shall pass it on to the strategy unit.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether the strategy unit has been able to consider the proposals for the defence export scrutiny committee which some months ago were pressed for at length?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the answer is quite simply no, it has not. I do not believe that that is the kind of issue that it would be expected to consider. As I said, it is considering the particular productivity indicators and the impact they have on the economy.