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Departmental Efficiency Savings

Volume 456: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2007

9. What action he plans to take in response to the initiative on departmental efficiency savings announced in the pre-Budget report. (112469)

The Government’s objective is to achieve a strong economy and a just society. I continue to play a full part in developing and implementing that Government policy, as the Prime Minister has asked me to do. Significant progress has been made over the past 10 years whereby we have proved that we can have strong economic growth coupled with social justice, as well as exceed our Kyoto targets on the environment.

On performance, the House will know that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, unlike any other Whitehall Department, is not required to produce an autumn performance report or a capability review. Is that official confirmation that the Deputy Prime Minister does not have a proper job, or is it that he is incapable of performing the one that he is supposed to have?

As I have told the House before, I carry out the job exactly as Lord Heseltine defined it—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Well, hon. Members can check the record as to exactly what Lord Heseltine said to the Public Service Committee about working on behalf of the Prime Minister at their request.

As for departmental capability reviews, it is a pity that the previous Administration did not have them. If that had been done under the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported perhaps we would not have had the mess that we had with mass unemployment and the running down of most of our social services which led to the Tories being thrown out in 1997.

Given the Deputy Prime Minister’s long track record in trade union activity, will he comment on today’s strike by Public and Commercial Services Union members who are concerned about job losses, reductions in pay and the billions being spent on consultancy, which make it ever more difficult for them to deliver the quality of service that we as taxpayers need—particularly today, which, I remind hon. Members and colleagues, is the last day for self-assessment forms to be returned?

As the Government have made clear, the two parties have to get round the negotiating table on these matters of dispute. Indeed, I spend quite a bit of my time involved in that process. I would say to the union that it should look at this Government’s record in terms of how many public service employees there are now compared with 1997—well into hundreds of thousands are employed in front-line services in hospitals and in education. Of course there have been some adjustments and reforms—we accept that—but, in terms of what the union is talking about, there have been only 35 redundancies. Yes, it has a job to do in presenting the viewpoint of its members, but at the end of the day this dispute must be settled around the negotiating table, and we encourage the union to get there.

Since the Department’s efficiency savings depend on the success of the profit-sharing agreement for the millennium dome site, and since Anschutz Entertainment Group has said that it has no plan B following the collapse of the £300 million casino project, what plan B does the Deputy Prime Minister have to salvage the revenue?

The contract on the dome is clear for all to see. It was negotiated between the Government and the company, and that is what it will have to carry out. I have not been involved in any way in plan As or plan Bs, although the hon. Gentleman makes that suggestion. I have simply been involved in seeing that a contract negotiated by a previous colleague was implemented. It has been very good for Greenwich, creating more jobs and more prosperity, which mirrors an awful lot of what this Government are doing right round the country.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that despite the initiative on departmental efficiency savings, he has managed to spend £645 changing the sign outside his office from “Office of the Deputy Prime Minister” to “Deputy Prime Minister’s Office”? Does not that symbolise the shocking waste of money under this Government when thousands of jobs are being cut from the NHS?

As for the name plate, it is dealt with by the Department and its civil servants, to be honest. I hear the argument about £645, but that would not have paid for one sentence of any of the right hon. Gentleman’s speeches at the rate he charges—[Interruption.] Leaving that aside, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the waste of money, let us talk about the billions of pounds we paid keeping people on the dole, which this Government changed in 1997.

It will not be many months before the Deputy Prime Minister can charge a fortune, because people will split their sides for his speeches. He has all of that to look forward to. In the meantime, since he is responsible for the co-ordination of Government policy, does not the state of the Home Office, with prisoners who should be in jail being released because of the failure to plan, and the state of the health service, with 37,000 job cuts this year, suggest that co-ordination of policy has rarely been so incoherent and paralysed? Does the responsibility for that lie with the Deputy Prime Minister or with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

We fully accept our responsibility for the good government of this country. We have got millions of people back to work, we have reduced waiting lists and put more investment into education and health, so we are happy to compare that record with the 18 years under the right hon. Gentleman’s Government. We have a very good record, which I ask him to consider. It is a bit of a cheek for the right hon. Gentleman to criticise us, bearing in mind that he was a member of that disastrous Government, who brought terrible consequences for our people and the country’s economy. I am quite prepared to make a comparison. Let the right hon. Gentleman keep on making the speeches; quite frankly, that is just about where his ability lies. I believe that he is now the man responsible for getting the votes back for his party in Yorkshire and Humberside. There were no gains when he was leading the Tory party and if he has to get the level of support back to that in 1992, I am bound to tell him that it will take 40 years. That sounds right. Keep the night-time job and the pay, but quite frankly, he will not be back in government.