Over the summer we published our “Connectivity, Content and Consumers” paper and our consultation on media plurality, and, as the House has already heard, rural broadband roll-out continues apace. We have also celebrated one-year anniversaries of the Olympic and Paralympic games, and along with the rest of the nation we have celebrated the victories of Andy Murray, the Lions squad and the women’s and men’s cricket teams’ Ashes triumph.
May I being by thanking my right hon. Friend for taking the time to meet Broadband for the Rural North in my constituency? How will she ensure the progress of community-led schemes such as B4RN, which is trying to bring superfast broadband to some of the most isolated parts of my constituency? How will that progress continue when B4RN has to co-exist with much larger contracts held by British Telecom and Lancashire county council?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I applaud the work I saw when I visited B4RN, particularly that of Barry Forde, who is leading the community project. I fully support community projects—they are doing incredible work—and I have asked all local authorities to do what they can to support them and in particular to publish the maps of coverage. As a result of my hon. Friend’s hard work, Lancashire country council has agreed to work with B4RN to find a way to take the project forward.
The challenges facing seaside towns are distinctive and reach across Government Departments. Last week, Labour’s document “Seaside Towns: What matters to coastal communities and economies” highlighted the fact that seaside towns are now among the most deprived areas in Britain. Given their importance to our tourism economy, what is being done to co-ordinate effort across Government to tackle the crisis facing our seaside towns and to give them the opportunity to once again flourish as thriving tourist destinations?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to the hard work of those who provide hotels and other attractions in our seaside towns. Our GREAT campaign features the beauty of our coastline as one of our key assets. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman’s proposed tourism tax would do anything to develop the future of our coastal towns. I urge him to reconsider it and to support our tourism industry.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the recent report published by the all-party parliamentary group on heritage rail and of the significant contribution that the largely voluntary organisations in that area make to the UK tourism industry. I urge her to make every effort to continue to support their hard work, in particular through the support of VisitEngland.
My hon. Friend is right that heritage railways can provide a focus for tourism in local areas. The Watercress line in Hampshire provides that, as does the Severn Valley railway in his constituency. I will continue to do everything that I can to encourage VisitEngland to offer the support that is important, particularly with regard to marketing this fantastic asset of our British heritage.
Users of social media sites increasingly use them to advertise the sale of sex online. The law in this area is often unclear and contradictory. Will the Department make legal guidance available to social media sites and Members of the House so that we can help to reduce demand for the vulnerable women who are often exploited in this trade?
Whatever is illegal offline is illegal online. Any activity that is undertaken by the sites that the hon. Gentleman talks about should be carefully looked at to ensure that it does nothing to harm people, particularly people under the age of 18 who might be accessing those sites.
The major UK sporting event of the year will soon kick off. The rugby league world cup will comprise 14 nations and Warrington looks forward to welcoming some of them. Will the Minister confirm that that event is one of his Department’s main priorities this year and outline the support that it is providing?
I certainly shall. Of course, the world triathlon series is coming to this country before the rugby league world cup kicks off in the autumn. That event is a priority. The Government have provided all the usual support in respect of visas, security and the necessary insurances for the international body. Exceptionally, we have also provided a direct grant to the rugby world cup itself. It has been fantastically run. It is 50 days today until it kicks off and I wish it every success.
No, I do not. Let us look at the Olympic legacy. The fact that we ran the best ever Olympic and Paralympic games has been a fantastic boon for this country. We are the first home nation ever to increase the investment in Olympic and Paralympic athletes—the investment in Paralympic athletes has increased by 43%. Participation is up by 1.4 million, an extra £150 million is going to primary schools and we have assembled the best ever list of major sporting events to come to this country. No other host nation has assembled a legacy to meet that.
With the Tour de France coming through my constituency next year and the rugby league world cup game between England and Ireland being played at the John Smith’s stadium in Huddersfield on
I can do better than that and point the finger at Sadiq Khan as the guilty party. He proposed a tourism tax for London at a time when visitor numbers are up by 12% and spend by 13%. That is a fantastic legacy from 2012 and it would be folly beyond measure to kill it with the old tax-and-spend policies of the Labour party.
Last week, I had the pleasure of launching Turning Earth, a new ceramics studio that is partly funded through crowdfunding. The Financial Conduct Authority is currently consulting on the future of crowdfunding. Given its importance to the creative industries in my area and up and down the country, is the Department having a serious input into that inquiry and having discussions about what creative businesses need?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that crowd funding is an option for the creative industries and the arts. We will certainly be involved in that consultation. We listen to representations from trade bodies such as UKIE, the video games trade body, on crowdfunding.
I welcome the fact that UK broadband speeds have increased by a fifth in six months. However, what progress has the Department made in getting BT to disclose the 10% of areas that it will not cover by 2015, so that smaller providers can help plug the gap?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is important to stress that local authorities are in the driving seat in broadband roll-out. Whether to share roll-out plans is a decision for them and some are keen to manage demand. The Secretary of State has written to all local authorities and urged them to share their roll-out plans with their communities, precisely so that community broadband providers have the opportunity to plug the gaps.
The National Audit Office has told us that the rural broadband programme is already running 22 months late. It also states that
“the Department does not have strong assurance over the appropriateness of the levels of contingency”.
May I press the Minister again to ensure that adequate cost data are provided by BT before money is handed over, not least so that there is a fair opportunity for community initiatives such as the one we heard about a few minutes ago?
First, it is important to stress that the broadband programme is going extremely well. As I have said before, we should reach 88% coverage by the end of 2015 and 90% in early 2016. That is far ahead of Labour’s plan, which was only to get to superfast broadband by the end of 2017. It is also important to stress that the NAO acknowledged that the in-life controls in local authority contracts with BT were robust. We follow exactly the same procedure as that used in Cornwall, where BT has gone from 80% to 95% coverage for the same amount of money, and we have robust cost controls.
In Dover and Deal, people complain bitterly about how long it takes to get a broadband connection and how long it can take to get it sorted out if the connection goes wrong. Given that the infrastructure provider is effectively a monopoly provider, is it not important that we have a better service?
May I say what a pleasure it was to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency the other day, to see some of his historic churches and to open the Deal arts festival?
I hear what my hon. Friend says. Those questions do arise, but I know that BT Openreach works hard to ensure that it can give the best customer service possible. We have regular discussions with BT Openreach and other major providers to ensure that customer service is good.