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Television Licence Fees

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): On 21 February 2000, the Government announced their conclusions on the recommendations of the independent review panel on the future funding of the BBC. In addition to a range of measures designed to improve BBC efficiency and accountability, the Government introduced a new funding formula providing for changes in the licence fee of RPI plus 1.5 per cent for each year from 2000–01 to 2006–07. This formula will enable the BBC to provide a strong and distinctive schedule of high quality programmes and remain at the forefront of broadcasting technology.

Application of the RPI figure of 1.7 per cent for the year to September 2003, plus 1.5 per cent, to the current unrounded licence fees produces new rounded totals of £116 for a colour licence and £38.50 for a black and white licence. The necessary regulations to bring these fees into force will be laid before the House in due course. The changes will come into effect from 1 April.

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Public Libraries

Lord Hughes of Woodside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have about the role of public libraries. [HL1589]

Baroness Blackstone: I am pleased to repeat the announcement made yesterday by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that the Government's new strategic framework for the public library service, Framework for the Future, has been published and copies of the document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The starting point for the strategy is how best to meet the needs of library users and encourage new users. Framework for the Future outlines a range of initiatives designed to promote reading and learning for everyone, giving special attention to those who have literacy problems. It aims to bring access to the digital communications revolution to all and to help communities work together more effectively through better sharing of community information and by creating opportunities for different groups to work together. The new strategy will encourage libraries to build on existing strengths and ensure they position themselves at the hearts of the communities they serve.

Public libraries are a valuable infrastructure, which have the potential to help local authorities deliver across a range of local services. The best libraries are doing so already. By clarifying key priorities and highlighting best practice, Framework for the Future provides a focus for future work across the sector. It provides a basis for authorities to prioritise and plan services to meet the needs of citizens, while being flexible enough to respond to local differences.

The launch of the policy document marks the beginning of the next stage in developing the stategy. We will be working closely with the Advisory Council on Libraries, Resource, the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries and leaders in local government, libraries and education to deliver the strategy.

The document will also be available on the DCMS website at work.html

Royal Parks

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in the proposed change of status of the royal parks from an agency to a non-departmental public body.[HL1619]

Baroness Blackstone: The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced on 20 July 2001 her intention to establish the Royal Parks Agency as a non-departmental public body (NDPB). The review of the Royal Parks Agency which recommended the

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change of status for the parks did not take into account the issue for reclaiming VAT in its assessment. Following the announcement of the change of status, there were discussions with HM Customs and Excise and it has been confirmed that the royal parks would lose their entitlement to reclaim VAT on building and maintenance work if they became a NDPB. This would result in a loss of approximately £3 million a year income, which the parks are unable to absorb. The decision has therefore been made that the parks should remain an agency of the department.

Our aim is still to modernise the agency and a programme of change to improve the efficiency and management of the parks is being taken forward. This includes:

    a new and strengthened ministerial advisory board. The board will provide the agency with strategic direction and advice to Ministers on the

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    agency's broad direction and performance against targets;

    appointment of two non-executive directors to the Royal Parks Management Board, one of whom will be drawn from the advisory board;

    supporting the setting up of the Royal Parks Foundation, a charitable trust to raise funds for the parks;

    secondment of a member of the Senior Civil Service from the department to the royal parks to strengthen the parks' corporate and business management;

    a new funding agreement which ties the royal parks more closely to delivering the department's core agenda;

    application to the royal parks of all the recommendations in the report Better Government Services: Executive Agencies in the 21st Century.

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