§ Mrs. Curtis-Thomas
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on(a) the progress of the chemical industry's learning and skills strategy, (b) the programme to promote the spread of best practice, (c) support for chemical industry cluster initiatives and (d) the programme to support chemicals inward investment from north America. 
§ Ms Hewitt
My noble Friend the Minister for Science announced on 24 January the formation of a Chemicals Innovation and Growth Team (CIGT) as a partnership between Government, the industry, and other stakeholders to stimulate the growth and sustainability of a competitive chemicals industry in the UK.
Among other things, the CIGT has been charged with identifying ways of improving competencies and skills in the industry. This will work alongside the new Sector Skills Council for chemicals manufacturing, oil and gas extraction and petroleum refining, in which the Government will be investing £2 million over the next two years.
The Process Industries Centre for Manufacturing Excellence—a Government-industry partnership—is the primary body charged with improving manufacturing performance and productivity in the UK chemicals industry through the spread of best practice. To date this initiative has proved extremely successful. Many of the companies who have so far been through this process have seen improvements measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The chemicals industry has a number of natural clusters throughout the UK. In these primary areas, regional chemical initiatives have been formed to help improve networking between companies and to address collectively those issues which impact upon the competitiveness of the industry at a local or regional level. They are industry-led but have the active support and involvement of the DTI, the RDAs in those regions, and of Scottish Enterprise in Scotland. These cluster initiatives have proved of great value in helping to address the needs of the industry.1141W
A chemicals industry specialist was appointed in January 2001 to work with Invest UK to promote UK chemicals investment opportunities to companies in north America. He is working with Scottish Enterprise, the RDAs and the regional chemical initiatives on opportunities for new investment.