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Teleconferencing

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2011

3. What assessment his Department has made of the potential efficiency savings from the use of teleconferencing. (42475)

Teleconferencing and video conferencing are a key part of our strategy to minimise travel in the civil service. Officials have been encouraged, indeed instructed, to use alternatives. Telephone calls can be quite helpful in that regard, when possible. So far, Departments have saved £50 million in the current financial year by avoiding travel, but by the better buying of travel services we have saved an additional £50 million. We are also reducing the cost of teleconferencing itself. We have opened up fresh discussions with major suppliers, and as a result of the Crown renegotiations that I have been overseeing, one of our suppliers has already offered a significant reduction in its audio conferencing tariffs.

I thank the Minister for that full answer, but will he make it a little fuller by telling me which Departments make good use of teleconferences and which do not, and why?

That is a very good question, to which I do not have an immediate answer. I am prompted by the hon. Gentleman’s interest to look into the matter, and I will get back to him with some answers.

Teleconferencing provides a key opportunity for digital policy. The head of that policy in the Minister’s Department was appointed without a fair and open competition, as a former party staffer. That was one of 30 appointments revealed by freedom of information releases this week. Can the Minister tell me who those 30 people are and what they do?

Of course I understand why the hon. Gentleman is so outraged by the idea of people with party affiliations fulfilling a public service vocation, because of course none of that ever happened under his party’s Government—a Government who, with the hon. Gentleman as one of the principal operators, distinguished themselves by their approach to cronyism.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that anyone who has been appointed to a civil service role has passed all the appropriate tests, which, as he will know from his experience as a Minister in my Department, are extremely rigorous.