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Departmental Funding Settlement

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2009

9. What services and policy initiatives will be affected by the funding settlement reached for his Department for 2009 to 2011. (253529)

On 19 January, I published to Parliament the Ministry of Justice’s corporate plan. The plan is based on my Department’s four strategic objectives and sets out what we aim to achieve, how, and with what resources. Further details of the financial allocations are given in chapter 6 of the plan.

Last year, the Secretary of State’s permanent secretary, Suma Chakrabarti, told to the Justice Committee that by December the Department would have a much better idea of what cuts it needed to make to live within its means. One assumes that that will result in some cuts in front-line services. Perhaps the Secretary of State could help the House by giving some indication of where those cuts are going to fall. Could he give me an undertaking that one of the cuts will not be the closure of the probation service office in Banbury, because that would be a very retrograde step for offender management in the north of Oxfordshire?

The corporate plan makes it clear that we are indeed seeking some reductions and savings—that is on the record before Parliament—including a 5 per cent. real-terms reduction in our administration budget. However, we are seeking to do that principally by taking out back-office functions, by cutting down on what I think the House would regard as unnecessary spending, and by reducing the use of agency and contract staff. The whole purpose of this—the same is true, for example, overall in the National Offender Management Service—is to do our very best to ensure that front-line services are properly protected. There are always better ways of delivering front-line services. If the performance of the probation services are compared area to area and within areas, it is clear that there is not necessarily a connection between inputs in terms of resources and their outputs in terms of caseload and reductions in reoffending.

I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State had to say about potential cuts to the probation service. Can he reassure the House that the probation service will not suffer cuts that would limit its capacity to monitor and maintain community service orders? In West Mercia, initial indications show that as many as 42 probation officers could be at risk.

We do not believe that that is the case. There will be a requirement on probation services, and others, to reduce their administrative costs and to look at new ways of working. For example, they might produce briefer reports for courts and so on. We have actually put extra money into the front-line delivery of high-end community penalties. The whole purpose of that is to make the system more efficient and more effective.

How much worse will resource problems be as a result of the alarming state of some of the Department’s IT projects? Will some have to be abandoned or cut in order to stay within limits?

It really is pushing it to say that the Secretary of State has IT plans if we bear in mind that the National Audit Office criticised his Department for trebling the cost—to £690 million—of the C-NOMIS IT project. It is also true that the Government have spent £50 million on accommodating prisoners in police stations and court cells, £131 million on doing up the Secretary of State’s offices, and £27 million on external consultants in the past year. Instead of wasting that money, those millions would have been better spent on not introducing the core day, which leads to the locking up of prisoners between lunchtime on Friday and breakfast time on Mondays, on dealing with prisoner overcrowding and with prisoner rehabilitation and on encouraging purposeful activity and education in prisons.

I do not mind taking lectures from some parts of the House about our budget, but it does not lie well in the mouth of the hon. and learned Gentleman or those in his party to criticise the savings that we have to make, because their only response is to say that they would cut even more. That is the straightforward reality; they would cut at least £100 million from the Ministry of Justice’s budget.